You can't smoke a cigar in a Paris restaurant anymore these days—it's against the law. But if you dine at the renowned two-Michelin-star Maison Rostang, you can at least sample the taste of a prime Cuban in the elegant restaurant's trademark dessert.
It's called "The Crispy Cigar," made of Havana tobacco, Hennessy Cognac fine mousse and Marsala ice cream. The dessert is so popular that it has remained on the menu for the more than 20 years since its debut. It even looks like a cigar.
Michel Rostang, the restaurant's eponymous founding chef, says that he got the idea after a trip with friends to Cuba in the early 1990s when he saw cigars being rolled. "We smoked seven or eight a day," he says. "When I came back I thought maybe there was something I could do to remember the wonderful week I had in Cuba."
Sandrine Baumann-Hautin, the restaurant's pastry chef, explained how the dessert is crafted utilizing the leaf from an inexpensive Cuban brand. "Small amounts of crumbled Havana tobacco from a Jose L. Piedra cigar are sprinkled into pastry cream. The mix is about 5 percent tobacco," she explains in her native French. Then spread and baked on a nonstick silicone sheet. The resulting mix is dark brown, because of the tobacco, and flaky. That is carefully peeled off using a dough scraper, then rolled around a stainless-steel tube or a cigar case. It's cooled, removed from the tube, stuffed with Hennessy Cognac vanilla cream and served with Marsala ice cream.
The "cigar" is brought to the table in a brown wooden humidor, which is opened and presented for the diner's pleasure. The cigar, which is topped with a little gold leaf and even includes a suggestion of ash at the tip, is then placed on the plate beside the ice cream. The slightly smoky hint of cigar in the flavor offers a fine contrast with the Cognac cream, which is ethereal.
Michel Rostang, a fifth-generation chef and restaurateur, opened his Paris restaurant in 1978 and by 1980 had earned his two Michelin stars. Over the last 38 years, he has earned a renowned reputation for both his cuisine and the ambiance, refined yet friendly and relaxed, that he creates for the many visitors to his restaurant with its attractive, dark wood interiors. The restaurant's co-chef with Rostang is Nicolas Beaumann.
The cigar dessert à la carte is priced at 27 euros (about $30), but it's included in the restaurant's special menus. A six-course tasting menu at Maison Rostang is 185 euros (about $205) and the eight-course version is 225 euros (about $248), but doesn't include wine from the prestigious cellar, with its more than 1,300 selections. But at lunch, there's a special four-course 90 euro ($100) menu, wine extra, for anyone seeking a taste of Maison Rostang without a too-extreme thinning of the wallet.
That lunch menu can include such starter specialties as semi-cooked langoustines with figs and a velvety cauliflower purée or pressed foie gras with game and poached pear. Among the main courses are veal with lobster, seasonal vegetables and gratinéed potatoes—and perhaps Maison Rostang's masterwork, pike quenelle. Passed down from his father, it's a dumpling—really a fine light fish mousse—with a lobster cream sauce in which the emphasis is on the lobster and its flavor. The dish is rich, and memorable.
And then comes dessert, and the taste of a Havana cigar. "It's a simple dessert," Chef Rostang says. But it is much ordered and much admired, a presentation that has stood the test of decades, like lighting up a classic Cuban cigar.
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