On the continuum of critical writings, restaurant reviews fall somewhere between the Venice Biennale and the toaster ovens in Consumer Reports. When the restaurant culture began to take off in the 1960’s, the review media barely existed, but with the expansion of the restaurant business, reviewing grew likewise. Despite the inevitable hacks and the legions of bloggers with their cellphone photos, restaurant reviewing can be a legitimate form of journalism, and it has had some who are enjoyable to read beyond a review’s sell-by date. Also there is at least one master whose writings could conceivably remain immortal as the Annales school of historians that studies accounts of every day life will be having a field day with his output. That is Pulitzer Prize-winning restaurant critic Jonathan Gold who showed how much the form has evolved since The New York Times’ Craig Claiborne began in 1962 writing short, perfunctory descriptions and soon after giving one-to-three stars to New York City restaurants.
Inconceivable these days, Bernard Pacaud began his apprenticeship with the Lyons culinary legend La Mère Brazier when he only 15 years old. Her demands on the quality of ingredients of all kinds defined Pacaud’s cooking philosophy very early: “Only use the best. The guests end up paying for it”, he says. Pacaud also does not pose for front pages and rarely appears on television. “I’m just interested in doing my job as well as possible,” he says. But Bernard Pacaud is disillusioned: “Just look at what has become of gastronomy!”
In terms of experiencing this Age d’Or de la Gastronomie, which is what we think every aspiring gastronome who already hasn’t should, there are luxury hotel restaurants to go to where you can be surrounded by opulence with formality dating back to the late 19th-century such as L’Epicure, the main dining salon in the Hotel Bristol or the Alain Ducasse Restaurant Le Louis XV in the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, where the cuisine and service hark somewhat back to this Golden Age. Yet in our estimation, no restaurant quite captures the undistilled essence of fine dining in France of the last 30 years of the 20th-century than L’Ambroisie.
Because the globe-trotting “influencers” have been paid to promote restaurants that are sponsored by business conglomerates, the overall result has been the decline of true fine-end destinations, in general, and “la grande cuisine francaise,” in particular. But “la grande cuisine francaise” is not yet gone. How else can one explain the sudden arrival of Le Clarence onto the dining scene in Paris?