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Aug 2, 2001 09:57 AM

If you could only choose one 3-star restaurant in Paris....

  • k

Which would it be? I am going there soon and have been seduced by this board into splurging for one 3-star meal. Please tell me:
1) Favorite 3-star place?
2) Why?
3) How much?
4) Dress Code?
I don't mind paying up for great food, but it (along with the service and the ambiance) better be great - no stuffy, pretentious, coasting-on-a-long-ago-earned- reputation-type places, please.

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  1. The recent Guy Savoy review had my mouth watering and I made a reservation there for end of Sept. But they are not a 3 star. I have eaten at the following 3 stars in the past 24 months. Lucas Carton, L'Ambrosie, Taillievent, Gagnaire and Ducasse. I have listed them in my order of preference. I will return to Lucas Carton in Sept. Reason. I had a meal like the one described at Guy Savoy. I was there for lunch, eating alone, and the staff, particularly the sommelier Jerome Moreau, caught on real quick that I was serious about food and wine. They let me order several half portions, had EXCELLENT wines by the glass specially chosen for each course and discussed the food and wine with me each time they served. The food is not shocking for it's experimentation. But the quality of the ingrediences is outstanding and two or three flavors are brought forward in each course that are sublime, especially in combination with the wine. In others words you sigh with joys over the taste of every course. It was so good, I went back for dinner THE SAME NIGHT. And believe me that gave me very special treatment that night even though I do not even order a main course because I had eaten so much for lunch. And I had not left a huge tip a lunch. The reason for the service was because they enjoyed having a guest who was there for the food, not just to say they had eaten at a 3 star. But a key to all this was that I let the staff now from the start that I was serious about food, knowledgable and looking for something special. Just like what Peter and Gary did at Guy Savoy. Make sure you do this, ask for Jerome and I am sure you will have a meal to remember. What you will not get is food that you wonder "how were they able to do that technically" which seems to be the theme at some restaurants today like Gagnaire. Every course at Gagnaire impressed me, but they impressed my mind more than my tastes buds, heart and soul. And matching wine was impossible even with two different bottles. Some comments on the others. L'Ambrosie is closest to Lucas Carton but did not have the wines by the glass and I found it difficult to get good contact with the wait staff. But the food is again concentrated on the heart and taste buds not the mind. Taillievent has great food and service and wine, but the food is not quite as good as the first two. Gagnaire is again a place for the mind with about 1 of 3 dishes having amazing taste. 1 of three have great taste. 1 of 3 seems to be a miss. Ducasse used to be my favorite but the last time I was there, (the night before my great lunch at Lucas Carton this past April) I was disappointed. Even though the reservation was in my name, the staff ignored me the whole night and only addressed my guest who spoke French (I do not), only one of 4 courses was exceptional, and the wine recommendation were overpriced and very traditional (Red Bordeaux and White Bourgogne) despite my asking for something more adventurous and unusual. I ignored the red recommendation and went for an old Cabernet Franc (1977) that was outstanding at a reasonable price for it's age. The prices are about the same at all of them. All require you to were a suit and tie I believe. Lucas Carton is the most informal, then Taillievent and Gagnaire. L'Ambrosie is formal on the romantic side and Ducasse formal on the nobel/snobbish side in my opinion. But finally, if this is your first 3 star, you will surely enjoy ANY of these restaurant IF you make early contact with senior staff and let them know you are a SERIOUS chowhound. If you are humble and awed by the situation the staff in all the places will put you on autopilot and give you a very standard, but correct, experience. That's my opinion after a few dozen such meals over the past 15 years.

    5 Replies
    1. re: mdibiaso

      WOW! That is what I call a response - you are obviously serious about food and are able to say what moves you and why (and don't mince words, either) - I LIKE IT!! I aspire to your status as someone who loves food and wine without being a food/wine snob - thanks again for the reply - I will let you know where I go/what I thought when I return.

      1. re: KPS

        Hope you really enjoy your meal and your trip.

      2. re: mdibiaso

        I couldn't agree more but I haved lunched at both Lucas-Carton and Ambroisie in just a tieless shirt. Last March in Paris, the Bristol and Four Seasons
        George V supplied me with a jacket to cover my sweater.
        The staff treated me wonderfully for my d'ebrouillardisme.

        1. re: mdibiaso

          I tried to make reservations at Lucas Carton, but it is closed until 9/3, so we won't be able to make it (disappointed!). Was successful getting reservations at La Regalade and Guy Savoy - need one more idea - how about Aperge? I thought I heard that the menu has recently gone off the vegetarian deep-end, so to speak....?

          1. re: KPS

            I would then try Taillevent in Paris unless you want something very romantic, then try L'Ambrosie. Or if you want to try one of the places outside Paris like Boyer (outside of Paris they maybe are open). If you have some foie gras at Taillevent you can do this test. Ask for a glass of Sauternes with the liver. When I did that in April THIS year we got a 1971! Barsac at 90 francs a glass: A very reasonable price in my opinion. And how many restaurants today have a 1971 as their house sweet white! It is moments like this thatr nake 3 star dining in France an experience of a life time.

        2. Was there about 1 year ago. The food is very good but the overall experience is not 3 star in my opinion due to the friendly but not overally competent service: You should go there at some time but not for your first 3 star.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mdibiaso

            Arpege: Had 2 excellent dinners one year. The next year had a lunch (mediocre) and good dinner with the "friendly but not ,,competant service" you experienced. Have never gone back.

          2. Expect to pay at least 200$ a person for food and wine at any 3 star if you want anything but the cheapest wines available. Courses I had at Lucas Carton that were extraordinary were: Langoustines with an chopped boiled egg sauce. Sounds simple, but the cleaness of the flavor, the contrast of the light langoustine with the rich egg sauce is tremendous. A nice clean Chablis with a little herb scent cuts right through the egg sauce and mirrors the chives in the sauce. Don't miss this one. Large sole tempura style. The sole is cooked to perfection, very light and the sauce has a curry accent. All this matches the Viognier wine perfectly, the flowers of the wine mirroring the exotic flowers of the curry. Fourme d' Ambert (blue cheese) with a glass of 1983 Graham's port. Like the cheese at Guy Savoy this also had a special fruit bread with it. The cheese really brought at the fruit in the old port and the wine brought out the sweetness of the cheese under all the salt. Tremendous. And I do not like blue cheese normally but I let them convince me to try this. Foie Gras with Sechuan pepper and exotic fruits with glass of Gewurztraminer. The foie gras was seared to perfection. Crispy outside but soft, tender and full of all its juices inside. The aromatic sauce as a great contrast to the richness of the foie gras and again the exotic fruits and spices of the wine mirrored perfectly the spices and fruits of the food. When discussing the dish with the sommelier he told me that they had found this wine a few years ago and spent several months developing a dish that would perfectly match the wine. They succeeded. It is this approach and thinking around matching food with wine that I believe makes Lucas Carton unique amongt the 3 stars I have visited in France. No others I have visits offer more than 3 or 4 wines total by the glass and they are usually not thought to match any special dish. And they surely don't build dishes with a specific wine in mind. So if you are person this loves combining food with wine (and are used to restaurants in the US that may offer 15-20 good wines by the glass) I think Lucas Carton is the place for you. But again, don't expect to be shocked by the way the food looks or how it was prepared (no oyster jellies here). All the work and effort goes into flavors and if a dish works they will keep it on the menu for years (like their Lobster with vanilla sauce).

            1. k
              kirk wallace

              for your first 3 star, i will have to vary slightly with the prior post: to me, Taillevent is the gold standard: What T does best is service and wine, but michel del burgo is cooking better each time we go it seems (we try to make it 3 times a year, but often only manage twice), and the food is easily up to an "objective" 3 star standard (the lievre a la royale in a dark, bittersweet chocalte sauce last november still haunts my taste dreams in the most pleasant way; only been to L.Carton once and the food was very good, but the service (based on our own table and watchign what they were doing to others) can be very substandard (which is to say very good by most mortal measures but indifferent or scattered by 3 star standards. It is a bustly (can be fun) almost 19th century cafe atmosphere (think of the Harmonia Gardens from Hello Dolly!. Truly superb wine list. If i were suggesting based on food alone (or as the paramont criterion), provided that the other factors would not detract from the food, I would send you to Arpege -- our hands down favorite, but the service there can be quite abrupt if they are having a bad night -- on a good nigth you will feel charmed and flirted with (although not cossetted as you will feel at T.)-Passard is truly a genius and not an crazy one like Gagnaire. Gaignaire's food can be some of the best food you'll ever put in your mouth, but you will have to fight to get it -- the service is apaulingly bad (and i mean that for normal standard), esp. if your french is not very, very good.
              Grnad Vefour is fun and the food and service are very goood; wine list is surprisingly meager; if you are a decorative arts freak and love 18/19th C. glass design , you'll probably like it more than we did. L'Ambroisie is to my mind the prettiest restaurant dining room on earth and the service we've had had been truly gentle (it was our first 3 star -6 years ago) and so I have a soft spot for it; i think Pacaud's cooking is perhaps too understated or refined for my taste, so i think of it as very good, but not blow your sox off or even comforting the way i feel about Alain Dutournier's places (Trou Gascon and Carre des Feuillantes).
              Good luck -- you actually can't go too far wrong.

              1. I hate to be contrarian, but with the possible exception of Taillevent and the admission that I have not yet snagged a table at Gagnaire, I would never consider having my first three star meal in Paris in the first place. The point of a three star meal is the totality of the experience: food, wine, ambiance, service, decadence. The only way to get the best of all of these things is to visit one of the three star restaurants in the French Provinces. First and foremost, most of these establishments have glorious rooms. Thus, you can stay where you eat, drink without worrying whether you will need to drive or find a taxi, and wake up to the best breakfasts in France. Let yourself get wrapped in the luxury of the whole experience with a four pm arrival, just in time for a swim in the pool, a walk around the local village or a nap.

                In the typical provincial three star restaurant, the entire dinner will be choreographed. You will order your aperitif in the salon or out on the terrace, with abundant time to digest the menu and the wine list and to get all the details from the maitre d'. When your table is ready, you will be escorted to the dining room, where the wines you have chosen are ready for you and three or four people will attend to you needs. The service will be impeccable down to every detail. Likely there will be a procession of amuse buche before the heart of the meal begins and afterward cheeses that you will simply never find except at another restaurant of this sort. After dinner, you can retire to the salon for coffee, chocolates, a brandy and perhaps a cigar. Here you can visit with the chef (who most often is in the kitchen), who will actually spend the time talking to you about your meal. Incidentally, for the best experience, avoid Saturday night (too busy with weekend travelers from Paris) and Sunday night (typically slow,the staff tends to be tired).

                Where would I go? Try Gerard Boyer in Reims (just 90 minutes from Paris by car). Buereheisel and Auberge de L'Ill in Alsace are magnificent. George Blanc north of Lyon is our favorite restaurant in France. For very innovative food, make the pilgrimage to Laguiole to experience Michel Bras. We also love L'Esperance in Vezelay, which lost its third star but deserves to have it back. And for a sleeper that just might be the next three star restaurant, try Pyramide in Vienne.

                7 Replies
                1. re: Peter R.

                  I agree. 3 rosettes outside Paris are better. I would rate Troigros and Veyrat above the others listed. Comme Chez Soi in Brussels is more than a match for anything in Paris. And in it's prime so was Aubergine in Munich. The best overall eating in the world today is in Tokyo.

                  1. re: Peter R.

                    I have also been to both George Blanc and Boyer and both are tremendous and the cities of Reims (with all the Champagne houses) or Vonnas are great to visit. So by all means if you want to be outside of Paris for your first three stars these are great choices. But to enjoy them best you do HAVE to stay in the hotels themselves. For a weekend this means booking VERY EARLY. If you can go midweek it should be much easier to get a room. But I am not sure I would say these are better than Paris. But they are definately at the same level. Boyer is also VERY good for first timers as the Maitre d' is the best I have ever experience. He will make sure you are happy and will make sure you feel like you are getting something only special guests get (like offering you something not on the menu). If you go to Boyer make sure you get the salmon fume ala minute, I can still taste it today. But again, you probably cannot go wrong at any three star if you avoid letting the staff run you auto pilot as they do many Japanese guest or Americans who give them the impressions they are their to "do" a restaurant (like a couple I sat next to at Ducasse 3 years ago that insisted on drinking Chateau Latour to fish with lemon sauce.) Make sure they know you are a Chowhound. A good way to do this is to ask them to do something special, like serve a main course as a half course for an extra appertizer, or tell them that you want a wine outside of Bordeaux or Bourgogne because you want to be adventurous. Be calm, don't let anyone rush you, be firm and you should have the meal and food experience of your life so far whereever you go.

                    1. re: mdibiaso
                      hobart xaxinojo

                      i would instead go to ducasses la bastide de moustiers in provence. it is not 3 stars but is fantastic. i agree that the paris 3 stars are just as good as in the country side especially in the case of l'esperance. i do not recommend gagnaire. just not worth it with so many others around. the food is just okay and the ambiance is lacking.

                    2. re: Peter R.

                      Any ideas on a hotel/restaurant like this near Bordeaux or between Bordeaux/Biarritz?

                      1. re: KPS

                        Les Prés de Eugénie is a highly recommended 3 star with spa and option of low calorie or gourmet food and several options for accommodations. Link to their home page below


                      2. re: Peter R.

                        i agree completely; let me add a plug for Troisgros in Roanne; we were blown away by the elegance and combination of tradition and innovation; can't decide whether i like it better than Georges Blanc or not, which was previously my hands down favorite outside of Paris (and in Paris only Taillevent and Arpege for me had ben in the running to edge GB out). If you really go for the wild creativity thing, Veyrat in Verrier sur lac near Annecy is better in every way than Gagniere and offer all of that beautiful setting/choreography you so accurately and elegantly spoke of.

                        1. re: Peter R.
                          hobart xaxinojo

                          have only been to l'esperance. stayed there several days and did not think too much of the food. it was all very good but nothing that blew me away and that is what you pay the big bucks for. the service was just okay. the ambiance was just okay. it was not some place that deserves even 2 stars in my opinion.