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15th Anniversary Dinner - Which 2 star?

Oh, help. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by all the information. I'm hoping that if I am specific and detailed, you can help me sort things out.

We will be in Paris for a 15th anniversary trip during Christmas week. I want to put on a pretty, dressy dress, get my husband to put on a suit and go somewhere very special. We honeymooned in Paris and went to Lucas Carton. 3 star restaurants have apparently crossed my personal threshhold for just too much money for a meal. The 2 star restaurants make me gasp, but not automatically refuse, so let's start there.

I know lunch is generally much more reasonable and serves the same food, but right now we're leaning strongly towards dinner, as we are more inclined to devote days to sightseeing with our 8 year old (he's not coming to dinner) and casual lunches.

We're looking, obviously, for delicious food and just generally a wonderful experience. I would somehow simultaneously like the fanciness and formality of fine Parisian dining, but without stiffness. A little romance would be nice. I've seen L'Ambroisie described as serious and solemn and that didn't appeal. We each like a wide range of things, but on the other hand, have pretty serious lists of dislikes, so a place like Helene Darroze didn't appeal just because the menu was so limited. With enough choices, we'll be very happy. I don't speak French and my husband speaks only the tiniest bit, so some place with a menu in English or waiters who are happy to translate and answer questions would be wonderful. Between our fussiness and the fact that we don't have matching fussiness (much of the stuff I don't like, he does and vice versa) I expect that we'll very likely be ordering a la carte. I love cheese and haven't paid it enough attention on past visits to Paris. It would be wonderful if the restaurant had a cheese course and waiters who would be happy to guide me if I need to make choices.

After going through Michelin's list and eliminating several for various reasons (some are closed while we're there, a couple have more or less gotten a thumbs down on here, I will not enjoy sitting on a stool) I have left:

L'Espadon - Menu looks delicious. Prices are what I've come to expect.

Les Ambassadeurs - I can't find a menu on the website. I have no idea what to expect.

Lasserre - none of the entrees on the menu really appeal to me, but I know this restaurant is spoken of highly here and a number of the plats look really delicious. No cheese?

Le Cinq - The menu looks good, but maybe a little limited. I know the menu on the website is a sample menu, so I'm wondering if the real menu has more choices. No prices. Are they in line with the others? Cheese? I know this is souphie's usual choice for a special meal.

Michel Rostang - This also looks wonderful and the prices seem to be generally in line with the others.

Le Table de JR - The menu has a very different feel from most of the others and the tapas-y sort of option at the top of the menu (if I'm understanding properly) seems fun and interesting and a chance to try several things and experiment a bit. It also looks very good, but in a different way. Cheese? Prices?

We had originally been planning our dinner for Saturday, 12/26 and the next two are closed on the weekends. We can certainly rething our schedule, but Saturday just worked well for us, so there would have to be a really, really good reason. And actually, a good question would be whether the day after Christmas is not a good day to be going out for this sort of meal. Will the best people in the kitchen have been given the weekend off?

Apicius - beautiful pictures of the building, but no menu, so I have no idea what to expect.

Taillevent - menu looks delicious. No prices. Are they in line with others?

I could just eliminate the 2 who don't post menus, purely as an easy way of narrowing the list a bit, but what if I'm missing something amazing?

I'm hoping you can help me sort through these. Thank you very, very much.

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  1. Hard to beat Carre des Feuillantes in wineter. Especially if you like game.

    1. Have you considered La Grande Cascade? Open everyday, very good, with a choice of 3 set menus + a la carte, about half the cost of the usual parisian 3* and perfect setting for the occasion! Only drawback: they have a wide range of cheeses, but they're not particularly impressive. Apart from that, it may be one of your best bets.

      If you go to Le Cinq, in your price range, you'll only have access to one menu with limited choice.
      Not been to the others, but La Table de JR seems to be really interesting for its lunch deal, not particularly so for dinner.

      I don't know what your threshold is exactly, but I have one suggestion. It's absolutely not the restaurant any one in its right mind would recommend to someone looking for something not utterly expensive, but if you're being really careful, l'Arpège could almost fit.
      There, you'd be able to taste some of the most amazing cheeses you'll ever have. But we're talking 200 EUR/pp for food alone, and being cautious in a 3* is not fun (even impossible, for me).

      1 Reply
      1. re: olivierb

        Remember you were going to L'Arpege recently. Did you ever report, l am going tomorrow and would like to hear what happened, thanks.

      2. Le Cinq, Rostang, L'Espadon are not less expensive than the *** in this town. In general, it is wrong to assume that ** is less expensive than *** (especially 33% less...). ALC fine dining prices are very high -- count 250 pp for food only. For that price, you can have tasting menus almost anywhere but Gagnaire, and l'Arpège.

        Apicius is less expensive, the setting is indeed gorgeous, but it is a very nouveau riche experience and the food, while decent, is far from great. It's a good place for people who don't like fine dining and its general sophistication.

        In terms of good ALC dinner prices, I think Taillevent and La Grande Cascade are your best calls. Lasserre is nice too. All have extraordinary settings.

        For great cheese and food, there is also Ledoyen.

        6 Replies
        1. re: souphie

          This has been helpful. I have a few more questions, if you don't mind.

          Olivier, you said Le Table de JR is more interesting for lunch than dinner. Do you mean just that it's a better value or is the food actually somehow different?

          I've been assuming we'll order ALC for 2 reasons. First, I haven't actually seen a menu where I liked everything. Can you say that you would like the menu but don't care for a particular dish and discuss a substitute? At what point does this become obnoxious?
          Second, it seems that menus are often served only for the entire table. Trying to come up with a menu of several courses that both my husband and I will like will be a challenge, to put it gently. If we're both getting the menu in a place where the whole table has to order it, can we each make different substitutions?

          1. re: marcia2

            Sorry, this wasn't really clear: I haven't been to La Table de JR, so I can't comment. I guess it's just better value at lunch, but wait for other's answers.

            Substituting items from a set menu is perfectly fine in most restaurants (in my limited experience), but I never asked to change more than one dish.
            Maybe you could try to call a few of them to see what's doable and what's not, maybe even arrange something in advance.

            1. re: marcia2

              No, the whole table doesn't need to be on the same menu, it is quite acceptable to choose different menu's or one on a menu and one on ALC. If it was an extensive tasting menu (10+ courses) and a set 3 course menu then it may not be possible as you can see the logistics would be terrible.

              Menu's are good value, with lots of top restaurants having reasonable choices €80 to €120 range, but if you choose ALC you can find each course can be €80+.

              Lunch is also far better value than dinner and there is nothing wrong with dressing up for lunch (we do it all the time), it may also be nice to be in a grand dining room being pampered when it is cold and wintery outside. I also find it is more relaxing to have a long meal during the day than when I am tired in the evening.

              1. re: PhilD

                >>No, the whole table doesn't need to be on the same menu, it is quite acceptable to choose different menu's or one on a menu and one on ALC. If it was an extensive tasting menu (10+ courses) and a set 3 course menu then it may not be possible as you can see the logistics would be terrible.

                But there are some restaurants such as Le Cing, whose menus say that the menu is only available for the entire table. I've assume that at such a restaurant, it's not acceptable for me to order, say, the Fall Menu, while my husband orders a la carte. Am I mistaken?

                1. re: marcia2

                  I think it still broadly fits my example. The set menus on the website are multi-course tasting menus rather than a traditional French (set) menu; they will also come with various amuses bouches, pre desserts and petit fours.

                  IIRC at Le Cinq you also get a couple of additional three/four course menus to choose from when you get to thetable (of course this may only be lunch), the web only has examples. So yes if you are going for the full multi course blow out then the whole table probably has to order it, and as others have said they will substitute the odd course (especially if you have allergies or a dislike).

                  That said I always find that I try things that I think I won't like on tasting menus are I am usually pleasantly surprised. For example I had been put of sweetbreads (riz de veau) for life after a bad initial experience, but a tasting menu opened my eyes to them as a dish and I have been a convert ever since.

                  1. re: marcia2

                    You are mistaken, but most restaurant say that about their tasting menu -- and the reason is what PhilD mentioned. But Le Cinq, like any top restaurant, is here to please you so they will arrange things anyway you like. It still needs to be asked politely, but I'd be surprised if they refused.

            2. Don't count out La Grande Cascade...beautiful, romantic setting and an excellent chef.

              3 Replies
                  1. re: John Talbott

                    So I'm reading happily through the menu for Le Table de JR and I get to the desserts.

                    The chocolate dessert includes sorbet cacao au biscuit Oreo. He's stomping all over Nabisco's trademark and making some very deluxe, luxury, high end version of a chocolate sandwich cookie with cream in the middle, right? Right???? Cause he's not putting a cheap supermarket cookie with greasy filling and so many crappy artifiical ingredients that I won't keep them in the house in his very refined, very fancy, very expensive haute cuisine dessert? Because the French are far too sophisticated and have palates far too educated to be swayed by the fact that these cookies are exotically American and cost an arm and a leg in Paris, right????

                    And there's no way that coulis multivitamine means what it looks like to an English speaker, right? This is one of those funny instances where it looks like a cognate but isn't really. I just know it is. Because I take a multivitamin every day and it's not for the taste. And my son takes a fruit flavored multivitamin every day and it makes his breath smell like junky artifical fruit flavor. And no one wants a dessert that tastes like either of those things.

              1. For the best meal of your life (or mine at least!) go to Pierre Gagnaire. He is a chef's chef. You better be into molecular gastronomy though. For a more classic meal in a stunning setting, go to Le Grand Vefour. Fantasic food, beautiful setting. Avoid Les Ambassadeur's. I went there for my 5th wedding anniversary. The room is very pretty but the food was not up to par.

                Pierre Gagnaire

                6 Rue Balzac

                Paris , 75008, FR

                Phone +33-1-5836-1250

                Le Grand Vefour

                17 Rue De Beaujolais

                Paris , 75001, FR

                Phone 33-1-4296-5627

                4 Replies
                1. re: gabo1967

                  Les Amabassdeurs will be easy to avoid as, according to an email I received today from the food and beverage manager at the hotel, the chef left in August and the restaurant has been closed since then, with no reopening date in sight.

                  Molecular gastronomy is one of those things I'd like to try, but which I'm really dubious about at the same time. It's certainly interesting to read about, but I always wonder if I'll walk out of the restaurant having enjoyed a delicious meal or merely having had an interesting intellectual exercise.

                  Off to look at Le Grand Vefour, but I keep finding myself drawn back to either Le Cinq because of Souphie's strong recommendations or Le Table de JR, despite the silliness that has invaded the dessert menu, because it sounds interesting and I like the tapas type opportunity to try a whole bunch of things that I get to pick and choose.

                  But then all the other menus sound good, too.

                  Maybe I should drop Taillevent off the list on the grounds that it's closed Saturday, which would really be the most convenient night for us and a relatively recent post in which Souphie and someone else agreed that it's a bit over the hill.

                  I will go mull somewhere else and come back when I have an actual question. Thanks for you patience, everyone.

                  1. re: marcia2

                    <Le Grand Vefour. Fantasic food, beautiful setting> ?????

                    I have not seen nor heard "Fantastic Food" in connection with Le Grand Vefour in EEEEEons! beautiful room, definitely. Historic significance, absolutely. I wouldn't choose it for a special meal, tho. I'd be reserving at Le Cinq.

                    1. re: marcia2

                      I don't understand why Le Bristol, which now has 3 Michelin rosettes, is ignored.. Also
                      Alain Ducasse at the Plaza-Athenee.

                      1. re: amrx

                        I can't speak to why le Bristol is ignored in general, but I can tell you that I ignore it because it is extremely expensive and not nearly as good as it was ten years ago, with only a few courses shining here and there (eg chicken, sweetbread, hare). As for ADPA, it is also extremely expensive and if it ever was very good, I did not get the memo. It does deliver on high luxury and exclusivity. All in all, I like le Bristol better.

                        Neither is particularly attractive given the budgetary constraints mentioned by the OP.

                  2. As this is for a milestone wedding anniversary, in the most romantic city in the world, I would not choose this meal for your first experience with molecular gastronomy, so I would not go to Pierre Gagnaire. If you do decide to go with a 3 star after all, L'Arpege, L'Ambroisie, and Guy Savoy are my favorites, but L'Arpege is admittedly pricey. I don't think that it's been mentioned, but L'Astrance is the least expensive of the 3 stars (still not cheap), but there is no A La Carte menu, you simply order the number of courses that you want, and you get whatever the chef is making that evening.That is, if you can get in, as it is tough to get a res. If you do decide to stick to the two stars, then the ones that get the most recommendations (including by Souphie), include Le Cinq and La Grande Cascade. I also love Taillevent, an institution that I find still to be great even since JC Vrinat passed away.

                    1. It's my gut reaction that what Marcia2 is looking for is less the most perfect/spectacular meal as a perfect/spectacular evening. While I usually use the screen of "fabulous food" when I book, I admit that our most memorable evenings have been those times when ambiance, food, service and our own positive input all come together, those times when the wine seemed ambrosia and the food from the gods. Of course, neither was true. It was the occasion AND a cosseting setting that didn't get in the way of a decent dinner.

                      I've no specific suggestions, only a caveat about hanging one's hopes on a destination dining room.

                      21 Replies
                      1. re: mangeur

                        Touché! you are so right. and if M, Vrinat were still with us, I would recommend Taillevent for such an evening, regardless of their number of stars, or anything else. He knew how to make everything perfect.

                        1. re: mangeur

                          In that case, I'm voting for Savoy, Le Cinq or Taillevent. And even le Meurice.

                          1. re: souphie

                            You have all been so wonderful and so helpful and after much reading and menu translating and contemplating I was just about to suggest to my husband that we make a decision and reserve at Le Cinq when he looked up and decided that, after all, he's not persuaded that we (or at least he) would enjoy the meal $700 worth (I'm figuring about 200euros worth of food per person plus 2 or 3 glasses of wine for me, none for him) and he'd rather do something a little less pricey. So, thank you so, so much for all your advice and I hope this thread helps out someone else. I'm off to research the new plan, maybe something bistronomique.

                            1. re: marcia2

                              Relais Louis XIII is a 2 star and has an 80e dinner menu, although few choices on that menu. I have not been since 2004 but enjoyed very much, especially given the price.


                              1. re: marcia2

                                If you want something bistronomique, I can tell you that the usual experts on this forum suggest the following (some of which I have been to and can attest to, a few not, but the experts on this board never seem to be wrong): Chez l'ami Jean, Christophe, Le Chateaubriand, Josephine chez dumonet, among others. I would also suggest a look at Atelier de Joel Robuchon or La Table de Joel Robuchon, L'Angle du Faubourg, or le Violon d'Ingres.

                                1. re: Paris Dreamin

                                  Relais Louis and CLAJ are unfortunately closed during our trip (assuming I can rely on the Michelin descriptions) and I know for a fact that I will find sitting on stools for a nice meal really annoying, so no Atelier. I like a chair back and my feet on the floor unless I'm at a bar or having a BLT and an egg cream at the Lexington Candy Shop. But I will definitely look at the others. I was thinking about La Regalade, but we'd like something a bit romantic for our anniversary dinner or at least not to be sitting in our neighbors' laps. And Le Violon d'Ingres was definitely on my "must look into" list. Thanks for the summing up of the experts' usual suspects, since figuring that out was going to be my next project.

                                  1. re: marcia2


                                    Oh God, I hope that L'Ami Jean didn't close down, it's absolutely phenomenal, the true definition of the gastronomic bistro. Even though the interior looks like any other bistro in Paris, Stephane Jego was turning out some of the best innovations of bistro fare in Paris. La Regalade has been great (I haven't been there in a while), but I think that the reviews lately have been mixed. If you do not want the counter seating of L'Atelier, which is a common complaint about the place, perhaps you could consider La Table de Joel Robuchon, which serves very similar food, but with traditional table seating, although I don't find the decor to be inspired. But the food, as you would expect from the "Chef of the Century" is fantastic.

                                    1. re: Paris Dreamin

                                      I think Marcia simply means closed for Christmas as that is when she is in Paris.

                                      1. re: PhilD

                                        Oh yeah, read her post wrong. Oops.

                                      2. re: Paris Dreamin

                                        No, no, no, it's ok! According to Michelin, Chez L'Ami Jean is closed during Christmas week, when we'll be in Paris.

                                        Le Table de JR sounds wonderful, but I think is a bit out of our price range. We're aiming for about 150 euros p/person, which I know eliminates many of the very finest restaurants. Note that my husband doesn't drink wine, so the wine bill will only be for a couple of glasses for me, which helps.

                                        L'Angle du Fauborg and Le Violon d'Ingres are definitely both in the running.

                                        Actually, I have just realized that the carte I thought I found on line for Violon is actually the carte for a restaurant of the same name in Strasbourg, which explains why I wasn't seeing either the cassoulet or the vanilla souffle. Anyone have a link to the carte for the restaurant in Paris?

                                          1. re: PhilD

                                            Thanks. I've seen their website, but clicking on the link for "menu" only brings up a description of the food with a few specific dishes mentioned, not an actual carte. I appreciate it when restaurants post an actual carte and the actual menus, even if things change regularly, just because it's at least a representative view of the food. Prices are helpful, too. Maybe it's an American thing.

                                            Do you think I could count on Violon having the cassoulet and the vanilla souffle on the menu in December?

                                            Oddly, the only time I've ever had cassoulet was when I made it last year. It tasted good, but I have no idea if it was correct, even given the fact that I know there is no single definitive version. Actually, while it was good, it was a little bland. I actually mixed some Dijon mustard into my serving (I pause while millions of Frenchmen either throw up or roll over in the graves.) because it needed something. Maybe I didn't do a good job or maybe whatever sausage I found to substitute for whatever the recipe called for that I couldn't actually find just didn't add enough flavor.

                                            1. re: marcia2

                                              I think the desire for Cassoulet and the goal of a aniversary dinner in a good restaurant may not coincide. Cassoulet is a rustic dish and is unlikely to feature on a fine diners menu (unless deconstructed!). Best bet for cassoulet is a restaurant speicalising in food from the SW of France (but not Pay Basque).

                                              IMO the secret of a good cassoulet with lots of flavour is lots of fatty meat: I use a good slab of belly pork, lamb shoulder (or sometimes shanks), fatty bacon and some extra pork rind cubed, goose or duck confit and some garlicky sausages (obviously Toulouse if I can get them). I also add a few tomatoes, no doubt this approach will get the purists spinning but I like to add all the best bits from the different regional recipes.

                                              1. re: marcia2

                                                Like many ethnic comfort foods, cassoulet is "round" rather than piquant. If you followed a classic recipe and had access to decent product, yours was probably representative of that of 100,000 French grandmothers.

                                                1. re: mangeur

                                                  Round, what a good word to describe it. It's the French term for flavors like that?

                                                  I wouldn't have thought of cassoulet as the type of thing we'd find at an anniversary dinner restaurant, but people seem to be saying nice things about Violon for the dinner and they seem to have cassoulet.

                                                  1. re: marcia2

                                                    Wish I could confirm your assumption, but "round" is my own mouth/flavor description of many dishes that blend multiple flavors over long cooking times.

                                            2. re: marcia2

                                              If you email them they will fax the current menu to you. The cassoulet and vanilla souffle have been on the menu ever since they reformulated the restaurant in 2006.

                                                1. re: marcia2

                                                  I went in December two years ago, had the cassoulet, and loved it. Many places only serve it for two, but it's for one at Violon d'Ingres.

                                                  1. re: RandyB

                                                    Thank you all so much for your patience and advice. We have reservations for dinner Saturday night 12/26 at Le Grande Cascade.

                                                    If you tell me that it's Christmas weekend and the chef will have the day off, the B team will be in the kitchen and the food won't be as wonderful as usual, I will cry.

                                                    1. re: marcia2

                                                      OK, the price for all this priceless free advice is you give us all the details of the experience (the positive, romantic ones, skip the problems, that's what marriage is all about).


                                2. I've been to Table de JR for dinner and was not blown away; to be honest I can't even remember much of it (which just goes to show...) except for a cote de veau which I have had better prepared at Atelier. I am a big fan of Atelier, but given the somewhat uncomfortable seating and no reservation policy (unless you want to eat at 6:30) probably not the ambiance you are looking for.