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uhockey's thoughts on Paris Restaurants - Part 1 - La Bigarrade, Le Chateaubriand, Le Cinq, Chez L'Ami Jean, Pierre Gagnaire

First of all: Thank you to the fantastic Chowhound members who helped me plan this extraordinary trip - as usual this site proves to be an invaluable resource for traveling well, dining well, and meeting fantastic people. A special thanks to souphie and delucacheesemonger is owed, as well.

These reviews are my thoughts - I'm not a "pro," just a guy who likes to write and loves to eat. The blog is a hobby and my posts both there and here are intended only to help others enjoy similar great experiences (or to avoid the rare disaster.)

Reviews will be slow in coming as I unfortunately have to work a real job (unless of course some independently wealthy lady would like to support an eligible single young physician....just throwing it out there.)

http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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  1. La Bigarrade:

    Full text below, photos in the blog.

    http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/04/l...

    …as is the case with almost any flight I take we arrived late to Paris – 55 minutes late to be exact and with the hassles of customs and transportation our expected 9:00am arrival had us running dangerously late for our first meal of the trip – a lunch I’d originally planned as a dinner only to find out that 12:30 on April 8th was the last seating at La Bigarrade for the duration of our visit as the team was taking a vacation Italy. Slightly frustrated but undeterred and never one to be late let alone miss a meal a decision was made – we’d hop the RER-B and head to the restaurant before the apartment – luggage in hand; as good fortune would have it we’d arrive at 12:26 and be the third table to fill with the rest of the twenty seats packed less than fifteen minutes later.

    Greeted with all smiles and seated at a lovely two-top in the middle of the room with our bags stored in the broom closet I opted for the seat facing the open kitchen while my sister faced the street – an ideal for both of us as I would watch Chef Christophe Pelé and his team craft each dish from start to finish in silent harmony while my sister people watched the street outside and the delightful French waiters working the room. …and speaking of the room, quaint and charming to say the least with electric candles suspended from the ceiling, hues of green and yellow dominating the color scheme, and fresh cut flowers decorating vases throughout – I imagine the space is actually quite romantic at night.

    With the “menu” delivered and explained – essentially a carte blanche chef’s whim 8 course option for 45€ or a longer 12-course experience for 65€ the decision was simple and after confirming we had no dietary restrictions and ordering a bottle of still water we sat back and let the staff take care of us for the next 170 minutes – a nearly three hour ride that was nearly perfect save for the opinionated couple seated next to us who seemed dead-set on nitpicking every detail of the meal and interjecting their comments and suggestions into our conversation – a situation that was unfortunately unavoidable due to the restaurant’s small size, but certainly not a fault of Chef Pelé and team. (**interestingly we’d run into this same pair again at L’Arpege 3 days later but would thankfully be all the way across the dining room…call me crazy, but I just don’t understand people who seem to want a meal to fall short.**

    )

    With myself hungry and wide awake after a great sleep on the plane and my sister a bit jetlagged the first item to arrive would be a golden square of Focaccia with Fleur de Sel and a small bowl of aromatic and fruity olive oil that we were told was pressed only 5 days prior – an excellent little bite that I’d have invariably overindulged on if more than a single serving were offered.

    With the bread slate cleared the second course to arrive would be a “special” only received by three of the tables – a Fried Softshell Crab with grilled lime and white truffle infused sea salt. Instructed to drizzle the lime over the crab, dip it in the salt, and take a bite this margarita inspired bite of crustacean was absolutely outstanding – the protein’s intense sweetness easily shining through the citrus and salt and whetting the appetite for what was to come.

    Course three would be my least favorite of the afternoon from a team that otherwise executed balance at a very high level. Served in a small glass Razor clam with grapefruit granita and radish was a textural masterpiece of smooth shellfish, icy citrus, and crispy bitter radish – unfortunately the grapefruit simply overwhelmed everything else in flavor and the overall scope of the dish was lost (a theme I’d see ad nauseum five days later at L’Astrance.)

    Moving on at a nice pace our fourth course would arrive as a duet – on one plate a sous-vide slice of Veal with cod roe and persimmon and alongside it a small bowl with a poached quail egg in dashi broth topped with dried shrimp and sansho pepper. Clearly showing his fascination with Asian flavors we were instructed to first eat the veal and then take the egg as a shot – instructions that were followed to great effect as the mild veal (especially for two people who don’t eat much beef or veal) melted in the mouth with the briny eggs balanced nicely by the persimmon. Equally impressive was the second portion with the mild egg and briny dashi brought into full effect by the pepper’s characteristic biochemical effect – a sort of savory palate cleanser, if you will.

    Dishes five and six would arrive separately, one warm and one cold, but it was explained that they were both composed of the very same animal – a single langoustine per diner. For the first dish the tail of the langoustine was presented steamed over sorrel jus and topped with “mashed caviar” and cowslip stem alongside lemon gelee and a sesame almond croquette – a mélange of flavors that touched every part of the mouth and presented something new with each bite. Having never tasted cowslip before I was surprised by its sweetness, but what impressed even more was oddly the mashed caviar – a paste with the texture of a dried fruit but the briny essence of caviar that worked beautifully with the springy crawfish.

    Following the first dish in short succession would be a chilled custard of langoustine roe topped with warm langoustine foam – a savory panna cotta that reminded me of a similar dish I’d experienced at Pierre Gagnaire’s Twist. Briny, eggy, and slightly sweet I really liked both presentations of the langoustine while my sister did not fancy the second and allowed me to finish hers as well.

    Having been promised a menu heavy on seafood from the start our seventh seven would serve as a break in the action with two hefty spears of Green Asparagus dipped in miso presented simply with a sliced kumquat and crumbled chicory – an simple yet elegant course that would prove the first of many encounters with asparagus on this trip and aside from a few prime examples all I can say is that it when it comes to asparagus the United States has a lot of catching up to do.

    With Erika and I still discussing our fantastic vegetal intermezzo the next dish to arrive would be my favorite of the afternoon not only because it was delicious, but because it gave me a whole new appreciation for two ingredients I generally would not order – Mackerel and Capers. Described as Mackerel, Cocoa, Lardo, Capers, and Cowslip Flowers the dish featured a warm 2-3oz slice of meaty skin-on fish draped with a thin shaving of lardo and dressed with briny capers and fruity cowslip flowers. Salty yet restrained what truly brought this dish together was a reduction of cocoa powder and butter drizzled over the fish and providing a smooth foil to the otherwise hefty flavors – if a fish dish could ever be described as “perfumed” (as many American Menus describe duck or lamb) this was it.

    Our final fish of the meal would be another successful plate, though honestly given its constituents it would have been nearly impossible to fail. Described as Turbot, Butter, Chives, Leeks, Morels, and Bonito Flakes a simple look at the ingredients and a picture is really all you need to imagine how impressive the dish was – flawless turbot poached in butter, melted leeks, earthy morels, and salty bonito – like I said, impossible.

    For our “main course” Chef Pelé actually emerged from the kitchen to discuss the sourcing and to deliver the two-part presentation himself – the first half a shocker (Raw Lamb Liver, Espelette Pepper, Radish, and Salt) and the second a stunner (Corsica Lamb, Citrus, Peanut, Spinach, and Anchovy.) Bearing in mind my sister’s feelings about “meat flavored jello” I could tell immediately that I’d be enjoying two bites of the liver – a surprisingly mild metallic flavor that was reigned in by the bitter radish and given some texture by the salt and pepper.

    Moving on to the second presentation – quite frankly I had no idea that a lamb’s flesh could be so light, a nearly Kurobuta pork pink that we were told originates from the animals’s milk-only diet prior to slaughter. Expertly prepared and impressively lean the lamb itself was perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted while its accoutrements of a lemon cube topped with anchovy, citrus poached spinach, and a crunchy peanut were all tasty but largely stood as textural contrasts and visual stimuli neither enhancing nor detracting from the centerpiece’s marvelous flavor.

    Acting as the segue from savory to sweet our cheese course came pre-plated along with slices of Poilane bread and a smear of lemon compote. A small selection but well culled and described at length the days selections would be our first of many tastes of Comte on the trip – a somewhat soft two-year aged version whose affineur I neglected to write down and a pungent and creamy fresh Crottin goat cheese that went nicely with the yeasty and hearty bread.

    Moving forward to the sweets – all told there would be nine divided into four courses – the tasting would begin with a troika of small bowls, Pineapple, Caramel, Celery / Passion fruit, Celery Root, Pastry / and Lemon Cauliflower Panna Cotta. With each bite working left to right a balanced exploration of fruits and vegetables of various textures, flavor, and color I actually found these desserts far more successful than previous such attempts in United States restaurants such as Momofuku Ko and I particularly enjoyed the cube of fresh pineapple atop warm caramel with “celery caviar” providing a bitter and vegetal note that lingered on the palate. Were they the best desserts of the trip – hardly – but considering what followed they definitely “fit” the progression.

    For our next triple-bill working left to right we would receive a flavorful Goat Milk Ice Cream with Chocolate Shavings and Kumquat, a grassy and thick Green Tea Crème Brulee infused with Coriander and topped with Edamame, and an outstanding sweet meets savory combination of smoked soy sauce and honey meringue that literally evaporated on mastication leaving behind a flavor that I’d have gladly ended any meal with – but there was still more.

    Offered coffee which we both accepted (and were not charged for) the next offering to arrive was a pair – on one plate a thick ganache of Domori chocolate cake topped with a smoked almond and fleur de sel that seemed to go only to those opting for coffee and on the other a cube of mango dusted with curry and a raw peanut.

    Sitting and chatting (and as yet unfamiliar with the French custom of having to request the bill) it would be approximately thirty minutes before it was only ourselves and another table still filled. With the chef and two additional members of the kitchen staff stopping by to say hello and thank us for coming in “all the way from Ohio” it was only then that we thought to request the bill – a total clocking in at a mere 135€ including water, tax, and tip that was delivered with the single best Macaron of our trip – a crackling bite of vanilla bean pastry dusted with powdered sugar and filled with aromatic white truffle infused cream.

    Bags collected and bid farewell by our server we returned to the streets of Paris refreshed, awake, and rejuvenated by our meal at La Bigarrade and even after nine and a half days of outstanding eating at some of the world’s best restaurants the flavors, textures, and presentations we experienced there still hold a special place in my memory. Strictly “French” food it most certainly is not, but fusion executed at a very high level it absolutely was – and compared to other similarly leaning chefs (both in Paris and at home) it was an outstanding experience at a bargain price – I’d recommend it to anyone and considering other meals we had on the trip would certainly not be surprised to see Chef Pelé and team garner a third star some day down the line.

    3 Replies
    1. re: uhockey

      Ok so I went to the blog and looked at the photos too - thanks for being such a diligent record keeper.
      Looks absolutely amazing, and I'd go tomorrow if I could, especially for the soft shell crab. I love that kind of dish!

      1. re: uhockey

        Great report. I can't wait to try it hopefuly on Thursday.

        1. re: uhockey

          is bigarrade open on mondays?? - i've googled and googled but can't find the answer - - thank you paris foodies for your help - -we are only in paris 3 nights - i've got a spring reservation - can't get an answer at frenchie, so am thinking maybe saturne - but just now also wondering about bigarrade for monday....thx for your help!

        2. Excellent report. Can't wait for Le Cinq and CLJ the two on our list. for September.

          1. Le Chateaubriand:

            Full text below, photos in the blog.

            http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/04/l...

            My mother always told me to avoid judging a book by its cover but I’m not going to lie, when we first walked up to Le Chateaubriand my first thought was “is this the right place?” Ranked by S. Pellegrino as the 11th best restaurant in the world (since upgraded to 9th in 2011) and helmed by self trained “vagabond” chef Inaki Aizpitarte the small former grocery turned bistro in the 11th is anything but ostentatious – as a matter of fact to the layperson it looks every bit as common as hundreds of other bistros in Paris. Walking up to the open doors slightly early for our 8:30pm reservation it was additionally confusing that such a well regarded spot would be empty save for one table on a Friday night, however with our name reported to the bartender we were assured we were indeed at the right place and that “service usually starts around 9:00.”

            Greeted in excellent English by a young roguish looking man who would turn out to be our server we were welcomed and told to “pick anywhere you like” – for myself the table looking directly into the kitchen was an obvious choice and as such my sister was given a view of the entirety of a dining room that would fill to capacity spilling into the street within a half hour. Speaking of the room – overall it represented a continuation of the rustic theme noted from the exterior with cream colored walls, grey floors, unadorned wooden tables and chairs, and a zinc bar and chalkboard as the only real “decorations” to the room. With the day’s menu presented and Okayed we were asked if we had any dietary restrictions and after denying any such issues the meal would begin within minutes.

            With Erika now functioning on about one hour of sleep in the last thirty-six hours it was with great appreciation that the pace of Le Chateaubriand was up-tempo and the crowd boisterous – with courses arriving every 10-15 minutes and the servers all professional yet engaging I’m rather certain that anything less would have left her with her face in the soup – especially after we each enjoyed a glass of house wine, for herself a crisp white and for myself a fruity rose. With Chef Aizpitarte checking in on us twice himself during the course of the meal I will say that despite the restaurant’s fame and success (and their apparent inability to answer the phone on multiple attempts to secure a reservation) it was undeniable that the restaurant’s goal was not only to make sure everyone was enjoying their meal, but to make sure everyone was having a great time.

            For our first bites of the 50€ menu we would receive a number of amuses bouche in rapid succession – the first a quartet of flawless Black Sesame Gougeres – ping-pong ball sized pockets of choux loaded with creamy gruyere and dusted with a sweet coating to keep the seeds in place. Tasty – melt in the mouth – a clever spin on a classic.

            Our second amuse would arrive in a small bowl – a thin slice of turbot ceviche in rhubarb infused oil and vinegar. Clean and brisk with the vinegar a shock to the palate I personally think the dish would have been better served by a more hefty fish as the turbot’s mild flavor was mostly overwhelmed, but all in all the “broth” was quite pleasant.

            Moving on with the flurry of small plates our third dish would arrive mere seconds on the tail of the first – this time a grilled bone-in anchovy topped with dried pomegranate – simple, sweet and salty – I have to admit I liked it much more than I expected I would and so did my sister (so much that she would actually order anchovy the next day at Le Cinq.

            )

            For the next dish we would receive a dish that could have easily served as a legitimate course at some of the other restaurants we dined at during our visit – a salad of Golden Beets, Olives, Sea Urchin, Radish and Sea Lettuce adorned with a light vinaigrette. With the beets earthy and sweet, the olives and urchin briny, and the radish lending it’s characteristic peppery finish to the party I really liked this dish – a simple arrangement of excellent products that all worked together to a nice effect.

            Fairing less well than the previous dishes would be our final amuse – the only dud of the evening and all the more disappointing because someone actually had to pick such an abrasive plant to make it. Titled Stinging nettle Gazpacho with Lime this oily and cold soup largely tasted like bitter cooked spinach with small bits of lime dispersed in its depths and honestly nothing about it worked for me while Erika addressed it with a “well, that was interesting” and crinkled nose.

            Moving forward to the menu proper it was just after 9:00 when we would receive our first of two baskets of bread – a lovely whole wheat sourdough provided from Poujauran and delivered without butter. Having dined at La Bigarrade earlier in the day and now at Le Chateaubriand I’ll note that this was the only day during our visit that I did not nearly overdose on top quality butter…a damned shame, to be sure, but at the time I guess I did not yet know what I was missing.

            For our first menu course of the evening we would again see a seasonal ingredient that featured prominently throughout our travels – asparagus. Typically one of my very favorite vegetables, Inaki’s version that evening consisted of a quartered White Asparagus resting in a pool of Smoked unpasteurized Sheep’s Milk and Olive Oil topped with Parmesan, “Lemon caviar” and Diced Turnips. Pungent and aromatic even at a distance the dish was dazzling – so much so that I actually dug in before snapping a picture. Smoky and pungent, sour yet briny – and everything anchored by those lovely asparagus…a mélange of flavors with each identifiable but none overwhelming – a flawless dish that I’ll remember for a long time to come.

            Moving rapidly from vegetable to fish our second course would be nearly as successful as the first in part because it featured my very favorite fish, but also because it arrived paired with another melody of flawless vegetables and an intense yet complementary sauce. Described simply as Saint-Pierre (John Dory) with Pork Jus and Carrots the simplicity of the description undersold the variety of the ingredients and intensity of the flavors as the plate presented no less than five types of carrots each at varying degrees of cooking, a perfect slice of John Dory with crispy skin, and a salty pork reduction that brought everything to sharp focus.

            In our main course I must note the “flaw” of Le Chateabriand’s menu – specifically that it gives the diner no choice and that those who don’t favor specific items are indeed taking a risk – for my sister and I that “risk” was beef – something that we certainly aren’t allergic to or opposed to, but something we simply don’t order when given alternative options. With that noted, our main course (of course) was Beef brisket with foraged greens, leeks, pine, mango powder, and potato chip – and surprisingly it was actually quite good. Served as a large salad with the beef entirely covered on arrival the protein itself was smoky and beefy as expected, but what set this dish apart from the standard was the unique combination of greens – some bitter, some peppery – the pungent leeks and mild pine, and most of all the intense mango powder that gave the whole plate a sweet overtone. While I still cannot say I am a beef convert, between this experience and that at Roberta’s and Peter Luger in Brooklyn just a week earlier I’m certainly becoming much more accepting of it.

            For the final course/courses of the evening the diner is offered two options – a pair or desserts or a plate of cheese. With Erika tired and not particularly hungry she opted for the fromage while I decided to see what Chef’s team could do with the sweets - personally, given the small portion and tame selection of shaved aged comte, creamy chevre, and mild sheep’s milk cheese that Erika received I’d have to say my decision was the better of the two, even if the theme seemed strangely similar to that of lunch.

            With Inaki checking in on us for the second time just as dessert was delivered I found it humorous when he said “this is a new one – hopefully it works – I liked it” – it was especially interesting when I saw the dish and realized it was a less ornate version of something I’d had in the past at Providence LA. Titled Endive, Orange, Olive, and Chicory the dish featured house made orange gelato served beneath leafs of crispy bitter endive and dusted with crunchy bits of chicory. Tasty but a tad bitter for my sweet tooth it really wasn’t until I got to the chopped bits of olive that the nuances of this dish really came out – but even then I felt it could have benefited from more sweetness.

            Following the orange my second dessert was presented as “different types of chocolate” and celery root ice cream. Served in a white bowl and with at least 5 textural variations of chocolate ranging from cocoa powder to a thick ganache plus shards of paper thin milk chocolate and a ground bar that may very well have been 100% cocoa the dish was certainly chocolate and certainly complex – however what made it delicious was the ice cream – a flavor that on its own was actually overpowering, yet when blended with the chocolate provided a bitter and spicy yet peculiarly sweet and creamy foil that made every flavor seem more vibrant – more different from the others.

            With another bottle of house water delivered our final bites of the evening were perhaps the most peculiar mignardises I’ve ever seen - Candied Rhubarb with Fennel Seed – tasty and memorable if only for the oddity of the whole thing.

            With the hour drawing close to 10:30, my sister now increasingly drowsy, and a line growing into the street I was surprised again that there was no pressure to leave even after we declined coffee – as a matter of fact, even after we asked for the bill it took a good fifteen minutes for the even 100€ check (I’m still uncertain as to why we were not charged for the wine) to arrive. Bid farewell by our server and navigating the crowd it was only when we got outside that we realized exactly how big the line was – or perhaps “line” is an unfair term as the crowd from Le Chateaubriand had more or less merged with that from Aizpitarte’s La Dauphin next door. For the sake of those waiting I hope they offer a second seating, though I honestly can’t be sure.

            Of course with any reservation as difficult to secure and any restaurant as highly regarded as Le Chateaubriand the question becomes “does it live up to the hype?” – a difficult question under any circumstance, but even more so after a single visit considering what Aizpitarte is doing; fundamentally recreating a high-concept menu each and every night in a city where all the “best” restaurants generally serve the same consistently excellent menu for months at a time before changing seasonally. Is it the 9th best restaurant in the world – perhaps not – but I imagine on some nights it could be, and considering the price point I’d certainly go back for that possibility – assuming I could land a reservation.

            8 Replies
            1. re: uhockey

              How did you end up landing the reservation? Persistence in calling?

              I'm looking at Le Cinq for lunch followed by Le Chateaubriand for late dinner. Too much? I think I'm much like you in my eating habits...wanting to cram in as many good experiences during my (unfortunately) short stay.

              1. re: dimsumfan

                You could certainly do Le Cinq and LCB in the same day - we did Le Cinq and L'Ami Jean.

                I was fortunate to have local assistance in getting a reservation - despite multiple tries at multiple times on multiple days I never once got through from the States.

                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

              2. re: uhockey

                Your "War&Peace" is so very enjoyable. -- If ever you want to quit your day job and start writing full time...
                Very good take on "11".

                1. re: Parigi

                  See disclaimer at the top - (unless of course some independently wealthy lady would like to support an eligible single young physician....just throwing it out there.)

                  :-)

                  Thanks though - I'm not as biographical as some bloggers - I just report based on what I know and what I like.

                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                2. re: uhockey

                  Another excellent report. Disregarding the price differential, how would you compare your experience here to the earlier meal at La Bigarrade. Many thanks, again, for sharing.

                  1. re: Nancy S.

                    They are nearly impossible to compare, both in terms of setting and food - especially since LCB is only open for dinner and La Bigarrade is $115 at dinner.

                    All in all I liked my meal at La Bigarrade better, but I think if the main at LCB had been something aside from Beef I may have been even more impressed.

                    Both had one dish that I didn't like - both had two dishes that wowed - and the desserts were equally esoteric.

                    I'd do La Bigarrade for lunch and LCB for dinner on different days next time.

                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                  2. re: uhockey

                    Uhockey- thanks for the review. i've enjoyed your NYC restaurant reviews, and I have reservations at LCB in 2 weeks, so this review is particularly helpful. I noticed your comment about the set menu. My sister who will be joining me is a vegetarian (but eats fish), and I don't eat pork. Will LCB accommodate our dietary restrictions? We're not sure what to expect, so any insight/advise you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

                    Btw, we got our reservations through a concierge service - it took them 3 weeks to finally land a reservation...they're still trying to get us into Frenchie (which they've been trying to do for 5 weeks unsuccessfully).

                    1. re: sumaya99

                      They will not accommodate - it is a set menu and that is all they cook that evening - the table next to us inquired and were told certain ingredients could be excluded but nothing else would be added in its place.

                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                  3. What month did you do this trip?

                    4 Replies
                      1. re: uhockey

                        LCB number 9 in the world and according to the SP list the best in Paris. Also making it better than any other on your list? Surely not.. These lists are good for business, but otherwise should be taken with a grain of salt. You might find this article written by Melbourne's judge on the SP panel interesting.
                        http://www.theage.com.au/entertainmen...

                        1. re: DownUnder

                          If I were single I might take you up on your offer! Oh yes, and independently wealthy. Somehow I think that's your more important criteria...
                          Great report so far and looking forward to more!

                          1. re: DownUnder

                            I would say the "50 best list" is quite useful, as the article says it is really a list of the happening tables, listed by chefs and professional writers who eat out a lot. Maybe the title is a mis-nomer but I would be confident that every one of the 100 listed would be both good and interesting - far more useful than the proverbial grain of salt.

                      2. Le Cinq:

                        Full text below, photos in the blog.

                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/04/l...

                        “You’ve never seen a room like it” said one friend. “The service is the best I’ve ever experienced” said another. “Éric Briffard should have three stars – he should have had it a year” said yet another. With these statements in mind and Saturday lunch service it wasn’t a question of if we should visit Le Cinq at The George V during our trip to Paris – it was a question of which Saturday was a better fit for our schedule. As a part of the Four Seasons group reservations were simple – a quick call to their central office provided me with an e-mail and within forty-five minutes of sending the original E-mail I received a call from the Paris concierge to set up lunch for two at 12:30 on April the 9th 2011.

                        Having arrived in Paris a mere 24-hours earlier and having already enjoyed two solid meals, morning pastries from Laduree, and a morning walk through the Jardins des Tuileries plus some shopping on the Champs-Élysées our arrival at The George V was timely despite the construction – as a matter of fact we were early and after making our way past a Maybach, a Rolls Royce, and an Aston-Martin Vanquish we found ourselves in the large central lobby currently being detailed with mirrored boxes and large vases of ornate flowers. Greeted first by the doorman and then by an attendant in the lobby we stated our business and were directed to the restaurant, stopping along the way to browse the art, jewelry, and small indoor café full of lounging guests, their families, and even their well outfitted canines.

                        Making our way to the doors of the restaurant we were greeted en route and walked the last twenty feet – my bag was taken and stored before I even knew what happened and upon stating our name the service captain responded with “Yes, of course, from Ohio – how was your flight?” Appropriately impressed and chatting as we made our way through the glorious baroque dining room my very first thought echoed the comments of my friend – I’d never seen a room like it – intricate molding, floor to ceiling windows, oil paintings, and gold leaf, crystal and silver aplenty. With chairs pulled out in synchrony and seated on pillow soft chairs at a two top large enough for four our comfort was assured and a purse stool appeared for my sister’s bag…the service, too, lived up to the hype – a well oiled machine meant to make you feel like royalty.

                        With our meal already discussed with the Maitre D’ via E-mail prior to our arrival the selections were confirmed – the three course weekly lunch for Erika and the “Spring Menu” for myself – and within moments the chariot of champagne and caviar arrived tableside, a nice touch which we politely declined instead opting for a bottle of still water. After this our captain would stop by again to chat, ask about any dietary restrictions, and make a few additional offers and suggestions.

                        With water poured and a handful of rose petals added to the table the first bites would arrive quickly – a large basket of tempura fried Shrimp and Calamari spritzed with lemon oil and served with tiny tridents – a unique way to start a meal and apparently a customary opening volley at Le Cinq that was excellent, particularly the crisp yet supple calamari.

                        Moving on, our next taste of Le Cinq was rather unlike anything I’ve ever seen – a single slice of white bread served with olive oil. With it explain that this single slice of bread was made with the “utmost care to be entirely flavorless” so that we could “experience” the 2010 Frantoi Cutrera Primo Olive Oil all I could do was chuckle – something so small, yet clearly intended to wow…sure it was good and the oil impressively fruity – but more than the flavor it was the gesture… all these little flourishes that would keep happening all afternoon.

                        Speaking of tasty carbohydrates, aside from that first slice of bread there was nothing flavorless about Le Cinq’s house made bread selection – as a matter of fact, it was my second favorite bread selection of the trip with a basket consisting of Country, Baguette, Brioche, Tomato, and 7-Grain – all tasty, but all the more so due to the butter – two large cones that arrived covered in glass; one a sweet butter from Brenton and the other a savory Seaweed Butter that required replenishment late in the meal (yes we ate that much butter and yes it was worth every calorie.

                        )

                        Munching on the bread, at this point a lovely curl of tomato brioche, it was perhaps thirty minutes into service before our trio of amuses arrived – from left to right a Lemongrass Shrimp with Cauliflower, a gelee of Carrot with Ginger and Hibiscus, and the Tempurad head of the shrimp. Instructed to enjoy the plate from left to right each bite was impressive – the first sour and snappy, the second sweet and smooth, the last crunchy and savory – a suitable troika that primed the palate.

                        With the proper menu beginning and Erika ordering a three course menu while I opted for seven I will note that timing could not have been handled better – as a matter of fact, our server even included her in the cheese course and provided a second small dessert to help even things out…just another one of those “little things.” Keeping with that topic, Erika’s first selection would be a quartet of little things entitled “Sardines from Saint-Gilles-Croix-De-Vie – tartar, grilled, tempura, raw in asparagus flan.” An unexpected selection but based on two positive experiences with the fish the day prior the three plates were all exquisitely presented and each flavor distinctly different; some focusing on texture while others on taste. I particularly enjoyed the bite raw bite with garlic croutons and a creamy asparagus flan.

                        For my first course the kitchen deftly showed its hand with Japanese presentations in delivering Toro Tartar with Green apple Gelee, Pea, Caviar, and Fresh Wasabi. Neglecting the wasabi and focusing strictly on the fish, a pylon shaped ounce or two topped with a pyramid of briny fish eggs, this was a nicely cleaned and presented tartar with the fish eggs providing plenty of accent, but what truly stood out about the dish was actually the impressively sweet double shucked peas – nearly raw in texture and quite unlike the way we see peas served in the United States.

                        For my second course, now three out of three, I would see more of that wonderful French asparagus – this time “Green Asparagus from Luberon rapidly cooked in olive oil with gnocchi, chives, and pork jus” plus a side plate of Matcha Tea Frozen yogurt, Asparagus sorbet, and Lemon brioche. Thick and snappy the Asparagus quality was perhaps the best of the trip while the solo gnocchi was a flawless pillow that simply made me wish for more. With the first plate rather traditional, the more interesting part of this dish was the side – an intensely bitter yet vegetal frozen yogurt topped with creamy sorbet that truly did taste like a 50/50 admixture of sugar and the essence of Asparagus. As for the golden brioche – tasty and sweet…plus an excuse to eat more of the Brenton butter.

                        With the course cleared our captain would arrive tableside with a Polaroid camera to snap a picture “for his collection” – a picture later delivered in a classy George V envelope to take home as a souvenir – yet another nice touch. On the heels of this gesture, however, would be an even nicer touch – two of the ten best things I tasted in Paris served simultaneously; the first being Duck Foie Gras from the Landes Region with Sarawak Pepper Roast, Rhubarb, Strawberries from a Provencal Garden, and Elderberry Juice. Always a fan of cold Foie Gras preparations as compared to warm this dish was an eye opener and every bit on par with the my favorite seared version of all time at L2o. Described as first roasted and then lightly seared the liver itself was so smooth and supple that it barely held its form, instead melting into a luscious pool and melding with the fruit juices while the pepper added a note of spice serving to contrast the sweetness of the strawberry.

                        Nearly as impressive and much less expected than my course was Erika’s “Rex Rabbit from Poitou Region cooked with squid and served as rib rack, loin, breast alongside bayaldi of vegetables, muscadet wine gravy, anchovies, and peas.” With the rabbit prepared medium and impressively nutty each of the variations was tasty, particularly the panko dusted rack while each accoutrement lent something different, a new angle of exploration that kept the large plate interesting from start to finish. Rustic yet refined it was this dish amongst all the others that truly showed off Briffard’s talents to me – a complex landscape of flavors and textures that moved you away from the center but then brought you back without ever truly losing focus.

                        Sharing the rabbit across the table and making a mess of the linen (which my sister jokingly pointed out to our server) the next thing to arrive at our table was a cover-up table cloth – and rose petals jokingly arranged to cover the corners – and after that was my “Blue Lobster Pot roasted in Baby Garlic, Freshly Squeezed Pinot Noir grape Jus, Confit Pork Belly, Lobster Stuffed Morels and Crunchy Cabbage with Ginger.” It was an embarrassment of riches in all the right ways. Having experienced Brittany Blue only once in the past – ironically then also paired with cabbage and ginger this dish – this dish was another outstanding exploration of various themes on one plate and again each lent something of its own without compromising the others or becoming too “busy.” With the lobster easily cut with the edge of a fork and more buttery than garlic the morels were actually the standout of this dish – stuffed with a lobster sausage mixed with what I believe was aged cheese…both would go beautifully with the jus. Additionally impressive was the cabbage – not crispy itself, but buttery and mixed with crisp ginger revitalizing the palate with each bite.

                        Resisting the urge to wipe the plate clean with bread (besides, there was butter left) our plates were collected and our captain stopped by to suggest my sister also take some cheese “on the house” and with that the cart arrived. Featuring a well culled selection of approximately twenty cheeses each was described at length and after much discussion we decided to allow our server to make the selections – amongst them a nutty Mimolette and 2-year aged Comte, more pungent Epoisse and Bleu de sauvignon, plus a triple cream Brie, Camembert, and two goat cheeses. Accompanying the cheese would be Country Walnut Bread and Apricot Date Bread…they should sell the Apricot bread by the loaf.

                        Before our palate cleanser we were first brought an “aperitif” of water. Thinking this odd I listened with interest as our server described the characteristics of the Black Forest Water – an ultra pure zero nitrate mineral water from the North of France that was purportedly the best in Paris. Cracking open a fresh bottle I found it perplexing that they would serve this for free while charging for the bottled water service during the meal, but regardless it really was quite flavorless, ice cold, and yet another of those little moments that stand out.

                        Still sipping our “super water” the next item to arrive was a flavorful warm Green tea Madeline served alongside Salted cream cheese Ice Cream coated with Gold leaf and drizzled with honey soaked citrus – a tasty and attractive bite equal parts sweet, sour, and salty.

                        Moving on to the proper desserts I will first note that our server offered to gift Erika both desserts on my tasting menu but she declined as she had her heart set on the Wild Strawberry Napoleon Pie with light cream, citrus fruits, white cheese sorbet, and strawberry gelato. Served as a three layer Mille Feuille with crispy pastry divided by layers of fraises des bois and a zesty light cream the pastry itself was flawless, shattering on light pressure and sweet without being overly so. Seated along the pastry was another crisp layer, this time circular and stuffed with a mascarpone textured sorbet dotted with yuzu and topped with creamy strawberry gelato. As an additional bonus, along with my second dessert she would be presented with a bowl of fraises des bois topped with fluffy whipped cream and shavings of white chocolate “because one can never get enough strawberry at springtime in Paris.”

                        For my first dessert at Le Cinq I was treated to a large cocktail glass described on the menu as “Red Fruit Cocktail with Hibiscus Jelly, Basil Froth.” In reality the “red fruits” would consist of at least five – standard large strawberries, fraises des bois, raspberries, currants, and pomegranate – resting in an aromatic mélange of their juices and topped with a strawberry sorbet champagne cream touched with basil. With all the fruits as ripe and tasty as expected the most impressive aspect of this dish was the smell – like walking in an early summer garden.

                        With the table next to us ordering the flaming omelette à la norvégienne we were treated to a show while we waited for the second desserts, but once mine arrived the show was squarely on the plate in the form of the “After Eight Chocolate Bar, Peppermint Granita.” Served elegantly with seven variations of chocolate including the crispy base the dish was beautiful and dotted with spots of menthol that acted largely as an accent, not overwhelming as mint can tend to be. Creamy and crunchy with oodles of nuance the dish was additionally playful with the addition of pop-rocks to the center layer adding a totally unexpected surprise.

                        Beyond content our final treat of the afternoon would prove to be the gift that kept on giving – a mignardise cart with no less than twenty options ranging from strawberry macarons every bit as good as those at Laduree, blackberry opera cakes, chewy nougat, nearly perfect Canele, five types of caramels, pistachio bark, vanilla marshmallows, lemon tarts with fraises des bois, chocolate tarts with almond, and 10 assorted Chocolates (both dark and light.) First offered “as many as you like” and then later recommended to try most of what we hadn’t received with the first round all we could do was accept graciously – and even after that they packed up two small boxes of 5 caramels each for us to enjoy later on.

                        Sitting back to bask in the glory of the past three hours (and to digest such an amazing meal) we watched a party of eight ask to enjoy their mignardises and coffee out on the terrace – an offer that was met by the captain first going out and setting an entire table with plates, crystal, and sliver before plating a large platter of choices and walking them out into the sun. On his return we requested our bill – one tasting, one lunch tasting, one bottle of water despite all the extras – and on paying were walked to the front of the restaurant where he suggested another photo using my camera and presented me with a copy of the menu before bidding us farewell.

                        In the end how do you sum up such an experience? Simply. My friends were right.

                        37 Replies
                        1. re: uhockey

                          Really enjoying your report. I appreciate all the details, which are necessary for those of us living (and eating) vicariously.

                          1. re: Leely2

                            Thanks - really, I write the details more for me and my family and friends, but I like being able to share with the folks who help me find such great places (the people of Chowhound.) If is an added bonus if folks like yourself get something out of it and I can lead others to a great experience.

                            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                          2. re: uhockey

                            Great again. I'm especially delighted to see the photo of your sister and you at the end of your blog post.

                            1. re: Nancy S.

                              Wonderful report and can't wait for our September lunch at Le Cinq and I wiil remember to inform them when we book that we are from Melbourne!
                              Now any good restaurant recs. for Ohio LOL
                              ( I might add that with LCB at number 9 and Le Cinq not even on the SP list after you report the choice is a no brainer)

                            2. re: uhockey

                              I have been waiting for this particular report (noting, in passing, that I love the way you write your reviews in stages, with each arriving like a freshly wrapped new chapter of a favourite book - delicate prose filled with stunning, almost cinematic, details). I will be in Paris next week, staying a couple of nights at George V (as a gift) and decided definitively earlier today to indulge in the fine dining experience of a lunch at Le Cinq. Thank you for adding so beautifully to the chorus of praise for this restaurant - can hardly wait.

                              Now waiting on Chez L'Ami Jean...:)

                              1. re: peppermint pate

                                I'll likely have these 5 done by weeks end - then schedule is busy for a bit - but I keep pretty good notes (many based on my photos) and have skeletons written for many of the upcoming reviews.

                                I've never stayed at a place like The George V - I love fine dining and the service aspects of that, but I've never been one to stay at nice hotels - but if I ever decided to stay at such a high end place I'm pretty sure this would be the one. Hope it lives up to its reputation - I don't doubt the restaurant will.

                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                1. re: uhockey

                                  Thanks. I've stayed in some nice hotels but never any place like The George V either - we have received a most special gift of a couple of nights there and are looking forward to it. I swoon a bit just looking at some of the pictures, especially the flowers! And the service sounds spectacular and polished across the board. I love the details you mention - the rose petals on the table, the photo, the gifts. And the symphony of ingredients and preparations. Transportive. So knowing how much you can eat, I gotta ask, did you manage much for dinner that evening?

                                  1. re: peppermint pate

                                    .....the house terrine, appetizer, lamb shoulder, rice pudding.....
                                    Plus sister ordered app/main/dessert.

                                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                    1. re: uhockey

                                      Ah, sounds like I need to wait for the CLJ report for details. Man, if only I could rent out your stomach and metabolism for my trip...

                                1. re: uhockey

                                  Wonderful report! You describe the "Le Cinq experience" perfectly!

                                  1. re: uhockey

                                    Great report ! Looking forward to the next ones.

                                    I've always been for good manners, and being polite and all... however when you say "Resisting the urge to wipe the plate clean with bread", I can't help but feel this is the most absurd "etiquette" out there. As a true gastronome, one should be allowed to wipe his plate clean, especially if both the sauce and bread are delicious ! :)

                                    1. re: Rio Yeti

                                      Uhocky:
                                      Someone who was once invited to the Buckingham Palace gave me this scoop: the Queen mops up her sauce with bread. Of course Her Majesty being Her Majesty, she used a fork to push the bread around.

                                        1. re: Rio Yeti

                                          It was mostly a joke - I assure you that many plates (particularly the foie gras) returned to the kitchen spotless.

                                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                            1. re: uhockey

                                              Did you pick up the plate and lick it? I felt like doing that a few times. And a few times my plate looked as though I HAD done so.

                                              1. re: Parigi

                                                This has never happened - though when I suggested it to my server at the French Laundry he suggested he would turn his back and serve as a diversion so no one could see me if I chose to do so.

                                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                  1. re: Parigi

                                                    No - just couldn't bring myself to it.
                                                    And considering that meal was the fullest I've ever been I'm probably glad I didn't.

                                                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                          1. re: uhockey

                                            uhockey, thank you for this most excellent report.

                                            I will be in Paris over a weekend at the end of May, and I had decided that on this trip I was going to forego the big powerhouses, but now I'm tempted to change my view! I've had a search around and I'm struggling to find recent definitive info, so at the risk of ruining this with price-taggery, can you (or anyone else) tell me how much the prix-fixée lunch costs? My wife is pregnant so won't be drinking, and I'm not inclined to drink quite so much as normal at lunch (!) so I'm thinking this might actually be an option even to a recession-plagued Irishman! Finally, I know the restaurant is open 7 days, but is the lunch menu available every day also?

                                            Apologies if these are common questions, but a visit to the restaurant website hasn't answered them, and a search of the forum didn't yield recent results.

                                            Once again, thank you for your report.

                                            1. re: Diapason

                                              According to the Four Seasons George V's official Facebook page, the lunch prix-fixe is 85 Euros, not including beverages or cheese. The prix-fixe including cheese is 97 Euros.

                                              1. re: Diapason

                                                Yes they are open 7 days for lunch, yes it is $85 EU, and if the table next to us was any indication you'll get: Bread w/ Olive Oil, Bread w/ Butter, Amuses, Three Courses, Palate Cleanser, Dessert, and all the mignardises you can tolerate.

                                                I'll also note that although the service is slightly less fantastic both Le Pre Catalan's lunch deal is a slam dunk and there you get bread, amuses, appetizer, main, cheese, sorbet, dessert, and mignardises plus free bottled water and coffee.

                                                Similarly, Ledoyen's lunch deal is a steal with 6 canapes, a proper amuse, the best bread/butter service I had in Paris, appetizer, main, cheese, sorbet, dessert, and mignardises. The water and coffee are far from free, but you can substitute the "grand tasting of Ledoyen desserts" in place of the single dessert for a $19EU supplement and get 5 desserts instead of 1.

                                                I could go on about lunch at L'Arpege and Guy Savoy but we went off the map for those, so its not really a fair assessment.

                                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                1. re: uhockey

                                                  Thank you, I'll have a look at those other options as well, although I'm concerned that the weekend aspect will be problematic in some places. Funnily enough, when it comes to it neither of us are all that interested in desserts, but a good cheese cart is essential. Of course, my wife's cheese options are more limited than usual since she's pregnant, and she's really missing Epoisses!

                                                  We've only 3 nights in Paris (Saturday, Sunday and Monday) and I was so sure I was going to leave Michelin stars aside this trip. Apparently I'm not able to do that!!

                                                  1. re: Diapason

                                                    Both Le Pre Catalan and Le Cinq are open for lunch every day.

                                                    Le Pre Catalan has the same 4-year aged Comte as L'Arpege if that interests you - and they give you a whole lot more.

                                                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                    1. re: uhockey

                                                      And if I were to put you on the spot and ask which you enjoy the most...? Also, at this price we're into Gagnaire lunch territory.

                                                      I'm hijacking your thread here, sorry about that.

                                                      1. re: Diapason

                                                        I simply don't think Gagnaire's lunch menu is of the same caliber as his dinner menu and as I've not been there for lunch I cannot comment. That said, the dinner I had with there is perhaps the best meal of my life.

                                                        Regarding the prior question -- tough call. The food at Ledoyen was the best of the three, but the service is not the same caliber as Le Cinq. I guess it depends what you value - if you want the "best" ingredients and masterful preparations it is hard to argue against Ledoyen, but if you want a fun and relaxing spot where you'll be treated like royalty Le Cinq or Le Pre Catelan (and moreso Le Cinq) is better.

                                                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                        1. re: uhockey

                                                          Thanks so much, uhockey. Your advice (and the entire thread) has been really useful. I'll start another thread in due course and report my decision and experiences.

                                                      2. re: uhockey

                                                        Thanks UHockey. My wife and I had the 85 euro lunch last month and enjoyed it so much, as did you. I was expecting a bit stuffy with great food and stiff service. Oh no.

                                                        We got the hospitable service, wonderful food with a Japanese accent and amazing room/atmosphere that you detailed so well. Also, we do and did drink wine there. The list is extraordinary and the Sommelier could not have been more helpful.

                                                        Can't wait to go back. Thanks again for the wonderful review and recap of your visit. It reminded us what a perfect lunch we had at George V.

                                                    2. re: uhockey

                                                      Wow, looking forward to the l'Arpege review.

                                                      Given your reviews are both quite lengthy and eagerly responded to, it might be easier to see what's going on if you started a new thread at some point...

                                                      1. re: johannabanana

                                                        ...hence this being "part 1" and as such only 5 of the 16 will be in this thread.

                                                        :-)

                                                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                      2. re: uhockey

                                                        hi uhockey,

                                                        echoing hundreds other readers, thank you very much for your detailed and wonderfully written accounts of your meals in Paris. they are a big help.

                                                        just a question: you write "On his return we requested our bill – one tasting, one lunch tasting, one bottle of water despite all the extras". does the tasting meal mean a full dinner tasting menu ($230E), or is it something else? and does the lunch tasting refer to the ($85E) lunch menu?

                                                        thank you very much if you could help!

                                                        1. re: reisende

                                                          Yes tasting = dinner 230. Yes lunch = lunch 85.

                                                          You're welcome - definitely worth the price to visit to Le Cinq.

                                                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                    3. re: uhockey

                                                      Simply to pull your worthy chain, the fried calamari/shrimp are served with a TWO pronged fork not trident. Other than this your review perfect as always. Here we were charged for our Chateldon at 12 euros, but drank three bottles for that one charge.

                                                      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                        Since the worthy chain was pulled, may I also point out "Pré Catelan", not Catalan. I know I know, everyone says that, just as everyone says Bouillabaise instead of Bouillabaisse. Instread of fish soup, the former means something like "boiled f*ck". Thought you'd like to know...

                                                        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                          I am honored that such a worthy fellow reads my words so thoroughly.

                                                          Alas, you are right - I actually took a picture of the thing but ones memory does slip after such a packed schedule.

                                                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                      2. I'm seriously hungry now.

                                                        Thanks for the reports!

                                                        M,

                                                        1. Chez L'Ami Jean:

                                                          Full text below, photos in blog.

                                                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/04/c...

                                                          After a luxurious lunch at Le Cinq and many hours of walking, art, shopping, and more walking in between our dinner plans on the second night in Paris would be somewhat similar to those on day one – a member of the “bistronomic” genre with a Basque chef and humble yet bustling confines; Chez L’Ami Jean. Recommended highly by many respected palates and with reservations made and confirmed by a local/regular the meal would represent the latest start I’ve ever had to a dinner – 9:00pm – a decision made so that we could experience the space “in full swing.”

                                                          Arriving perhaps 5 minutes early it did not take long to establish what was meant by full swing as we entered the bustling space to find nary an inch to move – all but two seats in the tight space were filled and the bar was standing two deep with people waiting for a seat. Greeted promptly by a thin young woman we gave/shouted our name and with a quick check of the tattered reservation book we were led quickly to a table which literally required lifting from the floor to allow us room to squeeze in. Within moments our server, a tall gentleman who spoke perfect English stopped by to offer the menu, list of specials, wine list, and a carafe of water – he then suggested we “get his attention” when we were ready to order.

                                                          Browsing the tight space while perusing the menu it was funny as both my sister and I said at the same time “this place is fantastic.” Inherently loud, squeezed elbow to elbow, and with walls decorated in everything from rugby paraphernalia to oblong superheroes to food items I cannot be sure, but I’m rather certain we were the only non-natives in the space. With Chef Jégo rather quiet that evening (compared to rumors I’ve heard) and his team literally in a state of non-stop motion in the miniscule kitchen the pace was frenetic yet the service was superlative, albeit a bit abrupt, and it seemed no table was ever for want and everyone was having an excellent time.

                                                          Flagging down our server with a mere head-nod and with two questions answered (no, unfortunately they cannot do a half order of the foie gras and yes they were indeed sold out of the sweetbreads) orders were placed and within moments a wire basket of bread arrived – seemingly the same pain de champagne served the night before at Le Chateaubriand and once again served without butter. Crusty yet supple and with an excellent crumb I later managed to inquire and my assumption was confirmed – the bread is delivered from Poujauran (and for the germaphobes out there, whatever you don’t finish will simply be dropped off at the next table.

                                                          )

                                                          Shortly following the bread would be an item I attempted to order but was told “it’s on the house” – the house terrine du jour and a large pot of cornichons and pickled onions. With the restaurant increasingly loud I must admit I did not catch all of the ingredients in that day’s terrine but my notes indicate at least boar, pork, veal, and rabbit. Gamey but restrained and quite ample in portion the terrine was hefty with notes of garlic, pepper, onion, and paprika – and much to my surprise my sister loved it. Always a fan of my mother’s meatloaf it was to this that she compared the terrine – a high compliment indeed.

                                                          With my sister opting for the 42€ prix fixe and myself choosing a la carte it was perhaps 9:45 when our first proper courses would arrive – a bit of a delay, sure, but understandable given the capacity crowd and small kitchen. First, for myself, a daily special of white and green asparagus with button mushrooms, poached egg, and bacon resting in pork jus. Never one to pass up an egg dish and additionally now four for four in meals containing asparagus this rather traditional dish was quite good despite a slightly overcooked egg. Salty and savory yet vegetal and earthy this was perhaps the least “fussed with” dish of our trip to that point and a nice change of pace, even for someone who prefers “fussy” food.

                                                          For Erika’s first course we were given a warning – “It has BLOOD Sausage in it.” Apparently assuming neither of us can read French (I can, just can’t speak it conversationally) I assured him this was okay – while isn’t my favorite thing in the world my sister really enjoyed her previous experience with the saline meat at Bistro LQ in December. Arriving steaming hot the dish described as Mussels, scallops, chopped tripe, blood sausage, garlic, chives, and fine herbs was fantastic – a mélange of flavors and textures that you could smell coming a mile away yet each distinct and nicely prepared with the chewy tripe, textural sausage, and the briny mussels most distinct amongst the nearly stew-like preparation.

                                                          While we were sitting awaiting our main courses we made conversation with a table next to us and on their departure a group of four would take their place – clearly regulars and well known to the chef who would emerge from the kitchen, kiss each on both cheeks, and subsequently begin sending out small course after small course of items clearly not on the menu – it was then that I noted on my next visit to Paris a return with the man who made our reservation was in order. It was also during this short wait that my sister would make a trip to the restroom – a trip made worthy of comment as she displayed a visible startle response across the room on opening the door and seeing <gasp> diners right next to her thanks to the use of a one-way mirror.

                                                          With my sister returning and laughing at herself it would be perhaps 10:20 when our main courses arrived – the first Erika’s Scallops with Lobster butter and bread crumbs, vegetable cocktail with bacon, and Pommes puree. Thankfully small in portion as she was already beginning to get full these four medium sized scallops were served in the shell and topped with savory butter and crisp breadcrumbs while the center of the plate contained a mélange of vegetables and a stick of bacon strangely reminiscent of a bloody Mary without the alcohol. With the main plate quite tasty I knew the moment I saw it arrive that my sister’s Pièce de résistance would be the potatoes – one of her favorite foods and a stunning example likely equal parts butter and tuber.

                                                          Moving forward to my main course it seemed as though French isn’t quite as good as I’d thought – I thought I’d ordered lamb chops when in fact what I’d truly ordered was a large crock containing a whole milk fed lamb shoulder with white beans, carrots, sundried tomatoes, peppers, stuffing, and fine herbs. With the first chop plated tableside on a bed of toasted bread and house cured ham our server departed with raised eyebrows, a smile, and a “bon appetite.” Pink, rich, and slightly more gamey than most American lambs I’ve tasted it was with my first bite that I was glad they’d been sold out of the sweetbreads – while I’m sure they were good it is hard for me to imagine that they would have been this hearty, rustic, and satisfying. With each bite as good as the last and the vegetables and legumes providing ample contrast to the rich meat this was precisely the sort of dish I’d hoped for at L’Ami Jean – the sort of dish I’m sure many French folks including Chef Jégo grew up and the sort of dish I wish more places did well stateside – and yes, I finished all but the bones and cup of the broth garnering a “good job” from our server and a thumbs up from the kitchen.

                                                          With the hour nearing 11:00 at this point and people continuing to file in to fill the empty spaces our desserts would arrive next – the first a personal favorite and the second a dish recommended by pretty much everyone who’d ever visited L’Ami Jean prior. Beginning first with the Vanilla Brioche Bread Pudding with whipped cream, pistachio, and strawberry the dish arrived with instructions – namely “don’t touch the bowl, it is very hot.” Featuring four large cubes of golden bread lightly toasted on the corners and soaked through with rich caramel the hefty squares actually bordered on being overly sweet on their own, yet when matched with the mild and airy whipped cream, crumbled pistachio, and potage of vanilla the flavor mellowed out substantially forming an almost butterscotch flavor. Tasty, rustic, and indeed hot I will note I’m glad we ordered it as bread pudding is my favorite type of dessert, but it couldn’t hold a candle to what followed.

                                                          For our final taste of Chez L’Ami Jean the order would be Chef Jégo’s famous Rice Pudding in the fashion of his grandmother. Served with with confiture du lait atop the short grain rice plus more as a sidecar, granola with pralines and dried fruit, and multiple flavored meringues I can confirm that the rumors are true - the portion is enormous. Delivered on a serving board with two large plates placed before us our server offered another smile and a “enjoy” – and enjoy we did, plate after plate until there was nothing left but an empty bowl and a spoon licked clean. Thick, creamy, and smooth as velvet on the tongue without being sticky the rice itself was mildly sweet with the bourbon vanilla tones washing over the palate in waves – on its own it was the best rice pudding I’ve ever tasted, yet with the addition of each additional ingredient it became something different, my favorite being crumbles of the pistachio meringue with an added spoonful of the confiture.

                                                          Stuffed and immensely satisfied with the clock nearing midnight and a long metro ride back to the 19th we asked for the check – a check delivered in a small tin with just the words “prix fixe x 2 - 84€” – and bidding us farewell we were instructed to pay at the bar – a bar still full and with folks with patrons enjoying wine and charcuterie plus a few more standing outside smoking cigarettes and/or waiting to get in and enjoy some of Chef Jégo’s rustic yet mostly exemplary cuisine and hospitality…two things that in conjunction with the excellent price tag and lively atmosphere would see me as a regular if I lived locally.

                                                          32 Replies
                                                          1. re: uhockey

                                                            wonderful report as always. A quick question: not for the first time in your write-ups, you weren't charged for an item consumed or it was substituted on the bill for something less expensive. Do you ever point out the mistake?

                                                            In my experience, when pointing out these out, more often than not, there is a smile and an indication that it is with compliments. Occasionally, it is a genuine mistake; with these, sometimes the waiter/manager let's it 'ride' (i.e. no change to the bill), but sometimes, without even a thanks, the extras are added on. Of course, I'm happy to pay, since that's what I had consumed, but a thanks for rectifying the mistake might have been in order!

                                                            A second question if I may: do you tell the restaurant in advance that you will be publishing your experiences in a blog?

                                                            thanks,

                                                            tb

                                                            1. re: trueblu

                                                              A) I never inquire about the nature of such things - I generally assume them to be quite intentional comps and if they are mistakes, well, that is on them.

                                                              B) No - never. I will often inquire as to whether photos are allowed, but intent for use is never suggested.

                                                              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                              1. re: uhockey

                                                                re A} We often find mistakes in bills, sometimes against us but much more often in our favor. Since the charges may fall back on the server, we are more comfortable bringing it to attention. Then if it's a true comp, we can show our gratitude.

                                                                1. re: mangeur

                                                                  To each his/her own - to be fair, I don't really "get" where trueblu is coming from as 99% of the time in my commentary it is explicitly stated that the server suggested something was comped, compliments of the chef, or "on the house."

                                                                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                  1. re: uhockey

                                                                    I wasn't 'coming' from anywhere in particular (though writing this from Rome). Similarly to mangeur, I find that these discrepancies are usually, but not always intentional, so I tend to point them out. With regards to CLJ and the place they didn't charge for your wine, from your blog post it wasn't 100% clear that they mentioned that the reduced price was intentional -- e.g. you mentioned 'not sure why they didn't charge for wine'. Hence my question.

                                                                    However, I was curious as to whether the potential advertising of a blog post might influence the restaurant one way or another. Thanks for clearing that up.

                                                                    tb

                                                                    1. re: trueblu

                                                                      I think it is important to point out that uhockey was heavily comped at CLJ. The ALC items sound like it would cost much more than the prix fixe they charged him for. The clarification is so people don't go to CLJ expecting to order the way he did and only walk away with a 84 euro tab. I hold no such delusions for my tab being under 100 euro tomorrow night.

                                                                      1. re: Porthos

                                                                        Maybe that's what happened to uhockey, maybe not.
                                                                        As I have said before, even before I went with CLJ's house alpha hound and was treated royally, I had always eaten well and been very well treated there.
                                                                        And more than once we checked the bill thinking the house must have forgotten to charge us for a bottle. Or two. We were too drunk to do the math and laughed it off.

                                                                        1. re: Parigi

                                                                          Well, it's simple math. How much does the lamb shoulder and riz au lait cost at CLJ? If it cost more than 42 euro, then he was comped. Will post my ALC tab upon my return for comparison.

                                                                          1. re: Porthos

                                                                            You make it sound so simple. We should have gone out, walked around to clear my drunk head, admired the whatever tower, come back and asked Jégo why he seemed to keep undercharging us.

                                                                            1. re: Parigi

                                                                              Why is not relevant. Maybe you're regulars, maybe you eat with gusto, maybe your perfume is enchanting, maybe the weather was particularly nice that day...the point is, not everyone should expect to be comped or undercharged if they go to CLJ (unless of course the policy IS to undercharge and comp all patrons). Pricing for you and uhockey may be a bit atypical. You and uhockey were/are treated magnficently at CLJ. But if someone isn't comped in a similar fashion, doesn't mean that they were treated ill either.

                                                                              1. re: Porthos

                                                                                "if someone isn't comped in a similar fashion, doesn't mean that they were treated ill either."

                                                                                Aaaargh ! That's what I thought I was saying.

                                                                                1. re: Parigi

                                                                                  Your prose is too elegant for me Parigi. Totally missed that part!

                                                                                2. re: Porthos

                                                                                  The "lamb" which I misinterpreted as chop was listed at $48EU. The blood sausage dish was $24EU.

                                                                                  The Egg, the Rice Pudding, the Scallops, and the Bread Pudding are part of the standard menu prix fixe. ($42EU for 3 courses.)

                                                                                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                                  1. re: uhockey

                                                                                    I'm sold. Blood sausage, seafood, tripe dish to start it is then.

                                                                                    Any other roast meats on the ALC menu aside from the lamb?

                                                                                    Btw, you don't need to justify being comped. It don't think your integrity is being questioned here.

                                                                                    I'll just relate to you my experience. About 6-7 years ago, after having gone to A16 in SF a few times previously, I was comped dessert and the manager came to introduce herself. I was very puzzled by the interaction because nothing like this occurred the first 4 times. Later, I realized that she must have thought that I was a reviewer (before the days of bloggers) because I was taking multiple photos of the pizza. Maybe you were comped because you were taking photos. Maybe you were comped for being a charming American. It doesn't matter. Since it is such an informative post that will no doubt be bookmarked and help guide many more visitors to CLJ, I thought it was important to point out that pricing for you may have been atypical and certain things gratis for you that others may have to pay for.

                                                                                    1. re: Porthos

                                                                                      There were roasted sweetbreads and a pigeon dish, if my memory serves. There were a total of 10 specials - 2 Charcuterie, 4 apps, 4 mains.

                                                                                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                              2. re: Porthos

                                                                                Had a wonderful meal at CLJ. Unfortunately the homard bleu and the pigeon were sold out. We went with the the prix fixe and supplemented with another lobster entree off the blackboard. We had:

                                                                                -lobster wrapped in headcheese, roasted with veal jus with ramps, herbs, and mandarin orange slices. Amazing.
                                                                                -appetizer 1: asparagus. Green and white with a little bit of braised veal. Excellent. Loving asparaus in season here.
                                                                                -appetizer 2: clams, scallop roe, vegetable sautee over slices of rare wagyu beef. Beef was amazing. Would have preferred it a touch thinner sliced but delicious nevertheless.
                                                                                -entree 1: braised veal shoulder with fried kidney. First time having kidney. Very glad it was here.
                                                                                -entree 2: roasted veal saddle. Roasted so perfectly that the fat on the veal tasted like foie. Couldn't stop eating the fat it was so good.
                                                                                -dessert 1: camembert lait cru. Excellent. Spicy even.
                                                                                -dessert 2: riz au lait. It is one of the best desserts ever made by man. We were stuffed at this point but could...not...stop...

                                                                                Had an excellent very reasonable bottle of savigny-les-beaune premier cru at 65 euro. Total tab was 42 euro x 2 plus 38 euro for the lobster supplement plus the wine and worth every bit.

                                                                                1. re: Porthos

                                                                                  What time did you dine? Seems like specials go FAST there.

                                                                                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                            2. re: Porthos

                                                                              The first time l went to CLJ, long before meeting Julot, l was longingly looking at a plate of scallops belonging to my beautiful neighbor at the next table. In a matter of moments the waiter with a wink presented me a comp of the same scallops,they do it often and with love. In my case, regardless of the restaurant, it is warmly appreciated, and it makes me feel as though l am worthy of the passion of the restaurant in question, as l try to bring along my own passion to the place.

                                                                              1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                                                If it makes anyone feel any more secure, when leaving CLAJ after my last dinner there, I thanked our waiter and told him that we were sent by Julot, giving his real name. He thought for a while and finally said sorry, that he didn't recall a client by that name. So it's not always Julot's magic that gets a table or an extra..... ;)

                                                                            3. re: trueblu

                                                                              Again, no restaurant is told of the blog prior or after. It is a personal site with no monitization that I keep for myself, friends, and those who choose to read.

                                                                              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                              1. re: uhockey

                                                                                I think what Porthos is saying is this, "Since you were taking photographs, and it was 'simply' a party of 2 ( a common arrangement for Food Critics), they then assumed that you were 'somebody' and wanted to make sure that you got the best treatment". (Or, they did not want to take the chance that you were not a critic.)

                                                                                If that was the case, good for you. Of, course, if that was not the case, well, good for you. I think that most of us feel that everyone should get the same treatment, so, again, good.

                                                                                1. re: DougRisk

                                                                                  If restaurateurs gave 'best treatment' to everybody in the dining room who's taking photographs, they soon couldn't handle it.
                                                                                  Also, most food critics I know do not take photographs at all.

                                                                                  I see there's a lot of misunderstanding regarding the system of freebies for some chefs. Of course, except for some rare chefs who make it a principle never to comp anyone at all, comping here and there is part of the usual promo system for all of them, mostly with the press. But actually much of it depends on the chef's temper and appreciation of clientele. Some are fiery characters with a true passion for giving and sharing - and Stéphane Jégo is one of those - and his motivation for comping to some extent a previously unknown client may perfectly be that he senses the person's genuine love and knowledge of good food, or catches a glimpse of appreciation in their eye that he likes. Or anything even more immaterial than that.

                                                                                  1. re: Ptipois

                                                                                    Or because Julot booked the table...?

                                                                                    But it does seem uhockey has a lot of luck, free wine at Le Chateaubriand, charged the menu price for ALC Chez L'Ami Jean, and comped cheese at Le Cinq. I tend to fess up if items are not on the bill and offer to pay unless I am told explicitly they are comped like the cheese at Le Cinq.

                                                                                    1. re: PhilD

                                                                                      No, I am specifically referring to Stéphane's ability to feel sympathy for someone he hasn't met before if he finds an echo of his own passion for cooking in that person.
                                                                                      Not to what happens when Julot books a table, which is a different matter. Could you not see the difference or are you trying to get somewhere by associating the two?

                                                                                      As for Uhockey, I haven't had the pleasure of meeting him yet, have no idea on the source of his "luck", and strongly believe that none of that is any of my business, which also applies to the amount and details of his restaurant checks. But I can sense that he is an enthusiastic and discerning diner, truly interested in food, and eager to communicate about it; and that chefs who are crazy about their job tend to vibrate very positively to that kind of person. And if he was offered things here there and everywhere, without knowing any other details I think that is quite enough to explain it.

                                                                                      Giving is not only a form of promotion for French restaurateurs and chefs; for some of them it is also a form of communication. And it can also be an expression of joy. Sometimes the way you express your appreciation of something can lead to a shower of goodness. It can be surprising for the receiver but it is less so when you know the psychology of many chefs and the act of giving and creating harmony which is at the root of their vocation.

                                                                                        1. re: Ptipois

                                                                                          I don't disagree with your sentiments expressed here -- and I for one don't think all diners need be treated the same. Often when one, even on a first encounter engages with the kitchen of a great restaurant, there are little touches that make the whole thing special. However, being given an extra bite here, or the cheese at Le Cinq are what I would class into this category. Not being charged for a wine (happens a lot to regulars) or being charged prix fixe for ALC are not really expressions of passion or love for food -- they are appreciation of another sort. I've often only witnessed this or experienced it myself at places where one is a regular, or to make up for some fault. E.g. once I was dining at the savoy grill, ordered the sweetbreads which were just far, far too salty, so I didn't eat them. At first, the waiters thought I just didn't want to eat offal, but when they realised the mistake, my dining companion and I were treated like old friends and loyal patrons (on a first visit) for the rest of the evening with lots of free food, dessert etc etc and just being fussed over. I guess it helped that we were in our early/mid-twenties at the time, and the rest of the dining room was 50+. Made a wonderfully memorable evening.

                                                                                          Uhockey need not divulge how much he paid for his meals, but he chose to do so. Hence the questions that have arisen. I don't feel the tone has been accusatory, merely curious.

                                                                                          tb

                                                                                          1. re: trueblu

                                                                                            "Not being charged for a wine (happens a lot to regulars) or being charged prix fixe for ALC are not really expressions of passion or love for food -- they are appreciation of another sort. "

                                                                                            Here are two recent experiences in Paris that might show that the Parisian restaurant owners and managers do this type of activity more than you might think. At Le Cinq about a week ago, l requested a dessert wine from a producer and vineyard l was well familiar with, who in fact l had visited. The sommelier and l discussed the vintner at length and how nice and talented and whatever the man was. The wine, however, did not appear. Eventually the sommelier came out and told me he was out of that particular vineyard and apologised profusely, then presented the same vintner's wine from a different location and insisted there would be no charge for it. This was a 85 euro wine. Also after saying l wished cheese instead of dessert, they insisted l have both with no charge and then to top everything, we had lusted after ALC serving of lamb shoulder not on the inexpensive prix fixe menu that we had ordered. Shortly afterwards, a huge plateful of the shoulder arrived. And people wonder why l return.
                                                                                            At a small restaurant this week where l had never been, l arrived early, was shown to my table to wait for my companion and because l was early a bottle of wine was left on the table for me as an aperitif, how nice and totally unexpected elsewhere, but it seems in Paris it happens more than not.

                                                                                            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                                                              OK, we're in danger of veering OT with this, and I for one, want to hear more about uh's dining in Paris (and I'll be arriving myself tomorrow). However, the first anecdote that you recount is exactly the type of restoration for some minor problem (not a fault) that a good restauranteur would engage in -- you ordered something, it wasn't available, but only found out after a delay, then you become best of friends and lots of freebies.

                                                                                              I'm not a regular at many places, but even I have been not been charged for several hundred $ worth of stuff (usually wine that my friends drank!), and a v. good friend, who is a regular at several 'top' places in London seems to only pay for about 1/2 of his wine consumption, but these are not typical of first timers. Being given an extra portion or bite is. At least that's my opinion, but am happy to be wrong in the context of paris, the dining scene of which I'm not that familiar with.

                                                                                              Now, let's get back to vicariously living (in my case) through uhockey's palate!

                                                                                              tb

                                                                                              1. re: trueblu

                                                                                                It's not terribly off topic - and I agree with all of the above - however allowing my sister to have cheese when I was happened at every restaurant where we ordered seperate menus in Paris and has happened frequently in the US - the markup on cheese is extensive and I figure they do this so one person isn't just sitting there bored.

                                                                                                As to the others - all I know is that both the server and the chef at L'Ami Jean were impressed by how much we (or, rather, I) managed to eat - that may have had something to do with it. Who knows?

                                                                                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                                                1. re: trueblu

                                                                                                  DCM was not off topic. Indeed there isn't an insidious conspiracy behind every dish offered or comped.

                                                                                                  1. re: Parigi

                                                                                                    err...I was referring to myself since I had brought the issue up, and also responded to DCM. I rather agree to the lack of conspiracy for comped dishes, but feel there does seem to be rather a cliquey feel to 'outsiders' asking questions?!

                                                                                                    tb

                                                                                                    1. re: trueblu

                                                                                                      Freebie or no freebie who really cares and lucky uhockey. Now I can't wait for his post on Pierre Gagnaire as his reports are excellent and of great value to those of us who travel long distances to enjoy the pleasures of the City of Light.

                                                                      2. Hi uhockey. was wondering if maybe you could make a post on the details of hotel and travel arrangements and costs associated or if there is already something like that maybe you could direct me to it. I am turning 30 this summer and would love to do what youve done in paris.

                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                        1. re: muushupork

                                                                          I travel cheaply, and stay cheaper. :-)

                                                                          It is not relevant to the discussion of food. Suffice it to say I choose to spend my money on the experience of the city - not the accomidations I'll be spending as little time as possible in.

                                                                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                          1. re: uhockey

                                                                            agree. if they are clean and quiet all hotel rooms look exactly the same when one is asleep.

                                                                            1. re: jock

                                                                              I'd not stay in the places I do if I were on my honeymoon - but if I'm spending 5-6 hours a day there with my sister or solo, 95% of that time sleeping, then all I need is a bed, a bathroom, a shower, and protection from the elements. The quiet part is optional - I've gone through medical school, internship, and residency call rooms.....I assure you only the worst hostle could be worse.

                                                                              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                        2. Pierre Gagnaire:

                                                                          Full text below, blog link will follow at http://uhockey.blogspot.com (currently blogspot messed up and not allowing me to post.

                                                                          )

                                                                          …save for the few things that can be strictly qualified objectively it is difficult to define something as “the best” and it is nearly impossible to designate perfection; even in the smallest of things there are simply too many variables involved. With two excellent days (and four excellent meals) in Paris behind us and having spent a lovely day at Versailles it was Sunday evening when my sister decided to turn in early while I met a friend for dinner at Pierre Gagnaire, 6 Rue Balzac. Having admired Chef Gagnaire’s approach from afar even prior to my visit to his “Twist” Las Vegas, le Coeur had been my number one worldwide destination restaurant for nearly two years and with my previous comments noted I can only say that what I’m about to describe was as close to culinary perfection as I have yet to experience.

                                                                          Having made the reservation myself through the entirely French website, first for one and then augmenting it to include my friend I will first note that Pierre Gagnaire is not an easy reservation – as a matter of fact it functions much like an American restaurant in requiring diners to arrange the reservation one-month-to-the-date in advance and to secure the reservation with a credit card, something that no other reservation in the city requested. With this small detail noted, much like Le Cinq, from the first moment of contact with the restaurant I had no doubts of their service – questions were answered, an English menu e-mailed (and re-sent without request a week before my departure to highlight the Early Spring season,) and when it was time to confirm it was they who made the call.

                                                                          Arriving moments early for our 7:30 reservation just steps off the Champs-Elysées I greeted my friend in the street and moments later we climbed the stairs of the hotel where the doors of the restaurant were opened by a young male host who took my bag and led us to a the black lacquered hostess stand where our reservation was confirmed – as the second pair to arrive we were quickly led to an enormous two top in the upper level of the restaurant and asked if the seat was okay we assented. Within moments our server, by far the most whimsical and personable of any of my servers in Paris, would greet us and present the menu, wine list, and water – still for myself and with bubbles for my friend.

                                                                          Having discussed the menu prior to our arrival the original plan was for one of us to order the Spring Tasting while the other went a la carte, but with the entirely new menu unveiled to my friend for the first time the decision was made for us both to do the tasting with one alteration – different desserts for each. Entirely agreeable to this option and with wine selections made it was perhaps 7:45 when our orders were placed and we were left to chat while watching the rapidly filling room – a solemn but stylish area with well spaced tables, grey ceilings, lacquered woods, and white linens lent levity by candles, fresh flowers, rambutan centerpieces, and colorful abstract art.

                                                                          With Chef Gagnaire making his first of three appearances to welcome each guest individually it was perhaps fifteen more minutes before our first course would arrive – a myriad of amuses bouche including Salmon eggs with beef Carpaccio, Pastry stick with Sichuan wasabi, Back fat bacon with hazelnuts, Black rice crackers with oyster sabayon and olive oil, Lettuce with cream of anchovy, Egg white macarons with tuna and blackberry, an almond ginger cookie, and a potato cooked in seaweed. With the eight bites and innumerable tastes and textures clearly intended to arouse all parts of the palate I think the flavors did something more; they rapidly immersed the diner in Gagnaire’s stream of consciousness and set the tone for what was to come.

                                                                          Slowly working my way through the flavors and particularly enjoying the sweet meets savory Macaron and melt in the mouth Carpaccio the next man to arrive would the bread server – perhaps my favorite man in any restaurant and even more so in Paris. With a pair of butters from Bordier – a square of seaweed butter and a salted sweet butter – already present the nightly bread selection included an impossibly crunchy demi-baguette with a perfect crumb, buttery milk bread, black olive toast, and hearty chestnut bread. To be honest I really have no idea how many times the young man stopped by our table, but let’s just be conservative and say four…or eight.

                                                                          Beginning the seasonal tasting menu our server brought a smaller copy of the menu so we could “follow along” and almost like a hymnal the menu contained extensive notes of the melody that would follow. Beginning first, “Green Asparagus de Pertuis with thin round slices of squill fish, square of burrata cheese and cucumber seasoned with lemon mousseline sauce / Black olive infusion with old balsamic vinegar, melted sorrel and dominos of Gruyere cheese from Garde / Cardamom velvety soup with asparagus granite” was served as a troika, all unique, all excellent.

                                                                          Now five for five in receiving asparagus as part of my Parisian dining, this presentation was invariably the most complex of the evening and as we were instructed to “taste each separately and then explore the combinations” that is exactly what we did, each bite a new experience – at times hot and other times chilled, sometimes intense and sometimes a fleeting tone on the palate. As the ingredient list for this and all subsequent dishes was quite thorough I will simply note that while each plate was impressive on its own, the manner in which the mildly acidic olive dish acted to refresh the palate each time I came back to it was astonishing. Serving as the starting point it was this dish that served notice of what Gagnaire would serve us that night – shocking subtlety and superior ingredients in a delicate balance.

                                                                          With our second course Gagnaire would make his second appearance in the dining room – simply walking around with a smile and observing. Described as a new item on the menu, “Grilled thinly sliced sole with broad beans and leek stems, celery and green pepper. Miso liebig and a veil of squid flavored with ink” was another stunner, but this time all on one plate. With snappy vegetables juxtaposed against melting leeks and savory condensed miso the most impressive aspects of this dish were the fish and the cephalopod – the first perhaps half an inch thick topped with crispy skin and the second as thin as a handkerchief, briny, and delicate as pasta. During 95% of other meals this would have been the best course of the night – at Pierre Gagnaire that evening it was perhaps the third.

                                                                          With excellent pacing and dishes arriving at approximately twenty minute intervals the next course would be a revelation – the sort of dish that had both of us wiping our plate clean with bread at the end. Titled “Fresh Morel mushrooms flavored with licorice laid on a bed of vegetables and aromatic herbs. Iced turnip and craterellus mushrooms” there were no tricks in this dish – just flawlessly prepared vegetables, a complex stock, and the very essence of the spring embedded in the earthy morel/mushroom amalgam…an essence that dissipated almost immediately on swallowing as the perfume of licorice, not detectable on the tongue, perfumed the palate.

                                                                          With high praise flowing from our lips and humble thanks from our server the next course would arrive as a duo – on one plate “Thin slices of black grouper seared in brown nut butter, oysters, and capucine leaves with small Palamos King Prawns flavored with amontillado” and on the other “Salt cod ‘brandade’ in a bisque with grated green apple en amertume.” With the dish heavy in protein and having already seen Chef’s careful hand with acid, sweet, and savory this course would focus more on the use of bitter – a technique largely ignored in American cooking. Starting first by layering textures – meaty grouper, creamy oysters, and snappy shrimp it was the bitter drew the lines, working in a manner I’d never expected to add focus – the extra dry amontillado making the shrimp seem sweeter, the peppery nasturtium showing off the smoky tones of the grouper, and the nearly crab-apple tart crisp punctuating the briny cod potage.

                                                                          As our fifth course arrived the clock struck 9:30 and the table lights dimmed while the wall lighting brightened slightly to add a very intimate glow to the already dramatic room. Clearly showing off the quality of his sourcing with more gifts from the sea, “Dog cockles, clams, and razor clams with chanterelles, spinach and parmesan cheese gnocchi in foie gras soup flavored with maniguette” would be a flash back to the morels – light manipulation of unique ingredients in unique combinations. With the briny mussels at the forefront and the piquant undertone of foie gras laying the backdrop it was the gnocchi that lent levity – vegetal pillows proving ample foil to the otherwise savory tones.

                                                                          For our final savory course (or courses, as it were) titled “Thinly sliced duckling des Dombes roasted as a whole, medlar, spring onions, carrots seasoned with cumin; unctuous juice flavored with vintage port” I can only summarize the experience with the comment my dining partner made to Chef Gagnaire at the end of the meal: “Monsieur, I’d rather eat your duck than have sex with the prettiest girl in the world.” Rosy and pink, impossibly lean, charcuterie thin, and advantaged in all ways by the sweet port and medlar – it was the best duck I’ve ever had – so good that the vegetables became extraneous – so good that we joked with the server that there was not enough…and the server and chef were so good that a second round was served on the house.

                                                                          For our cheese course the plate(s) were served composed – four selections on three dishes – one warm, one cold, two room temperature and all with accoutrements. Described at length as “Sorbet of pear, Roquefort cheese, eau-de-vie, segment of Williams Pear with ewe’s yogurt / Shavings of Ossau-Iraty cheese, rougette salad, cordifole and green lentils du Puy / Soft apricot stuffed with goat’s cheese de Ginestarie” I will not purport to be a cheese expert – especially considering the man I was dining with – but I will simply say all were good, particularly the sorbet selection.

                                                                          Bearing in mind our request for alternative desserts the next course would bring Le Grand Dessert de Pierre Gagnaire – a collection of six plates and thirteen selections – for each of us. A succession of two courses, the first four plates and the second two the flavors and textures were too myriad to count, but amongst the five larger servings the first three to arrive were Fraises des Bois, yogurt, curry / Garden Strawberries, Red Pepper and Saffron / Apple with Tonka Bean and Pollen Cracker. Along with this round we also received 8 petit fours ranging from a marzipan cherry stuffed with black currant to a boozy chocolate tube and flavors including licorice, pistachio, mint, pina colada, and fig in between.

                                                                          With the first round finished the second set of desserts to arrive would be the Pave du Chocolate Pierre Gagnaire with Toffee and Coffee Sauce and a cocktail glass of Black Currant, Pomegranate, and Sparkling Wine – both excellent but the Pave more so, its nuances so subtle that each bite was like a whole new tasting of the eight chocolates utilized in its construction.

                                                                          Invariably satisfied at this point our server would return to jokingly ask if there was anything else he could get us – “more duck perhaps?” – prior to informing us “the chef has one last course for you” – in this case the alternative dessert we’d originally requested be served in place of one of the grand desserts. Arriving tall and proud “Bora Vanilla Soufflé, Southern African Golden Raisins / Passion fruit crème and old kirsch / Fraises des bois, shortbread, red pepper confit / white pepper ice cream coated with a Tahaa Vanilla Syrup” was everything I’d hoped – impossibly light, invariably nuanced, golden and sweet – a perfect ending to a perfect meal.

                                                                          With the hour nearing 11:30pm Chef Gagnaire would return to the dining room, again smiling, and this time taking time to pose for pictures, chat with guests and receive his due kudos. Always humble and entirely agreeable and to sign and date menus the Chef seemed quite tickled by my friend’s comment about the duck and thanked us repeatedly for coming to visit before returning to the kitchen. On his heels our server once again returned, he too deserving of substantial thanks, and presented us with our last taste of the evening – monogrammed Milk and Dark Chocolates from a large lacquered box.

                                                                          Paying the bill and paying our thanks again to the service team we made our way to the street and with my experience at Twist reinforced in spades all I felt was happy. Considered by some to be obscure, confusing, and too complicated for his own good my experiences with Chef Gagnaire have been quite the opposite – progressive for sure, but rooted in tradition, complex without boundaries, but smart enough to walk you to the edge without stepping off the cliff. More than that, Pierre Gagnaire is a talented and humble man who knows how to make his guests feel special and happy – that “Christmas Day” feeling from childhood – or perhaps that feeling after a night with the prettiest girl in the world. Walking back to the Champs-Elysées everything seemed just a bit brighter and even now Pierre Gagnaire remains my number one worldwide destination restaurant.

                                                                          10 Replies
                                                                          1. re: uhockey

                                                                            Wonderful,wonderful,wonderful! and the cost? or would that be too impolite to ask.

                                                                            1. re: uhockey

                                                                              Here is the blog link with pictures: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2011/04/p...

                                                                              It was $265EU each - the standard price of his tasting menu - plus whatever my friend paid for his extensively well described wines.

                                                                              1. re: uhockey

                                                                                Bravo again and again. Your last supper - indeed - sounds as though one should commit seppuku after dessert-coffee.

                                                                                1. re: Parigi

                                                                                  ....that would ruin my ability to plan a return trip, but at the same time I'd have gone out with a smile on my face.

                                                                                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                                  1. re: uhockey

                                                                                    Speaking of, curious whether your next trip overseas will be back to France or will you venture to Spain or Italy?

                                                                                    Great reports, as usual!

                                                                                    1. re: ZJY82

                                                                                      I'll definitely be back overseas in 2012 - it is a promise I made to myself last year due to the fact that my job duties will change as of July 1 2012 and with less ability to moonlight travel will likely become more limited ($$$) for a bit.

                                                                                      I'm hesitant on other countries because I can neither read nor speak the language whereas with French the background is there and I read it rather well. On one hand I'd really like to see some of the French countryside (Bras is very high on my list) but I'd also really like to see England and Italy, so - I guess we'll see.

                                                                                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                              2. re: uhockey

                                                                                Everything I expected ! Delightful read, and now I want to go there even more !

                                                                                I don't know if I'll be able to wait for my next year's birthday to go to PG as planned... I think I might have to go to this year's birthday....

                                                                                  1. re: uhockey

                                                                                    "progressive for sure, but rooted in tradition, complex without boundaries, but smart enough to walk you to the edge without stepping off the cliff"

                                                                                    That was my reaction from my lunch there last november.

                                                                                    Another great reviews.

                                                                                    Thanks.

                                                                                    Max.

                                                                                    1. re: uhockey

                                                                                      Just an FYI to those who are interested, our deserts for the lunch special the week of April 18th were the same minus the soufflé. As far as I can tell from the descriptions and pictures on the blog almost exactly the same from the petit fours to the chocolates.

                                                                                      Obviously the rest of the meal wasn't but I thought I'd mention it in case people were interested in the comparison.

                                                                                      You dinner looked delicious and the room seems much more appealing when lit for the evening.

                                                                                    2. The next 5, when I have time, will include:
                                                                                      L'Arpege
                                                                                      Ledoyen
                                                                                      Jean Francois Piege
                                                                                      Cafe Constant
                                                                                      L'Astrance

                                                                                      I'll start a second thread for them to reduce clutter.

                                                                                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: uhockey

                                                                                        Excellent report and awesome pics from your blog. Thanks!