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Jun 3, 2007 08:58 PM

Paris' Best Restaurants Revisited

So I'm an NYCer going to Paris with my dad in a few weeks. I've read and re-read the boards and could not be more confused. We'll be there for 5 days and are staying at the Hotel Mayfair on Rue Rouget de L’Isle. We'd love some recommendations for great local casual within walking distance but also for at least one muti, Michelin-starred restaurant.

At first I thought it should be Taillevent for dinner, then I was persuaded to think it should be Guy Savoy for lunch. And now I'm thinking it should be Plaza Athénée, L'Ambroise, or Pierre Gagnaire. What gives?

To say that I'm confused is a gross understatement. We don't want stuffy and we don't enjoy heavy, but we do want an amazing dining experience that we'll remember for the rest of our lives. Please help! And if you know of any, please throw in some bistro or other suggestions around our hotel. Have heard good things about 404 and Le Florimond.

So many thanks!

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  1. See how hard the life of the French foo-lover is? Some people mock the Michelin and the self-centerred view of the French, but a lifetime is hardly enough to have the full French experience. Not to mention other great foods.

    I think all would agree that all three-star restaurants are amazing . Which is why we reviewers try to give a sense of the specificity of the place rather than a blunt listing. There is a restaurant for each mood.

    So you need to be more specific about what you would like. L'Ambroisie, Gagnaire and l'Arpège are generally acknowledged as the three best foods. Gagnaire will blow your mind and you might be unable to remember what you ate there in detail, because each course is made of fice different plates at least and often present never-heard of combination such as asparagus with passion fruit (yes, I do remember this one). The setting is contemporary and cosy, soft light and there is a dedicated smoking-room and perfect cigars.

    L'Ambroisie offers ansolute classicism in a 18th century setting. There is something intimidating about the place. But this is also mind blowing, in a way opposite to Gagnaire. There are no more than three flavours per dish, and there is no degustation menu, and almost no extra (one mise en bouche and a few mignardises on the side of the dessert). Pacaud is the chef that chefs prefer, he comes very close to perfection. But this is it -- there's nothing party-like about the place, beyond the orgasmic food. I personnally remembered feeling like purring on a dish of strawberries with ice-cream. You can have a sense of both Pacaud and Gagnaire by watching the DVDs that were made about them (a small investment compared to the price of the meal). ("L'Ambroisie" and "L'invention de la cuisine").

    With Passard at l'Arpège, you will have the same quality of products, cooking and seasoning that you get from Pacaud, in a very contemporary setting (see his website for an idea of the setting ), with a very minimalist, virtuoso cuisine focused on vegetables and fish. He does, however, the best chicken: it is slowly grilled, turned every few minutes for two and a half hour. Another example is the Gratin d'oignons, which is just that (gratinée onions, pepper, parmiggiano, and charged ca 80€ if I remember correctly. It is positively delicious. Perfect cooking is Passard's gig, andit is impressive. Prices of the wine list are even crazier than they are in the two others (more reasonable wine prices in particular at Taillevent, whose cellar has been around for decades and is masterly managed).

    As far as Savoy goes, the food maybe a touch less sublime than in the two others, but the experience is one of total "art-de-vivre" -- and everything is delicious. The savoy room is contemporary, with lots of contemporary and African art. It is made with Wenge wood and leather, has no window. Soft light and a team that is here for your pleasure. You will be offered extras, sweets, nice attentions all the time, without feeling that this is too much food. You'll have serious if you want serious ambience, joker if you prefer. It is also very jet-setty, with lots of politicians, pop stars, actors, etc. But you usually do not feel less important because they are here, which is alas not the case in all restaurants.

    Also, lunch menu (which you need to reserve specifically, only one table per day) offers good value at Savoy (100€ for a full meal, from the Carte). This is noteworthy because we are talking for all four restaurants of 600+€ checks.

    I will give a more detailed impresion about lunch menu at Guy Savoy after I go there later this week -- stay tuned.

    I hope that this helps with your confusion.

    There are many good bistros within walking distance of your hotel, many bad ones too. One option is to go towards les Halles. Denise, often mentioned on Chowhound, Adrienne Chez la Vieille. Lots of good japanese food in the Rue Sainte Anne. One of the best Baguettes of Paris at Josselin, rue Saint-Honoré just after crossing the rue du Louvre.

    3 Replies
    1. re: souphie

      Thanks everyone for the thoughtful advice. I'm now leaning toward a lunch, either at Guy Savoy or Taillevent. And Souphie, please do let me know how your lunch goes, and if anyone else has experienced either, would love to know which to book. Thanks again!

      1. re: telichte

        why not Taillevent for lunch? I've been there for both, with great delight, but the lunch was far better QPR than dinner! If you go for the 70 euro lunch (wine is extra) you'll have a few euros left for another great meal!

        1. re: telichte

          As promised, review of the Savoy lunch last Thursday.

          First things first: it really was a 100€ menu. We were given menus without prices, but they were identical to the regular Savoy menu. So this is excellent value, at least when compared to usual Savoy prices.

          It is still Savoy however, so this two persons lunch still ended up costing 364€ because we had three glasses of wine and a coffee each.

          I do not believe that the intrinsic quality of the food is up to the best restaurants mentioned in this thread (l'Arpège, Gagnaire, and mostly l'Ambroisie). I do however believe that the overall experience is one of the best ones in Paris. I totally confirm that a meal in here is a wonderful party. The setting is remarkably pleasant, and the touch of table cloth of leather chair, the very sophisticated, if discreet, lighting awake senses from the get go. You will always be brought and offered a little something, and strangely, it almost never feels like too much.

          The staff is incredibly professional and highly individualised -- not only adapted to the client, but also letting each waiter's personality express. Eric Mancio, sommelier and director of the restaurant, is a hugely kind, sensitive yet simple guy. He chooses wines that are like him, watching for you, almost taking care. A incredibly mineral, water-like Condrieu came with our sausage. The aperitif was an intensely sweet, but not over-sugaring Muscat vendanges tardives of Ostertag, and the meat came with one of those intense red wines from the Southwest that are the new Eldorado for sommeliers in search for affordable wines and solid margins.

          Hubert, the German maitre d' is a local star. He will always offer to take over your meal (starting with, but not limited to, your order) and wish you "Pon plaizir" (or "good pleasure" in French with a German accent). For me, he always plays a kind and sweet lusty clown, posing as having trouble letting go of the food he is serving. Last week, he was also advertising his "fraizes de Ploukastel korchées de soleil" (or his "Plougastel strawberries stuffed with sun" with the same double translation), even when passing by our table pushing the trolley of desserts. As soon as you are seated, you are brought a mini foie gras club sandwich, which is assembled quickly on a little fork in front of you and given to you directly in your hands. Other sweet little bites will also be given hand to hand during the meal on many occasions, from marshmallows to caramelised grapefruits.

          Little extras go on and on -- to our three course meal, you should add three or four amuse-bouches, all very good and unchallenging, an extra bowl of soup (artichoke, truffle and Parmiggiano, with wild mushroom brioche on the side, as an apology to my lady friend who did not order, nor enjoy, the pig’s head sausage, for some reason), and an endless procession of pre-desserts, desserts trolley, post-desserts, post-coffee sweets.

          Before we got to the never ending dessert, we had a first course out of the regular menu, by my special request: a sabodet. It is a traditional sausage from the Lyons region, made out of pig's head and served with a potato salad. Don't worry, it was my idea and Savoy offers first course less scary (see his website). It still, to me was admirable, and I will talk about it more in my French-speaking blog.

          We then had the signature dish -- Côte de veau juste rôtie, purée de pommes de terre. I always loved that dish, simple, intense, and refined. Contrariwise to my memories (hadn't eaten there in years), the cooking is OK but not perfect. Well, some parts are perfect, some overcooked. The juice is liquid and yet too strong, almost with a taste of burnt. And the purée, that has juice and butter in it, is too rich. But have the three together in one spoon, and it is just delicious. Also, it is always a pleasure for me when my meat is sliced in front of me and my plate assembled on the trolley by high-class professional who make it look like it is easy.

          Delicious is the motto of the place. Your pleasure, your immediate and full pleasure, is taken very seriously around here.

          Again, it is not to say that it was perfect cooking, easy to digest and could not be better. Definitely felt like I ate and drank a lot a few hours later. But I will go back and bring friends for expensive parties of all sorts. It is not accurate to call this place a restaurant. It is more a food theatre.

      2. Decent restaurants that are a block or two from your hotel include: Lescure, Chez Flottes, Le Souffle, Cafe Very, Carr's (Irish pub), Le Castiglione (if you must have a burger) and Ardoise. A number of the posh hotels in the area have Michelin starred restaurants as well. Goumard is a one star fish house that we like. Florimond is three stops away on the Metro.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Oakglen

          Although not as close as the other restaurants I mentioned previously, Le Rubis on Place du March St. Honore, is my favorite wine bar. Original zinc bar and an interesting colection of local patrons make this place unique. It hasn't changed in the many years I have visited Paris. A good spot for a light meal and some excelent wines from small vintners.

        2. I believe your hotel is in the 6th arrondisement. My all time favourite restaurant is there too. Le Comptoir du Relais... dinner reservations are booked up until November I believe, but they don't take bookings for lunch. Last time I was there I took the track down to Car de l'Odean for a late lunch (3PM). I wasn't dessapointed and had the most fantastic menu of a salad with artichoke, grean beans, fried onions and foie gras (shared this with husband). As a main i had a beautifuul beef stew and my husband had a delicious light lamb roullade. We both had desert, not sure what my husband had, but I had the mouth watering rice pudding with poached white peach.
          We had wine, water and coffee with this meal and the bill came to 77 euro - such a pleasant surprise.
          Not a light lunch... but telling you about it still makes my mouth water! Go!

          1 Reply
          1. re: loisstella

            Hotel is in the 1st. L'Absinthe is a another wonderful bistro nearby (marche saint honore). Also Georges not far away. Les lyonnais.

          2. You really can't go wrong with any of the top places. As Souphie suggests, they are all different and you should choose the one that sounds like the best fit for your particular tastes.

            As for more casual, yet highly memorable, dining...

            On a foodie weekend trip this February, my favorite place was Au Fil de Saisons, a place I couldn't resist trying after reading about it on Chez Christine's blog (link below). This restaurant is definitely on my list of places to recommend and to revisit. The amuse was a tiny cup of asparagus soup. For starters, I had the house foie gras - a large slice served with a sprinkling of pepper and sea salt and a few divinely supple dried apricots. My friend had the scallops, which were outstanding. My main, the house special duck cooked for 7 hours, with foie gras melting on top of it, was wonderful. My companion had the duck breast with chestnuts and grapes, and it too was fabulous. For dessert, I had the palette of ice creams. All five were delicious, but I was too full to eat more than a few bites of each. My friend had a millefeuille with rhubarb and kiwi which I thought sounded odd, but it was scrumptious. We shared a bottle of 2005 Chateau des Hautes Ribes Vacqueryas, a very smoky red wine that paired nicely with our duck. The tab for dinner was an even 90Euros for the two of us.

            1 Reply
            1. re: purplescout

              That was my favorite place as well Purplescout! Absolutely loved it and went back a second time after an unremarkable lunch at Les Bouquinistes (another Guy Savoy place). Also, enjoyed our lunch at Taillevant, but Au Fil de Saisons was pretty much the best meal I've had in a long time!