Advice on our reservations at Pierre Gagnaire and L'Arpege - and a few questions
My husband I have reservations for dinner next month at both of these restaurants. After spending countless hours reading everyone's helpful reviews it seems like these places will both offer a unique experience from the other - hopefully with delicious food to match!
I have a few questions:
1) Both offer tasting menus, if I'm not mistaken. Are these set menus or can you mention foods you really love or don't love/can't eat (I'm allergic to a few foods)? Are there any signature dishes at either restaurant I should know about and request?
2) Would you recommend wine pairings? Usually my husband and I prefer to order a bottle of wine when we dine because we don't always love the wine pairings, but I realize it might be different at these restaurants.
3) I've seen some reviews mention that you just order tap water since bottled water is so expensive and due to the environment. Is this frowned upon at the restaurants?
4) My husband and I don't speak French and are probably on the very young end of diners they usually encounter. We have eaten at countless Michelin restaurants around the world but none in Paris (last time we were there we were 18 so we didn't really have the means to be dining at these places!). Thus, we are experienced diners despite our age and we know how to comport ourselves. However, as non-French-speaking, young Americans, I am nervous that we will receive poorer service than others around us might receive. Should I be worried about this?
Thank you for your advice. I'm sure I will be following up with casual restaurant recommendations shortly!
1) I've eaten at several Michelin restaurants throughout Europe and have had the tasting menu at all of them. I'm allergic to nuts. When we make our reservation, I always let them know about my allergy. It's never failed that they're ready to accomodate me when we arrive. I usually don't even have to remind them - as soon as we're given the menu, they usually say something to the effect of "we heard about your allergy" and I confirm it, and we discuss the possibility of substitutions where needed. They'll tell me which dishes will need to be changed, and I've always just let them surprise me with whatever they choose to substitute (occasionally resulting in jealous looks from my husband). I also bring along a card with a note for the chef in the native language of the country specifying my allergy, just in case.
2) We've only been to one restaurant that had set pairings for the menu. The others didn't offer pairings. We usually just order our own bottle or two after a short discussion with the sommelier. If you know what you prefer to drink, you're probably better off doing that anyway.
3) Everyone gets the bottled water at the places we've been.
4) We started hitting these restaurants in our mid-20s as young, unexperienced Americans, and have never experienced anything but exemplary service. Learn some key phrases in French that will allow you to be polite (please, thank you, hello, goodbye, excellent food, etc.) and you'll be fine. Take your cues from the diners around you as to how to behave, then relax and have fun!
"4) My husband and I don't speak French and are probably on the very young end of diners they usually encounter. However, as non-French-speaking, young Americans, I am nervous that we will receive poorer service than others around us might receive. Should I be worried about this?"
Dress well. Dress like an upscale Manhattan lawyer. Speak softly, clearly and confidently. Smile, but not too much. They'll love you.
It's customary in restaurant with tasting menus to specify foods you don't like or can't eat. Both PG and Arpège should be able to deal with it, as long as your food allergies or dislikes are standard enough. For instance, last month at l'Arpège, I told them I eat no grain, but they still served me a few dishes with grain, probably not even realizing that puff pastry is made from wheat. However, if you don't want butter or don't want shellfish, that's easy enough. In a word, don't make them think too much.
Neither l'Arpège nor PG works on wine pairings, and both have good bottles that will go nicely with the whole meal or parts of it, and will be able to advise you. That said, a big difference is that wine prices are chokingly high at l'Arpège, whereas they're pretty reasonable for a three stars at PG. Which means that at PG you end up drinking an nice Bourgogne, and at l'Arpège, a first price Touraine wine for which they'll charge you more.
Some restaurants do worthwhile wine pairings, mostly l'Astrance, Senderens and le Bristol.
In fine dining, it's unusual to ask for tap water. That said, at Gagnaire, they serve you their own filtered water at no extra cost, and indeed they don't offer mineral water for the reason you mention -- well, maybe also because it makes their life much easier.
Neither l'Arpège nor PG should stigmatize you for being young (and if they do, leave -- there are enough great restaurants in Paris that you don't have to stand having a less than pleasant time). However, as Mangeur always very rightly points out, the earlier you establish a connection with the waiting staff, the earlier you'll have dissipated any unfounded prejudice they might have. Many diners think that this is about behaving properly, but it is much more about establishing a relationship that ensure that they can satisfy you and that you are satisfied. In that sense it is mutually beneficial, since it is their goal to please you.
Language is not a major issue, though obviously some staff member will be less comfortable in English than others. Normally the captains will make sure to assign you the ones that speak better English.
Don't know if the "no butter" example is perfectly suited for l'Arpège!
A few things I might add:
- apart from having nice bottles with reasonable prices, the advice we got at Gagnaire were always good. I remember asking for an expensive champagne once, and I was recommended another one, much less expensive, and which changed the way i feel about champagne forever (it was an Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs vieilles vignes).
- signature dishes: At l'Arpège, I believe everybody loves the robe des champs multicolore Arlequin and the vin jaune lobster (at least I did). Also ask for the egg if they don't bring it to you before the meal starts.
At Gagnaire, the Langoustines seem like the safest bet. Apart from that, I don't know. I feel that what looks good on the menu happens to be good, and vice-versa. I also love the cheese there, but for the "real thing", l'Arpège is better.
- don't know how young you are, but I started going to "high-end" restaurants in Paris since I'm 25, and never felt we were looked upon because of that. I don't think the fact you're tourists will make a difference. At least it really shouldn't.
Oh and I don't find service at Gagnaire to be particularly good, but the waiters always keep on trying to speak English with us before making sure we don't speak French...
"can you mention foods you really love or don't love/can't eat (I'm allergic to a few foods)?"
If you have strong dislikes and dietary restrictions and allergies, best order à la carte.
"Would you recommend wine pairings?"
Yes especially if you and your husband order very different tasting things.
My husband and I don't do pairing purr say, but we often order half a bottle of red and half a bottle of white for a meal.
"I've seen some reviews mention that you just order tap water since bottled water is so expensive and due to the environment. Is this frowned upon at the restaurants?"
Since you are used to dining in starred restaurants world wide, you must know this is not the habit. And honestly the expensiveness of bottled water really does not stand out when one is dining at that stratosphere.
"as non-French-speaking, young Americans, I am nervous that we will receive poorer service than others around us might receive. Should I be worried about this?"
Parigi, there are actually only 2 foods that I am allergic to, one of which is scallops, which is a regular on most tasting menus given their size and variety of preparations. No restaurant has ever had a problem accommodating a substitution on a tasting menu for me since my husband and I usually order tasting menus at restaurants. I was asking more for whether these restaurants would be able to make such an accommodation.
Also, I must respectfully disagree with regards to the water. Here in NY, if you go to any top restaurant, very few tables have bottled water and most of those are from foreigners who are perhaps more used to ordering bottled water than we are in the US given how safe the tap water is here.