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Jun 17, 2010 09:37 AM

L'Astrance: heaven on earth vs. Le Cinq: really expensive comfort food

We had the simple lunch menu on Friday at L'Astrance and found to it be the absolute best of our trip, hands down. The restaurant is intimate, about 30 seats, modern, and minimalist. The wait staff was wonderful, spoke to me slowly in French so I could understand, and some of the staff would speak in French and English.

Every herb and every vegetable had meaning on the plate. Flavors were so distinct and perfect.

An entree of shrimp in a soy broth with herbs was so simple but powerful. I ate each herb or flower by itself because the flavors needed to be savored by the broth on its on.

The next course of a steamed fish ( I couldn't catch the name) was the same in that there was so much flavor in that marinated red onion slice or spinach leaf. The thyme and razor clam meat was excellent as well.

I was surprised to be served chicken breast, but it was flawlessly prepared, and the fresh peas and sour cherry compote were out of this world.

Our sorbet was an incredible combination of lemongrass and chili pepper.

The desserts were plentiful. The least interesting was the white chocolate cup of apricot preserves. The Elderberry Flower and gelee were wonderfully subtle. The green tea ice cream inside the gigham meringue cookie were just plain fun! The home run was the caramelized sugar wafer set on top of a light creamy foam/mousee with a really tart sour cherry compote underneath. An incredible combo of crunchy, sweet, and tart.

Chilled eggnog served from their shells were delicious and meticulously picked berries and cherries and chestnut flavored financiers were perfect.

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    1. re: hbfoodie7

      More pics of Astrance.

    2. So Le Cinq has service and atmosphere down like no other; the Four Season's training of "let me fulfill your request in the most accommodating way possible" is felt through out. When I asked to have the name written down of a wine I had had, the waiter gave me an envelope when I left. I opened it this morning while unpacking at is is a laminated wine label. That kind of touch.

      The flowers are as impressive as the room, but when the Four Seasons purchased the building, they destroyed everything inside and rebuilt from scratch. It has a very polished "reproduction" feel that may or may not please. There are reproductions of Sargent paintings on many of the walls.

      23 Replies
      1. re: hbfoodie7

        Flowers everywhere, taking up really large spaces in every corner.

        1. re: hbfoodie7

          No mention of the food though. Isn't this a chowhound board?

          1. re: ChefJune

            I am in the process of loading all of the photos and it keeps crashing, including my typed description of the meal!

          2. re: hbfoodie7

            I cannot say that any food we were served matched the sensory experience and service of the restaurant. Most dishes were dumbed down in terms of flavor.

            The fried shrimp and calamari and champagne were yummy, but it was really crude, like clam rolls in Rhode Island. A very heavy way to start.

            The Amuse bouche of shrimp with tumeric was one of the better flavors of the whole meal. The entree of raw salmon and horseradish mousse disappointed because the horseradish was barely detectable, resulting in a bland, but beautifully presented, dish.

            The main course fish was well-executed but not worth remembering but the other highlight for me were the accompanying vegetables with small fried black olives.

            The desserts were fair; my husband had no interest in eating his chocolate dessert, which is really unusual for him. My strawberry and fennel mousse was light and fresh; nothing super memorable.

            I had the server select for me an assortment of cheeses and the sommelier select 3 different wines for me and those were all outstanding.

            Le Cinq offers so much more than food, which is a good thing, since the food is the least of what I remember.

            1. re: hbfoodie7

              food from le cinq

              1. re: hbfoodie7

                Thanks for posting the pictures, they really help with visualizing what to expect!! If you were to pick one of the two as the better experience overall, which would it be? Looks like you enjoyed both though... So many choices and so little time (and money)

                1. re: midorimonsta

                  Le Cinq was so fun for the experience, great people watching, and I think many people would appreciate the food.

                  Based on the three different glasses the sommelier gave me, I think the wines would be excellent, too, for those ready to spend on that. Every glass was outstanding and memorable, but my food experiences are much more extensive than my wine experiences. I am easy to please in that arena.

                  Our food tastes are pretty pure, however, eating mostly vegetables with poultry and seafood much of the time. I would happily eat at Astrance every return trip to Paris.

                  I would not return to Le Cinq without trying L'Arpege, where we should have gone, and a few others first. Le Cinq, to me, is where I would take friends and family who have less developed palettes and other foodies whose palette can enjoy richer food and great wine.

                  FWIW, Our Astrance meal came to 170 Euros with 2 glasses of champagne and bottled water, where as our Le Cinq bill quickly climbed to 267 Eu with wines.

                  1. re: hbfoodie7

                    Hmm... That is definitely very insightful and gives lots to think about! I think our palettes should be able to handle the richer food so I think we'll stick with Le Cinq for this upcoming trip and try to get to Astrance on our next trip.

                    This made me think of another question: we do enjoy good wine but cannot usually stomach too much, so we probably won't be ordering wine at every meal. Sometimes we just get one glass here in the states to share so that we're not impaired for the rest of the day. Would this be something that restaurants would negatively react to or would we get treated differently? (sorry, didn't mean to intrude into your thread hbfoodie7)

                    1. re: midorimonsta

                      My husband doesn't drink, so what they did for me at Le Cinq is select a nice wine for the first few courses and then pour me a half glass for the cheese course and a half glass for the dessert course. I am not a big drinker either but the wine was so great, that it didn't feel like too much.

                      There is no wrong question to ask at Le Cinq, which is a big plus for Americans nervous about being snubbed or judged by French staff. We had really warm receptive service everywhere we went, though, even though my French is dismal compared to how it was when I lived there years ago.

                    2. re: hbfoodie7

                      <our Le Cinq bill quickly climbed to 267 Eu with wines.> did you order the 78 Euro special lunch?

                      1. re: ChefJune

                        Yes, but all drinks were separate except for that first glass of champagne that was inclusive. I ordered one glass and two half glasses of wine, we each had coffee. I will see if i still have the ticket.

                      2. re: hbfoodie7

                        There are disapointing meals to be had at Le Cinq -- yours and another recent report attest to it, and I have had a few myself.

                        One thing to point out is that this is true of most restaurants. In fact, I can't think of one that never disapoints. Another is that your risk is limited if you stick to the 78€ lunch menu, which I always advise people to do. At that price, the wonderful room and staff is a certainty, and the probability of a wonderful meal is close to 50% (which is good).

                        That said, having seen what that big machine made of Briffard's food, I must confess that I reassessed my opinion of the former chef there, Philippe Legendre. Meals I had under him had little interest, but now that I see how a truly great chef's food can turn out when you have to manage 100 unionized cooks, I'm beginning to think he might well have been a great chef.

                        1. re: souphie

                          I noticed Fuffy in another post ate there this past Monday as we did. Perhaps not its best day of the week to eat there? I am dying to know if Fuffy is one of the people who ate next to us on his or her way to Nice. What a small Chowhound world!

                          1. re: hbfoodie7

                            My husband and I were not on our way to Nice. We live in Paris for six months of the year. We were sitting right next to the central flower arrangements. Where were you?

                            1. re: Fuffy

                              Were you wearing a brown pant suit? We were sitting on the window side of the room closer to the entry flower arrangement. We arrived on the later side, too, but we were there for the entire Saudi entourage. Were you sitting next to their rather conspicuous body guards, who stood out more for their table manners than their size. We were the couple in our late 30's. There was one couple in between the woman in the brown pant suit that may have been you, which means you were to our immediate left. All of the men to my left looked very French, though. Is your husband?

                              1. re: hbfoodie7

                                I keep expecting to be censored so that other chowhounds aren't subjected to our ridiculously personal exchange. We were in the middle next to young couple exchanging small expensive gifts, then the table of gross men then the bodyguards. I was wearing black top and white skirt. My husband is French but doesn't look it.

                                1. re: Fuffy

                                  Yes, I was going to say a black and white outfit, but that is all I remember, as I am not sure we ever made eye contact. We were not exchanging gifts, however.

                                  Since we seemed to have the same impression of the meal, I feel confident in recommending Astrance to you and would be eager to hear your recommendation for a delicious choice our next trip.

                                  1. re: hbfoodie7

                                    The couple next to us was speaking French so probably not you. Others, such as Souphie, would be far better advisors than us. After five two and three star lunches we have realised we are the bistro sort. We like very little about the two and three star experience.

                          2. re: souphie

                            And I do think even the people watching there is really fun. I don't regret our meal there. Just wouldn't go back until I tried your other recommendations, Souphie, for the other greats with a more modern, inventive flair.

                            1. re: souphie

                              Is "really expensive comfort food" a negative?

                              I love experiencing the frontiers of fine dining and eating high risk food by chefs who are pushing the boundaries. But equally I love to be cosseted and really pampered. I love to eat well executed traditional food, and wallow in the opulence of a place like Le Cinq.

                              L'Astrance and Le Cinq are very different propositions, I personally don't see much point in trying to say one is better than another because it all depends on what you want. Both are very good restaurants and both deserve a visit. The Game Pithivier at Le Cinq, eaten with a mellow red, on a cold winters day, is a wonderful place to be. Equally, at L'Astranceon on a bright Spring day, the wonderful light food, accompanied by a subtle Montrachet is heaven.

                              1. re: PhilD

                                It's not that it's a negative. It's that its not really acurate, except to describe one of their days off.

                            2. re: hbfoodie7

                              On Monday I had lunch at Le Cinq again and I must say their monkfish dish was the best preparation of this fish I have ever tasted--certainly far above bland comfort food. The oyster appetizer, on the other hand, I found a bit strange; there were so many different ingredients that the oysters ended up playing a masked, secondary role, while the most savoury component was the vegetables (including marinated turnip slices). Dessert was an innocuous white peach, while cheeses were exciting, especially a very soft Spanish one (forgot the name, something like casa matis?). Good wines: Puligny first, then a Morey St-Denis red that went amazingly well with the fish. The service is so outstandingly amiable, offering little tidbits of information and tastes from nearby bottles along the way, that I can't resist leaving a tip, something I don't do at any other French restaurant.

                              1. re: fanoffrance

                                Stop! You're making me hungry. ;) I'm looking forward to this experience this fall.

                    3. Thanks for the interesting comparison, with which I agree (I've been once to L'Astrance and once to Le Cinq). Le Cinq offers an additional kind of comfort which you don't mention, i.e. ease of use: they're open seven days a week, you can reserve by email, you've got a good chance of getting a table, and you can show up as late as 2:45 and still be served lunch.