Behind the Line @ L’ambroisie, Paris

My last stop in Paris was the kitchen of L’Ambroisie located in the very chic Place des Vosges in the 4th arrondissement. Bernard Pacaud is one of France’s most talented and respected chefs who drew attention early-on with his classic skills and intense flavor combinations. L’Ambroisie saw a meteoric rise to success in the 80’s and finally received 3 Michelin star in 1988 which they have held since, making it one of the longest running 3 Michelin star restaurant.

High-end food is open to various interpretations and can be technically brilliant or painfully simple, shockingly original or rooted in tradition, l’Ambroisie’s cuisine undoubtedly belongs to the classics. Experiencing Bernard Pacaud’s cooking is being brought back to the past to indulge in the tradition of haute cuisine. As a matter of fact, the only modern equipment in the kitchen are a blender, a robocoupe and an ice-cream machine. We don’t like to follow trends here. It makes it even more ironic that cutting-edge chefs such as Pierre Gagnaire and Pascal Barbot have called l’Ambroisie their favorite restaurant.

There’s a sharp contrast between the kitchen of L’ambroisie and the previous ones i visited. Here, the kitchen is small and can accommodate only 8 chefs, six on the savory stations and two in pastry, to serve a maximum of 36 guests at each service. One could think that upon entering the kitchen of such a temple of gastronomy, the intruder (aka: me), would be subject to suspicious looks from the team. It was quite the opposite in fact, as everyone in the kitchen was as open and friendly as possible, and more than willing to share their knowledge.

Bernard Pacaud asked the chefs to give me a tasting version of the dishes that were being ordered. How lucky! What a feast! It started with a delicious velouté with a black truffle cream, it was followed by a tartare of langoustines with a cauliflower mousseline and countless more luxurious little bites. So much that the lingering taste of black truffles accompanied me for the rest of the afternoon.

‘Aspic de foie gras landais a la truffe, remoulade de celeri-rave’. Very simple in theory but it’s the attention to details that makes this dish truly sublime. I watched the sous-chef create the mille-feuille of celery and black truffle ‘a la minute’ and it was a lesson in knife skills and precision. A ‘must’ when you work with such expensive ingredients.

Those poularde de Bresse stuffed under the skin (which truly shines like gold) caught my eye. In case you’re not familiar with it it’s a breed of chickens that originates from the Bresse area of the Rhône-Alpes region of France and are highly valued for their depth of flavour, yet fine, tender flesh and delicious golden fat. In the hands of Bernard Pacaud, this already amazing bird is turned into food for the Gods. The kitchen was experimenting with new recipes that day and i happily volunteered to the tasting part. Someone’s gotta do the job, right?

A table of regulars ordered five portions of ‘Dos de sole braise au vermouth, duo de celeri en ‘demi-deuil’. Dover sole coming straight from the English channel every morning. It’s braised with vermouth and two kinds of celery. I’ve been dreaming of the generous spoonful of crème fraîche d’Echiré that went into this dish. The most luscious kind of crème fraîche you can dream of. Of course, the fact that it’s finished with black truffle doesn’t hurt either.

It’s the height of the black truffle season which explain why you see so much of it on the menu. You will never see me complain about too much black truffle, though. Just look at this…

The Feuilleté de truffe fraîche ‘bel humeur’ is a whole black truffle (about 100 grams) sandwiched with foie-gras and enclosed in a rich puff pastry, served with a sauce Bordelaise thickened with black truffle. “Bel humeur” means “good mood” in French and cutting through the pastry to let the truffle aroma escape will do just that. I can’t think of a dish that could make anyone more happy.

There were other classics like ‘Escalopines de bar à l’émincé d’artichaut, nage reduite, caviar oscietre golden’, a line-caught sea bass sitting on an intricate tower of thinly sliced artichokes, scattered with dill and a creamy, buttery, briny, subtly acidic sauce enhanced with Golden Osetra caviar. The other one was a filet of John Dory with a crispy ‘crust’ that was a special that day.

I believe this classic “Tarte fine sablé au cacao amer, glace à la vanille” is still unsurpassed in this world as far as chocolate desserts go. It’s light without detriment to its taste, which is enormously bold. It may look innocent, but i can’t think of any word to describe it that would do it justice. The perfect quenelle of vanilla ice cream that comes with it is just as intense: “It is made with 6 vanilla beans per liter”, confessed the pastry chef.

Needless to say, i have some experimenting to do.

9 Place des Vosges,
Paris 75004

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  • Ju (TheLittleTeochew)

    OMG, Stephane!!! I so enjoyed reading this post! Thank you for taking the trouble to snap those awesome shots. What an eye opener and the amazing dishes … oh, a feast for the eyes! And lucky you got to eat them! 😉

  • vanillasugarblog

    6 vanilla beans per liter? wow. the flavor…i mean for real.
    you were very lucky to have that tasting….that’s an hour or 2 in time that you remember…forever.

  • Anonymous

    My goodness this is one of the most luxurious dining experiences I can imagine. Lucky you!

  • Kim

    What a beautiful insider’s look. These dishes may not be “trendy,” but they don’t need to be. I’d kill for any one of those courses. :)


  • aromes

    Thanks for the post. I hope Pacaud wont retire too soon so that I can enjoy his cuisine one of those days. Regarding Gagnaire’s and Barbot’s appreciation of Pacaud’s food, I am not surprised by this: most Chefs of modern cuisine love stating that they prefer classic cuisine. Ask Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal what cuisine they like and you will get same kind of answers.

  • Maya@Foodiva’s Kitchen

    Stephane, if you’re ever short of a dining partner, call me. I mean, I’ve dined in Paris, but not like this!

  • Mold Removal

    I wanted to say thank you to you for this excellent read!

  • Mardi

    L’Ambroisie has been on my list of places to try ever since the mid 1990s when I lived in Paris and walked by the Place des Vosges every day on my way to work (at, ahem, Restaurant Australien, Woolloomooloo – not quite in the same category…).

    I do believe that I must make it a definite “go to”, especially since that Tarte fine sablé au cacao amer, glace à la vanille is calling my name.

    Again, great behind the scene pics :-)

  • Su-yin

    Oh my I would LOVE to taste the Feuilleté de truffe fraîche ‘bel humeur’. Should have so jumped on that Eurostar to visit you whilst you were in Paris! 😛

  • stacey snacks

    I will try and retrace your steps when we go…….What an amazing trip this time!

  • Anonymous

    Woolloomooloo sounds like the kind of place i was hanging out at in the mid 90’s. :) Maybe we’ve met!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Stacey. One should know that L’ambroisie’s prices are.. well.. breathtaking. Be prepared!

  • Anonymous

    Very true!

  • Anonymous

    haha.. that dish alone is worth a trek around the world!

  • Oui, Chef

    Zen – What a fabulous series of posts, how ever did you arrange for VIP access to these top notch kitchens? I had the very good fortune to dine at both Laurent (graduation dinner from Le Cordon Bleu) and Apicius when I lived in Paris. sublime food and service to match. I never made it to L’amroisie, though I recall walking by it frequently on Sunday strolls around the Place de Vosges. Oh well, maybe next time. Safe travels – S

  • Charles G Thompson

    Reading this brought back my own memories of the amazing birthday meal a group of us had at l’Ambroisie in the early 90s. A meal never to be forgotten. Meric!

  • Gratinee

    Oh how lucky you are. I love that little corner of Paris. The food looks scrumptious and your photos equally amazing.

  • Dawn – Kitchen Travels

    I, too, so enjoyed this series of posts on the three Paris restaurants. Merci beaucoup! Your photos of the food, kitchens, chefs are the next best thing to being there. Ah, Paris. Some day I will visit there. Some day!

  • S Ll

    Time flies: just lunched there this Friday March 25th 2011. I am a fan, now. This is certainly a benchmark in French haute. For full photo and text report of this latest amazing meal:

  • Chrisos

    great pictures and great story.
    I am also an Ambroisie afficionado

  • adey73

    Did you ever replicate the chocolate cake?
    I’ve tried following two different recipes from the two different books and neither has the consistency of the original.

    Any ideas?