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3-star Paris lunches

I need suggestions for two 3-star quality lunches in Paris (i'll be there in july). my budget is (hopefully) a prix fixe of 100e max, and i'm thinking Taillevent and Le Meurice. my interest is solely quality of the food. with two options, i was thinking one traditional, one more adventuresome. as far as the traditional choice goes, do you think Taillevent is a good option? great service/warm atmosphere aside, is it representative of the Absolute highest level of 3-star french cooking? i've heard some say the food has become quite ordinary, and i'm worried it might be too touristy. has it become a tour d'argent-esque relic? similarly, i've heard Le Grand Vefour is overrated. does L'Ambrosie have a set lunch? i've been unable to find pricing on it. would this be a better choice? as far as the second lunch goes, i've ruled out Arpege because of the price, and i've been unable to find pricing information for l'Astrance, whose surprise menu is out of my price range. is this the only menu offered there? finally, does anyone have experience with the Pierre Gagnaire prix fixe lunch? while i would love to go, i've heard that the lunch isn't up to the level of his dinner. if the best restaurants in paris are the more adventuresome ones, i'd be willing to forego the traditional experience. again, i'm looking for inspired and sublime food, not great service, nor a special wine list. i've heard consistently that the food at Le Meurice is on the highest level, but i'm open to any suggestions.

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  1. Taillevent's food is not up to the three stars level. Le Grand Véfour was never good and just lost its mysterious third star. L'Ambroisie has no set menu. L'Arpège has one but it still is 130 eur.

    L'Astrance has a 70 eur lunch menu (last I checked, maybe it is slightly more now -- I'll try it again tomorrow, stay tuned).

    Gagnaire's lunch menu is real Gagnaire, last I checked it was 95 eur so it is over budget, but it definitely is the smartest way to experience this unique genius. It is likely to be more interesting than good, though -- some people have the best meal of their life at PG, some les impressive one -- it's a risky place.

    Le Meurice is also decent value at 80 eur now (though less interesting, imho). But the lunch menu is not the best sample of the chef's art. The place's main attraction is still to be directly copied from some Versailles room, with gold and marble everywhere, including in your plate (well, gold, mostly)

    Though he is two stars only (yet), Chef Briffard at les Elysées is one of the four best chefs in Paris, and he is on a very good run those days. His lunch menu is 68 eur, which leaves room for you to taste the delicious affordable wines selected by the brilliant sommelier. This is a place for people who are serious about great food. (see reviews on my blog -- for instance http://www.julotlespinceaux.com/2007/...).

    Another way to access top food for a decent price are the three stars who decided to play it slightly simpler: Senderens and Robuchon. They are both great, historical geniuses and you can eat at each of these places for 100eur per person, if you're careful. For dinner too. But they are not traditional "grand restaurants". Reviews: http://www.julotlespinceaux.com/2007/... and http://www.julotlespinceaux.com/2007/...

    There's a 100 eur Internet menu at Guy Savoy that gives you access to the whole range of the regular menu but does not include wine. It is, there again, the comparatively affordable way to enjoy one of the most exceptional restaurant experiences. Food not on par with the best but still very great, exceptional service -- see more detailed review there: http://www.julotlespinceaux.com/2007/...

    So if you ask me, your classic choice is les Elysées and your contemporary one is l'Astrance. For l'Astrance, you need to reserve asap (I think you need to call exactly three months ahead of your date, at 10 am Paris time sharp). They come as close to the top as possible -- the top being l'Arpège and l'Ambroisie and their blow-it-all prices.

    1. Are you sure you have the correct price for the surprise lunch menu at L'Astrance? As far as I know it is still 70 euros. You will not find a better deal in a 3-star, especially because it is at least 4 courses(it's a while since I've been, so I can't remember the exact number), plus many additional tastes. The dishes I had were wonderful. I would not choose Senderens, as it will definitely be more expensive and is not 3-star quality.

      3 Replies
      1. re: rrems

        Well, I disagree. I think Senderens (who admittedly has had some tough time in the months after his executive chef Robert left for La Grande Cascade) is 3* quality and that his cooking and wine dish pairing is far more genial than anything Barbot does. But sure the new restaurant is not on the level of perfection that Lucas-Carton was on. It is also significantly less expensive. A complex meal at Senderens costs ca 150 eur per person, which is still much less than the big menu at l'Astrance, and far less than the 400 euros a Lucas-Carton meal easily used to cost.

        That said I don't understand your question about l'Astrance. We seem to agree that the lunch menu is 70 eur. But the big surprise menu is 170, 270 with beverage. Anyway, stay tuned as I'll check all that tomorrow with a new visit.

        1. re: souphie

          My question about L'Astrance was directed to the OP, as your information was correct. As far as Senderens is concerned, I was never there when it was Lucas Carton, so I can't compare. I can only compare to other places I have particularly enjoyed, and coming from the US I have to be very price-conscious. Although I liked the food at Senderens, I just did not feel that it was good value for the price, and the wines were outrageous. I had to settle for mediocre wines because they were so expensive. You are right that it was about 150 euros per person, which is more than I have ever spent in Paris, yet I did not walk away saying this was the best meal I have had, whereas my lunch at L'Astrance was spectacular and cost less.

          1. re: rrems

            Rrems, give Senderens another try next time you come -- I'll be happy to come with.

      2. thanks for the advice. i think i'll pass on robuchon and senderens, as i've been to other JR's in the world, and i went to Lucas Carton before it became Senderens. i heard that Gagnaire is closed the last 2 weeks in July, which would rule it out for me. does anyone know if this is true?

        1. Taillevent hasnt had 3-stars for at least two years, maybe more. The 2008 3-star ratings which just came out this month are, Le Meurice, l'Ambroisie, Arpege, Alain Ducasse, Ledoyen, Pierre GAgnaire, Astrance, Pre Catalan, and Guy Savoy.

          All these places, with the exception of l'Ambroisie are doing more adventuresome cuisine. Any a meal at any one should be sublime, but we know that is not always the case. Lunch is always going to be more "iffy." At many top restaurants, the Exec chef doesnt even come in for the lunch service. He doesnt come in until dinnner and not ALWAYS then. But you shouldnt believe that he the one in there cooking your meal. Many superstar chefs dont even do the cooking.

          You stated that you dont care about service or wine list, but any 3-star establishment will have exceptional service and great wine list. You dont get 3-stars without this. Its no coincidence that all the 3-star places have very sumtuous, very luxe dining rooms. You dont get stars if you have a chintzy dining room. If you are really interested in JUST food, you dont have to go to a 3-star place to get it.

          IMO places with sublime food and no stars are Au Bon Accueil, Spring, Clos des Gourmets, and sometimes l'Ami Jean. But there are many others who are putting their complete emphasis on the food and not so much on decor, and other stuff.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Brunella

            i wouldn't say that the Astrance or Arpege dining rooms are luxe or sumptuous, per se. obviously, i assume fine decor and service at any 3-star restaurant, but i'm not actively seeking these elements in my decision. if you believe those restaurants you recommend have food on-par with the 3-stars, i would be thrilled to try them. does anyone know if Ledoyen has a lunch menu and, if so, at what price?

            1. re: kfontaine27

              Ledoyen has a lunch menu -- was 88 eur last I checked. Lunch menu at l'Astrance is still 70 eur -- that's three courses plus so many amuses, mignardises, etc -- will report in more detail soon. The lunch menu with wines is 110. There's now an intermediate, five course menu for 120, 190 with wines. The 8 Course, "l'Astrance" menu is 190/290 now. It is an infinitely refined adn subtle experience, and wine pairing have really become exciting, and feature very unexpected wines. It's kind of the opposite of "big splurge", but it sure is a very special place.

            2. re: Brunella

              ".... but any 3-star establishment will have exceptional service and great wine list. You dont get 3-stars without this."

              Michelin always says that it judges by the food on the plate not the decor or the service. However there is a high correlation between the standard of the room/service and the number of stars and thus many people come to the mistaken conclusion that it is these elements that drive the number of stars.

              But this is more to do with the need to charge €200 plus per head (for dinner) in order to support the large number of chefs required in the kitchen to produce food of this quality. People simply won't pay €200 if the ambience/service etc isn't at a corresponding level. Thus to achieve/maintain the standards required to deliver at a 2/3 star level you need to maintain the cash flow to pay for a big kitchen staff and to do this you need to have a restaurant that has high standards in all areas.

              My experience of Michelin in France is that their ratings are quite accurate (the one weakness is the reluctance to demote restaurants quickly enough when the fall from grace).

              Whilst I agree restaurants like Spring are good I also agree with Michelin that the cooking doesn't deserve a star (yet). You can eat very well in non-starred restaurants, although they will probably have a Bib, as do the four Brunella lists.

              1. re: Brunella

                Best value for food include indeed the ones Brunella mentioned and also places like La Régalade, or l'Acajou. But it is just untrue that they can compete with actual two/three stars -- it's not only the ambiance and the wine list, though that is not nothing -- it's that you need a lot of manpower to make really great food, and nothing replaces what you can achieve that way.

                Also I really think that food that belongs to the best on earth and to rich experiences in life are better enjoyed in a non-bistrot setting. You need some calm, some room, some respect. That is not to say that you need the most formal setting, but my point is that you can't be serious about top food and have conditions under the ones at l'Astrance (which are very serious and totally sufficient indeed).

                And I second PhilD that Michelin is on the whole reliable, adding that they tend to give a premium to ultre-luxury that I disagree with.

              2. thank you for the great suggestions. i haven't heard much about Ledoyen. it seems to have less hype than some of the other parisian 3-stars, but my impression is that the food, if not perhaps traditional, is at least more traditional than the creations of say, gagnaire or passard. do you know if the lunch menu is a good reflection of the restaurant's usual quality, and if this would be a good example of (somewhat) traditional french cooking? is it 3 courses, various amuse bouches, decent choice of dishes? my reasoning is that while i've already been to the old L Carton, tour d'argent, etc., i'm traveling with a friend and gourmand who has yet to experience Parisian dining. and i still haven't heard whether Gagnaire will be closed last two weeks of july. i e-mailed the restaurant but didn't hear back. does anyone know??

                10 Replies
                1. re: kfontaine27

                  Gagnaire holidays: Only the restaurant knows for sure. But the Michelin Guide mentions August, not July. Calling them is the safest way to be certain.

                  Ledoyen is a wonderful place, but there's no doubt that Passard or Gagnaire (or Pacaud or Briffard or Senderens or Robuchon) are much more spectacular foodwise. It is at the same time not an example of traditional French cooking, as it relies on very modern techniques and approach. It's a traditional restaurant but not traditional cooking, if you like. About whether the lunch menu is subpar: I don't know and I heard contradictory reports. It seems however to be the rule, and restaurants that offer their usual cooking for less at lunchtime are the one worth reporting.

                  Speaking of which, I would push forward my Guy Savoy recommendation -- for a gourmand who has yet to experience Parisian dining, that sounds like a good idea. And that 100 lunch menu is good value (you need to reserve it in advance, over the Internet only). Taillevent also has a 70 eur lunch menu, which Francois Simon just wrote is subpar.

                  1. re: souphie

                    I second the Guy Savoy recommendation - had the 100 eur lunch there in January with wife and daughter. It was fantastic, over the top...the service and the staff at Savoy are really wonderful. The food was delicious and skillfully prepared, and by all means let Hubert help you plan your meal. The dessert trolley and Mignardise are really special. Also had lunch at Les Elysees and Michel Rostang, both of which had excellent food, very high quality. But Savoy is such a fun, happy place...we talk about it all the time and can't wait to return.

                    1. re: mdietrich

                      hmm... i'm debating between savoy and ledoyen, as i've been reading great things about the latter. does either restaurant offer a wine pairing for its lunch?

                      1. re: kfontaine27

                        Eric Mancio, at Guy Savoy, is one of the great wine specialits in France, and he sure knows his wines and his courses. Don't know about Ledoyen.

                        1. re: souphie

                          do you know how much the lunch wine pairing would cost? i fear it would put me well over my budget

                          1. re: kfontaine27

                            Let me check my blog...http://www.julotlespinceaux.com/2007/...

                            It says there we paid 364 for two with three glasses of great wine each, coffee and water at Savoy.

                            Lunch with wine pairing is 110 at l'Astrance (but there you might well end up hungry, as it was my case with teh 8-course tasting menu).

                            At les Elysées, you can count 100 eur with wine pairing, water and coffee, and I guarantee you won't be hungry.

                    2. re: souphie

                      hmm, i suppose i'm reluctant about savoy because they mention a "half-entree" and a "half-dessert" on their website as part of the 3-course deal. were these half plates decent portions? was there a plentiful number of amuse-bouches and petit fours? and souphie, is there a particular Robuchon establishment that you find particularly representative of his mastery? i just dined a few weeks ago at his Atelier in new york, and while the food was executed with utter mastery and an elegant simplicity, i would not call it spectacular. i'm also highly skeptical of how often M. Robuchon is actually in the kitchen, but thats another question entirely. aren't his only paris restaurants currently the Atelier and la Table? which were you recommending? i've heard his most inspiring food is currently in Vegas, though i'm not placing my trust in the 19/20 rating from Gayot, whose north american ratings are even more absurd than Michelins.

                      1. re: kfontaine27

                        Worrying about not having enough to eat at Savoy is like worrying that the Fed rates are too high now. That just can't happen. I have no idea what is half about the first courses they serve in that menu, let again what is half about the twenty gazillion desserts. A I said and as mdietrich said, it is a wonderful experience -- not the insanely virtuoso food of Briffard or Passard, but something warm and welcoming.

                        Robuchon is never in the kitchen. In Paris, Lecerf and Braun are, who are his parters in the Atelier. Both the Table and the Atelier in Paris offer exceptional dishes. At l'Atelier, you have to be picky and select the simple and traditional dishes that rely on exceptional cooking and skills -- macaroni with morels, sweetbread, merlan colbert, pig feet...things that are rarely good but can be delicious. Those are great experiences. Courses that are too simple (ham, tartare, etc) are of no interest, and courses that are too complex neither (like the oes involving complex geoometry and multi layers). L'Atelier has exceptional value lunch menu with 55 eur including wine and coffee. From everything I read, Paris is much better than NY if you select your food wisely.

                        If what you are looking for is something close to the Joel Robuchon experience of the 90s, you won't find it in any of the JR places. Head to les Elysées or l'Ambroisie for that.

                        1. re: souphie

                          Guy Savoy has on online 100e deal. (guysavoy.com)

                          1. re: souphie

                            Souphie and kfontaine27,

                            Great line about the Fed. So absurd isn't it? And it takes a non-American to know it.
                            Senderens, good idea. Though last time I ate there was 2 years ago for lunch, I had the best lamb chops ever, which is something. I thought it was great and that decree comes with the fact that my duck was not particularly enjoyable to me. The menu is a bit tricky in some of his more experimental dishes but the execution is spot on.
                            Guy Savoy, 100EU for lunch? Y, that also will work.
                            Unfortunately, that makes me yearn for Paris even more.
                            I have not delved too deep but from the little I saw, dig your website.

                            Au Revoir

                            http://foodonlymatters.wordpress.com/