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Sep 11, 2007 04:23 PM

Paris Restaurants in January

My wife and I will be spending four nights in Paris in January and would greatly appreciate some guidance on restaurants. We are thinking of going to one or two haute cuisine places, one or two more casual "chef bistros" (ala Camdeborde) and one or two classic bistros. While it's tough to generalize across this broad a range of restaurants, we tend to like places that have a simple elegance and that don't necessarily offer a ton of choices but where everything that is on the menu is done really well (sorry, I know that is probably so general it is almost meaningless). At the same time, some innovation is appreciated but probably not as much as Gagnaire. The places we are currently thinking about are the following:

--Haute Cuisine - L'Ambrosie and/or Le Meurice. I know that L'Ambrosie may fit the profile described above more than Le Meurice but I like what I have read about both of these and can't decide between them. From reading the many posts on these two, it sounds like L'Ambrosie is generally regarded as having the better food, but perhaps Le Meurice the better (or at least warmer) service. I am thinking of going to one for dinner and perhaps the other for lunch (not on same day, of course). Would love any of your thoughts on which might be better for lunch versus dinner.

-- Chef Bistros - Le Temp Au Temps, Le Comptoir du Relais (probably for lunch; assume I can't get a reservation for dinner), Le Pamphlet (not sure if it really falls into this category) and/or Le Chateaubriand. Of these, I am leaning toward Le Temp au Temps and Le Pamphlet for dinner and maybe trying to get into Le Comptoir for lunch. Le Chateaubriand seems interesting, but reading between the lines, I get the feeling it may be getting accolades more for its trendiness than its food.

-- Classic Bistros - Le Bistrot Paul Bert and/or Benoit. Thinking about Le Bistrot Paul Bert for dinner and perhaps Benoit for lunch. We went to Aux Lyonnais a few years ago and really liked it and thought it might be fun to give Benoit a try to see how it measures up.

I have really enjoyed reading all of the expert commentary on Chowhound in the past and would very much appreciate any ideas/thoughts anyone can give me on the above. Sorry for the length of this post.

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  1. Don't apologise for the length of the post! What should I do then?

    Le Meurice does not fit your profile in terms of simplicity. It is an impressive place, meant to be copied on the King's apartment in Versailles, include tons of marble and the like, 20ft high ceiling and view on the Tuileries, and plenty of gold even in the food. But it has the most impressive and professional service I ever experienced, copied this time from the Louis XV in Monaco only with something warmer and more casual, and even funnier -- if that is what you expect (they can also do the clasy discreet service -- in fact, I was having a meal there alone and sometimes I would not even notice them taking something from or to my table -- when did that get here?). I haven't tried Le Bristol since the renovation, but they used to be a clear alternative in terms of palace restaurant, less majestic (through georgeous and hyper luxurious) and a food that is more, imo, addressed to pure food lovers (see the Lièvre à la royale or the poularde au vin jaune). It feels like a luxurious house (with a garden, which is incredible), but the Meurice feels like a palace.

    L'Ambroisie has eight cooks in the kitchen, it is a very small place owned by the chef. And yes, the food is among the best on the planet -- it sometimes reaches the level of culinary orgasm. But its repertory is more limited. If the truffle season is good enough, January is when you can taste the "Feuilleté belle humeur", that is a slice of foie gras between two buns of... truffle (a big 100g truffle cut in two), wrapped and cooked in puff pastry. A dish that makes most food and most resaurants in the World look ridiculous. But Pacaud only does it if he is satisfied with the quality of available truffles.

    But why chose? You can have the lunch menu at le Meurice for the cost of one course at l'Ambroisie.

    It's for January, you can probably get a reservation at le Comptoir now. Did you consider l'Ami Jean? The food and the value (32€ prix fixe menu) are exceptional, possibly the best in town in the category. It is crowded and a bit jet-setty, and the tables for four would not be excessive for two, but really food is worth one Michelin star.

    If you liked Les Lyonnais, you are Ducasse compatible so Benoit may be a good idea. Not sure however that it is better than the Paul Bert, and it is definitely more expensive.

    Otherwise your choices looke remarkably wise and informed to me.

    1. Souphie, thanks so much for your suggestions.

      One follow-up question. I have recently read some very impressive reviews of Les Ambassadeurs and am wondering how this compares with Le Meurice at the moment (thinking of going to one of those two for lunch and L'Ambrosie for dinner while we are there). They seem very similar in many respects but I am curious what the latest buzz is as to which chef is thought to be more on his game currently. I have also heard that Le Meurice is getting a design makeover by Phillippe Starck and would love it if anyone knows what the status of that is and when it is expected to be done. That could affect our decision; not sure I want to go there while the room is in the middle of renovations.

      Thanks again.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Tennyson

        The room won't be open in the middle of renovations at le Meurice. Alleno is funnier and more subtle, but Piege (les Ambassadeurs) has better ingredients and quality control food wise. Did you eat at Ducasse before? Piege was the chef there (at the Plaza) for the longest time so it should give you an idea of his style. He is all the buzz right now indeed. All in all, those are two palace experiences, and most comments that apply to le Meurice apply to le Crillon as well. And the view on the place de la Concorde is exceptional. And Piege has Bernard Anthony's comte, best cheese in the world (vintage, 4y old). And everybody says the the 75eur at Piege is a steal.

      2. Ah, Paris in winter. I hope you got a great deal on your flight. In February, I spent a weekend in Paris after snagging an unbelievably low fare. We ate and drank our way around town, including an excellent lunch at Taillevent.

        The meal I keep remembering, and wanting to repeat, was dinner at 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.