Our Paris dining report (long) - La Regalade, Cafe Constant, Gagnaire, Josephine, Arpege & more
The helpful posts on this board were integral to planning my dining choices, and I’d like to write a full report in order to give back to others in the future. This post will be limited to Paris, and a separate one will be devoted to our dining experiences on the Cote d’Azur. Thank you to everyone who responded to my many questions in previous posts.
DINNERS (in chronological order)
1) La Regalade St-Honore: Our first dinner. The restaurant was so small we thought we were back in Manhattan for a second! The chef himself was there and greeted us, which is always a nice touch as in NY now most famous chefs are rarely in their kitchens anymore. We had a delicious white Bordeaux and were served the by-now-well-publicized chicken terrine with garnishes. Delicious. To start, I ordered the white asparagus with poached egg, Comte, and frisee. The egg was cooked perfectly with a beautifully-orange yolk. Great dish. DH ordered the smoked salmon. For mains, I had wanted the lamb special but was informed they had just sold out of it. The waiter recommended the pork belly as one of the restaurant’s signature dishes so I went with that. DH ordered the braised paleron of veal with tomato confit. The pork belly was cooked well, very tender and flavorful, and the Puy lentils were a nice complement. However, the true star of the night was the veal which flaked apart with a fork and melted in one’s mouth. Outstanding. For dessert, I ordered the rhubarb gelee with mascarpone, fresh raspberries and strawberries, and Breton sable crumbles. DH ordered the Grand Marnier soufflé, which was great (I hate when the interior of a soufflé is not cooked enough and this one was). The rhubarb dessert was excellent, such a great balance of tart/sweet flavors. This meal was fabulous and we could not believe what a great value the set menu provided.
2) Café Constant: This was a lovely casual meal but not as strong as La Regalade or Josephine (see below). We were pleased that at 9 PM we didn’t have to wait for an outdoor table. We drank a crisp Sancerre rose. I started with the potato leek soup with ham, and DH had the chilled crab. Both were good but I believe the menu said that the soup was supposed to be served chilled and mine was hot. It’s entirely possible I misread the menu, but I think the soup would’ve worked better chilled, given that this is the summer. Mains were duck 2 ways with apples and cod with vegetables. Both were good but not spectacular. Desserts were profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and hot chocolate sauce and Ile Flottante. Everything was good, but nothing was stupendous. Still, for the price we were pleased.
3) Pierre Gagnaire: This was an outstanding dinner. Chef Gagnaire was in the kitchen and came out to greet each table. To fast forward to the end of the night, he was also by the door as we were preparing to leave. My husband informed Chef that it was my birthday and asked if we could have a photo with him. He was happy to oblige. We told him we were from the US and asked him about his opening in Vegas and suggested he open a place in NY. (Note, for any Gagnaire followers, he told us he was planning to be at the Vegas restaurant for New Year’s Eve.) He was very gracious.
Now back to the food, we started with several different hors d’oeuvres which I will never be able to recall. I distinctly remember a crispy breadstick in a thin vessel with olive oil, and an avocado mousse but that’s it. Sorry. We ordered the tasting menu and a Syrah. Was surprised at the reasonableness of the wine list. The 3 breads we were offered were all outstanding.
First course was cod with a few mussels, in a rhubarb broth with pomegranate seeds, grapefruit, haricot verts, and cucumbers. I really enjoyed this dish and would never have thought of pairing cod with rhubarb but I quite liked the combination. Second course was a veloute with zucchini, chanterelles, almonds, and an herb ice cream. Very refreshing. Next was a trio of dishes: (1) Parmesan gnocchi with peas and fava beans; purple olive ravioli; and a foie gras napoleon with melon, eggplant, and cabbage. The gnocchi was perfectly made, light and airy, and I loved the ravioli since I love olives. Next was a mascarpone galette soufflé with Kabu turnips, young leeks, and spinach fondue, but the real star of the dish was the mound of shaved white truffles which was delicious. Next were slices of blue lobster with basil atop cuttlefish with small prawns pan-fried with chili, topped with sea urchin. Clearly there was a lot going on with this dish, yet all the components worked well together. This was DH’s favorite dish. Next was leg of lamb “a l’orientale” with mushrooms, rice, and coriander. I really enjoyed this dish and definitely detected Asian flavors although I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why. The cheeses were a Tome de brebis corse, an anneau de Vic-bilh, and a Bleu des Causses served with a Belgian ale. There were several desserts, but I specifically recall a strawberry parfait, a raspberry dessert similar to a mille feuille, a chocolate hazenut dessert, and a refreshing cucumber mint granite to finish. As we left the restaurant we were presented with a small bag, inside of which was a box containing some chocolates, a praline, and some madeleines. Excellent dinner.
4) Josephine Chez Dumonet: This was one of our favorite dinners. It was exactly what we wanted in a French bistro. Loud, chaotic, a bit crazy, but wonderful. Chef Jean-Christian Dumonet was in the house and gave us 2 glasses of Champagne on the house which is always a lovely start to a meal. We ordered a bottle of Palmer rose Champagne. The amuse was a chilled tomato soup. To start, I had the foie gras. Despite ordering the petite size, the portion was massive. DH ordered the langoustines. I ordered the steak tartare, and DH ordered the chauteaubriand. Both came with fried potatoes. The chateaubriand was delicious, but the true star was the steak tartare. Chef Dumonet prepared it tableside himself. The balance of flavors was perfect, the beef was the freshest bright red color, and the portion was huge, so huge I could not even finish, try as hard as I might. I love steak tartare and am fearful I may never have it that great again. Dessert was apple tart tatin (which was fabulous, perfectly done) and berries. We finished with some petit fours.
The one negative I will say is that the service was not perfect. We often had to refill our Champagne glasses, and there was a large time lapse between our starters and our mains. This didn’t bother us at all because the meal was so wonderful and we were having a lovely time, plus we are always willing to overlook service when we’re visitors in other countries. Far more troublesome to me were all of the “ugly Americans” at surrounding tables who managed to complain about everything. I probably would have given them poor service, too! That being said, if I could return to any one restaurant from our trip right now, it would be this one. The food was that good, and the waiters were trying hard.
5) Les Clos du Gourmets: This was our least favorite dinner, but also the one we did not pick ourselves as friends we dined with suggested it. We ordered pata negra for the table. To start I had chilled creamy zucchini soup. DH had gazpacho with shrimp tempura. The shrimp was well-done, but the gazpacho was not a traditional gazpacho and had a lot of cream in it. For mains, I had the baby Gres chicken, and DH had saffron risotto with chorizo and cuttlefish. Both were good but not spectacular. Desserts were a deconstructed strawberry Charlotte and a poached peach were a granite and mascarpone-topped cookies. Again, both good but not great.
6) L’Arpege: Our last dinner in Paris. Chef Passard greeted each table. (Random note: Gerard Depardieu was dining at the restaurant with 2 gentlemen also.) Chef Passard was very friendly and returned to our table at the end of the night to ask how we enjoyed everything and offered to sign our menus, which we had asked to keep. We also asked him for a photograph, and he obliged happily.
We drank an Alfred Gratien Paradis brut rose Champagne and ordered the tasting menu. It was a nice touch that we were each able to select from 3 options for our meat course (Bresse chicken, lamb, or veal sweetbreads). I chose the sweetbreads, and DH ordered the lamb. Hors d’oeuvres were a little cheese bite, and 2 different mixed vegetable tarts. Next was a soft poached egg served in a hollowed-out egg with four spices. Then was a course of green zebra tomatoes with white asparagus. Next were raviolis stuffed with vegetables in an onion consommé. This was a stand-out course. The pasta was so thin it was transparent, allowing you to see the vivid colors of the vegetable fillings, and the consommé had a deep, rich flavor. Next was Chausey lobster with honey and Sherry vinegar. It was interesting to contrast this dish with the lobster dish at Gagnaire since they were so different. Gagnaire wowed you with the combination of flavors; here the focus was just perfectly-prepared lobster. Then was turbot from Brittany with black radish. This fish was outstanding. The meat course was next; both the sweetbreads and the lamb were excellent. Then the cheese cart came by and we sampled almost all of them. Our first dessert was a mille feuille topped with a raspberry. Very flaky and fresh. The next dessert was prepared tableside. Two perfect little tomatoes were stuffed with apples and caramelized slowly and served with basil ice cream. It’s hard to imagine how sweet these tomatoes were; they were phenomenal. Finally we had petit fours including 3 little macarons from the garden. The service was exceptional, probably better than at Gagnaire, although we might just be saying that since the staff at Arpege spoke better English. This was a wonderful way to end our stay in Paris. Everything was excellent.
MISC. (in no particular order)
Pierre Herme: vanilla bean tart; mille feuille; and macarons (olive oil vanilla; apricot pistachio; rose; chocolate passion fruit; chocolate; caramel; jasmine) – The vanilla bean tart was outstanding; so many flecks of vanilla bean in the tart; and the mille feuille (2000 layers) was delicious - the cream had the best caramel flavor.
Laduree: macarons (pistachio, chocolate, rose, coffee, blackcurrant violet, caramel with salted butter, orange blossom, lemon, vanilla, raspberry) – I was not blown away, and enjoyed the macarons from Herme and Mulot much more.
Gerard Mulot: tarte citron and macarons (blackberry; 3 berry; passion fruit basil; caramel with sea salt; nougat; raspberry; pineapple ginger) – Everything was delicious, especially the tarte citron, and the blackberry and passion fruit basil macarons.
Besnier Pere et Fils: chocolate brioche and croissant – One of our favorite places for pastry and the best croissant I had on the trip. This is a tiny little shop near the Musee Rodin.
Maison Eric Kayser: baguette and croissant – both good
Paul Patisserie: croissant and pistachio macaron – I realize this isn’t one of the well-regarded patisseries but we had limited options in the train station when heading to Reims, and were delighted that both the croissant and the macaron were delicious.
Raspail organic market: Crepes from a stall at the south end; and the potato pancake and an onion tart from Les Gustalins – everything was delicious
L’as du Falaffel: good, fresh falafel
Berthillion: Only tried the vanilla bean ice cream but it was great; lots of vanilla bean flecks.
I knew I should have been a lawyer in Manhattan instead of a software developer geek in Montreal!! :-)
re: John Talbott
With a lot of the bistros frequently discussed here, much depends on whether one orders off the menu, carte or omits the supplement items. At Les Clos de Gourmets we tend to order the supplement dishes, and while the tab is higher, we always leave happy. I suspect this is why CAJ gets mixed reviews. Any views?
I suspect there is some truth in that. Often the "menu" is constrained by cost so it won't show off the true potential of a restaurant. Useful if the diner is constrained by price but it can limit the experience.
That said I think the style/ambiance of restaurants has a significant impact on experience; great food served in a place which has an ambiance that jars with the diners expectations or experience will struggle to shine through. CAJ is a busy, bustling bistro with a very distinct character, it works for many, but I believe it style can really detract from the experience for many others. Horses for courses....
Which is why it is a great news that Jégo (Chez l'Ami Jean) decided to get rid of the 35€ prix fixe, that had a mix of truly excellent and boring dishes. He now only does what he does best for a bill that is still reasonable (the tasting menu is 60, used to be 75, and is an all you can eat formula).
I agree also about Clos des Gourmets -- the supplement dishes are usually extremely good. By the way, that also applies to La Régalade, except that their prix fixe menu is a safer bet than the other two.
"Paul Patisserie: croissant and pistachio macaron – I realize this isn’t one of the well-regarded patisseries"
However, it is very reliable, sets a good standard, and punches far above its weight for a chain. You can often find branches in stations and airports which is good because the alternatives are usually dire. The ones with lunch rooms are really handy for grabbing a light snack if out shopping etc. Glad it met the needs for the train journey.
This is such a great report - we are in restaurant planning phase now so I'm definitely saving this. Out of curiosity, what did you do for lunches? Interested in hearing your choices and opinions there too! We're also going to the Cote after Paris - staying in Villefranche Did you do a Cote d'Azur report as well?
Thanks for such a wonderful report. I am heading to Paris for a long weekend whilst in London for work at the end of this month and have been having troubles deciding over where to eat.
I am curious, did you need reservations at La Regalade or Josephine? If so, did you have problems reserving if you spoke English (or really crappy high school French). And are these places open for Aug 30 (as they're only open the Monday that I'm there)?
Thanks in advance fellow chowhounders!
re: The Paris Kitchen
Not quite correct, Laduree is really owed by Paul. It is the "Holder Group", back in the 1930's the Holder family took over a small bakery in Lille called "Paul", the kept the name, although they then expanded into industrial bread making. In '93 they launched the familiar "Paul" shops which is their high street brand. In '05 they purchased "Laduree" and using a similar model to Paul bakeries they grew the brand internationally.
Both good products and good places to visit whilst in France - good brands with consistent products.