6 RUE ARSENE HOUSSAYE
To eat at the best restaurants and know good food is one thing, to be a “foodie” and know what to order at a gastronomic establishment is another, to sample almost everything and be blown away is not only rare, it is the sought after unicorn.
Gilles Epie is the chef/owner/master of the trendy “Citrus Etoile”, not only does he know how to cook food, he takes it down to the molecular DNA and redefines it to bring out the most simple and delightful taste that it was meant to have. It is not only a gift, it has been divined. To eat his food, is to feel his passion in your soul and to describe what it does to you, is to tell you what it feels like to take LSD, but I will try. Here it goes.
His foie gras beignet was crunchy, yummy, delicate and addictive, the white asparagus (only available two months of the year) with a sashimi of Loup de mere melted in my mouth, a very fast eater I simply had to slow down for the lobster salad on a bed of softly boiled potatoes, when the rabbit cooked to perfection came with roasted fig, I kept asking if everyone else was going to eat their fig and there was a resounding yes, but when the ravioli of foie gras topped with truffle foam had the surprise of an egg yolk within (a mystery that rivals the riddle of the ship in the bottle) I canceled my next night’s reservation and returned for more.
Gilles food is dramatic and his menu is a veritable amusement park for the senses. Yes, this is a love letter, but truly deserved as he still holds the record of being the youngest restaurant owner and chef to receive the most coveted Michelin Star at the young age of 22. What he has also received is what the clergy refer to as “a calling” and we are all the luckier for it.
That said, the rest of the menu that you would maybe skip over is not to be taken lightly. After so much rich food in Paris I was feeling like duck and lamb were maybe a bit too rich, but not the way they are prepared at “Citrus Etoile”. Gilles does not believe that you have to use butter and cream to make French food, but you would swear on your life that those two essential ingredients are in there. You only understand that his food isn’t heavy, when you can enjoy several courses and do not feel that disgusting fullness. His lamb melted on my tongue and had an amazing little stuffed squash that was the perfect pairing. When you have had so much amazing food sometimes you can’t force another bite, but it would be a criminal act to skip the sweets that Gilles offers. Being a hard core fan of chocolate soufflé, I was intrigued by the fresh strawberry one and opted for that. It was a pink cloud that transported me to a place of dreams. I know this because I did not share a single bite with my friends and snarled under my breath “get your own” (please remember that no one gave me even a smidgen of their fig). I think my hostility says it all.
When I made my last reservation before I returned back to the states, I was feeling a bit of that fullness from simply indulging my inner American pig all around Paris. When I confided in Gilles lovely American wife, Elizabeth, about my gluttony she understood and ordered me the roasted chicken which she guaranteed was prepared extremely simply au jus with spring vegetables. I almost thought it would be a shame to waste a dinner on such an ordinary piece of poultry, but she assured me that I would not be disappointed, and I was beginning to trust this pretty lady as I now had eaten a few meals here. So know this, she can be trusted, she was dead on. To reinvent chicken into a myriad of savory tastes and sensations, made me believe I had been blind, and that Chef Epie had performed culinary Lasix on me, that made me revisit and SEE chicken clearly for the first time. The moistness and taste of this simple protein was uncanny and unrivaled and a true test. How could this be? I am now ruined. I have a new lens with which to see and I have to admit, my dear readers, it is bad news.
Where do I go from here? I have now been to the top of Everest and your common sand dune simply will not do. But, as much has I have had an epiphany and am changed forever, it is simply another day at the office for Gilles and his lovely hostess wife, Elizabeth. Together they make you feel like you are enjoying an intimate dinner in their home. Gilles takes his pass through the dining room and makes it all look so easy as if Merlins and witches are backstage fooling us all.
Paris is a city where every little hole in the wall can deliver a nice experience. The produce, the lack of preservatives, maybe the coordinates of the planet and the sun make that difference that allows me to believe what I enjoyed was not a mirage. But, to do it and consistently deliver and prove that it is no mistake, but deliberate and calculated makes Gilles a scientist. His chef whites could as easily be a doctor’s lab coat. To speak to Gilles, he is funny and humble, and when he speaks of his simple goal, to nourish the soul and feed the people the best he knows, you feel like you have made an instant friend and would never know that he has cooked for kings, rocks stars and the toughest critics of all, his fellow chefs. By any other name, I could say the same of a priest, a rabbi, or a guru.
Regardless what you believe, amazing food is a form of religion because it makes you believe in something bigger than us, a sense memory of something we have never tasted, yet feels familiar. Another word for it is “love”. I may be a food-loving atheist, but I am proud to say without exaggeration that I was reborn at “Citrus Etoile”. The pilgrimage is worth it, but be warned, you will never be the same and you will have to return again and again to the Culinary Cathedral that Gilles built. Services start at noon.
I cannot say enough good things about La Braisiere - the food is truly outstanding - interesting, perfectly executed, thoughtful, and an interesting taste of SW France. However, I would not say it is "chic" - much more refined and really quite quiet and local, though not stuffy.
I've eaten there twice, the latest being this past June and both meals rank in my top 20 meals of all time. Really quite a special meal for the price (which is not cheap, but certainly not as astronomical as you find elsewhere in Paris).
I have narrowed my lisy for this coming Friday evening Dinner with my wife to the above three restaurants, I am looking for inventive French cuisine, with good friendly service in a chic restaurant and within my budget of 300 euros. Anyone had any good or bad experiences of these restaurants?
I had dinner last friday at Citrus Etoile and the food was excellent. The service however was another story. Absolutely laughable. But to their defense when I wrote an email the following day to complain, they were very happy to hear how much we loved the food and offered to have us for dinner again to see if they could correct the service issues.
It would fall in your price range and the food is great, its just a crap shoot with the service.