One of the culinary world famous establishments in Paris is Astrance owned by chef Pascal Barbot. It’s a very small three star Michelin restaurant with less than 10 tables and open only 4 days a week, with a break of a full month for Vacances (summer vacation)! Luckily I made reservations two months ahead and we got a table for lunch.
The place is so very tiny, mysteriously but colorfully decorated. From the moment we entered to the second we left, the service was impeccable. Without asking questions we received the amuse bouche and discovered the first “surprise dish”. Pascal’s philosophy is that the meal should be surprising as part of the experience. I agree! We had to taste and try to guess what we are eating with this first dish, before the waiter filled the gaps. It was a Chicken broth with bacon, bacon foam and burned bread. We only got the bacon part! It was surly unexpected and with this little soup begun our experience in Astrance. Next was a two part second amuse bouche: Caramelized Brioche with Foie Gras and Almond “sandwich” with green apple and a purple peanut center. Both really small but nice to begin with.
Next step was the menu. No dishes written in the menu, only three options of tasting menus each with or without matching wines. As it was lunch and we were still recovering from last night’s sake fiasco, we chose the more expensive Astrance menu without the wine. I’m not sure exactly how much this meal costs because as a lady I got the menu without the prices. It was about 200 euro per person. Then the dishes started to flow slowly to our table. First was a signature dish of Tarte de Foie Gras: Champignons, green apples and Foie Gras, accompanied by lemon crème and hazelnut oil. I think I had too high expectations of this dish. The champignons cut really thin and combined with green apples which are tart and the creamy Foie Gras. I liked it but the raw mushrooms doesn’t do it for me. Next came the Langoustine in Satay sauce with colorful carrots, Caramel roll filled with Satay sauce, basil, lemongrass, coriander and peanuts, served on a platter of broken peanuts. Beautiful dish that we both loved. Indonesian style satay peanut sauce with the langoustine cooked perfectly sitting in the middle. This is one dish I will be happy to dig in a huge bowl of it crazily. The caramel rolls were so fresh and crisp. I have no idea how this is made and that’s intriguing.
When the fish dishes arrived we first had the St. Peter’s fish,condiment of spinach, peppers & cumin served with cabbage and a “ravioli” filled with cream of Citron (a type of Indian lemon). This dish was a slight miss with us. The best part about it was the cabbage! The fish itself wasn’t the type of fish I prefer but the condiments were tasty. The second fish dish was the Miso marinated Mackerel with buckwheat crust over a salad of leeks, celery, oyster leaves and edible flowers. Served with smoked Anchovy and spinach cream. Very much the kind of fish I prefer: a mackerel isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it is mine! It was just perfect. I loved everything about this dish. The mackerel cooked in a miso glaze that fitted well to the fatty but gentle flesh fish, the buckwheat was crispy and gave out its unique aroma but didn’t overpower, the salad underneath was fresh and tasty and the oyster leaves – everyone who loves oysters will love a leaf tasting like oyster. The condiment of spinach and anchovy was subtle and wasn’t redundant to this dish. very nice.
At about this point of the meal we noticed that we’re not in sync with the other tables around. At first I thought they might have taken a different menu but in retrospective I understand that what actually happened here was a game of the chef to not let anyone left un-surprised. He’s planning every meal in a way that each table gets a slightly different dish. For instance: one table gets the veal and one gets the duck etc. That really did bring up the level of surprise for me as I’m always looking at other tables’ dishes.
Continuing with the main courses we had the Hay smoked breast and thigh of “Poularde de Bresse” with Jerusalem Artichoke, Parmesan and walnuts “sand”, Parmesan cheese and black truffles sauce, crispy tapioca, a Capucine leaf and Za’atar. This was my favorite dish of the meal. Chicken Parmesan is so tasty in Astrance! It was just perfect, intriguing and melts in the mouth. With each dish that came to our table we heard the explanation of the waiter (“in French and in English please!) and I kept notes in a little notebook I brought everyday with me. Still, it wasn’t easy to get every element written. I felt like in English we got the shorter description (how predictable with French people!) and we kept asking questions about whatever we didn’t get at first. In this dish we didn’t get the “sand” part. The waiter tried to explain but then decided to just bring us another sample of this “sand” to our table and it was parmesan and walnuts in there.
Next came the Milk-fed Lamb Chops from Lozère, with small Potatoes, Binquinho Peppers, Sage leaves, Nasturtium leaves & Pitango leaves. Served with “black curry” made from black Mexican chili peppers, garlic, ginger, black Miso, black Salt & black Prune. Generally this is a take on the classic dish of lamb chops with potatoes and gravy. The meat itself – so tender and delicious. The potatoes and gravy were normal and the condiments were strange match to this dish. I liked the unique sweet peppers but the black curry doesn’t do it for me, not now and not when Chef Sebastian tried to copy it in our restaurant service back in Nov’ 2011.
Before desserts we had some palate cleansers and we started with the second “surprise” dish. This one just blew our minds. The waiter came back after few minutes: so what’s inside? We said: Vanilla ice-cream (“un point!”), Thyme (“deux points…”), Fromage Blanc (“trois points!”). So what’s the main ingredient? Asked the waiter and we mumbled. It was something familiar. The fragrant definitely reminded me something. We gave up. It was Mashed potatoes foam. Of course… but it was delicious! The second palate cleanser was Chili Pepper, Lemongrass and Ginger sorbet. Very fitted as a palate cleanser. So subtle but still strong. Cold but hot. Beautiful.
Then the dessert arrived and it was a Layered Coffee tart filled with: Cognac marinated Walnut, Citrus peels, Marzipan, Coconut cookie, Caramel cookie, wrapped with a crunchy “Cigar”. The tart came with a Salted Caramel Ice Cream, caramelized Hazelnuts and Orange Flower sorbet. This dessert was impressive. The ice-cream on the side was indulging in the right way, and the tart was just interesting, make you wonder “what am I eating?” with each and every bite because each bite is different. And to be honest, it wasn’t easy to get all the list of elements from the waiter. He wanted to keep it a secret but at last we were shown a model (someone else’s future tart) of the open tart.
We finished the meal with a trio of Jasmine Eggnog served inside an egg shell; Honey and Chestnut Madeleines; Perfect little strawberry and fruits. This was nice but I was a bit disappointed not to get the over-the-top mignardises cart that you often see only in these 2-3 stars restaurants. I guess it’s impossible to do for such a small restaurant. To sweeten even more our visit to Astrance I bought chef Pascal’s Astrance book. It’s a beautiful book which is exceptional in that there are nearly no recipes – only stories to how dishes were born. This book, since, had given me a lot of inspiration coming up with my own dishes. Also, I find Pascal’s philosophy on food very familiar with mine sometime, and the stories are written in a very easy to read and funny (French) way. Recommended! We stayed until the end of the service to speak with the Chef and thank him personally. He signed my new Astrance “Cook’s Book” with a personal inscription. Thank you for a truly unique meal!