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Apr 11, 2011 03:42 PM

Best Bistros in Paris (Chez Denise, L'ami Louis or Aux Lyonnais)

We are coming to Paris for two days and want to eat at one of the best bistros.

I have heard great things about Chez Denise, L'ami Louise and Aux Lyonnais... anybody feel strongly about any or a different one that I should really consider?


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  1. L'Ami Louis is three times as expensive as Chez Denise. Both are wonderful, in their own category. L'Ami Louis is like a three star restaurant as regards the quality of ingredients and cooking. Chez Denise, is that sense, is a much more authentic, blue-collar (sort of) bistrot.

    Aux Lyonnais is not bad. It's the Ducasse soulless interpretation of a bouchon, his homage to *les mères*. Always makes me feel like his "homage" was about beating them up and running away with their recipes. But there's no danger of enduring the mood of the owners or staff Aux Lyonnais, a very real risk with the other two options.

    91 Replies
    1. re: souphie

      Souphie does haver a bit of jaundiced view on Ducasse. But IMO Aux Lyonnais is a fine restaurant and I have always enjoyed myself. Best advice is to book for the later sitting as it is more local with less visitors.

      1. re: souphie

        The last time I was at Aux Lyonnais I had such a terrible meal that it really felt like Ducasse had beaten up the mères, run away with their recipes and omitted to give them to the kitchen crew before he left.

        1. re: souphie

          Just out of curiosity and correct me if I m wrong but how both L ami louis and l ami jean have not gained any stars since michelin claims that it is all about the food?

          1. re: Giannis

            Ah, the old Michelin star conversation.

            My 3 year old grand-dauughter is at the "Why?" stage, ending every discussion or comment with "Why?". We answer her with, "Good question. Do you have any ideas why?" And it's amazing how she hits the nail on the head almost every time.

            If you have some scenarios in mind, they're probably correct.

            1. re: Giannis

              Interestingly you cite two restaurants that divide opinion - they both have loyal fans, but also have detractors. So neither receives universal praise, so maybe not surprising they are not recognised.

              CLJ has apparently changed the dinner format to focus on the more ambitious menu that Jego has been offering alongside his ALC - no reports on the board yet. Maybe this narrower focus on his more innovative food will see Michelin recognition.

              1. re: Giannis

                I didn't realize that Michelin "is all about the food". Maybe a certain type of food, wine list, service, decor, toilets, etc .... but "all about the food" ?... hmmmm.

                1. re: Giannis

                  Interestingly you cite two restaurants that divide opinion - they both have loyal fans, but also have detractors. So neither receives universal praise, so maybe not surprising they are not recognised.

                  CLJ has apparently changed the dinner format to focus on the more ambitious menu that Jego has been offering alongside his ALC. Maybe this narrower focus on his more innovative food will see Michelin recognition.

                  1. re: PhilD

                    In the case of Jégo this has nothing to do with "not receiving universal praise". You don't need "universal praise" to get a star.
                    Jégo has made it clear that he wasn't entering the Michelin game, as Camdeborde did before him, among others.

                    The case of L'Ami Louis is more complex, for it serves precisely the type of French food that the Michelin system has been steadily destroying since the mid-1970s. So there is no reason why it should have a star.
                    And even then, its version would be found failing if Michelin accepted the style. Roast chicken way overdone, reheated pommes Anna and snails right out of a horror movie...

                    Still, if it were part of a luxurious international hotel chain, or his owner good buddies with Ducasse, that would certainly help, good food or not.

                    If Michelin stars were "all about the food", I suppose we'd have noticed by now.

                    1. re: Ptipois

                      Sorry if my phrase "universal praise" caused confusion, I was trying to be subtle and diplomatic given the love the place is given on the board. IMHO CLJ doesn't get a star because it's not good enough and/or consistent enough across the menu.

                      I know lots of people hear love it, and I also used to enjoy eating there. But I enjoyed it as a good fun Friday dinner at a local restaurant rather than a destination. So not star level, although I think they had a bib when they were cheaper but lost that as the prices rose.

                      Agree Jego was part of the group of chefs who turned their backs on Michelin preffering a different direction, and back then it was justified. But michelin has also changed in that time so is far less narrow than it once the Michelin game has changed IMO for the better.

                      I wonder if the new format and menu for dinner signals a change of emphasis for Jego....who knows it could result in a star (I don't believe Michelin usually takes into account the chefs opinion about them when awarding).

                      1. re: PhilD

                        It is anything but a change of emphasis towards the Michelin from Jego. He changes the format and other things in his restaurant regularly, only to cook and serve the best food possible and never rest on his laurels. He still does not give a straw about stars. If you don't believe me, you may go ask him directly...

                        I am always amazed at how many people seem to believe that Michelin stars are a mandatory target for all chefs and that those who say otherwise are only pretending. This is very far from the truth.

                        1. re: Ptipois

                          I think that changing course periodically is what keep some of our favorite chefs from burning out.

                          1. re: Ptipois

                            What I am surprised is the few in number of the chefs in France who actually gave up the stars under the past and/or current image the Michelin represents; there are far more chefs who are chasing them than not.

                            1. re: Kurtis

                              It is true, but I fail to see what exactly is surprising about this. When there's a carrot hanging from a stick it is only normal that it should be chased by a majority.

                              1. re: Ptipois

                                "It is true, but I fail to see what exactly is surprising about this. When there's a carrot hanging from a stick it is only normal that it should be chased by a majority."

                                It depends on who is holding the stick.
                                I understand your point, and the normal and majority of reality.

                            2. re: Ptipois

                              I think CAJ is better than ever, having had 3 lunches there over the past 4 months. Most recent meal, I asked for foie gras and Marco said no way for lunch. He steered me towards some seared tuna starter which was excellent and had a big chunk of seared foie gras on the plate. Also, I'm the one drinking up their microbrew. Good stuff. Usually, I roll in after a night flight at 14:00.....

                              1. re: Ptipois

                                Sorry you mis-read my post. I wasn't saying Jego was changing emphasis to chase a star, I was simply saying his change of emphasis could result in a star.

                                And if that happens it is rather ironic given the insight you shared regarding his views on Michelin (I don't need to ask him myself as I trust your insight as you are the co-author of his recent book and thus will know him well).

                                I also appreciate he has evolved the restaurant over time. But I would maintain its an evolution i.e. the food at CLJ is becoming more sophisticated and the menu offerings more complex and involved. Ten years ago CLJ was a far simpler bistro with great food, it was simple food but with some really good technique and some very interesting twists. It was also very good value.

                                Over time its evolved, there re more complex dishes, the old three course menu has given way to multi course degustation menus and there are (I believe) tablecloths. And inevitably the price has risen so its no longer a bargain - although as you have said before the price reflects what is on the plate (it would be really good to have more reports on the board on the changes).

                                Michelin isn't a mandatory target for all Chefs, and there are definitely those that don't care for it and don't strive for it. That said there are many people in all walks of life you profess to not care for awards or recognition but are usually pleased to receive them even if they did't strive for them.

                                1. re: PhilD

                                  The food at L'Ami Jean is absolutely getting more sophisticated, you are quite correct in that. In fact it has been steadily and slowly getting more sophisticated right from the beginning. While some dishes like the bay scallops in persillade have remained unchanged.

                                  It is also correct that there are many people who do not strive for Michelin stars and are quite happy when they get them. All combinations of wanting it - not wanting it - not expecting it - hoping for it - not thinking of it - dreading it - feeling revolted by it - not being able to live without it - etc. can be found.

                                  1. re: PhilD

                                    Phil, just curious, you've mentioned the tablecloths at l'Ami Jean a few times when citing your interest in their new format. What is the significance of the tablecloths ?

                                    1. re: shakti2

                                      I am curious about how he is evolving the restaurant and it would be good to get some insights from those on the board that know Jego well.

                                      It seems he has pared down the options for dinner, concentrating on the more creative dishes. The focus seems to be on the degustation menu with daily specials instead of the broader range of choices and simpler menus (only available at lunch now).

                                      As the cheaper options are no longer available, are the tablecloths a sign that Jego is taking the restaurant at dinner to a different place?

                                      I hope he is. I think its a good thing for him to focus more on the creative dishes - he is a very good chef and i thin the "old" CLJ has probably held him back. On my last visit he seemed to be straddling two styles: the great cheap and cheerful rustic food which he started CLJ with and the more complex gastronomic food he was also delivering.

                                      At the time I thought he should do one or the other as trying to do both together didn't work, for example his new large plates that displayed his new dishes to best effect didn't really fit onto the cramped tables.

                                      Camdembourde at Le Comptoir has always had the two formats: rustic, no booking, no tablecloths during the day and more formal with half the covers, table cloths and set five course degustation dinner Monday to Friday dinner. Yves and Stephane are good friends so he maybe following his friends lead.

                                      And the "so what" from this is that it may take CLJ into a different place for visitors. Instead of a bargain cheap dinner (not that it has been for some time) it may need to be positioned in a different league.

                                      1. re: PhilD

                                        Ah I see. Was mostly baffled by what the addition of tablecloths could do for a room whose main decorative element seems to be cartoon pigs :)

                                        Is Camdeborde's really a model to aspire to ? Heaven knows when a local last ate dinner there given the need to buy a room-night to get a spot in the dining room. Whereas having a spot where he can be hands-on in the kitchen and generous with friends, family and fans seems important to Jego, who presumably could have monetised his following a long while back.

                                        1. re: shakti2

                                          Shak - all good questions and I have no insight - I am just adding two and two to get five. My theory:

                                          For such a creative Chef like Jego the format of CLJ is restrictive. He has a valuable following that goes for the "bistro classics" so has kept them going - the "cash cow".

                                          His more creative menu has got traction and more are ordering the carte blanche menu. As he has now reached this tipping point its a good time to push the dinner service more where he wants it to be and allow his creativity to flourish with a more appreciative and adventurous audience.

                                          The food prices have gone up as the ambition of the menu has extended, but the service/ambiance has stayed the same. This disconnect holds back access the diners who he needs to target to maintain his trajectory, hence tablecloths and a more focussed dinner menu.

                                          So sacrifice the cash cows and chase the stars (obviously BCG stars not Michelin...!).

                          2. re: Giannis

                            Michelin is famously not all about food.

                            1. re: Parigi

                              even though they protest loudly that they are...

                              1. re: Parigi

                                I often hear that but rarely experience it. Nearly all my Michelin starred meals have been very good and high standard. I wish the same could be said about other guides. Michelin isn't universal so doesn't cover every restaurant - there are lots of great places without stars. But that said those with stars rarely fail to deliver. My experience with non-starred is more mixed.

                                At the one star level it is really all about the food, but it's also about consistent food over a number of visits. At the two and three star level other factors do definitely come into play but for these tone considered the food needs to be pretty good.

                                Michelin maybe a bit old style and conservative but generally it's pretty accurate about the food.

                                1. re: PhilD

                                  "At the one star level it is really all about the food, but it's also about consistent food over a number of visits."

                                  I can't agree, Phil. Some of our worst evenings have been spent in country Michelin 1 stars. Precious food preparations that are all about presentation and not about the product. We find this level dining a real role of the dice as opposed to dining rooms both above and below it.

                                  1. re: PhilD

                                    One of the two worst meals in my life was served in a two-star restaurant.

                                    1. re: PhilD

                                      "I often hear that but rarely experience it. Nearly all my Michelin starred meals have been very good and high standard."

                                      So have I, and I also have many excellent meals, includin my favorite meals, in non-starred restaurants.

                                      Once upon a time, one would more easily assume that a non-starred place was not as good as a starred place. This is no longer true.

                                      1. re: Parigi

                                        I to have had great meals at non-Michelin places, I have never said its binary. I have also had a few dire Michelin starred meals. I also never make an assumption a non-starred place is not as god as a starred place - after all no guide is universal and none is infallible.

                                        I simply maintain that Michelin is reasonably reliable and its rarer to be disappointed with their recommendations than many other sources.

                                        Its definitely evolved from the stereotype many people seem to have about it. No longer the reserve of starched table clothes and classic French food. I am also always surprised so many people equate Michelin with high prices, many non-Michelin places (including many favoured here) are are at a similar price point to one starred places. To me the criticism of Michelin is a manifestation of the "tall poppy syndrome" - it may have its faults but that doesn't mean it is totally without merit.

                                        1. re: PhilD

                                          As I've stated some time ago, Michelin (as an evaluation scale using macarons, not as a guide) is reliable up to a certain percentage of the material (however high it is is not relevant here).

                                          However, the very fact that there remains a portion of the material that does not make any sense (unless you look into the diplomatic politics re. big hotel chains and the Ducassian system, which general public who is supposed to take the classification at face value is not expected to do) per se invalidates the entire system, however sensible it is in many cases.

                                          An evaluation system has to be justifiable in 100% of the cases, or it isn't an evaluation system at all. The idea I am trying to convey is that it is not possible to be "reasonably reliable". Either you are completely reliable or you're not at all.

                                          1. re: Ptipois

                                            You're saying one can't be a little pregnant.

                                            1. re: mangeur

                                              Pregnancy is binary - you are or you are not. As Versillia says a food review is subjective no matter how many objective criteria are used. understand their style and that helps position their assessments relative to your taste.

                                              Also any review is a point in time, things change so any assessment is out of date as soon as its written.

                                              It always puzzles me the amount of negative comments Ducasse gets, maybe Michelin slightly overages him, or maybe Michelin reviews him based on his importance to the industry - it would be churlish to ignore his new openings. But are any of his restaurants bad? Does he serve food that's no good? OK his empire covers a multitude of bases but each is good. So are his stars not deserved - hardly proof of bias or overrated reviews.

                                              1. re: PhilD

                                                Well, precisely, reliability for such an evaluation system is just like pregnancy. Mangeur's analogy is correct. Either it is reliable or it is not. It cannot be "just a little" or "mostly" reliable.

                                                If you know that it cheats in, say, 5% of the cases, you can no longer assume that the remaining 95% are honest and therefore the entire reliability of the system is questioned. Funny how difficult it is to get this simple message through.

                                                And by the way - the macaron system has nothing to do with food reviewing. Reviewing is a written description that justifies the evaluation as well as the reviewer's work. Macarons/stars are an award system that is de facto unaccountable and does not have to justify itself.

                                                And, needless to mention, a food review ideally should not rely on a subjective system. It is not "I like, I don't like". This is what separates a professional review from a large portion of restaurant blog posts.

                                                1. re: Ptipois

                                                  Totally disagree. Some things are binary, either off or on. Most other things have degrees of reliability. If a small percentage are not 100% accurate it doesn't mean the others are wrong. Nearly all systems and processes have tolerances and the accuracy of any system or process is governed by its performance against those tolerances.

                                                  This applies to guidebooks and reviews as much as it does to the engineering of an aircraft. I find Michelin is reasonably reliable and rarely directs me to a bad meal. When its unreliable it could be down to many factors, the chef on the day, my mood, changes since it was reviewed or a fault in the review.

                                                  No review or award is truly accountable apart from an accountability to the laws of libel and slander. There is no professional institute of reviewers who confiscate your keyboard if a review in not good. The only real test of accountability is the public and the industry. And with Michelin much of the industry appreciates it (most chefs care about stars, and most owners appreciate their impact on the bottom line) and enough of the public follow it to matter.

                                                  Reviews are all subjective: certainly a professional food writer is less subjective than an amateur, certainly they have more experience and knowledge to judge against. But at the end of the day it does come down to taste and what is on the plate on the day.

                                                  And it unfortunately it also comes own to the audience a reviewer serves i.e. they know what side the bread is buttered and they happily play to the gallery. The current angle seems to be the highly populist with many declaring the death of fine dining. With fine dining restaurants very much out of vogue in favour of no frills, no reservation places. No count that wheel will turn.

                                                  Michelin is still regarded as the bastion of fine dining and I suspect gets pilloried as a result, but look beyond that and its coverage is really quite broad.

                                                  1. re: Ptipois

                                                    A food review should "ideally not rely on a subjective system." Ideally it should not, but there is no way it cannot be anything but subjective.

                                                    All food reviewing is based on a subjective system. There are no absolutes (it is not binary like being pregnant or not) including professional reviews, whatever they are. Most professional reviewers, by which I gather you mean those that write for print, are, in most cases, no more qualified to give reviews than many amateurs (although a few are good). I know that for a fact because I deal with many professional reviewers and they only pretend to know what they are talking about and they have tremendous biases and in many, many cases want to curry favor with the restaurants and those that are part of that world.

                                                    The same with "professional" wine reviewers. You've translated a book by someone who writes about wine. He writes subjective reviews because, as with food, there is no absolute standard. He has many biases, which is fine. His reviews are subjective. He likes, he doesn't like. Steve Tanzer might have exactly the opposite thoughts on a wine with exactly the same criteria being used. It is all subjective in food and wine.

                                                    1. re: Versilia

                                                      But to the contrary, there are absolutely absolutes in reviewing!

                                                      There is a methodology and a deontology. Added together, you've got the two pillars of food reviewing. Very few reviewers (amateurs or professionals) follow them. Some follow them partially. Some don't at all. But the fact that nearly nobody follows these principles does not invalidate them as the basis of food reviewing.

                                                      (I am not going to go into wine reviewing which is a far more complicated matter.)

                                                      On one hand there is what you like or don't like, and on the other hand there is what you can "read" in the plates that are served to you. This is the result of serious training and of a form of ascetism. The sense of taste is there as an auxiliary reading tool, not as a vector for personal evaluation. A good reviewer should be able to praise a dish he personally does not like when he "reads" it as correctly executed. I'll even say that this is the basis of his competence. There is such a thing as palate accuracy.

                                                      On that basis, the only competent food reviewer I can think of now was Seymour Britchky from the NYT, who perfectly understood and applied these principles. Perhaps also James de Coquet who was not a reviewer but could describe and judge food very fairly. And I could add Jean-Claude Ribaut, before he became grumpy, and Jean-Louis Galesne, who isn't reviewing much anymore (unfortunately). And finally I respect A.A. Gill, who in spite of his baroque style of writing and frequent use of hyperbole, is often spot on about evaluation over personal taste.

                                                      Okay - in real life everybody has biases. You may also like a reviewer for his biases. I do too, at times. You can also avoid a reviewer because you exactly know what and where his biases are and you think that they go overboard. But this is a different matter.

                                                      1. re: Ptipois

                                                        Very much agreed. But I don't think it is that difficult to pay attention to what one is served and be fair about the correctness of a food.

                                                        DH and I often express the opinion that a dish is right in that it exemplifies the cook's concept, has used good product, is properly prepared and seasoned according to a thoughtful plan. And we may well hate it. But that doesn't detract from its propriety. It's just not for us.

                                                        DH often mentions that his fish is perfectly cooked but too rare for him. He knows what he likes but appreciates that there is more universally accepted culinary paradigm that is different from his taste.

                                                        1. re: mangeur

                                                          "DH often mentions that his fish is perfectly cooked but too rare for him. He knows what he likes but appreciates that there is more universally accepted culinary paradigm that is different from his taste."

                                                          This is exactly what I mean. Thanks for understanding me.
                                                          A dish may be right and I might not like it. A dish may be not right and I might like it. Before one can write a proper, professional-quality review, IMO one should have pondered over that.

                                                          1. re: Ptipois

                                                            Indeed a good review, or a good guide, should be written in the kind of concrete terms that you know what you are getting or not getting.

                                                            Not every guide achieves that. Exhibit A: Fooding's reviews of Paris restaurants. They are sometimes cloaked in such hip rhetoric that I don't even know if it's praise or a put-down. Strangely, Fooding's reviews of restaurants in the provinces seem to be spared of this charabia (mumbo jumbo).

                                                            And even in wine talk: I have met 3 persons who can describe a wine in such concrete terms that I know exactly what I'm getting, and how the wine would alter a dish (ideally for the better). Ptipois and Jock, that's two out of the three.

                                                            If a guide or a review is just someone shooting off his mouth, why would anyone want to read all that turgid prose ?

                                                          2. re: mangeur

                                                            "DH often mentions that his fish is perfectly cooked but too rare for him."
                                                            Madame Mangeur, as Parnasssien calls you, do you think DH's palate has changed over his few short years?
                                                            It's not discussed here, but I think as folks like me approach the end, our palates change. They search for more flavor, spice, zest and ooompf as our papillae die off.
                                                            For me this means I seek ever more under-cooked fish, meat and vegetables.

                                                            1. re: John Talbott

                                                              As I grow older (and older and older), I am less and less tolerant of hot spices.

                                                                1. re: Parigi

                                                                  Not me. I single-handedly keep Herdez and Huy Fong in business.

                                                                2. re: John Talbott

                                                                  DH's palate has expanded in the last few years, probably because most of the restaurants we seek out serve a no-choice menu. He is finding that he likes many things he thought he did not.

                                                                3. re: mangeur

                                                                  Although it assumes DH has a broad enough knowledge to know whether the technique is the correct one and has been executed correctly.

                                                                  It also presents a challenge when faced with something novel, something DH has never seen or heard of before. How does he assess whether its good or not. Some of the novel flavour combinations in very modern (often Scandi) places come to mind, perfectly executed but pushing boundaries.

                                                                  Surely personal taste comes into play in these instances...?

                                                                  1. re: PhilD

                                                                    We are talking about the dichotomy of being able to see that something is correct in terms of cooking standards and liking it. One should be able to separate the two. I don't have to like something to be able to understand it and to understand that there are others who will like it.

                                                                    We are talking appreciation and enjoyment, two totally different things. I appreciate the quality of many things I don't like or covet.

                                                                    1. re: mangeur

                                                                      I agree with the theory and logic - I don't need to like something to appreciate it has been well executed.

                                                                      But I am sceptical about implementation as it requires a depth of knowledge and experience few have....including many food professionals. It also involves hitting a moving target as food technology and techniques don't stand still and the accepted norms change.

                                                                      A good example would be natural wines. Some think of them as the purist expression of winemaking skill others think of them as donkey piss (to borrow a term).

                                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                                        Again I agree with much of what you write with some exceptions.

                                                                        Everything in life requires hitting a moving target. Fail this and you're doomed.

                                                                        There are even on Chow a few with the depth of knowledge and experience to make these kinds of judgments.

                                                                        Perhaps the disagreement comes from whether this caliber of experienced, knowledgeable and up-to-date person works for Michelin.

                                                                        1. re: mangeur

                                                                          ....and to stretch a point. Any guide, blog etc is only as good as how accurately and repeatedly they hit that moving target. Some will miss occasionally, others miss frequently. None will hit all the time.

                                                                          And on your last point, it not only depends on the calibre of inspectors/reviewers but also on the number. Few guides (including Michelin) have the resources to visit all the great places, let alone vist them repeatedly.

                                                                          Thus the test should be how they rate the ones they include rather than how many they leave out. That said, if obvious, high profile, and popular choices are missed is it valid to assume they were deemed as not worthy or were they simply overlooked?

                                                                          So is CLJ not worthy, do Michelin ignore it because Jego is anti Michelin, or have they just not been there? That's a very tricky question and maybe the answer is to just to enjoy the ones we know and use the guides to inform us about those we are unfamiliar with.

                                                                          1. re: PhilD

                                                                            Not to change the subject, but wanted to offer belated thanks to the Board for guiding me this past June to two great lunches at Chez Denise and Chez L'Ami Jean. Little in common other than delicious food served in an informal setting at reasonable prices. Denise provides the tourist with a sense he's walked into "the real thing", complete with mirthless proprietress up front who gives the impression she may have been sitting in her spot for decades, no nonsense professional waiter prepared to handle the customer's weak French and weaker eyes with the presentation at the table of the oversized blackboard menu suitable for pointing, and the absolutely English-free ambience. Irresistible escargots to start, perfect, simple Haddock with yet more butter sauce followed, both accompanied by a ridiculously good, cheap Loire Sauvignon Blanc that was not Sancerre and not imported to the States. Walked out feeling this was a place I'd be incorporating into my Paris rotation going forward. Lunch the next day at L'Ami Jean commenced with a direct but somehow friendly greeting from the young hostess: "where have you been?!" Having established that it was their error and in fact I was on time for my reservation, I was seated and handed a written menu and wine list rather than a blackboard by a young waiter fluent in English. Chef's yelling in the background struck me as friendly yelling. Started wit the "bottomless" pitcher of vegetable soup, followed by the "have as much as you like" tub of rustic pate, finished with an oversized, perfectly cooked piece of cod. If it seems I'm focusing on quantity that's only because the excess is in your face and impossible to ignore. The reason I'll be returning on a regular basis is because everything I ate was satisfying and delicious. The reasonably marked up bottle of '11 Pierre Yves Colin Morey Saint Aubin was a marked upgrade from the prior day's Vin Blanc and just right for the more elaborate meal.

                                                                            Bottom line: two wonderful meals that were the high points of my visit. Dinners at Epicure and Carre des Feuillants we're lovely, each great in their own way, but not the way I'll remember June in Paris.

                                                                            1. re: carlvin

                                                                              Thanks for your great description, perfect reckoning.

                                                                              Many happy returns!

                                                                              1. re: carlvin

                                                                                'Mirthless proprietress up front' is so spot on and funny.
                                                                                Each time l am there La Chez Denise is crabby, but my mark of a good day is to succeed in making her smile.
                                                                                I am generally successful and am then awarded the both cheek bise, a good day.
                                                                                And when she smiles her face opens up like a portmanteau and indeed a glorious site.

                                                                                1. re: PhilD


                                                                                  I would like to give some background on the difficult relationship between CLJ and the Michelin but I only got Stéphane Jégo's version a long time ago. It might nevertheless brings a little light on this DanBrown-esque mystery.

                                                                                  So when Jean-Luc Naret the then-director of the red guide came for his visit, he ordered some very commonplace dishes which in the Chef's eyes clearly showed that the inspectors were de-facto categorizing the place as a vulgar bistro. (Note for Chowhounders: Knowing how Stéphane fondly selects his ingredients, it is always best to let him express his creativity with a surprise menu). Anyway that's no excuse and I don' know how it escalated but knowing the chef's notorious bad temper, it ended up in the street. Not sure whether it got physical or not but the Michelin was certainly not treated the way they're used to.

                                                                                  Since then, if you're next to the kitchen and that you look up at the ceiling, you can see that little drawing of a Michelin inspector happily riding a car in hell along side with the devil.

                                                                                  I'd like one day to access the Michelin blacklist and see who else is there.

                                                                                  1. re: Theobroma

                                                                                    I didn't know about the little drawing. I sure will look up the next time.

                                                                                    1. re: Theobroma

                                                                                      Theo - that's an interesting insight - I vaguely recall it now you mention it. However, it raises more questions:

                                                                                      Would the high profile Naret be inspecting restaurants rather than the anonymous inspectors?

                                                                                      Why should a restaurant only be assessed on the dishes the chef thinks are his best rather than the whole menu?

                                                                                      Did Jego think "the commonplace" dishes were not really good enough so reluctant to serve to Michelin?

                                                                                      If he didn't care about Michelin, why did he care so much to have such an altercation, and why so keen for Naret to try his best dishes?

                                                                                      If the story is true you can certainly understand why Michelin gives him a wide berth but the fault doesn't seem to lie with them. Again, buried in my distant memory, I thought CLJ used to have a Bib a few years ago until their prices pushed them out of this category.

                                                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                                                        I don't have a definitive answer to all your questions. But let me try:

                                                                                        - Naret rather than some anonymous inspectors:
                                                                                        Not sure why, but Naret it was, according to the version I was given. I believe there are not that many inspectors anyway and they are not that much anonymous, at least not for chefs. There's a bit of a myth about those James Bond-like inspectors who would go on an secret under-cover mission. On a related note, did you know that a large part of the ratings (apart from the 2-3 stars) are reviewed only after receiving readers' mail?

                                                                                        - Assessment of the dishes and what Jego thought :
                                                                                        You're right that the assessment should be made on just any dish the inspector would like to try, that's the game. Now, I kind of understand the Chef's frustration if they decided to judge the dinner on a blood sausage and mashed potato rather than on a partridge or any of the rare products that Stéphane Jégo likes to procure (I am not saying Naret picked any blood sausage, remember: I don't have all the details and I have only one side of the story). Anyway, they picked what they wanted to pick and the chef felt frustrated not to be able to express what makes CAJ an extra-ordinary bistro. BTW I would certainly take any of those vulgar dishes if made by Stéphane Jégo anytime (one the best dishes I have ever had and that I will remember on my deathbed was an early version of the beef and carrots at l'Ami Jean, honestly). Let me upload a picture of some vulgar eggs and mayonnaise I had at l'Ami Jean. :)

                                                                                        - True feelings towards the Michelin
                                                                                        I didn't step in the passionate debates you've been through on the topic in the same thread, but in my opinion Jego cares just like any other chefs; this story sort of answers the question of any chefs true feeling regarding the Michelin. You may hate it, disapprove their ratings and their choices, it is nevertheless in every chef's heart to seek such a prestigious distinction from the most famous food guide. Jean-Claude Vrinat once said to me: "you never refuse a Michelin star" (well that was a long time ago, and before so many chefs started to give back theirs ;) but I stand my point. It may be a question of pride. )

                                                                                        Now will CAJ get a star? maybe not because Chef Jego is hard-headed and will never comply to the standard requirements of a starred place. And that's not a shame, his mentor Yves Camdeborde did not get one either.

                                                                                        Anyhow, Chez l'Ami Jean will remain by far one of my favorite places. Shame on Stéphane's stubborn attitude and on his bad-temper sometimes but despite that, he remains one of the most generous and talented chefs we have in Paris. And when you see the joyful crowd at the restaurant, it seems that many people share those feelings.

                                                                                        1. re: Theobroma

                                                                                          Excellent post.

                                                                                          However, re " You may hate it, disapprove their ratings and their choices, it is nevertheless in every chef's heart to seek such a prestigious distinction from the most famous food guide."

                                                                                          I would counter that while it may not be in every chef's heart to be included, certainly, at a certain level of popular acclaim, it must be an enormous slight to be excluded.

                                                                                          1. re: mangeur

                                                                                            (not necessarily addressed to Mangeur ... or any other poster)
                                                                                            As interesting as this discussion is, I find it irrelevant. I like L'Ami Jean a lot. Whether or not it appears in the Michelin list of starred restos hardly matters. The quality is there... the fun is there... the joy of life is there in great measure.... I don't need no damn stars to tell me that. And, since it's full every lunch and every dinner, a lot of people feel the same.

                                                                                            Perso, I'm glad l'Ami Jean doesn't have a star. It filters out the star-chasers who, when clustered together in their chosen temples of gastronomy, impose an atmosphere of earnestness and smug self-satisfaction that lays like a wet blanket over all too many Michelin-starred restos. Not to mention the stratospheric prices that I for one struggle very hard to justify... almost all my Michelin-starred dining is expense account entertaining and when it comes to pay the bill I almost always find myself choking back a sense of shame.

                                                                                            Recently I had an expense-account lunch at the Plaza Athénée... over-the-top decor, loads of dull foreign plutocrats and old farts with young blondes, a sprinkling of obvious foodistas writing notes and taking pictures of every course (but not really expressing any obvious joy or camaraderie... is food the intimacy substitute for foodista couples ?), exquisite food, and a spend of almost 500€ a person (gulp). Then I had dinner with friends at Clandé (the re-born Clandestino) on the rue Crozatier in the 12th... exquisite food @ 50€ a head (and we could have gone cheaper)... le bonheur of friends, sparkling conversation, warm service, and great food from a delightful and personable Japanese chef... and it's not only unstarred but also not even in the Michelin guide.

                                                                                            1. re: Parnassien

                                                                                              Couldn't agree more. When I was young, I couldn't afford Michelin stars. Now, I almost avoid them.

                                                                                              Michelin is, like many blogs, a good phone book. And, hey, you need a phone book when WiFi is down.

                                                                                              1. re: Parnassien

                                                                                                (To Parnassien)

                                                                                                To quote the famous best-selling authors Goscinny and Uderzo: "Dans mes bras."

                                                                                                1. re: Parnassien

                                                                                                  Contrary to my defence of Michelin I tend to eat in far more non-Michelin places than Michelin starred ones. I tend to decide on a restaurant for many reasons - stars play a part but I neither target nor avoid them. That said I have eaten in many starred restaurants that are the polar opposite of the generally accepted Michelin stereotype.

                                                                                                  I also don't really care if CLJ has a star or not, however I think its fair to say that their prices are in exactly the same league as many one stars its not a cheap alternative.

                                                                                                  Reflecting on the reason I argue against the Michelin stereotype is that I see a lot of posts that say "but no Michelin stars, we don't want stuffy/expensive". This automatically excludes lots of great places that just happen to be starred and a similar price to non starred. I prefer to take each place on its merits and triangulation with multiple sources including Michelin is the key.

                                                                                                  1. re: Parnassien

                                                                                                    "Clandé (the re-born Clandestino) on the rue Crozatier in the 12th"
                                                                                                    Parnassien: Same kitchen team? John

                                                                                                    1. re: John Talbott

                                                                                                      JT, yes... Clandé = same team, same prices, new decor (more bistro than "cantouche" now). Cuisine seems the same but, according to their blurb, a few South American inspirations i.e. "à la recherche des meilleures alliances eurasiennes, c’est aujourd’hui avec des petites touches sud-américaines que le chef complète son tour du monde culinaire".... not obvious to me. But with owner Marcelo Joulia about to publish a book on Argentine cuisine, not unsurprising to have a South American dimension appearing now and then.

                                                                                                      1. re: Parnassien

                                                                                                        Many thanks, maybe time for a revisit.

                                                                                                2. re: Theobroma

                                                                                                  I notice that this "they say no but actually they mean yes" type of reasoning regarding chefs and Michelin, not unlike what some victims of sexual harassment have been known to hear, is common from people who observe the cooking profession from a close distance and deal with it one way or another, frequently to write about it.

                                                                                                  I have never been able to understand precisely why they stand that ground, and not being specialized in human psychology like our John Talbott, I will not venture on such a hazy ground.

                                                                                                  In that light, chefs appear as immature children who throw a tantrum once in a while, but seriously, they all know what's good for them, and it's what we think is good for them: Michelin stars for all, they can't escape, they can't possibly think otherwise — we've decided they all want it even if they pretend not to. Because we know what they want better than they do. Quite a totalitarian conception, if you ask me, from some people, on a profession that is not even theirs.

                                                                                                  I can understand Jégo being exasperated at seeing Naret not even bothering to understand what is special about his cooking; a strange choice indeed from someone who is supposed to represent the epitome of criticocracy, and in Jégo's eyes just another confirmation of Michelin's parasitic incompetence. No evidence whatsoever that he respects the system or values Naret's judgement, but clear evidence that he is intimidated by it, which is only natural and ultimately what the game is about.

                                                                                                  So it's also natural that the outcome should be explosive; some have ended up on the sidewalk of rue Malar for less than that. There is no need for twisting or overinterpreting the story; but not everybody has the insightful spirit of, say, Balzac.

                                                                                                  1. re: Ptipois

                                                                                                    I tend to favour the populist application of Ockham's razor. Michelin man goes to restaurant, orders what he wants to eat, chef takes umbrage, chef receives no recognition, and chef says he doesn't care despite taking umbrage with the diner for not allowing him to show what he can do.

                                                                                                    1. re: PhilD

                                                                                                      I just got Ockham's razor on the phone and it says it will endorse any fair simplification, but not inputing motives to others to suit your personal conceptions.

                                                                                                      Besides, you just confirmed what I wrote above.

                                                                                                      1. re: Ptipois

                                                                                                        But still odd to get upset about a guide you don't care about. Actions often speak louder than words.

                                                                                                    2. re: Ptipois

                                                                                                      "I have never been able to understand precisely why they stand that ground, and not being specialized in human psychology like our John Talbott, I will not venture on such a hazy ground."
                                                                                                      Ditto here, hard enough to get inside non-chef's heads.

                                                                                                    3. re: Theobroma

                                                                                                      "Not sure why, but Naret it was, according to the version I was given. I believe there are not that many inspectors anyway and they are not that much anonymous, at least not for chefs. There's a bit of a myth about those James Bond-like inspectors who would go on an secret under-cover mission."

                                                                                                      This is absolutely exact.

                                                                                                  2. re: Theobroma

                                                                                                    That reminded me of something I have read, about when Maxim's stopped appearing on the guide a few decades ago.

                                                                                      2. re: Ptipois

                                                                                        I wasn't aware there was an institute or professional body that set standards. Your definition is your personal perspective on food reviewing, some will agree some won't. And both Methodology and Deontology are far from absolute, they both depend on an individuals perspective of belief. So one persons methodology is an anathema to another person. One persons view of what is right or wrong will be different from another persons.

                                                                                        I do agree that personal taste should not be a factor and that an evaluation of execution is important. But execution is far from absolute and methods do evolve. Likewise accepted norms change that in turn influence taste.

                                                                                        For example the "correct" way to cook pork, some say pink is OK, others view pink as undercooked and dangerous. I am in the former camp but I know many others are slow to catch up with the science - including food authorities and cookery institutes.

                                                                                        Its also tricky to gave absolutes regarding execution with chefs who push boundaries. Whether a non-traditional or novel flavour combination works will be down to taste - one hopes a food reviewer has enough experience (and intellect) to be able to neutrally assess a dish but its a big ask (especially with the broadening of technique to incorporate influences from other cultures i.e. Asian and Japanese).

                                                                                        And in the context of Michelin. Is it not one of the few review systems with a very well established methodology and with inspectors who are qualified and experienced food professionals...? Thus they are one of the few guides who are most likely to satisfy your criteria for a food review (I won't open up the debate whether it is a food or restaurant review).

                                                                                        1. re: PhilD

                                                                                          I think I was very clear in all my posts. And sorry I have no need to go on in hair-splitting mode. The distinction I mentioned above is the essential basis of proper food reviewing whether you like it or not.

                                                                                          1. re: Ptipois

                                                                                            They may be essential and absolute but they are not one dimensional and their can be lots of variation based on the different applications of both of these tenets. You have one perspective, I have another.

                                                                                  2. re: PhilD

                                                                                    I think we were saying that one finds a guide reliable or it isn't. Once again, it comes back to my mantra about vetting your guru be he a blogger or M. Michelin.

                                                                                    I recently had an atrocious meal in a local Michelin starred restaurant. It is a big hit with tourist and businessmen but serves tremendously overpriced poorly cooked but unctuously served food. Works for them, but not for me.

                                                                                    There are within blocks of this place perhaps a handful of worthy but starless kitchens. Go figure.

                                                                                    1. re: mangeur

                                                                                      Yes. But the nuance that I'm trying to highlight is this:

                                                                                      - You may agree or disagree with a guide, wholly (which is a rare case) or partly. This is normal and caused by the inevitable subjectivity on the part of the guide and on our part as guide readers. We are all agreeing about that. And that applies to the red guide too.

                                                                                      - With the macaron system, one faces a distinctly different type of evaluation on a ternary basis, supposedly rational but opaque in the way it actually functions. You may think it makes sense in most cases, but in fact you cannot agree with it because it is not clear what you should agree on, and if the award system has hidden flaws, then the flawed part inevitably takes the rightful part down the drain, whether you're aware of that or not.

                                                                                      1. re: Ptipois

                                                                                        I take the stars as a guide but also read the commentary and look at the other Michelin symbols so maybe that's why. Agree the simplistically using the stars is not wise - but it's a good first filter. Likewise I triangulate Michelin with other sources.

                                                                                        Which system is so transparent it doesn't have hidden flaws? I maybe too cynical but I believe that any review or assessment system has flaws. Hence the need for triangulation.

                                                                                        Take another example, theVenerable Dr Talbot reviews lots of places and is rightly admired and respected. But he only eats lunch and he dislikes loud restaurants. Both these factors are important and for some can be flaws if say they are looking for dinners* and like a loud place.

                                                                                        * Dinner menu usually being different to lunch, with different prices, and a different ambulance.

                                                                                        1. re: PhilD

                                                                                          Allright. Then with all these criteria and precautions, you could absolutely leave out the Michelin stars and use only the other info, there is quite enough there to suit you.

                                                                                          Stars may perhaps give you extra information, but it is high-risk information, for you never really know in which circumstances and for what reasons they were awarded, or withdrawn. That is what I mean by partly reliable = totally unreliable.

                                                                                          Dealing with a guide or written reviews is different because you can judge the reviews and confront them with reality. You cannot do that with stars, and finding them accurate some of the time does not change anything.

                                                                                          1. re: PhilD

                                                                                            "Take another example, theVenerable Dr Talbot reviews lots of places and is rightly admired and respected. But he only eats lunch and he dislikes loud restaurants. Both these factors are important and for some can be flaws if say they are looking for dinners* and like a loud place."

                                                                                            It occured to me today at a fabulous meal at a hidden gem in my nabe, L'Esquisse, that's there's another item to factor in; I eat at brand-new places for two months with friends, buddies and other hangers-on and once a quarter when Colette blows into town, we go to the places she has taken a cotton to that I've written up and with a few exceptions (Ze, Spring (when it served lunch) and Pirouette) we go to these for a while and then transfer our custom to the next batch of new exciting restos coming on line. It's limiting, it's quirky, I'm sure it seems weird to some and it restricts my commenting on Chez L'Ami Jean, Chez Denise, Robuchon, Duccasse, Gagnaire, Savoy, etc. because they are too far in the rear-view mirror. Tant pis, tant mieux.

                                                                                            1. re: John Talbott

                                                                                              “Take another example, theVenerable Dr Talbot reviews lots of places and is rightly admired and respected. But he only eats lunch and he dislikes loud restaurants. Both these factors are important and for some can be flaws”
                                                                                              Calling it flaws is already weird, as though John had some kind of duty to cover everyone's inchoate restaurant demands.

                                                                                              1. re: Parigi

                                                                                                Parigi - your comment only makes sense because you missed out the last part of the paragraph you so carefully quote. Add the final words and the explanatory note and it makes your comment meaningless - not really fair to mis-quote.

                                                                                                1. re: Parigi

                                                                                                  John - good point. I think I failed to see that as I also tend to favour the new.

                                                                                                  And it's could be another "fatal flaw" for some - I remember Parn recently referencing a hound who carefully put together a great list of new places but when he arrived his girlfriend wanted cute "after midnight" traditional. So he threw out all the great options and went mainstream.

                                                                                          2. re: mangeur

                                                                                            I had two bad meals at Michelin starred restaurants in Yorkshire. Was it Michelin whose rateing are all wrong? Could it have been that all food in Yorkshire is bad? Could it have been two off nights? Or could they be two restaurants I just didn't like?

                                                                                            Both had service styles dating from the 1950's both were really up themselves and pompous. So I think it was probably all down to me not liking the two restaurants. So I will happily give a restaurant in Yorkshire a go, and equally be guided by Michelin when appropriate (and at other times by other sources).

                                                                                        2. re: Ptipois

                                                                                          No subjective evaluation system can be justifiable in 100% of the cases. The Michelin, as with other guides, can be reasonable reliable, within its subjective system.
                                                                                          We're talking mere restaurant reviewing, which is almost all subjective in nature. I like, I don't like. You like, you don't like.

                                                                                          1. re: Versilia

                                                                                            I am not talking about human error.
                                                                                            I am talking about the system being flawed.
                                                                                            As said before, I am not talking about Michelin as a guide.
                                                                                            I am talking about the macaron/star evaluation system.
                                                                                            (To be repeated as necessary.)

                                                                                            1. re: Ptipois

                                                                                              What system regarding reviews of restaurants is not flawed?

                                                                                              1. re: Versilia

                                                                                                The Guide Lebey of bistrots and brasseries, for one thing, made enough sense. All the selected addresses were within the specifications, the rating system was immediately readable and justifiable, the writing was accurate and measured.

                                                                                                Of course (I was part of the team for some years) there could be cases of champagne circulating from the PR office of a famous brasserie chain to the editor's office every once in a while, but in regard with the result, that was a tolerable level of corruption, even if there was no way that any restaurant of that chain (now disappeared) got the slightest negative appreciation.

                                                                                                In comparison with Michelin politics, Guides Lebey were Care Bears.

                                                                                                I am fascinated by the resilience of that myth about the Michelin macaron system being reliable and not tainted (which is the very reason why you can't globally trust it anymore; if it is tainted in places, it is tainted, period), can only find denial as an explanation for it, and am going to leave it at that.

                                                                                                I do not know if there is such thing as an unflawed system, the point is irrelevant. We are not discussing just mistakes or human flaws or how guidebooks function. We are discussing about a mafia-like system that officially poses as solid information.

                                                                                                1. re: Ptipois

                                                                                                  "We are discussing about a mafia-like system that officially poses as solid information"

                                                                                                  I thought we were discussing how reliable a guide was and why two restaurants didn't get awarded. For me a guide is only as good as its last edition and whether a very high proportion of its content is accurate.

                                                                                                  1. re: PhilD

                                                                                                    Did you, by any chance, catch the idea that I wrote a few posts above stating that I was referring to the star/macaron award system, and not to the guide?

                                                                                                    Or do I need to point to these posts again?

                                                                                                    "Mafia-like" refers to star awarding. The guide, again, is OK.

                                                                                                    1. re: Ptipois

                                                                                                      Yes, no, and your opinion which I see little evidence for.

                                                                            2. l think your choices, at least the first two are spot on, why not go to both. The reason L'Ami Louis is 4x as expensive is their wine list is awesome and expensive. Food at Louis for 2 will be about
                                                                              250 euros and you will be able to eat about half, their portions serve 4 easily, Chez Denise will cost you around 100 euros for 2, an advantage at Chez Denise is their house wine, a brouilly from their vineyard in Beauolais costs 28 euros a liter and you are charged for what you . If l had only two meals to eat here those two are in my top five.

                                                                              1. Was at Chez Denise last night and met a wonderful chowhound couple from San Fransisco who are in Paris for a month as we are....would love to connect with her.
                                                                                Had an amazing dinner!!!

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: Sdinterior

                                                                                  I sat right next to this wonderful couple from SF as well! I believe it is SFCarol!

                                                                                2. I don't come to Paris often (from Roussillon), but when I do, I prefer le Vilaret and au Bascou (order the Irouléguy blanc).