Bitter and sweet. Strong and delicate. Pleasure and pain.
Life is full of contrasts. Finding a balance is the secret to live it fully. There is no precise rule: everyone has their own, everyone knows where two forces of the same power can mix without overwhelming the other.
Balance, in fact. Aren’t we all looking for it? Just in case you have troubles finding it, try to ask Pierre Gagnaire: genius of business with his jazz and fusion cuisine, his favorite music genres. The French chef, with twelve restaurant all over the world, always looks for the right contact point with food that for tradition and maybe also for taste could never match. When you taste his dishes instead your palate says something else.
What did the story of the hornet say?
In case you have troubles try to contact him. I advise you a text message or an e-mail: with a phone call you would never reach him. Imagine in his restaurant. Gagnaire like many other chefs by now more business men than chefs, is never in his kitchen, and he never cooks. He is always traveling around the world proposing himself and his brand. Such a bad habit I am getting used to during my long travel…
The restaurant of Pierre Gagnaire is in Paris in Rue de Balzac, one of the streets in the Champs-Élysées, a few steps away from the Arc de Triomphe. It is hosted inside the Hotel Balzac, a five star extra luxury: beautiful but not amazing.
The entrance is very important. The brand Gagnaire is everywhere: it is a sort of an overturn T that makes you understand how much the French chef takes care of his products.
At the reception they assign me an Italian guy for the service: Luca. This is something nice they do in Three Michelin Stars restaurants for their guests: do you remember it? It had also happened in London.
The room is wide but not very elegant. The furniture ethno-chic is great. I appreciate hygiene and cleanness. There is also a wine cellar: a whole room dedicated to wine, where they have about 1500 bottles that they use for service. The two wine cellars that Gagnaire has are instead in other areas of Paris: there are more than 5000 labels in there, most of them French, in particular from Bourgogne, they get old and then will be served. It is wonderful.
Differently from what had happened with Arpege, where a huge waiting had made me go insane, as soon as I sit at my table they serve me an entrée homage by the chef and an amuse-bouche composed by five wonderful dishes. I get conquered by the canapés with parmesan mousse and handmade breadsticks and by a vegetable dish with vegetable lollipops.
The super welcoming is confirmed by the sommelier who advises me half a bottle of Domaine, a really incredible red wine!
In the meanwhile Luca accompanies me through the choice of dishes. Two possibilities: à la carte or degustation menu. I choose the first one, with a first and a main course. At Gagnaire this is the way: they serve three first courses, three second courses, and three desserts. If you choose the main course, the chef “adds” a series of other dishes to make you appreciate more the one you have chosen.
I will explain better: I order a red mullet, a goatfish, and together with it they serve me a vegetable dish with mushrooms juice jellified and sea urchins.
Positive note: at the end of my order, Luca goes to the reception and prints it, then giving it back to me. This is a very nice way to let me know and remember every dish I am going to eat.
The goatfish with lard (do you remember about the contrast of flavors I was telling you about?) is a generally difficult fish to cook, and it was instead perfectly deboned and I have tasted it without any problems. It is served at my table in the cocotte where it was cooked to make every guest enjoy its smell. I notice some wedge shells in the dish. I ask them why: they answer me that when you cook fish in steam (a cooking technique that Gagnaire prefers) shellfishes absorb humidity and allow the goatfish to remain soft and cook faster. Great also the snapper served in abundant portions, citronella cream and Parma ham, and the anemone cooked with cuttlefish black with a stick of potatos, but mostly the foie gras with red tuna. Flawless.
At the end of the meal as usual they allow me to visit the kitchen. As I already said, Pierre Gagnaire is not there, but I notice a table in there and they explain me it is the chef’s: from there, when he is at his restaurant, he can eat and check on the work. Maybe next time I can book that…
I leave writing one only clash: the check, that is important when judging a restaurant. I am not unprepared: I have been traveling the world for a while and Three Michelin Stars restaurants for years. I know the prices and I think Pierre Gagnaire’s are a little bit too high. My idea.