Pampered in the “Provinces”

June 24, 2015By Heidi EllisonRestaurants
Wall-to-wall carpeting helps keep noise levels down.
Last week I trekked out to Fontainebleau with two friends to test L’Axel, a restaurant they had heard great things about. When we walked in, I knew we weren’t in Paris anymore. The place had the feel of a plush provincial bourgeois restaurant, not a bad thing at all, just slightly old-fashioned (although the restaurant is only a couple of years old), complete with wall-to-wall carpeting (most welcome, along with the baffled ceiling, when the noise levels started to rise). The decor was simple, with a touch of color from a series of abstract paintings.

We happily took our seats, surprised to see so many young people – one large table was entirely taken up by a group of English-speaking young men, one of whom entered skateboard in hand – until we figured out that they must have been celebrating the end of the school year at the elite business schools in the area.

There was much confusion at the beginning of the meal, with the many youthful servers forgetting the details of the specials they were supposed to describe or coming to recite the ones we had just heard. We were glad of the repetition, however, since we, too, had trouble remembering all the details, and the service eventually smoothed out.

All three of us chose the €52 “Menu Gastronome” even though a €33 lunch menu was also available. Right away a parade of amuse bouches began to appear, starting with a tiny tomato and cucumber tart and an emulsion of smoked haddock and foie gras.


The latter sounds weird, but both were delicious. Then came little baby ice cream


cones filled with potato ice cream and topped with bits of chorizo. Original but rather bland. Next up was a sinfully creamy Vichyssoise


thick enough to stand up on its own and looking for all the world like a woman’s breast.

I could have easily continued with these tasty trifles, but the parade finally came to an end when our starters arrived.

I had the tuna prepared three ways and artistically presented on the plate. One was a tartare wrapped in a thin slice of cucumber


sushi-style; the second was tataki with a carpaccio of foie gras (this chef likes to mix fish with foie gras and does it very effectively); and the third was a “sandwich” of tuna in a little structure of crispy wafers. Each one was more exquisite than the next.

My friends had the white asparagus in a bisque


cream with poached quail’s eggs, poutargue (dried fish roe) and teeny shrimp, all in all a most felicitous combination.

For my main course, I had tenderloin of Iberian pork with Noirmutier potatoes and pea purée with mint, the pink of the meat echoed


by a few leaves of stewed red onion. Each element was perfectly cooked and of the highest quality. On the other side of the table, my friends were enjoying plaice with crushed


tomatoes, broccoli and ravigote sauce.

One of the highlights of the meal was the cheese course: shavings of Gouda aged “1,000 days,” served with greens and sprinkled with brewer’s yeast. Gorgeous! And something you could easily serve at home if you could find Gouda this good.

Desserts: my friends scored big with a luscious


coffee sorbet served with blackcurrant-flavored meringue and balls of mascarpone rolled in cocoa. I admit I was a little jealous as I ate my


strawberries with yogurt and verbena cream – nice but not extraordinary.

I was placated by another parade of extra goodies: a pretty little verrine filled with creams of three colors and flavors: poppy flower, mint and green tea, followed by a plate


of chocolate truffles, macaroons and mini lemon cakes with meringue.

We accompanied this regal repast, for which credit goes to youthful chef/owner Kunihisa Goto, very pleasantly with a 2011 Saumur-Champigny from Château de Targé.

I’m sure it won’t come as any surprise when I tell you that L’Axel has a Michelin star. Worth the detour? Definitely!


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