Quick thoughts on Le Cinq, Le Chateaubriand, Pierre Gagnaire, Les Cocottes, Passage 53
I just got back from a fantastic trip in Paris to celebrate my fifth wedding anniversary. Our meal plan was probably too ambitious but we survived. Originally we planned to also visit La Bigarrade for lunch but problems resulted in us losing our reservation. If you are visiting from out of town, make sure you tell the reservationist exactly how to call you including country code. Telling them your country is not sufficient it would seem...
I will not provide details about every plate of food I at on this trip as I did not take detailed notes and others are better at doing this than I.
Le Cinq (lunch): I know the hotel that hosts Le Cinq is a four star property but I have heard that the George V is not the highest end four star which I believe is called a four star palace. In any case, the hotel and restaurant are beautiful. I don't know why this place does not have three michelins but it probably should. The food was great and actually quite innovative. For some reason I was expecting very traditional fare but it was anything but. The amuses were great, particularly the "lacquered" eel and the foie gras mousse with grapefruit foam. For my main I chose the lamb which was served in 5 different cuts I believe (belly, shoulder, sweetbreads, ribs, maybe loin). My wife had salmon wrapped in pastry which was just ok. Service was excellent and everything else was also very good with a mignardise cart second only to Robuchon's in Vegas.
Le Chateaubriand (dinner): This restaurant has a lot of hype and was my big disappointment for this trip. Food combinations were sometimes baffling. I like innovative food but would never pair cherries with olives and cream. I also did not like a dish of peas and strawberries. If I can contrast this meal with Le Cinq, the pairings were too jarring. At Le Cinq we were given a pre-dessert of goat milk ice cream in olive oil and black olive tapenade. That combination was incredibly well executed and thoroughly enjoyed. Le Chateaubriand's combinations did not lack subtlety. There were some good dishes though. A dish of seared yellow chicken was nice. Another of wild salsify was also very good. Service was excellent despite the massive line that was forming outside for the second non-reservation seating. We were never felt rushed and our servers were cool throughout. Wine was also reasonably priced.
Pierre Gagnaire (dinner): I was perhaps most looking forward to this restaurant. The room was actually quite old fashioned in my opinion but was warm and comfortable. The food (there was lots of it in the menu degustation) however was just a bit disappointing. I don't know what it was but nothing was really exciting. The food combinations were very innovative just as at Le Cinq and Le Chateaubriand but not everything worked for me. It wasn't like at Le Chateaubriand where I found the odd combos did not work, at PG I could see that they worked but they just didn't suit my tastes. The menu was very heavy on seafood which I enjoy but just nothing really stuck out to me in this meal. In all I believe we had something like 8 plates not including the amuses, plus 5 desserts. It was an orgy of food that left me filled beyond any other meal aside from Per Se. Service was unquestionably fantastic and wine was surprisingly affordable but I don't know if I could whole-heartedly recommend PG.
Les Cocottes (lunch): I was in the area of the Eiffel Tower early one morning and decided to make an unplanned trip to Les Cocottes. We arrived just as they opened for lunch and the place was empty (and remained mostly so until we left at 1PM). I ordered the Lamb which was good but quite fatty. Afterwards I regretted my order as I saw many great dishes leave the kitchen. I don't know why I ordered lamb. Although I love lamb, it is not so challenging to prepare and so I can't really use this dish to gauge the restaurant. My wife had potatoes stuffed with pig trotter meat which was really very good. The restaurant is a bit too commercial for my tastes though. Price lists for things like knives, plates, books, and etc. were hung on all the shelves.
Passage 53 (dinner): This restaurant was the biggest surprise of my visit. I believe the food was the best of all the restaurants but the service could be much improved. When we first made our reservation the reservationist informed us that the price of the degustation was 70E. Having researched this restaurant beforehand I knew it was much more but did not press. When we arrived at the restaurant I found out it was actually 110E. Secondly, our reservation was supposed to be at 7:30 PM but when we arrived the door was closed and the blinds shut. Peaking in though I could see a camera crew taking pictures. We waited outside until 7:50 PM for the doors to finally open but those 20 minutes we were very unsure about what to do. Thirdly, I am fluently bilingual in English and French but the servers who were all but one Japanese had some trouble communicating in French. Normally I would not mind but I felt they were unable to provide clear descriptions of the food. Later during my meal the GM and head server Guillaume arrived and service improved. About the food, all I can say is that it was excellent. No dish was bad and the meal was a steal at 110E. The three best dishes of the meal were a sous-vide foie gras with rhubarb soup and strawberries, a rolled pork, and a sous-vide lamb fillet that was practically fork tender. I know this restaurant was recently awarded a second michelin star but I have some reservations unfortunately. The food was definitely of the calibre (perhaps even three stars) but the location and the dining room are not. As mentioned, the service could also be improved given the reservation issues and the late start to our meal. I also truly do not care if the servers do not speak well a language unless they cannot describe such great dishes. Even so, I would definitely recommend Passage 53.
In conclusion, this trip was as much to celebrate my anniversary as it was to experience Michelin starred restaurants where they began. I had heard stories that you have not truly experienced three stars unless you have had them in France, and I can say that this is untrue. The food and service at some of the starred restaurants I have been to in the US (Per Se, Alinea, Robuchon, Le Bernardin, etc.) easily rival and in several cases surpass the French equivalents. Food is global it seems as are service standards. By that same token though, other stories I have heard about the supposed snobbishness of French service is also untrue. Although I do speak French fluently, I do so with an accent but never felt anything but genuine friendliness from all those that served us.
Before ending this post, I have two more opinions to share. La Duree has the best macarons, and Pierre Herme the best mille-feuille (actually deux mille-feuille).
Thank you all CHers for the advice while preparing for this trip!
72 Rue Bonaparte, Paris, Île-de-France 75006, FR
Thanks for your reports - very helpful as I am researching for my coming trip. Quick question about P53, if you don't mind. Is the (I presume 8-course) degustation (at 110E) the only choice available? If there are smaller choices, does the whole table have to indulge in the same menu?
Also regarding dresscode, now that it has doubled in stars, is it strictly a very smart affair or would jeans+smart shirt suffice? Perhaps Nancy S. can also shed some light on this since you had a visit in July? I am hoping to go there in about 3 weeks, I hope I can still snag a reservation! Thanks again in advance.
re: Nancy S.
As Nancy says, the restaurant feels kind of formal. I wore a suit and felt perfectly in place. At the table beside us the gentleman was wearing dark jeans with a dress shirt and he did not necessarily look out of place either. Generally I prefer to be overdressed than underdressed.
The food was great, possibly the best of my trip, so I hope you enjoy it.
Small typo in my description of Le Chateaubriand. Where I wrote that some combos did not lack subtlety, I meant to say the opposite that they were not subtle. The dish of cherries, olives, and cream was the prime example where you would take a bite of sweet cherry followed by exceedingly salty olive. I hesitate to say this but it was those things that point to perhaps the kitchen spending too much time imagining dishes and not enough tasting them.
Thanks for reporting. I'm so glad you liked Passage 53, since I recommend it so often. I'm sorry about the service issues. We always dine there at 9pm and have been served exclusively by Guillaume. I also agree about the Laduree macarons and your comments on Les Cocottes.
75 Champs-Élysées, Paris, Île-de-France 75008, FR