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Chez L'Ami Jean, Benoit, L'Atelier du Joel Robuchon, Dominique Bouchet Oct 30 Nov 2 , 2010

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Apologies for the long combined post, and thanks to the many of you whose prior posts helped with trip planning.

Chez L'Ami Jean – Oct 30 - Sheer gluttony – the fois gras entier with cepes came on a platter large enough for a Christmas turkey and was a challenge to finish although a delightful one. Done perfectly a little pink and runny in the center it was to die for – take an extra asprin and maybe borrow a dose or two of lipitor. The daurade (sea bream I believe) for my wife came roasted whole and was simple but elegant and delicious. The lievre (hare) had been cooked I suppose for hours as it was nearly disintegrated but the flavors were intense and exquisite. That's a strongly flavored and very gamey dish that isnt for everyone for certain. My good friend and dining companion for this trip had the partridge, which was I think, domestic. Our server steered him away form the wild partridge as being a bit strongly flavored, and my friend being uncertain abut the intensity, chose the tamer variety, with later regrets. It was tasty and well prepared, but without the “wild” flavor. The meal was magnificent. I don't have a clear memory of the wines. Having noted inconstant reports about CLJ, ours was a resounding 10/10, and the very friendly staff mostly speak English, for those challenged by the language.

Benoit Oct 31– the staid classic was superb. Escargots and smoked salmon starters, sole nantua sweetbreads with fois gras and filet of beef. The escargots were excellent with great flavor, likely fresh, and the smoked salmon was the best we have ever had, and plenty of it. The filet was tender and had the most intense flavor, much more so than the fine beef, even USDA prime, that we pride ourselves on at home.
A splurge wine, Chante Alouette 2007, a white Hermitage Chapoutier selection was a wonderful starter, but a little steep due the dollars miserable weakness. A rhone Massif Duchaux cros de la mure 2007 was much more reasonable, and is worth the trip alone at around 40 E per bottle. That's still a bit of a markup as its available in the states in the high 20s / bottle (one vendor only according to wine searcher – yep – it was good enough to search for) Benoit is open on Sunday, and the staff is fluent in English.

L'Atelier du Joel Robuchon followed on Monday – my wife had had too much dining by then and sat that one out – much to my later thanks – The scallops that I had were subtle and excellent but not special, and my friend had the Iberico ham which he later regretted – not because it was bad, but because it didnt “exercise the kitchen” he late commented he felt rushed and would have liked more time to ponder. We both had the partridge stuffed with cabbage and fois gras. This was wild partridge with the mark of authenticity waiting to break the tooth of the unwary. This dish was sublime , but at 80 E as a special, it was definitely a splurge. The Gauby Vielles Vignes 2007 ( they were out of the 06 and had raised the price without notice – should have asked) was disappointing at any price but at a little over 100E added to the feeling of low QPR overall. Yes the quality was superb but even this attempt by an uber chef to make cuisine affordable is only “relatively affordable” . I would go back, but with Draconian cost control in mind. Tab was 200E each – many thanks to my wife for sitting this one out.

Dominique Bouchet followed. We had the discovery menu except my wife who had the bar roti. On the discovery menu the scallops carpaccio was truly amazing as was the mushroom sup with fois gras. The macaroni stuffed with lobster was excellent, but a notch below the 1st two. The civet marcassin (wild boar stew) was good, but not stunning, and seemed out of place amongst its peers. It was the wild game selection of the evening. An Auxey Duresses by Nerthus 2008 was pleasing, needed a bit of time to open had nice citrus notes with a distinctly lemon note (flavor not astringency). A Richaud Cairanne (a named village appellation Cotes du Rhone) from 2009 needed time to breath out but was intensely fruited and pleasing and a reasonable price point (40E). Definitely on the revisit list.

Too much food ? Maybe – Elusive search for great value wines in restaurants – marginally successful.
Best wine bets if you are a wine lover seems to be 2007 or 2009 Rhones. Hope this helps in your dinner planning. More later after the trip winds down.

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