So the other thing that Herve This told me was to tell them at Gagnaire that I was open to new ideas – that I was open to anything. And of course Grace rolled her eyes. OK – even writing this, I can see how I might be dense – maybe. Should I even be writing this? He is a highly respected scientist after all. But he is French, handsome, and brilliant. Is it a bad thing I'm writing this? Too late now. Forgive me M. This if this gets back to you and you're insulted that I've portrayed you as a handsome, brilliant Frenchman.
So Karli and Grace and I at Pierre Gagnaire. I'd confirmed earlier in the day – saying that M. This had told me to tell them about my openness – and that it was Grace's birthday. Our dining out was a pre-celebration to her birthday that I would miss, days after she be back in Korea.
We were seated at a table near the windows – sun pouring in – a nice little alcove to my left for Karli – again she practically with her own private room.
We order the lunch tasting menu – 90 euros per person.
I remember a vast array of interesting dishes – and dishware – one dish was served in a small bowl, seemingly magically attached to a saucer at an angle – magnetic. So many dishes that I'm having trouble remembering them all – and have to dig up the little menu begrudgingly released to us on our departure.
We started off with an assortment of pre-amuses-bouches – most sweet actually – except for a tiny little seaweed roll – about the diameter of a pencil, just a few centimeters long – of finely julienned carrot and maybe daikon. All just stunning – almost bouncing in my chair with glee.
The entire list of the amuses-bouches from the menu – with descriptions for the non-French speaking amongst us. Our waiter by the way was very cool – carefully placing the many dishes – and instructing us as to the best order to start – always with the first plate he placed in front of us and then working our way around clockwise.
Amande, haddock et saumon d'Ecosse; condiment Nalpi
A small roll of Scottish salmon, transparent white haddock, around almond paste – I do not remember the condiment Nalpi.
Risotto a l'encre, bouillon de champignon de Paris
This was actually a clear gelee of white mushrooms – topped with a brilliantly white slice of mushroom cap – brilliant in colour and concept – here he's taken just a slice of pure white mushroom – not expensive at all but so striking in presentation – with a black squid ink risotto at the bottom of the cup – this was the dish served in the magnetic cup and saucer. Is it redundant to mention that champignons de Paris are called such because they're mushrooms most famously grown in caves under Paris? not all are still but there are still a few such caves.
Grecque de legumes tubereux
A Grecque preparation of tubers – that is root vegetables cooked in acidulated water or broth – the lemony flavour is refers to Greek cuisine.
Crème d'oignon doux St. Andre aux torlitas, lait ribault
This was basically a small mound of carmelised onions with crispy onions garnished over and a powder of caramelized onions around the edge of the plate.
Lasagne de celery dore, trevise fondue facon Fulvio
A lasagna of golden celery – but I honestly have no memory of this dish.
Noix de St. Jacques grilles puis laquee d'un jus de betterave rouge a la reglisse
This was actually served separately from the amuses-bouches – and really should have been counted as the fish course. Gorgeous – vividly red – from the beet juice – though I could not really taste licorice – grilled scallops. Slice in and it's red then pure white – simply gorgeous.
For our plats principal – main dishes – I chose one from the menu – Noisette de biche au poivre de Sarawak, Gratin de courgette et celery-rave – peppered venison with a gratin of zucchini and celery root – and the second off – as suggested as a possibility by the dining room director. He came over to explain that the second choice could be a Jarret de veau fermier, braise au cidre – veal braised in cider. OK – we took the venison and the veal.
But when the main dishes came out they were both the same. After the waiter carefully placed the three dishes that comprised the main course – I asked what the meat course was. He said they were the veal. I explained that I'd ordered one veal and one venison. He seemed really mortified and excused himself.
He returned with the dining room director who'd taken our meat course order. I started by apologizing for the confusion – always a good rule when someone is serving you food – even though I know I'd been clear with the order. He said that normally they'd be out of the venison by now but would go and check. He came back almost instantaneously and claimed that there was no more venison.
OK. The veal was good – but it would have been nice to try the venison – which had been served to the table next to us minutes before.
The meat course was accompanied by a Quenelle de pommes de terres – a egg-shaped scoop of chunky mashed potatoes, studded with some crushed almonds – and the aforementioned Gratin.
Next we were brought out individual small silver trays of tiny petit fours – amazing little works of pastry art – there lemon tartelettes no bigger than a quarter.
Then the desserts. I was a little confused. The table next to us had been asked their dessert choices – chocolate, coffee, or caramel – we had not. But I was pretty happy with the assortment presented
Gelee d'amandes amer
A clear gelee of bitter almonds
Litchis avec pate d'amande, mangue
Lychee with almond paste and brunoised mangos
Roti de pommes avec pistaches
A cup with a confit of roasted apples on the bottom with a clear disc of sugar studded with green pistachios as a garnish – with a thin white slice of tart apple over.
Parfait a l'orange
An orange sorbet served in a confit-ed mandarine half
I was not sure if we were still going to be asked for our dessert selection – as the table next to us had – until the dining room hostess asked us if we'd like coffee – that's when I knew the meal was over – with coffee served after dessert.
I asked for a copy of the main menu and was told that there were no extras. I asked for copies of the lunch menu – and waited while a copy – stained – was dug up. We asked for business cards – and one was given to Grace. I asked for another – and there was a momentary pause too long before a second was begrudgingly given.
On our walk up to the Champs-Elysees Grace said, "Why do I feel like I just gave that guy a David Letterman free dinner coupon!" - instead of having just spent about 250 euros - for lunch.
I called the restaurant once we got home. I asked for the dining room manager. It was he – and he was the guardian of the menus. I told him that when I'd reserved I'd asked for something for grace's birthday – and again when I'd confirmed in the morning – but nothing was done. Uh well – sorry. Silence. That's it – you're sorry? Yes. I asked why we hadn't had a choice in desserts – while the table next to us had – he claimed that they'd not ordered the same menu – when it was clear – dish by dish – that they had. I said that I'd seen clearly that they'd ordered the same lunch menu. He changed tactics and asked me if I could write a letter to M. Gagnaire. I asked if it was necessary for me to write to M. Gagnaire even though he was responsible for the dining room? Yes. Ok.
Et voila. Extraordinary food – stunning presentations – excellent service by our waiter – all marred by one person – in the most puzzling, unnecessary way.
I've heard claims about bad service at Ducasse – claims that infuriated me if they were true – having worked as hard as we had in the kitchen, only to have it ruined by poor service. But I didn't know if it was true. But with dinner on the way in a couple of days chez Ducasse, I'd finally be able to judge on my own.