Sneaky-creative Jean Michel Lorain in Joigny

Tucked away on between the vineyard covered slope of the Cote St Jacques and the L’Yonne river, this long standing restaurant (La Cote St Jacques) that managed to gain and keep 3 Michelin star status from father to son revisits a lot of classic recipes with a surprisingly creative twist. The creativity in the dishes here is not revolutionary, but the cuisine is more creative than what appears on the surface. 

Like this couteau mollusk amuse-bouche. Rare to find in restaurants because it is a lot of work to disgorge the mollusks (get rid of the sand) and getting the cooking time is not necessarily very easy (they can easily become rubbery). This one was perfect. It was presented in the shell of one couteau, but the actual meat had been chopped into smaller pieces (making it easier to eat, and probably easier to get the cooking time right). It was in a little cloud of sea essence (probably the cooking juice of the mollusk with a tiny bit of cream). As a starter to our meal, it was definitely worth 3 stars!

On the menu, there is a section devoted to recipes that made La Cote St Jacques famous in the past. It would seem that these are the father (Michel)’s old recipes.

We wanted to start with something light.  And decided to compare 2 oyster dishes-one old favorite and one more recent recipe.

The old favorite was an oyster and red onion terrine and the modern dish was called genesis of the oyster. Both were fantastic. But the expressions of oyster were very different.

The oyster and red onion terrine played more on the acidity (of the onion) versus the sea breeze (iodé) aspect of oysters which is probably also echoing the traditional way of serving oysters with shallots and vinegar (in Brittany).

The Genesis of the oyster was a complete progression towards a more creamy expression of the oyster (with no cream actually in the dish). The dish was presented as in 2 different platters: one was 4 little pots showing the progressive addition of ingredients leading to the 2nd platter,  the actual dish. Oysters with sarrazin buckwheat purée, purée of lettuce and crunchy buckwheat grains. This was a richer, fuller dish that remained very digestable. 

The boudin was on the list of the old favorites too and happened to be the best deal on the menu. Perfectly smooth and fairly spicy with nutmeg, cinnamon, and other spices. In the kitchen, after our meal, the chef told us that the key to this recipe was using a blender much longer than one would think it was adequately pureed up. Served with the traditional deux pommes: pommes de terres (potatoes) and pommes (apples). 

I was curious to taste the frogs legs dish- Jambonnettes de Grenouilles, Gelée de Gaspacho et Tomates Séchées, Sauce Chlorophylle- because it is such an obvious tribute to traditional French cooking and it is actually harder to find in restaurants than one would imagine. I was however, skeptical that the dish would work because frogs legs are such a delicate flavor. Gaspacho and Dried tomatoes are both so bitter and dominant in flavor that frogs legs, even big fat ones like these, would have a tough time standing up to them.

The frogs legs alone were perfect, firm and spot on cooking time. And there was some effort to marry them with the tomatoes and gaspacho by adding bread-crumbs (bitterness). But the rest of the dish was so dominated by bitter things, had it been a separate dish I would have found them both perfect, but together the base product (frogs legs) was just drowned out.

The Skate wing cooked in spicy coconut milk served with young vegetables. That triangle on the top of the dish was the skate cartilage that was super cooked, crunchy, edible (surprisingly) and delicious. The skate wing was perfectly cooked. Probably the best skate wing I’ve ever had, although it is not something I order frequently. The coconut was not dominant and the spices perfectly harmonized with the smooth textured skate.

The Bonbons of Petit Gris au Beurre d’Escargots virtuel were spectacular. Such a great re-visitation of this traditional Burgundian specialty. (Petit Gris are a variety of escargots never imported from Eastern Europe, unlike the traditional escargots de Bourgogne variety) The Petits Gris were wrapped in crispy paper-thin pastry. The wonderful earthy flavor of the escargots was unadulterated and the ‘virtual butter’ did not dominate but merely harmonized with its herbality. The chef said that it was virtual butter because there was no butter….(but he admitted that there was cream) Garlic was included but given a back seat in the recipe (it was highly cooked which reduced its garlic invasiveness) and hidden in the bottom of the dish in the form of a purée. Brilliant idea, brilliant harmony and respect for the real taste of escargots!

The Candied rose petal with rose-petal ice cream was just the way I dreamed it would be: Like a rose petal dream, pure, precise, and aromatic.

And as if we had not had enough to eat, this tiny little strawberry tart appeared and it was equally perfect (did not last long on the table…)

What did we drink with this?

We like to play with wine and food combos, so we wanted to make sure we had at least a red and a white. The sommelier suggested that more of the dishes would go with white, we had a 2004 William Fevre Chablis Mont de Milieu (the restaurant being so near to Chablis, we had to have at least one).

Our friends were unfamiliar with Pousse d’Or wines so we then had a 2005 Pousse d’Or Puligny 1er Cru Le Cailleret and a 2005 Pousse d’Or Santenay Gravieres (red). 

There was some debate over whether the 2005 Cailleret would not be too closed but it was showing very convincingly. Despite the 100% new oak used (not in every vintage, but on this 2005) the wood was perfectly integrated and enhanced this ripe Chardonnay with Puligny herbal butter and salty minerals (from the mineral terroir).

The 2005 Santenay was exactly the way I wish more 2005 reds were! Retaining beautiful fruit. Soft tannins. (Some 2005s are really hard because it being a drought vintage and frequent over-extraction) Spicy and long on the palate for the appellation. It really fit the bill.

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