Lots of foodies were probably awaiting the opening of Philippe Conticini’s shop…..again….it is very start and stop with him, but it is so very difficult to survive in Paris when you are competing with the likes of Pierre Herme and Sadaharu Aoki.
Its on Rue de Bac, just a short walk down from Bon Marche, which carries lots of awesome foodie things and well worth a shop. If you are looking for DelicaBar at the Bon Marche, its not there anymore and has become an Italian restaurant.
Its got cool interiors and props for displaying the pastries, but the question you might be dying to ask is….how does it taste???
Anything loaded with butter and sugar can’t be bad in my book, and this Kouign Amann really does take the cake (Pardon the pun). Pronounced ‘Queen Aman’, it is a Breton specialty (From Brittany, France), and basically means Butter (Amann) Cake (Kouign). It is not that much unlike a croissant really, only that it is denser and much more caramelised.
This Kouign Amann was crispy and beautifully browned all over, and it did not have a caramel crust like Pierre Herme’s. The insides were bready, rich, dense, yet meltingly soft, a beautiful symphony of textures and my god……the BUTTER! Even with pedestrian mass-market butter, it would taste good, but if using a butter from Normandy……it would taste GREAT. My infatuation with butter borders on the obscene, so I do apologise.
This was probably the best Kouign Amann I’ve ever had, and it edged out Pierre Herme’s one only BECAUSE the one I ate at PH was purchased in the evening, meaning that it had spent the whole day on the shelves. Conticini’s one was purchased right after he opened, so it was as fresh as it could be. Had they both been eaten under similar circumstances, PH’s one would still reign supreme.
Nevertheless, I know now where to get a Kougin Amann fix in Paris.
Looking at this, you would not think it was appetizing nor worth the several Euros paid for it. The truth is, as amazing as the Kouign Amann was, this Tart Tatin fell flat on its face (Pardon the pun again!).
Texture wise, it was one goopey affair which left a lot to be desired. Even though it was mushy, it had some fibrous strands of god knows what. You can see it in the picture. Was it apple? Have you ever eaten a fibrous apple???? Everything was mush, including the puff pastry. The taste was not good either and after one bite, the pigeons got the rest.
In pastry kitchens, the first apple we reach for for baking would be the Golden Delicious, as its cheap, keeps well and readily available. Unfortunately, its one of the most tasteless apples for baking but hey, lets all pray to the alter of preservation.
I have no idea what apple this was, as it had neither the texture nor the taste of a cooked Golden Delicious or a Granny Smith. The apples used for Tarte Tatin’s are traditionally the Calville Blanc d’Hiver, apparently the perfect balance between flavour and texture. Beats me as I’ve never tried it.
Outside of that, we have the above mentioned or the Cox apple, readily available in the UK and it makes a darn good apple tart. Whatever Philippe Conticini chose to use this day, it was an absymal failure, and I really do not hold him responsible for it, as oftentimes, we are at the mercy of suppliers. If Mr Apple Deliveryguy comes up and plonks a whole carton of Pink Ladies and says, “Its all we have for the month, Guv’nor”, you are pretty much screwed.
Of course an ‘artisan’ would never hear of it and refuse to put Tarte Tatin on the menu, but what if you had a small menu like Conticini and customers asking, ‘We want Tarte Tatin dammit!’, whatcha gonna do? Many a time comes for a pastrychef to make a decision like, “Do I pick up that cake I just dropped, clean it up a bit and redecorate it so we can sell it and not make a $20 loss?”
Now……., this will never happen in my shop, trust me……(Suckers!), but it is a very real decision that occurs a lot more than not. Bottom line is, this Tarte Tatin sucked big time, though some people have given rave reviews that it was the best cake of the lot. One complaint about Conticini’s shop is the inconsistency in quality. Just my luck that I got screwed by the apple guy that day.
This monstrosity looked more like a catamaran than a Saint Honore and I was quite surprised to see that the eclairs were topped with a thin layer of pate sable before baking. This approach was highlighted in J.M. Perruchon’s new book, Entremets et Petits Gateaux Fusion, where he exclaims that it was a new approach to give more crust to the puff. However, the Japanese have been doing this with a modified pate d’amande since forever for their cream puffs.
The caramel was crunchy and the pastry cream was very nice and not sweet at all, though the vanilla flavour could be a bit stronger (Personal preference…..not the kitchen’s fault). The chantilly cream had a touch of gelatine in it, but thats how it is, for its the only way to get this cake safely back home in warm weather.
From the pictures, you can see that the puff pastry was slightly overcooked, giving a borderline burnt taste, and as a thin layer of caramel was used to ‘stick’ the eclairs onto it, the moisture from the fridge absorbed by the caramel rendered the puff pastry crunch-less. Would a light layer of cocoa butter or chocolate be too much to ask for in protecting the top layer of the puff pastry against moisture? Yes it is an extra step, but for a pastry chef reputed to be so great, surely such a tiny detail would not be overlooked right?
This was a very pedestrian Saint Honore. It wasn’t good, nor was it bad. Very underwhelmed at this point.
Some will say this is a beautiful modern rendition, and others like me will say it is yet another case of needless tinkering of a classic that resulted in another monstrosity. If one wanted to ‘pimp that Eclair’, you’d only have to look to Fauchon to see how to do it in a great way. This eclair was awkard to hold, look, as well as to eat.
However, even though the choux paste shell was nothing to write home about, the chocolate mousse was definitely chocolatey but light at the same time. It was a perfect mousse and not one of those chocolate pastry cream affairs, and not a hint of gelatinous gumminess. For some time, the La Maison du Chocolat Eclairs were the best in my book, and Conticini’s chocolate mousse edged it out.
How long this Conticini shop is going to last, I have no idea, but given the mixed reviews, it might be bad news for him. The 4 cakes here are either really good or really bad, a 50/50 ratio, which is very very dire, considering that his menu is very very small and consist of classics in French pastry repertoire.
Take away the cool shop, the snazzy location and ‘unique’ cake designs and you will find classic cakes either executed really well or really poorly. How can this happen you ask…this is Philippe Conticini after all. Beats me really.
Some readers might think I am nit-picking on details and thinking ‘This guy talks so much shit’. To me, if its good, its good, period. Go eat a Tarte Tatin at Ble Sucre and then go eat Conticini’s one and tell me the difference. Eat a Saint Honore at Fauchon and compare it to this one.
Fauchon might be a chain store, but their ability to churn out an array of damn good pastries consistently at the highest levels makes you wander about Conticini. One might argue that Fauchon has more staff and equipment, but on the flip side, Conticini is small and ‘artisanal’ so to speak, and a 50% hit ratio is unacceptable for a high level patisserie in Paris.
Reports of the inconsistency are true, and fortunately for him, judging by the crowds, people don’t seem to mind nor nit-pick at his cakes. Should really give it a 2nd chance, but for someone going to Paris for great pastries for the first time, I’d say ditch Conticini and go straight for Fauchon, Pierre Herme or Sadaharu Aoki.