Le Cheval d'Or
Reexamining French & Italian through an Eastern lens
Hanz Gueco has a way of making us think, or more precisely, re-think.
I first got to know him around the rue Richelieu, where he was running the kitchen at Ellsworth. Back then, he was cooking dishes like trout Coulibiac and duck à l’orange, and his rendering of these French classics was impressive. But they were also visually playful. Take, for example, this pavlova that looks like a cracked egg.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that Gueco was an artist outside of the kitchen. In his spare time, he was fashioning leeks and asparagus out of paper and posting them on Instagram.
After leaving Ellsworth, Gueco spent a summer in residence at Le Six Paul Bert. He called this pop-up Berto and spent those weeks making Italian food… sort of. As time went on, the food he posted became more and more Asian-inflected. I watched from afar (we don’t cover pop-ups) as he drizzled burrata with chili crisp and served ricotta-stuffed tortellini with mapo sauce. Gueco, who is Filipino-Australian, was making me think about the crossover flavors between Italy and Asia, even though I didn’t actually taste this food.
In a sense, I did get to taste it when I (re)visited Le Cheval d’Or. Gueco has been the chef here since September, and some of the dishes I saw on that Berto feed have reappeared, like the mapo tortellini above. But at Le Cheval d’Or, Gueco is taking his knife to French classics, as well as Italian ones.
Our meal began with some re-envisioned French amuses. A gorgeous silver basket held gougères that were sticky and coated with sesame seeds. A reimagined Arpège egg tasted a lot like chawanmushi, the silken egg custard from Japan.
From the rather long menu, we ordered ten dishes and were rewarded with an extra one on the house (I’m not anonymous here). The Croque Monsieur that Gueco sent out was one of our favorites, so I’m happy that we didn’t walk away without tasting it. Others have described it as his take on shrimp toast. I wouldn’t have minded a little more shrimp, or a little more funk. But it was undeniably delicious.
We also went wild for these tempura-fried potimarron (squash) sticks, glazed in a sweet and sour sauce. If they’re on the menu when you go, don’t skip them.
The pithivier, or savory pie, was also delicious. The pastry crust was crisp on the outside, tender underneath, and wrapped around the best tasting lamb and shitake meatball. There was the slightest hint of Szechuan pepper. I would have liked a little more heat, but this is Paris.
Another hit were these bouchées de Saint-Jacques - delicious scallop and shrimp dumplings topped with chewy kale.
There were a number of dishes we didn’t love. Their Asian take on Barbajuan (a swiss chard-stuffed fritter from the Riviera) featured herb-stuffed radicchio wrappers and a dipping sauce. A fun concept, but it ate strangely, and bitterly.
I also wasn’t wild about the chicken terrine. It was either under-salted, or just too subtle for me to grasp.
Desserts were fantastic, and fantastically light. I loved Gueco’s refreshing take on a pavlova with pear, yogurt, and litchi granita.
This Île Flottant was also a kick:
I’d tasted his more classic version at Ellsworth. But here, Gueco has boba-fied the dessert by adding black tea and tapioca pearls.
Gueco is part of a foursome that took over Le Cheval d’Or in the fall. His partners include Luis Andrade (Clown Bar), Nadim Smair (David Toutain) and Crislaine Medina, whose wine and service I adored at Le Rigmarole. Together, they are attempting to rescue this space from the shared memory of what happened here four years ago. On the night we went, the restaurant was packed with young diners and everyone seemed to be having fun. So what they’re doing - creating innovative dishes, offering kind service, setting the table with beautiful objects - seems to be working.
Le Cheval d’Or is a great option for those who are looking to take a break from (or think differently about) French food. And that seems to be a lot of you, according the poll we published last week.
I had been laboring under the assumption that our readers were less interested in foreign flavors while visiting France, but that really doesn’t seem to be the case. I’m excited to broaden our coverage in the coming year and share more special spots like Le Cheval d’Or… just as soon as I publish our guide to ultra-classic French bistros, which is coming very soon.