Touch of the South

Paris – They are known, quite simply, as the Pourcel twins, the 36-year-old Jacques and Laurent, part of the youngest generation of Michelin three star chefs. After learning their craft at the hand of the best – Alain Chapel and Pierre Gagnaire to name just two --- they opened their own restaurant, Le Jardin des Sens in Montpellier in 1988. Within a decade the Pourcel brothers, along with their partner Olivier Chateau, had their coveted third star.

Now, for those who spend more time in Paris than in Montpellier, we have the pleasure of sampling their distinctively modern cuisine at the newly remodeled Maison Blanche, the large mezzanine-like affair set atop the Theatre de Champs-Elysées on the Avenue de Montaigne. There, amidst a blaze of white, with contemporary touches of black ,we dine with a chic and worldly crowd on such famed Pourcel fare as tiny Mediterranean sea urchins filled with crab meat and caviar, as well as their salad of cooked and raw vegetable of the moment, set off by a red beet caramel sauce.

Since January, the Pourcel and Chateau trio have been splitting their time between Paris and Montpellier and Paris, where they are consultants to the 10 year old Maison Blanche. The restaurant was created by chef José Lampreia, whose Maison Blanche in the 15th arrondissement was a 1980’s hit. Ten years ago he moved to the Avenue Montaigne address, but died soon after the opening.

At today’s Maison Blanche the Pourcel fare is based on the best of southern French ingredients – artichokes and asparagus in spring, truffles in winter months, along with Mediterranean sea urchins, rouget (red mullet) and daurade royale (porgy), lamb from the Pyrenees and green Lucques olives from the Languedoc.

Their wine list is amazing, filled with the best wines of Provence and the Languedoc, such as the rich and intense Domaine de la Grange des Peres, a vin de pays from the Herault, as well as the famed white Chateauneuf du Pape from the cellars of Chateau de Beaucastel.

The best dishes sampled here over several visits include their tiny penne pasta tossed with fresh fava beans, aged Parmesan, and tiny clams, all bathed in a rich basil-flavored sauce pistou; and their perfectly roasted baby leg of milk-fed lamb, cooked with a thick layer of varied herbs and served with the juices of a sweet confit of garlic. I loved, as well, their filling portions of sea urchins and caviar, and the perfectly cooked tiny poivrades artichokes, meltingly tender and irresistible.

While I find their food simpler than in the past (and applaud their success with it) I also adore the fact that, along with menu sections for cold and hot starters, fish and shellfish, meat and poultry, they also offer a good pasta and rice selection, as well as a choice of side vegetables, ranging from a rustic polenta to tiny ratte potatoes cooked with pork fat.

They even tempted me with their desserts, ranging from a loving confit of grapefruit served with a lovely lemon verbena sorbet, and an astonishingly delicious assortment of chocolate selections. Try the Mikado pralin meringue, as beautiful as it was delicious, a masterpiece of chocolate and meringue.

Maison Blanche
15 avenue Montaigne
Paris 75008
Tel : 01 47 23 55 99
Fax : 01 47 20 09 56.
Open daily. All major credit cards. A la carte, 265 to 740 francs, including service but not wine.