Paris Report- All Hail Pierre Gagnaire
After 3 months, I finally got all my notes together to report back on our Paris trip. There were some great experiences and some okay experiences and 1 big disappointment.
Pierre Gagnaire was easily the most impressive dining experience we’ve ever had--easily beat any fine dining establishment in the US.
Aside from our big splurge, we tried to gorge ourselves on as many croissants and baguettes as possible.
A quick rundown:
Best dining experience ever: Pierre Gagnaire
Best croissant: Maison Poujauran (7th)
Best Poulet Roti: Maitre Volailler (9th)
Best pastry: Souffle aux Pomme at La Bonbonniere de Buci (6th)
Biggest portions ever and I mean ever: Chez Denise (1st)
Biggest Let-down: L’Atelier de Maitre Albert (5th)
Best Frozen Treat: Amorino
Laduree vs Angelina's vs Berthillion for a snack: Laduree by kilometers
Dinner at Aux Lyonnais. We walked in without a reservation. The place was fully booked for the night but the manager was very nice. He asked if we wanted a drink upstairs, provided us with something to nibble on and was able to seat us within 30 minutes. I had a very light and savory crayfish quenelle with an excellent crayfish sauce that was topped with a pad of whipped cream. The whipped cream melted into the sauce and made everything rich and delicious. We also had the herb crusted cod which was good but perhaps a bit over salted. In retrospect, the dish to get might have been the braised veal with carrots which smelled heavenly. Pretty much every other table in the restaurant was feasting on this dish.
Feasted on baguettes and sandwiches from random bakeries, had some disappointing poulet roti to near the Eiffel Tower, and stumbled onto La Bonbonniere de Buci in St. Germain. We chanced on an awesome creation called soufflé aux pomme. It’s basically tarte tartin with a caramelized meringue top. We tried to go back for more on subsequent nights but they were consistently sold out...like 5 nights in a row.
L’Atelier de Maitre Albert. A huge let down. We ordered the spit roasted poulet and the spit roasted steak. The poulet was a bit dry and the steak had plenty of gristle that we had to cut away and discard. The side of potato gratin was good. But the steak was so bad it was puzzling.
Pierre Gagnaire. This place completely redefined my idea of fine dining. We did the prix fixe lunch at 90 euros and it easily outclassed everything we’ve had to date in the US: The French Laundry, Jean-Georges, Le Bernardin, Daniel, even my beloved Manresa…all clearly a step or two below Pierre Gagnaire. The American couple next to use voiced our exact same impression. Pierre Gagnaire was easily more creative and more polished than The French Laundry or Manresa. Now the food.
Traditional rustic French bread
Sweet Italian roll
Roll made with chestnut flour. This had an excellent chestnut-smoky sweetness.
Bacon fat stuffed with finely minced red and green bell pepper
Chorizo tartlet: excellent flaky tartlet with very finely minced bits of chorizo.
L’Abstance: “The Strange Taste”. A mousse of smoked cream and bread topped with kanten (a strip of gelatin) topped with beef consommé and daikon. Though called the strange taste, this dish tasted comforting and oddly familiar. After a while, I realized that it tasted like bone marrow! Mock bone marrow. Gagnaire is a genius.
Beef Carpaccio wrapped around minced avocado and cucumbers. There was a block of red cabbage jelly which think that the dish was supposed to be a deconstructed borscht.
Poulet mousse with a luxurious cream sauce and perfect spring vegetables consisting of white asparagus, tri colored baby carrots, and spring peas.
Perfectly pan seared filet of daurade with a hazelnut vinaigrette. This was served with a savory side of “gnocchi” which was kind of like a gnocchi sandwich with oven dried tomatoes in the middle and topped with a sort of parsley pesto.
Desserts were amazing and consisted of 6 courses. I’m usually not a dessert fan so my dessert notes are less detailed. However, I do remember nodding in admiration and awe at each dessert taste.
The first dessert course consisted of a plate of dark chocolate truffles with dried fruit and liquor, marzipan shaped like a cherry, white chocolate with rhubarb, violet ice cream with violet crystallized sugar.
Next came a grapefruit sorbet with wasabi that was very refreshing.
After this, my notes become illegible and any attempt on my behalf to describe the desserts would not do it justice.
It’s unfair to compare Pierre Gagnaire to restaurants in the US if only for the fact that it’s one sitting per meal as opposed to 2 or 3. However, I’ll do it anyways because that’s human nature. In terms of creativity, Manresa and Jean-Georges probably come the closest but the gap is wide. For service, Daniel and Jean-George come close. For fluidity and precision of execution, the closest would probably be The French Laundry. Pierre Gagnaire is absolutely in a league of its own.
Chez Denise. This place reminded me of an old-school steakhouse/bar. Service is swift, efficient, and professional without much chit-chat. We started with some more excellent white asparagus in vinaigrette. I had to try the andouette which was perfectly grilled and very well seasoned. It was actually pretty mild and delicious. Then we ordered a veal stew in a tomato and basil sauce. Each entrée cames with a generous side dish. We had some excellent fries and penne pasta to accompany ours. I pretty much ignored the pasta in an attempt to finish that cauldron of veal stew…and came pretty darn close, but not quite. My favorite part about this place is that you get a bottle of very good house wine and they charge you only for the amount you drink. 4 glasses ended up costing us a mere 8 euros.
A word of advice. Order 1 entree per 2 people.
Maitre Volailler (9th). On our way up to Montmarte, we stumbled on Maitre Volailler. I was across the street when I smelled and noticed the delicious chicken and lamb roasting on a spit. Half a poulet with fries was only 8.25 euros. Up until this point, I was not impressed with the poulet roti that I had tried in Paris. This place changed all that. The chicken was moist and the sauce was made from drippings, roasted tomatoes and onions. The fries were refried on the spot so they were perfectly crisp and more flavorful than any french fry I've ever had. Maybe it was the potato, maybe it was the oil? This was what I had imagined poulet roti in Paris to be like.
Allard. The prix fixe for dinner is a great deal. The escargots were delicious as was the braised beef. Classic bistro fare in a very comfortable room. Interestingly enough, the diners were pretty much all English speaking. Do the french still go to this place?
Picnic in front of Eiffel Tower. Stumbled on the best croissants during the entire trip at Maison Poujauran. We also had some excellent seafood paella from Rue Cler. It was full of monkfish, langoustine, shrimp, and clams and all for 18euros/kg if I remember correctly. A place like Whole Foods would charge twice that even with the exchange rate.
We thought Berthillion and Angelina’s were a little overrated. Laduree on the other hand, stood up to the hype. Service was also impeccable at Laduree as compared to Angelina’s. I didn’t care much for Berthillion personally and found myself at Amorino’s over and over again getting the “geant”. It’s been a while but I thought it tasted as good as the gelato in Rome.
I still have dreams about Pierre Gagnaire, Maison Poujauran, Maitre Volailler, Chez Denise and that elusive soufflé aux pomme at La Bonbonniere de Buci.
Thanks for the great report, esp. the review of Gagnaire. How far in advance did you make your lunch reservation? (I am going in November, and they e-mailed that I have to wait until a month before to book, so I was curious if lunch reservations are easier to come by than dinner.) That soufflé aux pomme sounds delicious. I've added it to my (long) list.