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Paris - Unique, memorable, and not wildly expensive?

I'm living temporarily in Paris and am entertaining many visitors. I've done exhaustive research on this and other boards regarding dining options. Currently on my itinerary are the following restaurants:

- Le Temps au Temps
- La Regalade
- Aux Lyonnais
- Le Salon d'Helene

I love ethnic food and will probably try Dilan, Monsouria, and Al Ajami as well.

However ... I'm looking for a special and memorable restaurant for a dinner a deux for someone special who will be with me for only one night. My budget is somewhat limited (I can probably afford no more than 100 euros pp, including wine, and this would be a splurge for me) -- which eliminates most two-starred and many one-starred restaurants. I'd like to avoid something that feels too sleek, trendy, or rushed -- but I'm a former chef and do not necessarily need something "safe." A good wine list is a plus. My research has turned up the following possibilities, on which I'd love feedback, as it seems many people have strong negative or positive feelings about these restaurants:

- le Chateaubriand
- Mon Vieil Ami
- L'Ami Jean
- Drouant
- Gaya
- Chez Denise
- L'Os a Moelle (I've heard this has gone downhill)

I definitely welcome other suggestions! There's a certain point at which one's own research is of limited utility... For what it's worth, I speak French and am staying in the 12th, although obviously will travel anywhere.

Thank you all in advance.

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  1. MVA is not what it used to be. It's plain off my list. You'll have no intimacy whatsoever at l'Ami Jean.

    I would suggest Tante Louise, La Véranda in Versailles, or l'Auberge Bressane.

    3 Replies
    1. re: souphie

      Le Temps au Temps has a new chef. It is one block from my flat and went there weekly last year. This year not at all, menu has not changed in a month, not interested or interesting. A shame, as was super last year. Last week at Chez Denise, cost 92 Euros for 2, but as Souphie says about CLJ no intimacy there as well. Atelier de Robuchon should work, if careful, but little intimacy , though more than at others. Check 'Le Grand Pan' in 15th. Only cotes du whatever, but room, and lovely owners and staff.

      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

        Is Le Temp au Temps still open? I had thought Sylvain (Chef) and Sarah Sendra (FOH) had moved to their new restaurant Itinéraires earlier this year (April). If it is open it sounds like it has a new chef and strategy.

        1. re: PhilD

          If we are talking about same place 13 Rue Paul Bert, 75011. Is open but as l said since chef change no reason to go. Shame as one block from me, 20 seats and was wildly inventive

    2. Le Temps au Temps has closed and become "Itinineries" (I believe). A good promising bistro when we went, but quite a few missteps in the kitchen - it was soon after opening so may have picked up. Le Regalade and Chez l'Ami Jean are quite similar, but both good. I agree with Souphie though CAJ is not the place for a slow intimate meal. I like Aux Lyonnaise, lots of great offal.

      I only thing I remember about MVA was the very loud lady from NYC, with the stylish purple velour tracksuit who protested very loudly when she was asked to make way for the second sitting that had been waiting for 30 mins for their table as she chatted over coffee. I am certain the food was OK but it wasn't a place I ever returned to.

      We used to go to Gaya for our relaxed meals (it was around the corner from our apartment), it is a small restaurant that can seem staid. We always asked to sit at the small bar that looks into the kitchen and which allowed us to chat to the staff. It is a fish restaurant that is tapas style, so quite a non-traditional menu structure. We always ordered a range of dishes and shared them to create our own 5 or 6 course tasting menu.

      Le Salon d"Helene may be quite interesting, Darozze gets lots of rave reviews and is well thought of by many, but she polarizes critics with an equal number disliking her cooking. We ate at the restaurant upstairs and were underwhelmed. It would be good to see someone try downstairs which is also Tapas style.

      3 Replies
      1. re: PhilD

        Thank you all so much for your responses. My dinner at le Salon d'Helene is tonight and I will definitely report back. I'm pretty sure Le Temps au Temps is still open, although Delucacheesemonger is correct that the chef has changed. Most reports I read said the new chef was carrying on with the stellar cuisine of the old, and I am disappointed to hear otherwise. I was there once this spring and liked but did not love it. A friend from the Bay Area has her heart set on trying it, so I believe we will end up there even though my preference would be otherwise. Am thrilled for the "great offal" at Aux Lyonnais.

        Has anyone tried le Gaigne in le Marais?

        1. re: ssusu

          Come to my place for a drink before Le Temps au Temps, hounds always welcome

          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

            We'd love to come for a drink when we get back to Paris in April. How do we contact you?

      2. By the way, some pics from my recent lousy meal at Mon Vieil Ami: http://picasaweb.google.fr/ZeJulot/Mo...

        I was annoyed by Aux Lyonnais' lack of sincerity, but that is a recurring issue between me and Ducasse. Pics there: http://picasaweb.google.fr/ZeJulot/Au... I suppose it was flawless though I would never recommend it.

        While we're at it, there are also pics of Chez l'Ami Jean and La Régalade in my gallery.

        13 Replies
        1. re: souphie

          I am intrigued to learn what you mean by "lack of sincerity"...

          1. re: ssusu

            Don't get me started....

            It's a factory, where the quality is guaranteed by processes and the staff is duly trained and the dishes are ridiculously simple so the quality is constant and the profitability is extremly high. That applies to any Ducasse place: Benoit, Plaza, La Bastide, Spoon, Aux Lyonnais....

            I like restaurants to be a human experience. I like to feel the personality of the person that prepared my meal. I like to feel that preparing and serving good food is always a challenge and the guys who are doing it are doing it because they want to and are good at it. Give me a generous very ordinary plate of pasta at Padova or a greasy Croque Monsieur at la Bonbonnière over any Ducasse experience any time.

            Ducasse is the opposite of what makes restaurants civilised places.

            1. re: souphie

              Let me put a counter argument (Souphie knows I will).

              I like the Ducasse restaurants because their standards are high and they produce consistent food, and service in smart venues (in some respects like Ramsay or Robuchon). I like the way Ducasse protected and nurtured some classic old restaurants - I suspect Benoit would be a Zara by now if he had not. I like the way each restaurant's food is different from an-others. I have yet to have a poor meal or bad experience with a Ducasse restaurant or hotel.

              That said I see Souphie's point, I love restaurants were the character of the chef/owner shines through. I love places where passion shows through, places were the quality on the plate is what is important rather than the fripperies that are often substitutes for good food. I only wish my hit rate was above 50% for these meals....!

              Thus I am not a "either, or" person. I go to, and continue to enjoy both types of restaurant - sometimes I like reassurance that I am going somewhere that will be good, other times I like to live dangerously..

              1. re: PhilD

                I see PhilD's point, which is why, most of the time, I refrain to comment on Ducasse. And to go.

                There was an article in the NYT (of all French papers...) that Ducasse has a deal with Bocuse and that he will eventually take over. I'll go while I can.

                Also, I'd like to point out that I would not apply my critic to Ramsay or Robuchon -- I find their branches (those I know) to be always personal and human, if standardised.

                1. re: souphie

                  Aux Lyonnais was highly recommended by a reviewer I trust -- Mark Bittman, of the NY Times -- but so was Chez Denise. Sooooo.... should I substitute Aux Lyonnais with Chez Denise? I have a reservation but it's far enough off that I could probably cancel & still get one at Chez Denise.

                  1. re: ssusu

                    I would say there are as many positives as negatives for both. Always good to form your own opinion. It would be risky if 90% of the reviews were poor but they are not.

                    1. re: ssusu

                      I was chatting to my partner about the mixed reviews of Aux Lyonnais and she said "I wonder if the negatives are from all those people who don't like offal".

                      The menu does have a lot of interesting dishes on it that you rarely see in "the usual suspects" recommended on these boards. For example on our last visit she enjoyed a really good pigs head sausage. I also remember seeing more than one person pushing the food around the plate with a look of horror on their face, probably after a menu mistranslation.

                      We always found it best to go for the later table at 9:30ish. Usually more French and on a Friday it felt like many people were sinking some good reds after a hard week in the office.

                      1. re: PhilD

                        There are mixed reviews? I did not like it but it was good. Pictures: http://picasaweb.google.fr/ZeJulot/Au...

                        You can't possibly be thinking about me with the offal remark?

                2. re: souphie

                  That's interesting. We stayed for a couple of days in his hotel in Provence (Moustiers Ste Marie) and disliked it. The staff virtually flattened themselves on the wall when you passed on the stairs, and nearly had a heart atack when we carried our own drinks indoors from the terrace. The food was quite good but as Souphie says, impersonal and international. And very expensive.

                  1. re: Jenny Sheridan

                    I always believe my experience is highly influenced by my mood especially because this influences how I interact with people. I also find places vary from time to time so I tend to form an opinion over time and from a broad range of sources. We also stayed at "la bastide moustiers" but had a fantastic time and experienced really friendly warm staff. Different expectations different times of year etc.

                    Picking up on Souphie's point about Robuchon and Ramsay. Again my experience is different. I used to eat at L'Atelier in Paris quite frequently (I lived close by), and found it to be sterile and like a production line, we always had to slow down the service and were once told it wasn't possible because of other bookings. The best meal there was just before Christmas when it was empty. I still like it as a restaurant but I know what I will get. It is interesting I feel the opposite to Souphie - we obviously have slightly different tastes in this regard (although we do agree about a lot).

                    I also really like La Veranda at Versailles, this is Ramsay's French outpost. I had a brilliant Sunday lunch there in August. But last month I had a late dinner there on a Thursday, the service was sloppy, and the food was simply OK. I suspect it was the table of 26 (I counted them) having a set meal. So great restaurants can have off days, but it won't stop me returning.

                    It is also interesting to see the similarities in food/restaurant criticism across countries. The UK boards have lots of people who echo Souphie's Ducasse comments but about Ramsay's places. See Matthew Normans review of Murano for a good example of the genre - http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyl.... Having been to a few of his restaurant I have enjoyed them all, but if I believed the UK bloggers I may not have taken the risk!

                    I wonder if Ducasse is to French bloggers what Ramsay is to English food bloggers?

                    1. re: PhilD

                      Haven't been to Ramsay in London. But I can tell you this: he is a very different person from Ducasse, more human, more generous, more passionate, and less polite.

                      I don't disagree with you about l'Atelier. I'm not a big fan while I think that their sweetbreads and some other stuff is top notch (and I know you agree). But the different Robuchon brands, despite the standardisation, have very different personalities due to their chefs (I elaborated on that somewhere). It's like seeing the same play with different actors -- the climaxes, the whole meaning of the play is sometimes not the same, eventhough it can be great each time.

                      Also, while I won't pretent that Ducasse's restaurants are bad and just make it clear that I dislike everything about him and his restaurants, I would not concede that he has anything excellent -- if he does, I was never served it. Impeccable, yes, and possibly very pleasant, but never great, methinks.

                      1. re: souphie

                        Again interestingly different perceptions from different sides of le manche - I don't think I have ever seen such positive adjectives used in connection with Gordon...!

                        I am not saying that you are incorrect (I also like his style, enjoy his food, and think he produces some great books i.e. ***Chef ) but lots of food writer/bloggers take pride in penning damming reviews of his restaurants. Is it the same phenomena in France with Ducasse? And thus do criticisms of his restaurants need to be weighted to take this into account?

                        I also used to see the same phenomena in Australia where the famed chefs like Tetsuya Wakuda and Neil Perry are often criticised in the media and blogs, but they still fill their restaurant with happy diners, and we always ate well when we went to them.

                        Just before Christmas last year we ate at Le Violin d'Ingres (Constant) and had a pretty good meal. The next day we ate at Benoit (Ducasse). Interestingly they had the same dish on the menu at both restaurants Langue de Veau Lucullus (a pressed veal tongue layered with foie gras). Both were good, but IMO, I thought Benoit's was in a different league, a far more enjoyable dish, which I would happily eat again and again.....as the saying goes, the proof is in the eating.

                        1. re: PhilD

                          Again, I never said Ducasse was bad - never wrote a bed report. I did about Le Violon d'Ingres, which is a friendly place but gastronomically only decent. That's about factual reviews. I am not aware of any bad review of ADPA, for instance. Only taste differences, different expectations for restaurants. I would still oppose the idea that Ducasse is, factually, technically, in the top league. But I would not argue that it's bad.

            2. Was just at Le Temps au Temps on Thurs (Oct 9th) and it was a great time, the food good but not inventive or magical. The terrine du jour was dry and hard, and my GF's entrecote was quite underdone. My pork ribs were caramelized and amazing, however. And the desserts were great. The wine list was quite broad and amazingly affordable. Would definitely recommend it. The man (didn't get his name) manning FOH did an awesome job juggling all 20-24 seats.

              1. Hi. Le Temps au Temps is terrible---but the old chef (Sylvain Sendra) is now at a new restaurant where the food is wonderful---the name is Itineraires and its on Rue Pointoise in the 5th. I recently had an incredible meal at L'Ami Jean, and though its not intimate, the attention to quality and detail is very moving. I have also been to L'Os a Moelle recently, and it has gone downhill, considerably. Those are all the places I have been to very recently. As things change very quickly here in Paris (chefs, owners, commitment to quality), it is necessary, always have "recent" recommendations. As for staying in the 12th, the city is small and its very easy to get around to any of the places that people have recommended. Elaine

                3 Replies
                1. re: EZM

                  sad to hear about l'os a moelle going downhill! does anyone know the cause of this - have they sold it on? we used to loved going there when we lived in paris in the spring of 2006. alas! has anyone noticed chez l'ami jean going downhill since it was championed in september's gourmet mag? dang!

                  1. re: johannabanana

                    Souphie, how is Padova by the way? Is it a place that my Italian husband would like while in Paris? He's not picky or anything I'm just keeping my eyes and ears open for good Italian food in Paris in case he has some sort of breakdown or withdrawals or something.....

                    1. re: mizzlizz

                      I don't think so. It's place for lots of creamy pasta and thick, bread-like pizzas. There's something shrek-y about the place, I don' think it would fil the expectations of an Italian. See for yourself: http://picasaweb.google.fr/ZeJulot/Pa...

                      Good affordable Italian food in Paris is not easy. I like Luna Rosso, but it is in Romainville ( http://picasaweb.google.fr/ZeJulot/Lu... ), unlikely to be close to where he'll be. There's a chain of grocery stores/restaurants called Fuxia which is good ( http://www.fuxia.fr/ ). There's Fontanrosa on bd Garibaldi. There's also a place on rue de Clichy but I'm not sure it's still there. By Opera, there's a place called Paparazzi that is good and trendy and has 80cm pizza brought on two plates.

                      Haven't been, but La Romanticca, av. La Tour Maubourg, has the best reputation (the original address in the Clichy suburb).

                      There's a bunch of high end Italians in town, too, such as Sormani, Paolo Petrini, Il Cortile, Conti...