Whose birthday, you ask? Not mine, which is coming in a few weeks (hint hint), but my new father-in-law who is here with the rest of P’s family to celebrate his 60th. So last week, we descended upon Ledoyen for a Michelin 3 star meal that befits the special occasion.
Since its opening in 1792, the year Louis VI was ousted off his throne, Ledoyen has been serving the Parisian gourmands for over 200 years. And under the stewardship of Chef Christian Le Squer, Ledoyen is constantly listed as one of the best restaurants in the city with the rare 3 star Michelin designation, with an enviable address in the midst of the Jardins des Champs Elysées. While dinner is prohibitively expensive, Ledoyen offers one of the best lunch values amongst starred restaurants in town, at 88 Euros for 4 courses.
We started off with the requisite amuse-bouches, playful bite-sized nibbles to keep us occupied while perusing the menu. Ledoyen was still on its summer menu last week, so the flavors were light and refreshing, comprising lots of vegetable, citrus and fruit flavors. Besides the overtly raw and sour Vietnam-inspired roll, the other bites were tasty and interesting texturally, especially the little fried pocket of shrimp tarama, the sweet, fresh essence of the shrimp (with had been beaten into a slippery cream) oozes through the airy pocket of thin dough.
Excellent bread and butter was then served, alongside a Lilliputian portion of deconstructed paella: Cooked shellfish served on a chilled seafood broth gelée that was concentrated with the savory and mineral tang of la mer. Crisped rice, a few pods of sweet peas and miniscule shreds of Iberian ham completed the picture, capturing the essence of the traditional Spanish dish.
Starters were classically French. My paté en croute, though alternately packed with creamy sweetbreads and fowl liver, was not cloyingly rich but surprisingly light. Though I am not that big on paté, I was able to finish much of the dish.
The other starter was perhaps my favorite dish of the afternoon. It looked extremely curious, a vibrant green parsley puree nesting between a dark cloud of blackened bread crumbs. And those were just foils for the main ingredient, wonderfully fragrant cepes (better known as porcini mushrooms) that was present both in solid form: buttered, fried and hidden under the blacken bread crumbs, and in liquid form: bouillon that servers poured out from silver pitchers, the perfume of the golden-hued distilled essence of earthiness a powerful, fungi-filled drug. A savory and insanely aromatic soup, the delicious level was further elevated with the introduction of sweet chestnuts, adding a woody and sweet flavor to the dish.
After the superb starters, the mains were a little more boring, though still well executed and pretty to look at. My favorite parts of the mains were the excellent sauces that augmented the flavors of the meat. For the game-y pigeon, the chef selected sweet pear and peppery water-cress counterpoints to highlight the sweet-sour glaze on the pigeon.
Whereas on the mild merlan flesh, he opted for a slightly creamy and acidic sabayon (with grilled avocado and grapefruit slices emphasizing the chosen effect) that added richness to the dish but did not detract from the delicate flavors of the fish.
Once we finished our mains, the servers pushed the cheese trolley over. It was my in-laws’ first encounter with a cheese cart, so they were suitably awed by it. And it was a handsome trolley, filled with pungent goodness, and with a wide enough range that all of us, from my mother-in-law who can only stomach mild, creamy cheese, to my husband who favored goat cheese, to me, who love my cheese smelly and runny had something different to try. My new cheese of the day was an aged banon de Provence, a really fierce goat cheese than has almost lost all its chevre flavor.
Mignardises next, which oddly, came before our actual desserts. But never mind, as they were delicious and too precious for words! Continuing on the summer theme, the jellies and meringue balls were infused with fruits, strawberries, pineapples and the like.
Desserts were less playful and my plate of stewed fruits, while using summer figs and prunes, had more shades of autumn in it with its mulled wine flavors.
The other dessert is a princess-y concoction of whipped white chocolate cream in a white chocolate bowl, covered with berry crumble, sitting very prettily on a berry sauce. Oh, and with a hairdo of crystallized sugar and violet (flower) petals!
Needless to say, we wined while we dined, and what a pleasant surprise it was to discover that out of the libations, it was the bottle the sommelier had chosen for us from their special selection to go with the lunch menu that was the least scarily priced. An excellent Crozes-Hermitage 2006 by Domaine Combier that I later found to have been marked up by only around 1 time to 60 Euros. In contrast, I took a double take at the prize of my coffee, my most expensive cup of joe to date.
The well-oiled service was very efficient, attentive and quite friendly, though the lady who was our main server was a little absent-minded at times. The timings between dishes were also a tad too long, with us spending a little under 3 hours for 4 courses. But with the delicious food and little extras such as a personal bag stool for your precious bags, and a friendly conversation with Chef Le Squer, who took time out of the kitchen to say hello to all the tables, Ledoyen is indeed a special place befitting the occasion.
Ledoyen: 1 Avenue Dutuit, 75008, Paris, France