Paris and Provence-our recent trip
The following is a review of several places we dined in our rect three week trip to Paris and Provence. I did use this board for ideas and relied on some of past experience. Despite knowing Paris, we still were left with the fantasy that everything in Paris should be fabulous(not so).
We ate at the following:
Chez Denise(loved it )and it was perfect place for our first night(a Friday). I had beef daube and my partner had the roasted wild salmon. Huge portions, pretty good food and reasonable prices. Lots of fun as the place really does fill up. We sat next to a couple from the Village-NYC) who ended up eating off our plates.
Next night: Chez L'Ami Jean: big disappointment. Relatively limited menu with very little that appeals to us. Nothing of what we had read about was on the menu. Service was brisk (even for a bar). Not inexpensive and not particularly good.
Sunday: Benoit. I'd skip this all over again. There were mixed reviews of this place on the board. It has recently been bought and "redux'd". It's overpriced and not all that good.
While my salmon was very good, my partner had the $49 euro lobster salad entree which was lacklustre at best. For that price, I'd head to La Mascotte in Montmarte and have a roasted Brittany lobster. The only redeeming factor was that we could walk back to our hotel(the Caron de Beaumarchais in the Marais).
Monday we ate at our old "neighborhood" North African place "L'homme Bleu" which we found far better in our memory than the food this time.We had eaten at Chez Omar on our previous trip to Paris and I would probably opt for that again over L'homme.
On our return to Paris(following Provence and Switzerland), we ate at Le Pontoise in the 5th on a Sunday. Lovely, small, reasonably priced. My ravioli dauphonoise was to die for as was the scallop salad.
Our last night we opted for Bofinger in the Bastille which was great. We did have reservations for 8 pm which is early by Paris standards but the dining room quickly filled mostly with French. The Irish smoked salmon was heavenly. This was my only steak frites in the whole trip and it was divine.
We began our stay in Arles and had reservations for L'Atelier. We had eaten Rabanel's food at La Chassagnette three years ago and were captivated. I'm with Family doc on this one (who ate there a while back and didn't get it). It was a tremendous and very expensive disappointment. Too much hype,no soul and a very cold dining room.
Our fabulous find on this stay was a Le Criquet near the Arena. This is a very small dining room, young chef and great food. There is a 16/22 euro menu option. We selected from both. The salads were a much welcommed feature for us. The bourride and the chicken in tapenade were to die for. The tarte tatin rivaled anything (mostly) I had anywhere in France.
We had lunch with friends who live in St Quentin on our way to the Luberon. We met them at Terroirs in Uzes which was very good and most affordable. The Saturday market in Uzes is amazing. This sleeepy town(on our last visit) has gotten very popular in the three years hence. Go soon before it becomes too cute.
Now for the insider's tip:
We stayed for 4 nights @ Le Ferme de la Huppe just outside Gordes and were amazed. The 10 rooms are charming and most affordable. Our's was spacious with a huge bathroom including breakfast @120 euros.
Breakfast was taken by the pool including:
French press coffee with steamed milk(avec bowls)
a glass of fresh pressed orange juice
a basket of fresh baked croissants, artisanal breads and pan chocolate
a jar of different homemade confitures each morning
One can add other items for additional cost. One morining I had the best scrambled eggs I have ever eaten for an additional 5 euros.
Dinner is by reservation(both for guests and others not staying at the hotel) and is amazing. 45 euros buys you an amuse bouche,,entree, plat,palate cleanser and dessert. For an additonal 6 euros you can have a cheese course.
While the menu is pre-set you do have some options. As we do not eat foie gras, we were given a 2 oz slice of perfectly roasted wild salmon with a lovely green salad as an appetizer.
Our roasted rack of provencal lamb was perfect. Dessert was a vanilla panna cotta topped with roasted apricots and a roasted almond glace. We had some very good local wine (La Verriere Syrah)at $42 euros for the bottle.
We also headed to Buoux one day for lunch at Auberge Loupe. We sat in the garden and shared a basket of provencal tapas. At $22 euros a person this included a goat cheese and green salad and dessert. The tapas were divine and included things like poached quail eggs, roasted beets, eggplant caviar, chickpea puree, olives, artichoke hearts and carrots in mayonnaise.
We're home now and the credit card bills are rolling in. The exchange rate is a shocker. We agreed to pay cash for the meals we found disappointing(both Benot and L'atelier) as we thought it would be double the disappointment. I'm glad we did.
Thanks, Roxie. I'm a lucky lady... lived most of my life near NYC but now am near London. It makes getting to Paris and France such a joy instead of a long plane ride. All I need is time.. and money! I never thought about it, but you're so right about no locals coming to the French section. I guess they don't need any help. :-)
I am a Australian who lived in Paris until earlier this year. Now in England but like zuriga1 visit quite often.
OK as temporary residents we don't have the depth of knowledge of a true local, however I did/do eat in quite a cross section of restaurants and tended to visits the ones I liked quite frequently. So hopefully the advice is well founded.
Hopefully we can also answer questions or correct misinformation. An example is your comment about the few basque dishes at "Chez L'Ami Jean". It was a Basque restaurant before Stephane Jego took it over, and it still has a lot of Basque regional artifacts like the rugby memorabilia. But Jego hasn't kept a Basque menu (he usually has a few dishes) but instead he cooks modern bistro food like like his old boss Yves Camberdeborde now at at Le Comptoir. If you had wanted good Pays Basque food 'Le Troquet" in the 15eme would have been a better bet.
About locals commenting on this board...
It may also be that our expectations are somewhat different from most of the chowhounders, as I realized recently. Many are just travelling for a few days and look for a picturesque restaurant.
I would look for a restaurant that offers dishes I cannot find at home.
I ate a roasted chicken at Alain Passard's and after all it is still roasted chicken. Similarly, I do not look for the bistro experience at all cost (I guess being rudely served Chez L'ami Louis or Chez Denise with an OK fois gras is part of the french experience for many american tourists).
For me even Bernard Pacaud is just boring.
The gem lies somewhere in between, the little spark of perfection in a lesser known place or the relationship that you can create with the owner, the chef or simply a waiter.
Being a local, my expectations on this board differ more and more often with other board members. At the same time, I am happy to give my views or advice but if *I* like pork trotters for instance, how many chowhounders will feel the same?
We just came back from France last week. Spent a few days in Paris then went to Nice and Provence. We went to Chez Dumonet one evening. My wife tried the duck confit and felt that it was a little too crispy... I had the beef bourguignon which was fantastic. The souffle was great and so was the millefeuille that my wife had. We also ate at Le Bambou which was a nice break from all the french cooking...
But we felt our best meal in Paris was at Le Timbre. It's a very small restaurant run by an English guy. The lone waitress was friendly and helpful. The meal was great especially the millefeuille for the dessert.... it was unbelievable. While in Provence, we ate at Le Bastide which was very good and the service was excellent although we felt that sometimes it's nice not to have so many people wait on you... We prefered our dinner at Les Santons in Moustiers Ste. Marie...We didn't have one bad meal while in France, but if we had to pick our favourite, it was our lunch at La Reserve in Nice. If you're in that neighbourhood, you have to go. The view and the food was spectacular. My wife had an amazing seafood risotto and I had a fantastic nicoise salad and some grilled shrimps....
Theobroma - you make a very good point.
I assume that when living in a new town/culture experiences shift your thinking. Often this is quite subtle, but you gradually become more attuned to the nuances of the local market, thus your expectations change. It has happened to me in both Paris and Hong Kong. And I agree it does change your perception of restaurants, which is often at odds to others.
Your comments on Paris are quite interesting and are completely the opposite of my experiences. I have been to Benoit, Bofinger and L'Ami Jean many times and so was a little puzzled by your comments on the them. I was also not certain what you mean by the comment on Benoit "It has recently been bought and "redux'd"" has Alain Ducasse sold it? He bought it in April 2005 so has it changed recently?
I suspect the difference is based on personal taste in food rather than quality of restaurant. Both L'Ami Jean and Benoit are best for those with more adventurous palates, or to put it another way those who enjoy "nose to tail" eating i.e. liver, sweetbreads etc. and I note that later on in your comments on Provence you state you don't eat Foie Gras.
L'Ami Jean has quite a broad based menu that changes frequently, I always find it delivers innovative food at a good price point (with lots of offal/game). But to do this it turns tables 3 or 4 times a night so you are right it is cramped and brisk, and if you are not expecting this it can lead to disappointment.
I used to go to Benoit for lunch on Sundays quite regularly and never had a bad meal, in fact the "langue du veau luccilus" (layers of tongue and foie gras pressed together - sorry if the spelling is off on this) is a sublime dish. We sometimes ate from the menu, sometimes al a carte, I agree it is not a low cost option but it is a classic space with great service, and in my opinion good food.
I often took visitors to Paris to Bofinger because it is such a historical room, it has a very conservative menu, which clearly suits many people, however I never found either the service or the food to be great (although it is good value for what it does).
I am not being critical of your taste, after all we are all different, and this is what allows such a diverse market food market to thrive. What I would say though is that it is vital to try and assess the Chowhound posters taste to see how it matches your own. As you say in your review restaurants do get mixed reviews, I love liver, sweetbreads, kidneys, boudin noir etc. others are prefer smoked salmon and steak frites etc. Therefore restaurants I love and recommend may not appeal to everyone.
Phil~clearly folks have different tastes. This board was not the only place I consulted in choosing places to dine while in France. "Snout to tail" eaters who have eaten in Paris for over 20 years told me to stay away from Benoit. The plat I had while there was very good. That being said, the lobster salad at 49 euros(entree) was not particularly fresh. The bread was stale as well. The place just did not do it for us. I think there are far better experiences to be had for the $$. Perhaps at lunch the menu is a good bargain.
Chez L'ami Jean also seems to have changed the menu. There were not nearly as many "Basque" dishes as we had orignally read about when planning our trip.
As you know, we all take some kind of chance using recommendations in cyberspace. We don't know folks (who might have relatively conservative palates and like really good food vs others who might have really adventuresome palates and also like good food). It's a crap shoot of sorts.
To a great extent we chose places which allowed us to eat as we wished(2 entrees vs a menu etc).
I might still go to Bofinger again when in Paris(this was my third time in the city and my first at Bofinger). We needed something "comfortable" at an early hour as we had a 10 am flight the next day. It worked for us. Other than daube at Chez Denise, I had not eaten beef in France. My rib eye at Bofinger was delicious.
One of the things that seems to separate this board from some of the other boards, is the relative absence of locals. I think that does make a difference in the recommendations one gets. For instance, NYC and Montreal as well as Vancouver,BC were made all the better when locals wrote of places to eat.
The places I recommended in Provence are delightful and guaranteed to please!
Again, the quality of the food (adventuresome or not) ,the feel of the room and the service all combine to make a good dining experience. The hype as with L'Atelier in Arles only detracted from the experience.
Just to add to your opinions
Of the Parisian ones you ate at, l have been recently to four; here goes
Chez Denise, favorite for 20 years, go from the plane there every time
L'Ami Jean, there for lunch loved the menu, pigeon and suckling pig, service was great, not rushed, again lunch
Benoit- agree overpriced, pretty, yet no great food experience
Bofinger- Found place great and plateau de mer interesting, but found to be old and stodgy, again lunch, pleasant but no return for me