Paris: Les Ambassadeurs
Posted by Degan on October 10th, 2011
It’s been a while but it’s time to write about the high point of our honeymoon in Paris. The day after we had been to Nomiya at the Palais du Tokyo, we had reservations at Les Ambassadeurs in the Hotel Crillon. I’ve been trying to write about Paris in chronological order but as the meals get more and more epic I’m slower to post, being afraid to miss or mis-capture some element and in the case of Les Ambassadeurs, I’m not even sure where to start.
In Alice in Wonderland, the King urges, “begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop,” but I’m going to go in reverse and tell you right now that our dinner cost almost a thousand dollars. Less per person than Per Se but a lot nonetheless. Best to get that out of the way early. There are people who just don’t get that but seeing as you’re hanging out on a food blog you can probably entertain the possibility – and even if you can’t, let me assure you that I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. It was worth every penny.
We chose it because, on the shortlist of restaurants (that was still some 50 thick by the time it got to Matt), he commented that he “had to eat in that room,” and I passed over the comment as unimportant because it had nothing to do with food. But, but! The room is amazing, all gilt and marble and turns out the food was well-rated too. We were looking for a three-Michelin starred restaurant but this one felt good and so off we went (Michelin rated the restaurant in the “Espoir 3*” category in 2007 – meaning that it’s nearly a 3*. Currently it’s rated as 2*…whatever).
The room is so beautiful that I considered wearing my wedding dress, or at least my Louboutins, but in the end we woke up late from a nap and there was no time for fussing. I twisted my hair into a bun and we ran out the door into the metro and then out into the night-lit square, heels and all. The Hotel Crillon is in the Place de la Concord, where just the day before we had marvelled at the expanse of history and opulence – built across from the Tuileries and the Louvre palace in 1758, it saw many fine parties and Marie Antoinette learned to play the piano upstairs – but that evening we were hustling. Somehow we arrived (more or less on time) in the lobby of the hotel where the concierge told us “vous etes tres elegants” and led us to our table.
We’d been practicing our French wine regions with Burgundy and Alsatian appreciation night so that we would be well-versed when it came to ordering wine, but Matt got both the wine list and the menu with prices on it, although the Sommelier did come around to my side of the table after a bit.
First things first, the Champagne cart came around and we selected the Roederer brut which came to the table with rye bread toasts and seaweed butter, as well as a basket of french artisan bread for the table (yum!). Then a trio of amuse bouches arrived; tiny pickled radishes coated in chives, sardines on homemade crackers and cubed beef wrapped in rice paper that melted on your tongue like the French, meat version of a White Rabbit candy.
There was no question of us ordering anything other than the tasting menu but our waiter recommended the caviar so we ordered that as well; French Imperial caviar with cucumber gelées with tiny blinis went so well with the Champagne that it was half gone before Matt mentioned that he didn’t normally like caviar. I managed to loom incredulous around my mother of pearl spoon and then the first course of the tasting menu arrived – scallop and mushroom carpaccio with more caviar! Unfortunately he had come around and decided he liked it at that point, so I had to share.
The next course was asparagus with egg and thin slices of cucumber in a vinegar reduction – some of the best asparagus I’ve ever had and the egg was reminiscent of a molecular eggs benny I had at WD-50 in New York. (post unbelievably, still coming soon). Then there was a stuffed pigeon course that I have only vague memories of, but I do remember that it was very rare, very tender, and better it was than Robuchon’s (and Robuchon’s was excellent).
Nothing compares to the foie gras dish though. It was brought to the table in the pot it was cooked in, still sealed with dough. Then after being paraded proudly around the table, the lobe of foie was split and plated with the jus and carrots from the pot. I love foie and it didn’t look like much but it smelled amazing and on first bite I knew it was the best foie I have ever eaten. We begged for the recipe and the waiter said it was a traditional recipe, between 100-150 years old, but he allowed that it changed subtly from summer to winter, that it had some ginger and spices in it and that the timing was important – too long and it would be chewy, too short and it would be…he just grimaced. It’s okay, when we go back for our 10th anniversary I’ll have it again. I’ll just dream about it until then.
I’m sure we were fulll, but when the waiter started pushing the cheese cart to our table, my eyes lit up. I have a long-standing love of French cheese and we were a week into the sampling by the time we ate at Les Ambassadeurs. But eve so, there were many I hadn’t heard of. The water explained many of them, then cut off nine different types, from ashy Camembert to l’Ami de Chambentin (epoisse), Gaperon (garlic and pepper), Croix Carhane, and more. I was in heaven, and probably would have unbuttoned my pants if I had been wearing any, but considered myself through the bulk of it since desserts aren’t really my thing.
Tell that to a French pastry chef! We started with a strawberry shortcake-like dessert that was made with sugar panes and cube white chocolate in the place of cake and I surprised myself by loving it. It was so delicate and light.
This was a crowning moment on already impeccable service. From the conceirge to the waiter to the sommelier and all the other serving staff we interacted with, service did not falter. And at the same time it wasn’t formal to the point of being off-putting. The sommelier handed Matt the wine list with obvious pride and they talked about the design of it, but when he passed it to me, the sommelier moved to my side of the table. The waiter was informative, courteous, friendly, present and absent when he needed to be. In university I learned how to be a waitress from a Frech-trained waiter but watching this man work was a joy. He was utterly perfect.
Then the chcocolate came in a crescendo; molecular gastronomy globes of mango on a slab of milk chocolate and hazelnut mousse; mignardises in the form of a caramel macaon, a mini lemon tart, chocolate crème with nuts; then a plate of milk and dark chocolates (plus a bag to take with). And then the bill, which is where we started.
Deliriously happy, we walked out into the dark Place de la Concord, then home via the Experimental Cocktail Club and a gang of Parisians who stopped me in the street to tell me how hot I was. Couldn’t have been a better day.