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Europe: which restaurants are worth the trip from US?

  • b

Which restaurants do you have relatively recent experience(s)in any country in Europe that were so especially positive that scheduling a trip around them is warranted? If you explain why and what were the specialties and costs it would be very helpful.

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  1. The best duck I had in a month long trip to France: a carnard a la rouennaise at Beffroy in Rouen. In my mind, a meal as good as any in the grand 3 stars. I think the lunch cost about US$20-30.

    Details in the linked post.

    Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

    5 Replies
    1. re: Limster

      Yes, but was the duck worth the air fare?

      1. re: Gary Soup

        If you like duck as much as me, definitely. Especially since it's an uncommon item -- I've never encountered this dish in Boston or SF although I read that it had been served at Alain Ducasse's NYC restaurant. It's probably going to be cheaper to fly to France and eat at Beffroy in the native locale of this dish than to head to NYC and eat it at Ducasse.

        1. re: Limster

          If I could have the exact same meal in Italy or in Spain or in France that I could have in New York or in Washington (where I live) I would still believe that it is better overseas. For me part of the meal is not just the intense flavor and texture but the ambience of where I am having it. A restaurant like El Bulli or El Raco de can Fabes outside of Barcelona or Im Schiffchen or Dal Pescatore all involve travel and the challenge of "getting there." There are chicken feathers in the parking lot at Dal Pescatore. Neither Il Mulino, Babbo, Valentino or Obelisk have these outside their door. It is virtually impossible to find El Bulli or El Raco (the other two also-now that I think of it!). Any restaurant in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, D. C. can be reached with a cab. The same isn't true with the Europeans I've mentioned. (We took a cab from Barcelona to El Raco and US $60.00 later the driver still had absolutely no idea where it was!).
          Of course it's worth crossing the Atlantic. The experience is different, there is a real sense of adventure as well as a different culture. When you eat a saffron risotto and the saffron is grown outside the kitchen window (as it is at Dal Descatore) you know that you are not in an American restaurant.
          As for which particular restaurants are worth crossing for I would honestly say many. Even deli's and bakeries and cheese shops. My experience in the market at Bologna where I paid 20 Euros and had a taste of every cheese in the shop is more memorable than an anniversary at the French Laundry.
          Sometimes it's not about only the meal. But also where and what you went through to have it.

          1. re: Joe H.

            I feel I need to add a comment to Joe's post. It is true that the great restaurants of NYC, DC, LA, etc can be reached by cab and are not 'destination' restaurants like the ones he mentions in Europe. However, that is not to say that there are no 'destination' restaurants in the US. The French Laundry in Napa, The Inn at Little Washington near DC, and Arrows in Southern Maine are all excellent restaurants (though I am not too fond of the first two, the last is my absolute all-time favorite restaurant anywhere in the world) and are ones that need to be sought out.

            Yes, getting there is much of the fun, and there is something to be said about having to wade through a menu in a foreign language (or with foreign prices), but I would not encourage someone to make a special trip just to go to a particular restaurant. Whenever I have done that I have wound up disappointed; far better instead just to stumble across a place and be wowed by it in the absence of Michelin recommendations or even the advice of fellow 'hounds. One of my favorite places in France is one that I found quite by accident, paid relatively little for, and, yes, had to cross a yard full of (goose) feathers to get to. But would you or anyone else have as memorable an experience as I did there? I don't know, and I would hate for you to fly that distance and not love it.

            1. re: James G

              I'm not sure I agree with James' first paragraph but I certainly agree with his second. Everyone that has travelled and who loves good food (and loves fun places) has a few 'special' restaurants in their heart where you came across it by accident (usually by asking locals) and was truly memorable and not michelinable.

              Wouldn't it be great to buy THAT book! But, alas, it would defeat the purpose of the 'find' and these restaurants would be ruined by loads of tourists trampling on the goose feathers.

    2. There are no good restaurants in Europe. Stay in Kansas.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Mogsob

        without a doubt the wittiest - i hope - response i've read on this board to date.

      2. The first week of December 2001, I was in Budapest and Vienna. In Vienna I had the most perfect meal - food, ambience, service, nuance - in my life so far. It was at Korso, in the Hotel Bristol. Every aspect of this meal jibed - the Old World elegance; service was attentive without being oppresive; the food and wine was superb. It was a perfect evening. Would I plan a trip just around it? No. But around Vienna? Yes. I just went to Prague and had some incredible meal (see other post: Prague restaurant report(long)). I had a couple very good meals in Budapest. But if I had to rank the three: 1.Prague, 2.Vienna, 3.Budapest. Would I plan a culinary trip through the three cities? Yes. All three are on the cusp of becoming really Western European. I very much have a soft spot for Budapest - reason being that it's not a major tourist destination, it's more of a stop over for most visitors. Budapest is still a bit rough around the edges - I like that quality.

        1. the michelin red guide lists the best of the best restaurants/chefs in any given city/country in europe. The book is a handy reference you should have on hand if you are traveling.

          Among over 3000 restaurants listed, only three restaurants are judged worthy of three stars, about 19 are two stars, and about 180 one star. the rest are notable for their exceptional meals for an exceptionally low price.

          an online michelin red/green version is also available.

          Link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/red...

          Image: http://images.amazon.com/images/P/206...

          1 Reply
          1. re: christina
            Dan in Austin

            I'm not sure of your comments: there are 23 three-star restaurants in France. There are two tree-star resturants in Germany, two more in Britian and one three-star resturants in each Belgium, Switzerland and Austria.

            Link: http://www.viamichelin.com/viamicheli...

          2. p

            Michelin is quite good for but definately not the ultimate for the simple resaon that it is very French-orientated and France is NOT the only country with good food! Being British I love British food but it's absurd that that the UK has more 3-star restaurants than Italy!!!!!

            Also you will find lots of Americans at Michelin 3 stars and if that's what you want be my guest.

            Your initial question is extremely vague. How many days are you coming for? What countries? What do you want, experiences or 'bible' food?

            1. Any cuurent ideas?

              1. Restaurant Philippe Rochat in Crissier, Switzerland. But not if you think El Bulli or the Fat Duck are really the best restaurants in the world. Rochat is highly creative but doesn't rely on gimmicks, he serves real food the best way possible in a room that's neither fancy nor modern nor full of tourists or celebrities.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Snahlami

                  I would disagree that Rochat is worth the trip. The Rochat experience is a very civilised one to be sure, but it tends to be very egocentric and less perfect than people say.

                  In my opinion however, food is much more perfect in the other swiss three-star a few miles away: Le Pont de Brent (chef Rabaey)- I discuss the issue and relate meals on my French-speaking blog julotlespinceaux.blogspot.com . From Rabaey you want to get the best puff pastry in the World, and some roast meat, in particular the calf sweetbread, of which he is a world class specialist.

                  I think that the Michelin guide is highly reliable, even if it is not always at the tip of fashion and can obviously not indicate unknown places, which would make you feel smarter as you would be one of the happy few to know about it.

                  Always in my opinion, the best three-stars in France, which are definitely worth the trip from the US if you are a wealthy food lover (asking the question indicates you may be or wish you were), are:

                  L'Ambroisie in Paris, which offers the best of classic French cuisine and amazing products. It is hardly creative but almost always redefines what it cooks, be it a seabass, zucchinis, or a roasted chicken.

                  Olivier Roellinger in Cancale, near the Mont Saint Michel, create a wonderfully balanced and evocative cuisine with spices and seafood, and receives you in his family house. This restaurant can only be fully enjoyed if you are relaxed and available, and it is better to arrive one or two days in advance and enjoy the coast before dining here.

                  Paul Bocuse in Lyon is often mocked because he has been serving the same dishes for almost thirty years, but every meal I had there were flawless, delicious, and joyful. And there always was plenty to eat. The atmosphere is kind of Las Vegas-y, but what's wrong with that?

                  In Paris, Pierre Gagnaire is worth the trip for all those who place novelty, surprise, imagination and difference above perfection of execution and simple delight. It is always surprising, sometimes delicious. I don't like it at all, but it is impressive and fun.

                  Voila donc some French (and Swiss) restaurants which I consider worth the trip from the US.

                  My readings would also lead me to try, in this category, Ducasse in Monaco (not in Paris where my experiences were consistently boring and expensive), Regis Marcon in Saint-Bonnet le Froid, L'Astrance and Yannick Allııno in the Hotel Meurice in Paris, Guıırard in Eugıınie-les-Bains. And Ramsay in London. While I trust the good reports about these place, I did not eat there myself.

                2. Besides great restaurants, Paris is always worth a trip. L'Ambrosie as stated in a previous post serves the best classic French cooking. L'Arpege for seafood and vegetables. Pierre Gagnaire for his innovative ways with ingredients and his desserts. All three restaurants use the best ingredients and reflect the personalities of their chef-owner. That can't always be said for other 3 star restaurants in Paris, where sometimes the food can seem like "souless" luxurious ingredient cooking. Michel Bras in remote Laguiole for it's spectaular setting and excellent cooking rooted in it's surrounding. Eat there before he completely retires from the kitchen.
                  And Spain where a 3 star meal costs about half of Paris. El Raco can Fabes and El Cellar de Can Roca being so close to another great food city, Barcelona. Can Fabes for traditional modern Spanish food and El Cellar for experimental cooking. Can Fabes, unlike El Bulli, is not remote as stated in a previous post. Easy to reach by a 40 minute train ride from Barcelona and a five minute walk from the station in a small town of Sant Celoni. In San Sebastian, Arzak for it's family atmosphere combined with great modern Spanish cooking. Plus talking to Juan Mari and Elena Arzak while getting a tour of their kitchen. Then next day eating pinxtos at Ganbara for about the tenth of the cost of Arzak.
                  In Italy, taking the train from Venice to Padua and then a taxi to Le Calandre for it's pastas and seafood. The return train trip of stepping out the St. Lucia station in front of the Grand Canal of Venice can't be beat.