It’s been 5 years since we ate at Pierre Gagnaire, a long standing Paris restaurant with 3 Michelin stars. While Chef Gagnaire moved his talents to Paris in 1996, he now has many restaurants but this one in the Hôtel Balzac is his flagship, where it has been there 15 years. It has a separate entrance from the hotel and a small bar area where you enter. It is a medium sized place spread over several rooms. The main dining room was redone by Carolyn Quatermaine who used pages of books to cover the walls with recipes some of which were handwritten by Pierre Gagnaire’s father who was a cook. The well spaced large tables are draped with double long white clothes and set with fine linen napkins. The lighting is lowered and there is no music in the background. Along with the carpet, many wood surfaces and padded chairs the noise level is low and because of the spacing conversations remained private. The menu offers a la carte options, a tasting menu and the night we were there a truffle tasting menu. Wine pairings are available for the tasting menu. We opted to start with a cocktail, order our own wine and have the tasting menu. Service and pacing were excellent and portion control generous. They did bring the truffles by to tempt you to add them to something or order that menu.
While we enjoyed our Negroni cocktail they brought a series of snacks and breads. There were green olives from La Vernede mixed with pistachios from Sicily and gin and tonic; lemon mousseline; a damier of redcurrant and horseradish with dentelle Noire; Nolpi; hazelnut with salt and soubressade; oyster leaf, sardine rillettes, berce salad leaf; smoked haddock bouchée; stichelton cheese; crispy bread with pure sea salt, soufleed bread with cuttlefish ink, grissini; and crumbly shortbread sacristain. All were tasty with various textures and temperatures. It was a confusing array.
After all this they came with bread that was sliced tableside. All the breads were nice but I particularly liked the very thin bread crisps that had fruit and nuts in it.
The menu started with a Romaine salad rib that was covered with Mr. Legris’ oyster, dog cockles, large crab, steamed duck foie gras, sea swiss chard and sea fennel. Underneath was a red beetroot syrup with cod and on the side was a dish of ice cream Aber-Wrac’h in a tartare broth of wild seaweeds from the coasts of Le Croisic. The cockles were good, not at all funky as they sometimes are and the oysters were plump and nicely briny. The foie gras was rich and delicious and the crab meat mixed well with everything. The beet flavor was mild. Everything in the dish was good on its own but I wasn’t sure that all the flavors complemented one another.
A large crunchy scallop was on top of salpicon with plankton, gnocchi of green lentils from Le Puy and then topped with Priestley with Petrossian’s Oscietra caviar. The gnocchi were okay but the fishy component messed with the sweetness of the scallop to a not totally successful conclusion for me.
Abalone was seared in brown butter and pepper and then topped with a chestnut velvety soup, celery sitcks and figatellu. Alongside was a small urchin pie with walnuts. The pie had a perfectly crisp crust and it with filled with creamy sea urchin. It was fun and tasty. The liver and pork sausage was savory and bursting with flavor and totally wonderful with the abalone in the rich buttery sauce. This was a great set of flavors.
Semi-salted steak of line-fished bass was poached in Santa Tea olive oil and served with slow simmered radicchio with black garlic and topped with a parmesan cheese leaf, shrimps and spring carrots. The black garlic sauce was very strongly flavored and the bass and shrimps were both tasty. The white carrot sauce came close to overwhelming this otherwise lovely dish.
A caramelized sweetbread was served beside sponge cake Vert topped with broccoli Camilleri and cuttlefish. The sweetbread was nicely creamy with a good crisp exterior and the relish topped cuttlefish was nice but again I’m not sure they worked to the betterment of each other. They were better eaten separately.
The duck came out on a plate that looked like a forest and then was plated tableside. The slices of colver duck with juniper were covered with a marmelade of sweet onions from Roscoff, salsify, Moscatel grapes. The dish also contained Morteau sausage, celeriac, sauerkraut mousse with a sage foam and cooking juice with elderberries. The very rare, thin sliced duck had absolutely no liver flavor. The sweet onions were wonderful but almost overwhelmed the fabulous duck. The dish was rich with a little tartness and it was really heavy.
Le Grand Dessert was totally in keeping with the Gagnaire tradition of presenting numerous plates over several rounds. There was passion fruit foam with pineapple topped with puff pastry that was very good. A pomgranate and pear and grapefruit combination. A Christmas cake with orange and white chocolate was totally moist and lovely with lots of layers of goodness. Chestnut ice cream was topped with cinnamon sugar crumbles. Chocolate 2019 was a molten dark chocolate center with milk chocolate ring on top and served cool to room temperature.
A plate of small bites had white chocolate filled with cream and nutmeg, a tart crisp thin exterior housing a gooey interior, an orange cylinder was filled with raspberry, a tiny tart was topped with orange foam and orange marmelade and a dark chocolate cup filled with caramel – it was the best.
Last were a lemon ice cream in a sesame roll that was excellent with a crisp sesame crust and very lemony ice cream inside. A chocolate with filled with plant liquor and okay.