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Mar 7, 2011 10:49 AM

Best of the 3 Stars...Is it still Pierre Gagnaire?

Had the best meal of my life at Pierre Gagnaire 5 years ago and have been looking forward to my return ever since.

Recently had dinner at Twist (Gagnaire's Vegas outpost) and it was wildly inconsistent, and even the good was as great as what I remembered from PG Paris.

Is Pierre Gagnaire still the best of the 3 stars or has it fallen substantially recently? I prefer creative over classic but I'm not into weird and molecular gastronomy for the sake of weird and molecular gastronomy. Will be in Paris in end of April/beginning of May.

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  1. Is Pierre Gagnaire the best of the 3 stars? that will be heated debate. From my numerous meals over the years, one just last October, he is still Pierre Gagnaire at his best. If you enjoyed your meal 5 years ago, you will enjoy what he is cooking now. His less expensive lunch Menu du Marche is very good but if one wants his best, order a la carte or his tasting menu.
    Never been to his LV outpost, therefore, can't compare or give an opinion

    35 Replies
    1. re: PBSF

      Not to stir the proverbial pot but who do you consider to be the best of the 3 stars in Paris?

      Good to hear that PG Paris is as good as ever. It puts me more at ease for my upcoming trip.

      1. re: Porthos

        Of the ones that I've been to, I think the best food of the Michelin 3 star restaurant in Paris are Pierre Gagnaire, Arpege and L'Ambroisie. A great restaurant should be more than just food; it should be a wonderful experience. For me, for one reason or another neither Arpege and L'Ambroisie delivers that. In the past 20 years, I have eaten at both at least three times, once when L'Ambroisie was located on the Seine in the 5e across from Notre Dame. I have not dined at either in more than three years. Pierre Gagnaire is the only 3 star restaurant in Paris that I look forward to returning even before I am finish with his meal. I have not been to Ledoyen, Le Bristol or Le Pre Catelan after it received the third star.

        1. re: Porthos

          I'm with PBSF. If anything, I think Gagnaire is becoming wiser with age, and more reliable. That said, the roller coaster is almost always part of the experience, especially if you go with the tasting, which I don't recommend. Ordering langoustines and duck à la carte, for instance, is a much more exciting experience.

          That pot hasn't been stirred in a long time, actually. It's been all "I want my wonderful cheap bistrot" all the time, so much so that I don't even think of mentioning to people that fine dining is actually better value.

          Of course, the best for three stars does not mean anything. Having 3 stars means (OK, should mean) being the best in it style, or rather, it means being absolutely unique, hence worth a trip by itself. You already know what you go to Gagnaire for : the unique genius, the creativity, the occasional pure deliciousness, the elegant, comfortable and modern setting, and the comparatively affordable wine list.

          Now, if you ask me, the best 3 star restaurant is Ledoyen. Because it has what matters to me: the best ingredients and the best techniques, a limited number of copious dishes, designed to be as perfect as possible. It also offers a very spectacular, if quite used, setting with the view on the Champs Elysées, a use of molecular techniques for traditional dishes, exceptional cheeses (some of them from Antony!).

          As I often wrote, you go to Guy Savoy for a wonderful experience, something between a party and a show. The food there is, on average, barely worth two stars -- there are major execution issues, not surprising when you see the side of the kitchen. Approximative cooking, bad stocks... But it is always wonderful nevertheless. Full of surprises and wit and the desserts are half your meal no matter what you do. Savoy is also good pretty good with truffle, in season. And his jarret de veau is a true wonder, as is his seabass.

          L'Ambroisie still has the highest potential of them all. It's been written about extensively, including by me. It's austere, it's expensive, it's superb. But the food is not, most of the time, what it used to be. If you have a relationship with them or, if you get lucky, this is the where the best food in the world can be had. Extraordinarily simple, extraordinary tasty and delicious things -- strawberries with icecream, lobster bisque, food orgasm. But it's less and less often, and always very expensive. They're only the best if you can afford to go every week or so. But then they are. They say l'Ambroisie is a winter play for the truffles and game. But I think it's much more interesting in the spring summer, with the greats vegs and fruits.

          There's the case of l'Arpège, definitely a candidate for best. You go for the emphasis on vegetables and the genius of a chef master of simplicity, of minimalism even. Quality of ingredients and mastering of the techniques are not always what they should be, but when they are, this is definitely one the best restaurants ever. While the emphasis is on vegetables, you probably don't want to miss the big pieces of meat or fish. Or Antony's very old Comté. Or truffles in season.

          I'll tell you which three stars I don't think are any good: Pré Catelan and Ducasse. The latter one is the champion of luxury marketing and industry, doesn't care about actual fine dining. Go if you want to feel like you're part of the rich and famous. As for Anton, how this guys passes as a chef is beyond me. But it's in the Bois and the dishes look like they're been designed by an architect.

          The palaces of course are pretty special: Le Meurice has some of the best service and waiting staff ever. What's true in the dining room is true in the kitchen; they can do anything, adapt to your every wish. They could probably set-up a fest noz while serving you roast wild boar if you wanted that. There again, developing a relationship helps. Being a regular at the hotel is ideal. Very much jet-set material. The dining room is basically Versailles.

          Le Bristol is an even bigger machine, the only 3-star open 7 days a week at all meals, with two diffferent dining rooms for the winter and summer, both magnificent. Chef Fréchon's real talent is with rustic chic, revisiting basic, classic ingredients like chicken, sweetbread, morels, etc. To get his third star, he had to offer plenty of uninteresting and supposedly innoative "mousses" and other technical stuff. It's better to ignore them. Like at Le Meurice, the lunch menu is subpar, so there really is no good value available. Compared to Le Meurice, le Bristol is warmer, more generous and less subtle.

          L'Astrance also is in a class of is own -- no chic, no choice, out of the way. Both the chef and the captain are spectacularly brilliant. I never got any thrill from this place, but some people do enjoy those very "different" dishes. I'm lying in fact: the wine pairings, designed by a former Lucas Carton sommelier, are truly exceptional. The restaurant is small, the team is young and enthusiastic. A really different experience. Also, the only three star where you know the bill in advance, as there is flat rate for tasting+drinks.

          Who did I forget? Fact is, the 3 star landscape hasn't changed in a while. The action is in 2 star categories. But that's a different question, right? I'm not supposed to discuss Le Cinq, am I?

          1. re: souphie

            You are too harsh on the food at Guy Savoy. They do make up for their cooking shortcomings with their generosity. Their bread and the post dessert carts are enough to win anybody over. I just wish the dessert server would take more care in plating their goodies. The plates are too small and unless Hubert is doing it, he just slaps everything on, then ice creams and mousses just run together.
            Frederic Anton does have a great resume. Maybe it is the Robuchon influence on Michelin.

            1. re: PBSF

              Oh, I wouldn't let anyone but Hubert Schwermer serve my desserts. That was implied. If your captain is not Hubert, complain!

              1. re: souphie

                I've eaten at Pre Catalan twice - neither time my choice. Most one stars I've eaten at were better.

              2. re: PBSF

                I agree with Souphie about Savoy. My ice cream was melting, too, on my first visit there when Hubert wasn't serving! A waiter noticed it and swapped out the pot with a colder one.

              3. re: souphie

                Agree that fine dining is a better deal than looking for places to pay 60 euro pp for a steak and a bottle. In December, I thought the Ledoyen lunch might have been the best deal in town.

                How does the Gagnaire "cheap" lunch stack up? Is the quality there or is it a situation like Le Meurice?

                1. re: Busk

                  It's in between. It's definitely good, but not as great as ALC can be. All in all, totally worth it. 105€ last I checked. And there are pretty good wines with reasonable markups.

                  1. re: souphie

                    Thanks. Sounds cool. Sounds like when we did lunch menus at Le Cinq and added the sea urchin. It was the best part of the meal...

                  2. re: Busk

                    The 105E Menu du Marche is a great value but does not match up to the rest of his offerings. From my two experiences with this lunch, only the first course of various small tastings and his assortment of desserts (an abbreviated version of his Grand Dessert Pierre Gagnaire) can compare to his a la carte/tasting menu. Of the two principal plates, one cold and one hot, they were good and straight forward but definitely not at his best. That is not because he is not using luxury ingredients. His ingredients are always to notch but the cooking. One lunch, a 'vitello' of chicken was bland and another the lacquered cod was too sweet. I agree with Souphie, the best meals for me have been ordering a la carte: variations on lobster, turbot, lamb, all terrific. Very few chef cooks lobster like Gagnaire: amazing silky texture without a trace of toughness.Then order the Grand Dessert and share a hot souffle. The tasting menu is too long, too much food and the progression doesn't always work. The wines are fairly priced, many in the 70E range. The least expensive wine by the glass of all the 3 stars, we had glasses for 16E per.

                    1. re: PBSF

                      The best lobster I ever had was a "Navarin de Homard" at l'Ambroisie. No toughness there, I can assure you! I've also had lobster at Le Meurice and L'Arpège--big hunks of meat swimming in overly rich sauce, not nearly as nuanced and balanced, almost fast-food by comparison.

                      "The progression doesn't always work" in Gagnaire's tasting menu--how true!

                  3. re: souphie

                    Excellent primer on the 3-stars. It's always a pleasure to read (and re-read) your side of the discussion.

                    1. re: Nancy S.

                      For what it's worth, we were recent first-time diners at l'Ambroisie (i.e. not regulars) and the cooking was outstanding. Certain dishes (e.g. the sea bass) will probably never be surpassed for us. The dining room was stunning but not Versailles opulence, like the restaurant's Place des Vosges location. Service varied, both a little cold and generous beyond belief.

                      My worry when planning to eat at a 3 star is that the experience will be characterless either because of not being a regular or the restaurant being too much of a machine.

                      1. re: johannabanana

                        My first time at l'Ambroisie was my best too.

                          1. re: johannabanana

                            Excellent report souphie and very useful for those of us who have to travel 12,000 miles, sit on a plane for 24 hours and don't want to make bad call. Have taken your advice and will dine at Le Cinq in September.

                    2. re: souphie

                      Souphie, couldn't you discuss the 2 stars? After all, once you start talking stars... Or give us a new thread on that?

                      1. re: johannabanana

                        Start a new thread on the 2 stars; I am sure it will be quite lively. They are certainly an interesting mix.

                      2. re: souphie

                        Thanks for this post souphie. I've been reading your posts for a while now, but as I just decided to sign up to be able to participate in all these threads, I thought I'd pop in a quick thank you as it's always interesting to read what you have to say.

                        1. re: Rio Yeti

                          Although we have decided on Le Cinq, I too would be interested to read your very insightful comments on the 2 stars. And yes, include Le Cinq.

                          1. re: DownUnder

                            Do all the favoured three stars excel seasonally? Or are some better at certain times of the year? Obviously, l'Arpege might be particularly ideal in the summer but is Gagnaire equally like that?

                            1. re: johannabanana

                              If they're only good part of the year, they don't get the stars. But some have stuff you don't want to miss. Truffle at l'Ambroisie, Guy Savoy, Michel Rostang (alas there's no Gérard Besson anymore. He was soooooo good with truffles), for instance. Strawberries at L'Ambroisie, Le Cinq. Pithiviers (game pie) at the same two. Not sure if l'Arpège is actually better in the summer, and if so it would be probably early summer.

                              1. re: souphie

                                Good to know. Had amazing black truffle in January at l'Ambroisie (but not the feuilleté). Will hopefully eat lunch in the early summer at l'Arpège this year, having only been in the winter. Although we're constantly impressed by what they manage to do with root vegetables. Ever since, we've been cooking a lot of turnips and black radish at home!

                                1. re: souphie

                                  "and if so it would be probably early summer."

                                  compared to fall (sept. oct. nov.) when all the fruits and vegetables are plenty ?

                                  1. re: Maximilien

                                    The vegetable aren't that plenty in the fall, which is why traditional fall recipes have a lot of root vegetables on the side of game and mushrooms. Also l'Arpège is extremely limited by their supposed asset of having only their own production, all basically local -- going as far as Brittany and Sarthe. It's not like they had access to those wonderful riviera vegetables. Or glasshouse-grown vegetables.

                                    As for fruits, you probably noticed there aren't many at l'Arpège.

                                    1. re: souphie


                                      Here in Montreal. August, September and October are the best 3 months for the local production of fruits and vegetables, spring (may & june) is only the beginning of the season.


                                      1. re: souphie

                                        Your comment about fruit at L'Arpege is right on. From my experiences, the pear slices in the millefeuille of pear and f'ourme d'ambert were underripe and on another occasion his red berries in a tea dessert were too sour and without much flavor.

                                  2. re: johannabanana

                                    Pierre Gagnaire has a terrific game tasting menu in the winter. Also the best food at Alain Dutournier's two star Carre des Feuillants is during the the winter months when his rustic cooking is much better than the other seasons. He has a lot of truffles on his menu, including excellent sweetbread and Lievre a la Royale.

                              2. re: souphie

                                Le Cinq certainly qualifies for three stars, in my opinion. Could it be the ownership that Michelin has issues with? I hope not , they do try so hard to be excellent in all respects. Stay with it souphie.

                                1. re: Oakglen

                                  Was there yesterday with a fellow hound, and it was pretty awesome and very very fairly priced. And by the way, they went all gluten-free for us, including the mignardises in the end and the bread.

                                2. re: souphie

                                  Thank you very much, Souphie, for your great detailed review.

                                  I have less than three days in Paris in mid-June, and I am torn deciding which restaurants to choose. My husband (non-foodie) is allowing me two 'nice' dinners (read: $$$) - and I definitely want to try L'Astrance, but not sure of the other. I'd like to have dinner with food that is not just superbly delicious, but also have a magical evening of beautiful ambiance. Which will be better? Le Bistrol, Le Meurice, L'Arpege?

                                  I would so love to have a meal at Gagnaire, but I've seen (in photos) that ambiance wouldn't rate that highly in my books. I know, I know - it's all about the food, but again, I only have three days in Paris and it's a 13-hour flight away.
                                  Is lunch at Gagnaire worth it?

                                  Please, please help!

                                  1. re: reisende

                                    l'arpege is definitely not magical by any means. so the other 2 if you want that kind of ambiance. les ambassadeurs also has that same kind of feel.

                                    1. re: kerosundae

                                      "I have less than three days in Paris in mid-June"
                                      By reisende on May 12, 2011 12:58 PM

                                      I think you're a bit late to the game. :)

                            2. Great thread. Any comments on Les Ambassaduers and Le Cinq. How about Le Dome Montparnasse ( not in this starred league, but I am looking for good boullabaisse). Thank you.

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: gjrubino

                                I've got a res at Les Ambassadeurs next week--will report back on this thread. In the meantime:

                                1. re: fanoffrance

                                  How far in advance is it necessary to book for dinner at Les Ambassadeurs?

                                  1. re: eviemichael

                                    I don't know; on this board, at least, they're a bit "under the radar" so getting a res shouldn't be too hard. You can reserve by sending them an email, to which they respond with an email confirmation. As far as I know you can reserve as far in advance as you wish. Couldn't be more convenient! Just watch out for the police guarding the American embassy if you approach the hotel from the west (stay off the sidewalk adjoining the embassy--better yet, take a different route).

                                    1. re: fanoffrance

                                      Thanks for the tip! Looking forward to your report when you get back! :)

                                      1. re: eviemichael

                                        Sorry, I had to cancel the trip due to to illness :(

                                        1. re: fanoffrance

                                          Before you even got the Gagnaire tasting menu!

                                          1. re: fanoffrance

                                            O no, I wish you a speedy recovery and a great trip later.

                                2. I think Souphie did a great job as always summarizing the latest states of Parision 3-star
                                  I know it's not an easy task to decide since each is good and unique on its own right

                                  Based on the places I've visited 2 times or more ... I will put l'Arpege as the best and my favorite. While the publication has been on its fresh and great vegetables, I think the best parts are actually in the seafood/fish and poultry/meat. I believe I nearly eat the best of any dishes right there (best pigeon, chicken, turbot, monk fish, lobster etc.) - I know it may sound unbelievable, but try it yourself

                                  The next in line will be l'Ambroisie (If you want to eat perfect and almost predictable dishes, it's probably the best place to be. From season to season, you will know what dishes are gonna be available) and Pierre Gagnaire (Quite the opposite of Pacaud, you may not eat/find the same dishes there. Gagnaire is somewhat "restless" and constantly progressing, very suitable for some one who enjoy dynamic and delicious food)

                                  Souphie, have you been to Ducasse under Santaigne? I'm curious about it, but so far has never found a single review on it. I thought the service at ADPA under Denis Courtiade is arguably among the best in Paris. Sure, most of the guests are rich and famous who may not care much about what they eat, but Denis was open and really understood the cooking technicality if you approach him. While many don't like it, I think Ducasse Paris and Monaco are among the finest fine dining available - even when only the food is considered (perfect execution, freshest and luxurious ingredients, high precision, generous and make diners felt special)

                                  To complete my top 5 will be Ledoyen, unmistakably Paris. The food is delicious, the chef is crazy of perfection (in both execution and ingredients). Le Squer is the future Pacaud IMHO (wait in 7-8 yrs time)