Tag Archives: michelin star

Dining Review: Luomo, Helsinki, Finland

Eating out in Helsinki is generally expensive, and I hate spending money on mediocre food, so I figured that I might as well just splurge a little bit and get significantly nicer food. One of my new year’s resolutions was to eat 12 new Michelin stars this year, and Helsinki features 5 starred restaurants, so I was in luck.

I ended up walking in to Luomo around 9:30pm, as I had passed out for a couple of hours after checking into my hotel and didn’t wake up until 9pm. I first tried to get a table at Olo, but they were full for the night (and completely booked about 3 weeks out when I started thinking about reservations). Luomo is located only a block away, and both are located right next to the market square.

The actual restaurant is located on the second floor of a building, so you need to walk up some stairs in a sterile hallway, but the restaurant itself features a minimalist decor.

Restaurant entrance

Restaurant entrance

You can order 3, 5, or 7 courses from the menu. 3 courses gets you one appetizer, one entree, and one dessert, while 5 courses gets you all three appetizers, one entree, and one dessert. I opted for all 7 courses, and it looked like all the tables around me did the same.

Menu for the night

Menu for the night

To start, I received 4 amuse bouches that were different plays on things found in the market square located nearby. First was a meat pie ice cream served with ketchup, then a cup of “coffee” made out of black olive puree, next a spoon of yogurt with leek made to look like bird poop, and finally a taste of herring and fennel. This was both the best and worst dish of the night: while I loved the playfulness and fanciful nature of these bites, none was actually very tasty.

Amuse bouches

Amuse bouches

The first official course was a medley of different mushrooms and preparations. It was rich, earthy, and flavorful, with contrasting textures from the various kinds of mushrooms and thick foam that made the “porridge”. It was served with a brioche studded with mushrooms. This course was crazy delicious, and one of my favorite dishes of the nice. As an aside, the butter was well salted and served at room temperature and thus easily spreadable, two things that I always appreciate.

Forest mushroom porridge

Forest mushroom porridge

The next course was a lobster tartare served with pieces of lobster and various purees. To me, this dish was good, but a couple of the purees were a little too acrid and pungent, so the balance was off.

Lobster and rose

Lobster and rose

The third course and final appetizer (although all appetizers were pretty large portions) was duck marinated in anise served with pumpkin. I think it was supposed to be a soup, but it was a little confusing because they didn’t pour very much liquid into my bowl, and the liquid that they did pour wasn’t hot. I’m not sure if the temperature was intentional, but the pumpkin/licorice/duck combo worked well together. This course was accompanied by a sage roll.

Duck, pumpkin, and licorice

Duck, pumpkin, and licorice

The first entree of smoked whitefish was served with a little bit of showmanship. The course was brought covered by a glass shell to hold in the smoke, and then the shell was removed to uncover the fish and release the smoke. While the dish was competently executed and cooked well, the fish was not particularly memorable except for the presentation.

Smoked whitefish

Smoked whitefish

Next up was an intermezzo of dried apple, apple jelly, and apple ice.

Intermezzo of apple ice

Intermezzo of apple ice

For the second main course, I had lamb served with artichoke puree, cous cous, citron, and a rosemary focaccia. At this point, I was quite full of savory foods as the portions were much larger than I expected, so I couldn’t finish the plate, but I again couldn’t find fault with the execution of the lamb although it was not particularly memorable.

Lamb "Marrakesh"

Lamb “Marrakesh”

Before dessert came a pre-dessert of sweetgrass panna cotta with dried berry powders. This was one of my favorite things of the night as there was a great contrast between the delicate flavor of the panna cotta and the bold tartness of the dried berries. This dish also felt extremely Nordic and local, which I enjoyed.

Pre-dessert: sweetgrass panna cotta

Pre-dessert: sweetgrass panna cotta

Dessert #1 was a deconstructed carrot cake of carrot puree, carrot foam, marinated carrots, carrot cake crumble, cream cheese foam, and cream cheese ice cream. This was fun, playful, and had a nice carrot flavor, but there were probably 2 too many components on the plate.

Deconstructed carrot cake

Deconstructed carrot cake

The second dessert was a chocolate cake with a molten chocolate chai ganache on the inside, chocolate sauce, chai ice cream, and chai crumbles. The balance of textures was great, with the cake, the liquid filling, the ice cream, and the chai crumbles which had a chew to them. This dish wasn’t overly chocolatey but still incredibly rich and decadent.

Chai and chocolate

Chai and chocolate

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this meal and thoroughly enjoyed it. The service was competent (although sometimes hard to understand, particularly near the ends of descriptions of dishes when they would just seem to sort of trail off and their accents would seem to get thicker), and the pacing was deliberate (my meal took about 2.5 hours). The food was extremely well executed, with a couple of memorable dishes, and the food was a good combination of Nordic cuisine with a touch of molecular gastronomy. At 85 euro for 7 courses, I also think that this is a relatively good deal for this kind and quality of food (also considering the relative expensiveness of Finland and that 85 euro is inclusive of tax and gratuity).

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Dining Review: L’Arpège, Paris, France

L’Arpège is mecca for vegetarians. It’s the only 3 Michelin star restaurant that I know of where the primary focus of the food is on vegetables. Chef Alain Passard decided to showcase vegetables in 2001, several years after he had already received a vaulted third Michelin star, and it’s a testament to his craft that he retained all three stars after making the switch. L’Arpège is also reputed to have the best butter in the world, with Bordier making a butter specifically for Chef Passard.

Given all of the above, and the fact that several chefs that I adore said that L’Arpège was on their must-eat lists, I knew that I had to eat there when I visited Paris. I made reservations well in advance using the Visa Signature Concierge, but for lunch service instead of dinner service, as the lunch menu is considerably less expensive than the dinner menu. While lunch was still a very pricey 140 euro per person, the dinner menu clocked in at 420 euro, which I believe is the most expensive menu in Paris.

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Lunch menu for the day

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Compare to a 420 euro truffle menu! Granted, truffles are expensive.

Before getting into the food, I have to say that the service was impeccable. I loved the hostess in particular, who was personable in both English and French. When my dining partner had a hard time choosing between “scales” or “feathers” for his meat course, she exclaimed, “why not have both!”, and we had an extra course compliments of the house. Chef Passard also comes around during the meal service to talk to every table. While he does seem to prefer diners who speak French, he’s friendly to all, and it’s a nice gesture for him to make an effort to chat with everyone.

Now, onto the food:

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Trio of tartelettes as an amuse bouche. Bonus: they gave us two plates! Possibly because we devoured the first plate so quickly.

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Beurre Bordier. Best butter in the world? We went through two of these slices.

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Vegetable “sushi” with horseradish

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Described as the perfect egg. I think that’s a fair description. While I’ve had great imitations at other restaurants, the egg at L’Arpège is a must.

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Onion gratin with SO MUCH BLACK TRUFFLE. I’ve never had so much truffle in my life. It’s a very different flavor than what I thought truffles tasted like. See this NYTimes article for more information about truffle oil.

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This is a vegetarian ravioli soup not on the menu

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This is one of two courses which I didn’t “get”. It’s a beet. A rather large one at that. While it was subtle and pure, I wish this course would have been smaller.

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Vegetable garden with couscous

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Celeriac pasta. Better than any actual pasta that I’ve had.

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Some of the most delicious things to grace a plate

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The other course that wasn’t my favorite, but that’s largely because I’m not a cheese person.

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Sucrerie

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Dessert #1: The archetypal creme brulee

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Dessert #2: Avocado souffle

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Dessert #3: Apple tart

In spite of consuming no meat, this was the most gluttonous food experience of my life. To give you a sense of perspective, we were seated at 12:30pm, and we finished 4.5 hours later where we had to waddle out of the restaurant. Chef Passard had warned us to save room for dessert when he came to chat with us, but I didn’t expect to receive three! (For what it’s worth, it seemed like the desserts were distributed somewhat arbitrarily: some tables received a millefeuille, which I really wanted and will be sure to request next time; some received ice cream; all seemed to receive at least two different things) When the apple tart was set on our table, my dining companion and I burst out laughing because it was all too much.

L’Arpège was a superlative dining experience. I will surely return whenever I’m in Paris. Although the price tag is high, I firmly believe that it was actually quite inexpensive for what you receive. The Michelin guide describes three-star restaurants as having “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”, and I have to agree that L’Arpège is worth a special journey, especially if you have any vegetarian tendencies.