What can I say about lunch at Pierre Gagnaire?
I could describe every one of the ten or so little amuses-bouches that were delivered to the table with detailed instructions. I could tell you about the bite of miniaturized ratatouille, the smoky little red pepper purée, the bite sized croquettes filled with tarragon cream that burst in my mouth, and that a thimble full of watercress soup with tender rabbit meat made me think some unlucky bunny got caught in the garden.
I could tell you that our every need was anticipated, that the service was professional but not at all cold, that the waiters indulged our novice French, and that the sommelier kindly steered us to a half bottle of perfectly poetic premier cru.
Before any of that I might mention that we started with two glasses of Laurent Perrier Rosé Champagne, and that there were five kinds of bread and two kinds of butter.
You would probably want to know about the main course, a strong barbue swimming with humble radishes and turnips, both lightly pickled I think.
I could end by describing the two rounds of desserts, the mille feuille draped in gold leaf, the three variations on the theme of Cassis: Airy mousse, dense compote, and crisp wafer. You would want to know about the chocolate mousse capped with a disc of more chocolate, and the canoe-shaped plate of mignardises garnished with what looked like a long blade of grass but which was really white chocolate tinted green, and a thin rose branch that was actually dark chocolate, filled with an almondy sap.
This is fine dining. Fine Dining, capitalized and punctuated with three Michelin stars, all yours for a three-figure price tag before you even mention wine. It is a special event, an experience.
Like a couture gown, a meal like this can be exquisitely beautiful, the result of the work of many highly skilled hands guided by creative vision. It is a marriage of art and craft, where technique and imagination meet. This kind of eating can temporarily transport the diner to an elegant fantasy land that is as real as my dreams, which is to say not real at all: I wouldn’t call an afternoon at Pierre Gagnaire “lunch” any more than I would call a Dior gown “clothes”.
And this is why, of all the things I tasted that afternoon, what I’ll remember most is an egg.
They called it Oeuf au Plat Pierre Gagnaire, one egg nestled in its plate of buttery toasted, sitting atop a surprisingly generous amount of asparagus and shrimp, a bright sun glittering with coarse salt set in the center of a foamy spring cloud. It was the least unusual, the least derived, the least manipulated, and by far the most satisfying dish of the day.
It is commonly believed (perhaps falsely) that the number of pleats in a chef’s toque reflects the number of ways he or she can prepare eggs. If this is true then M. Gagnaire’s crown is surely folded many times. But one crisp tuck, one luxe afternoon, was more than enough for me.
PIerre Gagnaire, 6 Rue Balzac, Paris 75008, +33 (0)1 58 36 12 50 website