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Jan 10, 2010 06:34 PM

Need ideas for 2 Over the Top Choices for Paris Lunches

My husband and I just won a free trip to Paris, and we are going in June.

I lived there during college and lived on baguettes, and I returned with a vegetarian friend about ten years ago. This will be my first experience actually *EATING* in Paris. And we are going kid free and want an over-the-top sexy week, dressing to the nines every day. (We won a week at the Ritz!)

I seek two restaurants for formal lunches, where the atmospheres are very contrasting in style, but food and service are outstanding. One in a beautifully historic building (Like Le Grand Vefour?) and one that enjoys something with a garden or a light and airy room.

We prefer newer cuisine that is lighter, healthier, and more creative. We tend to eat seasonally and organic at home. Traditional French preparations are too rich for us most of the time.

We are keen admirers of design and architecture, hence the emphasis on the surroundings as well.

Where should we go for these fantasy experiences that transport you to dining bliss?

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  1. Well, first, congratulations! Then, if you never had an experience actually eating in Paris, how do you know traditional French food is too heavy for you?

    That said, two formal lunches seem to me to be the right call for your week. In my experience, more is too much to be properly enjoyed.

    Most top restaurants are seasonal and organic or almost organic.

    I can't think of a top restaurant with garden that is not also a historical building. The main ones would be La Grande Cascade, Ledoyen, and Laurent. La Cascade is probably the closest to your aspirations foodwise, and it's in the woods. Ledoyen has modern food too but with pretty solid portions (and won't let you eat outside per se, but in a second floor in the park). Laurent is more traditional. Le Bristol has a glorified, green courtyard and the summer dining room is in a glasshouse, so it is light and airy.

    Le Cinq is of course always a good call, but your quest for light food probably disqualifies it.

    Le Meurice has a Versailles like room, and their lunch deal is very light, if not truly excellent. Their desserts are wonderful. It would qualify as an extremely sexy place.

    The main suspect for lightness is l'Astrance, a restaurant that is neither airy nor historical.

    For history, no one beats le Grand Véfour (which, by the way, is by the garden of the Palais Royal). Food is another matter.

    10 Replies
    1. re: souphie

      I have nothing to add to Soup's recs, just want to congratulate you. We hate you already.

      1. re: souphie

        Thank you for these recs. So Le Grand Vefour is really bad?

        I know that the prize is very enviable and deserves hatred, but living in France for a year on baguettes and returning with friend #1 who loves Le Hippo or friend #2 who dragged me to "Le Grenier de Notre Dame" as my meal out earned me this karma! : )

        1. re: hbfoodie7

          I see you are being rewarded the Martyr's karma. OK then.
          I don't find Grand Véfour bad at all although it is not stratospheric as it once was. It is very expensive, but consider you are paying rent...

          1. re: Parigi

            What she says -- some people I know even had very good meal at Véfour. But the main reason to go, as I stated somewhere else, has more to do with Mrs Soprano and Victor Hugo and other celebrity partons than with a chef that has nothing special. Of course when you hire highly skilled staff and pay big bucks for wonderful ingredients, sometimes you have a great meal. Doesn't mean the chef has any talent.

          2. re: hbfoodie7

            No not so bad, great room, great service and one of the top cheese trays in Paris. You could do worse than eating at Colette's table.
            Lunch special w/o wines is @ 90 Euros

          3. re: souphie

            Laurent is a restaurant that does not get mentioned very often.
            How is the food?
            I assume that wine and service are all top notch and very expensive.
            For reference, I am still looking for a lunch spot to replace long departed Faugeron with classical cuisine (similar to Besson).

            1. re: jehflyer

              And what's wrong with Besson?

              Laurent's food is good, classic, well made. The kind of place that still has melon, lobster salad, roast chicken. The wine list is top notch, and the terrace is a wonder. It's real "social" luxury -- not based on phenomenal excellence but on extreme comfort and fanciness. Their website gives you a fair idea of what they do:

              1. re: souphie

                I love Gerard Besson and go there pretty much whenever I am in Paris-had a great lievre royale last November.
                I am just looking for a "stylish" place in addition to, not instead of.

              2. re: jehflyer

                I am not sure anyone is cooking nouvelle cuisine in the style of Henri Faugeron. Besson is excellent but his food is more classical, more generous and more muscular. Currently in Paris, maybe Jacque Cagna, Senderen, Relais Louis VIII.

                1. re: jehflyer

                  I had lunch at Laurent a couple of years ago and ordered the three-course lunch menu. To me it was uninteresting and tasted mass-produced. The service was impersonal (to be expected, given that this rather large restaurant was packed with customers), and I found the general ambience lacking in charm. Nearly all the customers appeared to be businessmen.

              3. Congrats as well! The Bar Vendome has a garden setting and a variety of lite dishes. When you tire of the Ritz prices, our favorite bar/cafe, Le Castiglione, is a few steps away.

                1. I'm not sure what you mean by newer, lighter cuisine, but I think you would be happy with La Grande Cascade (Belle Époque glassy building with large garden) and L'Ambroisie (in a 17th-century building on the Place des Vosges, decorated with tapestries and other antiques). I love both these restaurants (especially L'Ambroisie, where I've been about ten times) and have never found their food heavy as long as I didn't order too many courses.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: fanoffrance

                    I heartily second L'Ambroisie. It certainly fulfills the "transport[ed] to dining bliss" aspect of the OP's request. And souphie's recommendation, L'Astrance, would provide great contrast, its minimalist/thought provoking cuisine fulfilling the "lighter, healthier, more creative" part of the OP's query.

                    1. re: shortstop

                      God knows I think highly of l'Ambroisie, but "sexy" is not how I would ever describe it.

                      1. re: souphie

                        I wasn't equating "dining bliss" with sexiness in my reply, but come to think of it, I wouldn't say L'Ambroisie is not sexy either. :)

                  2. Fantasy experience and historic building - go to the Jules Verne at the Eiffel Tower. Great views, and we had an amazing dining experience with impeccable service. Reservations are required far in advance.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: perkin

                      Reading your request, Jules Verne also came up in my mind, location and view are of course amazing and the food is pretty good too.

                      Other good options would include Apicius, quite popular among French people and located in a nice hotel particulier with a private garden as well as Le Pre Catelan, a 3 Michelin star with excellent food in a hotel particulier in the woods.
                      I had a really amazing meal at Le Pre Catelan and the chef Frederic Anton is considered by Joel Robuchon as his best heir.

                      Further but could be nice if you plan to visit the castle and its gardens is a meal in the Trianon Palace in Versailles. Gordon Ramsay dropped the restaurant though so I don't know what to expect, but the location, the place itself, the service and the settings (Versailles gardens) are just amazing...

                      1. re: era

                        I have also had nice lunches at Apicius and Le Pré Catelan. The former has much simpler food.

                        On the other hand, I would definitely advise against the Trianon Palace; I haven't been to its flagship restaurant, but I was appalled by the "dinner" I was served at La Véranda last November. I was the only customer in the restaurant, so word must be getting around. Ramsay must have left a sinking ship. Three Rolls-Royces in the parking lot didn't help the food one bit--they only contributed to the rather self-conscious, pretentious, nouveau-riche/corporate atmosphere of the place. Honestly, I'd rather eat at Hippo than go back there.

                        1. re: fanoffrance

                          Thank you all for these wonderful ideas. I think we have settled on Le Meurice and L'Anstrance as our two contrasting choices.

                          How far ahead will L'Anstrance accept a reservation?

                          1. re: hbfoodie7

                            Usually about a month, but I would call and ask when they will begin taking reservations for the week you are interested in. Then Tuesday of that week call at 10am Paris time. It is a tough reservation to come by, easier if you are flexible as to dates. They are open only three days for lunch Wed.-Fri.

                            L'Astrance: 01 40 50 84 40

                            1. re: hbfoodie7

                              The food at Le Meurice struck me as being unusually heavy (and lacking in nuances), which of course is not what you say you're looking for. I've only been there once, probably 3-4 years ago, but the head chef (Alleno) was the same as now. The room was magnificent; I also found the atmosphere, service, and clientele to be congenial and somehow tingling with an agreeable flair.

                              I liked the food much better at L'Astrance (have also been there only once)--both lighter and more interesting--but the atmosphere wasn't quite as exciting. I hope you get a reservation--I failed on my first try!

                              1. re: fanoffrance

                                Is there another option besides Le Meurice that can rival its setting but with less "heavy" fare? Did others find it this way more recently?

                                Thank you!

                                1. re: hbfoodie7

                                  The only other restaurant I know of with such a grandiose, marble-walled historic dining room is Les Ambassadeurs at the Hotel Crillon. I think it's been closed for some months since the chef quit, but it's scheduled to reopen this year, under the direction of the former assistant chef at La Grande Cascade.

                                  1. re: hbfoodie7

                                    Les Ambassadeurs is indeed very similar to Le Meurice. The two dining rooms literaly are parallel: both on the same side of the same street, both in grand classic French style, Versailles inspired.

                                    Then a lot is a question of taste. Driving by La Grande Cascade last night, I thought few can rival its setting, in a Second Empire (French one) style. The same could be said of Ledoyen if it did not have that "falling apart" quality. Lasserre is far from humble, very unique. No Versailles style to be sure, but pretty somptuous in its 1950s ways with its opening roof.

                                    I for one never understood the appeal of Alléno's cooking, not at Meurice, not before at Scribe. I recognize he's an encyclopedic chef that can do kind of everything, and I think that's very good for him. That said, the high class of the waiting staff and the talent of the pastry chef are major assets for le Meurice.

                                2. re: hbfoodie7

                                  Astrance is tough to get on your own but the suggestion is the only way. If that doesn't work try asking the Concierge at the Ritz. They might have more pull.