Paris Trip Highlights
I had a fantastic week-plus in Paris recently, and thanks again to this board (with special thanks to Souphie), had some pretty great dining experiences. This is not really a detailed trip report; that is not my thing, and there are many others here whose thing it is.
I did three serious dining lunches: Le Cinq, Ledoyen, and L'Astrance....
Le Cinq was perfect, as ever. The room, the service, the food - wonderful. The entree of burrata with a cold zucchini soup topped with a chiffonade of truffles was light and refreshing. The main course of duck was fantastic. I did not love the dessert, though it is somewhat my fault for ordering a fig dessert; I do not love figs, but they were just coming into prime fig season, so I went for it. A fantastic experience.
Ledoyen was good, but was not really my kind of place. The bread was spectacular; they have a "cereal" bread, which is really a brioche, and might have been the best single piece of bread I have ever had, or close to it. Really. The amuse presentation of four bites was pretty, but I did not love all of the items. My entree of langoustine was disappointing; it was a rather simple dish in a gelee that I was not impressed with; it felt old fashioned and uninspired. But the main course of sweetbreads was truly special. I do not love sweetbreads, in fact, I don't even really like them, but these were incredible; crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, with a rich creamy truffle sauce - just perfect. Dessert was enjoyable as well. But I did not really like the lunch menu at Ledoyen; you have a choice of two entrees and two mains; none of the dishes appealed to me very much (even though the sweetbreads blew me away, I never order sweetbreads). So, while it was a very good lunch, I would probably not return; the classic, traditional, slightly worn atmosphere is not for me.
At L'Astrance I had the "surprise menu" (not the lunch menu). This was one of the best meals of my life. L'Astrance is perfect in every way. Every course, every bite. Please do not listen to me, it is already hard enough to get into. This might be my favorite restaurant in the world.
I had a wonderful dinner at Rino doing the prix fixe 6 or seven course. I would say this is the same school of cooking as Le Chateaubriand, though I greatly preferred this place. If you want to try some new Parisian food in a semi out of the way, semi-cool area, try it. Note that you have no choice on the menu, so if you do not like that, stay away. He was excellent with fish, and the dessert was wonderful and not too sweet. I also had a nice chat and glass of wine with the owner after dinner who praised Le Chateaubriand and La Gazzetta profusely, suggesting I give Le Chateaubriand another try. Very enjoyable dinner at an authentic little place doing interesting things with food.
I did the chef's menu (tasting menu?....gorging menu?....feast menu?) at Chez L'Ami Jean on their first or second day back from vacation. I love this place, and I loved the experience, though on this occasion, I did not love the food. It was wonderful in that it felt like Jego was cooking especially for me...which he kind of was. Sitting by the kitchen watching him work was like a free show. He started me with what appeared to be a simple light vegetable soup, but it was so rich with flavor and simple yet complex at the same time...then he served a beautiful fresh plate of ocean in the guise of small scallops in their shell and bone marrow...this was followed by a calamari and sausage dish; not sure I get this combination. Simple and hearty. Then I had a dish which I did not like - a heavily over-salted, purposely (virtually) un-cooked cabillaud. Not good. Then I had a profiterole of short rib, which was great, though it was almost over-salted as well. This was followed by sweetbreads, which were good, but after my Ledoyen experience the day before, it was an unfortunate choice..Also, the portions were huge; way too much food for me....Then dessert, of course with the famous rice pudding. I do not like rice pudding, and though his is great, I am not a fan of rice pudding, even what might be the best in the world. I think the two or three additional desserts he served were new creations, and they were enjoyable, but I was stuffed. But I love this restaurant; I just think it was their first day back, and they were trying a few new things; but it was still a special experience with a few hits and a few misses.
Had a great dinner at the new La Regalade, though I did not like the place as much the original in terms of ambience. Started with a fantastic soup with langoustines, followed by the poitrine of pork...mmmm. Also had lunch at the original; loved the place, but it was too much food for lunch for me. La Regalade really does great food for a (relatively) great price.
I did not like Les Papilles. I was there early, and was surrounded by quite a few older english speaking tourists; not my favorite situation (even though I am an english speaking tourist). (To be fair, their were a lot of locals in the other part of the restaurant). I was also somewhat cramped and squeezed into the banquette. I was not impressed with the food, and you have no choices. Average gazpacho starter followed by a generous lamb dish, followed by flan - yuchh. Three things I do not order - especially flan. The food was ok and was a good value; just not for me that night.
One side note: I feel like I made a few too many dining commitments, trying to get as much in as possible in the short time I was there. This trip I did not have enough little meals, or casual snacks, or simple cafe stops, or lunch in a park or by the seine. My loss. Next trip will be slightly less food-centric, leaving more free time to take things as they come.
Great report. Thanks for the info. I'm still stumped by the general love for CLJ. I've read so many reports from people who LOVE this place but didn't particularly like their food. We had a totally hit or miss experience (and mostly misses) so combined with the rushed feeling and the cramped atmosphere, we've chosen not to return.
Thanks for the report. You have convinced me to try L'Astrance and to be more adventuresome in ordering while there.
Adding to your regret over too many dining commitments and not enough little meals, casual snacks and simple cafes, my wife and I have found that too much of a good thing is too much and detracts. When great meals at great places are crowded together, the latter experiences are just not as fantastic as the first ones because we are full, tired and even jaded by it all. We find that our Paris visits are much more enjoyable when we try to balance things out and keep the calories high relative to normal daily living, but under control. Also, there are so many better things to do than sit through a lot of very long meals...even for "foodies."
Thanks again and good luck to you!
Regarding l'Astrance, your only choice is which prix-fixe menu to pick. At lunch their is the five course surprise (85 euro, I think?), the 7 course surprise menu (120 euro), and also a 160 euro menu. I have had the lunch menu on two previous occasions, and it was excellent, but the full 120 euro menu was extraordinary.
Actually, it wasn't the quantity of food that was a huge issue for me (except at L'Ami Jean). I only booked one reservation per day. But I still found that I had a few too many food-related commitments, and not enough spontaneity. Also, when you do a Michelin two or three star for lunch, it really can take up a lot of the day; between going to that destination, dressing up, and possibly wanting to dress "down" afterwards to more comfortably wander, this can be a several hour commitment.
Glad to hear someone else voice bit of doubt about Papilles. It is an OK place but gets lauded on this board as if it is some incarnation of all the glories of French cooking into single entity. Well, no. The best part of it is probably getting to choose a decent wine without the usual restaurant high price level. Otherwise, it is OK, usually a tasty soup, some braised or roasted meat dish, cheese and a pathetic dessert, always just a flan, yogurt or creme fraich thing with fruit on it. It is an OK place to eat but do not go there thinking it is anything close to star level cooking because it is not.