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Nov 2, 2010 07:17 AM

Paris report October 8-20, 2010

l'Ambroisie 10
Bigarrade 9
Spring, Saturne 8
le Cinq, la Régalade St-Honoré, la Table d'Eugène 7
Chez l'Ami Jean, le Reminet 6
Joséphine Chez Dumonet 5
Frenchie 4
Drouant 3
l'Épi Dupin 2
*1 inedible, 2-5 I won't be back, 6-7 yummy, 8-9 gives my wife's cooking some competition, 10 perfect. All first-time visits unless otherwise noted. All lunch except L'Ami Jean, Le Reminet and Drouant.

L'AMBROISIE (12th visit?) has an uncanny way of transcending the raw materials without losing their essence. All tastes and textures are elegant and well-mannered. Incomparable bliss. What's more, I haven't detected any problems with consistency of quality despite about a dozen visits over the past few years. By far my favorite restaurant in Paris. My meal this time included a Tropézienne with anchovy cream, feuilletés au sabayon, velouté de châtaignes with royale de foie gras, eggs with white truffles and spinach, tourte de canard au foie gras (special of the day, not on the menu), green apple sorbet with pistachio nuts, boule nacrée with coffee cream. Wines by the glass were a Mersault from F. D'Allaines, a 2003 St-Joseph from B. Gripa, and a 12-year-old Sherry from Ximénez (Wms. & Humbert--quite a revelation!).

BIGARRADE--an endless succession of delectable morsels. Pure pleasure--no danger of being stuffed, as the meal takes so long (2 1/2 hours) and the portions are so small. I was fortunate enough to be seated at the counter directly overlooking the open kitchen from a distance of about 3 feet; it was fascinating to watch and listen to the cooks at work. The dishes were quite deconstructed, occasionally relegating seasoning to condiments rather than integrating it with the main ingredient, so you had to assemble items on your fork in suitable proportions. On the one hand, there were many pleasant surprises. On the other hand, everything was recognizable; recipes as well as sequence of dishes make sense. A few minor slip-ups, e.g. undercooked leek and oversalted reduction sauce on the eel in my opinion, or undercooked monkfish in another diner's opinion (I overheard the waiter each time he reported customers' reactions back to the chef). Great service, always ready to answer questions and offer sample bites of various things.

SPRING--Homey yet light and precise cooking, delightful and subtly impressive. The day's menu consisted of heavenly oysters (Perle Blanche no. 2 d'Oléron); mullet with squid and vegetables; pot au feu with boeuf de Salers (in a thin broth); a nice cheese cart with Brillat-Savarin, Valencay, Époisses, Salers, and St-Nectaire; pear with chestnut cream; chocolate ice cream with basil; and coffee with a luscious chocolate praline.

SATURNE--great ingredients prepared with herbal flair. Excellent sommelier with plenty of good yet little-known wines by the glass. Small portions, but still good value at 49 euros for three courses, two glasses of wine and coffee.

LE CINQ (3rd visit)--I surprised myself in scoring this haute cuisine so low, but I felt that the elaborate preparations failed to tame the somewhat recalcitrant main ingredients: strongly smoked salmon, chewy duck, and sour lemon, respectively. I might have been less critical if I hadn't just been to l'Ambroisie the day before, but in any event I was left with the impression that les Ambassadeurs (where I last had lunch 4 months ago) is superior to le Cinq.

LA RÉGALADE ST-HONORÉ--The terrine de volaille (which arrived on my table promptly), vegetable lasagna, and raspberry/vanilla cream dessert were all excellent. The main course, on the other hand, consisted of somewhat dry/overcooked chicken (saved by lovely foie gras) in a sauce that I found too sour. Service was impressively efficient.

LA TABLE D'EUGÈNE (3rd visit)--Surprisingly elaborate recipes. All well-executed and mostly well-conceived, although my wife and I agreed that the dark truffle sauce was not a happy marriage with the scallops.

CHEZ L'AMI JEAN (2nd visit)--My appetizer was slow-cooked rabbit with scampi on coffee-flavored biscuits! Talk about pushing boundaries...but I quite liked it. Otherwise pretty straightforward cooking, but not without interest. Oversized portions. Lumberjack chic. Of course the place is great fun, and that goes for customers and staff alike.

LE REMINET--Traditional. Tasty and pleasant, but not exceptional. The walnut-oil sauce on the marbré de veau au foie gras was too salty, but the accompanying fondue de celeri was luscious. Unattractive presentation of the dessert. Nice sourdough bread. Friendly service.

FRENCHIE--Our exultant first impression from the extraordinary beet salad with hibiscus juice was soon eclipsed by irritation due to the oversalting of both main courses (gnocchi with mussels, and chicken). The cheese course (which I selected instead of dessert) was just a little piece of Fourme d'Ambert with some cherries. Cramped, dark, and sparsely decorated. I won't be wearing out my telephone trying to make reservations here again.

JOSÉPHINE CHEZ DUMONET is very good at what it does...but what exactly is that? If Chez L'Ami Jean is lumberjack chic, then this is the original lumberjack. A slice of cold foie gras with toast? Come on, that's what I grab sometimes when I get home late from work and am waiting for the oven to warm up. This is supposed to be a restaurant, not a grocery store, right? The "monolithic" style continued with the main course (boeuf bourguignon) and dessert (grand marnier soufflé), both of which were nicely done but still so intense and one-sided that they cried out for some creative counterfoil. The "half portions" were big enough for two--anybody who can manage whole portions here could compete for a Guinness record in ogredom. Service was jolly if a bit erratic; one waiter in particular was quite the comedian. When I called and made my reservation about two months in advance, I asked to be placed in the front room near the bar, but ended up getting seated in back by the kitchen door anyway.

DROUANT--The royale de foie gras with velouté de potimarron was relatively tasteless. The same can't be said of the tourte d'agneau, which was too sour. OK desserts (I had the four classics.) Surprisingly inept (though well-meaning) service. Boring decor, dead ambience.

L'ÉPI DUPIN--I know, Souphie warned us 'Hounds that it "sucks", but I had to go and find out for myself, especially since it has gotten good press from Lobrano, Mignot et al. Souphie was right. The appetizer, a fricassée of snails with (nice) chèvre frais, tasted strongly of licorice and little else, even though licorice wasn't even mentioned in the menu's description of this item. I told the waiter they had overdone it with the licorice, for which he apologized; amusingly, on the bill there was an item called "2 Reclame entree 0.00" (translation: complaint about the appetizer, no charge for listening). The main was daurade royale sauvage, tagliatelles de courgettes/carottes, émulsion gingembre (fish atop shredded squash and carrots in a ginger emulsion); it was too sweet. Dessert was a rhubarb crumble (tartelette) not half as good as the one my wife makes. OK wines by the glass and Langres cheese.

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  1. Great report. Even if our experience is not identical (whose is?), I wish all reports were like yours

    1. I'd be interested in the order of these experiences and if there is any correlation between early on and higher rankings. My thought is that one gets jaded after so many rich experiences, but it's all theoretical as I can only eat one "big deal" per month and fewer would be better.

      And, your "8-9 gives my wife's cooking some competition" rating resonates loudly for me! On that scale I rarely see a 10!

      Thanks for an excellent report.

      1 Reply
      1. re: hychka

        L'Ami Jean Oct. 8 10 pm
        Drouant Oct 10 8 pm
        La Régalade Oct 11 1230 pm
        Saturne Oct 12 1230 pm
        Frenchie Oct 13 1230 pm
        Spring Oct 14 1230 pm
        Table d'Eugène Oct 15 1230 pm
        L'Ambroisie Oct 16 1230 pm
        Le Cinq Oct 17 1 pm
        Joséphine Oct 18 1230 pm
        L'Épi Dupin Oct 19 1230 pm
        Le Reminet Oct 19 945 pm
        Bigarrade Oct 20 1230 pm
        To me it doesn't look like there's any such correlation.

      2. Yes. Great report and rating system. No arguments from me, either.

        1. It is a good report, but I wonder if your salt tolerance is lower than others? I know many have cut salt from diets could this be root cause your critisism?

          I personally season liberally when cooking but eat practically zero processed food so no hidden salt. Thus I am probably not so sensitive to restaurant level seasoning.

          2 Replies
          1. re: PhilD

            Well, I encountered what I consider oversalting in 3 out of 13 restaurants. Only at Frenchie was it a major problem. At Bigarrade it involved a tiny piece of eel about the size of two thumbs, which was served atop a larger chunk of rabbit that was fine; I mentioned it to the chef and he said it must have been the reduction sauce which had been poured over the eel, not salt added directly to the eel. At home I like to sprinkle large flakes of sea salt on my moose meat, and I also enjoy eating pretzels studded with salt. I haven't made a conscious effort to reduce salt in my diet, since I figure my taste will automatically prevent me from ingesting too much of it; like you, I avoid processed foods. My wife has a higher salt tolerance than I do, but she was with me at Frenchie and agreed that the main courses were too salty.

            1. re: fanoffrance

              I have had salting issues at Frenchie as well. My first course was a trout smoked a la minute. It was a lovely piece of fish, which was compromised by too much salt.

          2. Fan,

            Interesting about being given the table in by the WC/Kitchen at Chez Dumonet. I reserved a month in advance and was given that table too--but then again by the time I arrived at dinner--9:00--the restaurant was full. Another (American) friend reported that she had been seated at that table as well. Now you. I must admit that I found it distracting and unpleasant. I wonder if any Americans are ever seated anywhere but that back room? Chowhounds, does anyone have a different experience?

            3 Replies
            1. re: planetjanet

              Especially when arriving for the early seating, we've often been offered an inferior table. (Think about it: they have to get rid of even the worst table.) But I've learned that you usually don't have to accept the first table presented. You can always very politely suggest that you prefer to be in another area, even that you are willing to wait for one. With the exception of terrasse seating which will often be reserved well in advance in summer, we are almost always allowed to choose another table.

              On the other hand, I am actually surprised at how many times we are offered our choice of tables.

              1. re: planetjanet

                The conversation was in French, and my phone number is Norwegian, so the only thing that might have revealed my American origin is my accent.

                1. re: fanoffrance

                  We were also offered that table as if it were a bonus to be next to the kitchen to see the "action." We thanked them for the offer and then asked for the table by the window in the front (which was the only other empty table at 9:00PM) and they happily gave it to us.