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Aug 2, 2011 12:46 PM

Paris 2* and 3* with a vegetarian

My wife and I will be in Paris later this year and plan to try one of the 3 star places. Obviously, the easy choice would be L'Arpege. However, as the trip is for my birthday and I do eat meat/fish, my tastes lean towards Pierre Gagnaire or Ledoyen. My wife doesn't eat any fish or meat of any kind, but dairy and eggs are all fine and on previous trips to Paris, less elaborate places have been able to accomodate her without issue, but we haven't tried to do full tasting menus as we plan to on this trip. We know to note the restriction when making the reservation, but other cities such as London and New York do a better job making it clear that they can accomodate such a request.

Does anyone have any first hand experience of how accomodating the top places (focusing on the 3*, but places like Le Cinq are also under consideration) in Paris are for creating vegetarian menus for guests?

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  1. All of the three stars could prepare a semi-vegetarian, full tasting menu for one. The real question is why would they want to? Maybe souphie could help you organize something at one of the restaurants where he is well known.

    1. If you have major food restrictions and don't eat fish or meat, you obviously don't want to déguster. Why would you still want a dégustation menu?

      5 Replies
      1. re: Parigi

        The issue is that I do want a full degustation as I'll eat anything and want to try whatever the kitchen wants to send out. My wife is equally adventurous in terms of style and openmindedness, but she doesn't eat any fish or meat. My hope is that restaurants of this caliber could accomodate my desire for a full tasting and be able to at minimum put together a 3-course vegetarian meal for my wife if not a menu of equal length as their normal tasting menus.

        I find it interesting is that chefs where I'm from tend to take a vegetarian tasting menu (where I get a meat/fish menu) on and relish the challenge. These restaurants aren't as heralded as the places in Paris and have much less resources, but don't seem to mind the challenge while the 3* seem to prefer to a more factory-like production of a set menu and not be able to adapt and just cook with what's in the kitchen.

        I know it's not an ideal situation for the restaurant, but I've had great success at home and in London with doing dual veggie/meat tasting menus and had hoped that the top places in Paris could do the same (if given proper notice).

        1. re: michaelstl

          Michael - all three stars will have staff who speak good English, ring them up and pose your questions, gauge the response, and choose accordingly.

          On one hand the restaurants are very service orientated and will try to accommodate, but on the other hand they need to maintain the 3 star standards and that means they may not be happy to go "off piste" as your local places despite have big kitchen brigades. It isn't that they don't have lots of chefs who could do this, it is more of a concern that what they produce won't have been honed to perfection - it's not factory like production though.

          So call, discuss and weigh up the responses - remember that L'Arpége does vegetables very, very well, but that doesn't mean it doesn't also do a superb job with meat and fish.

          1. re: PhilD

            PhilD- that is a fair and interesting point, but I'd think 3* ingredients and 3* talent would be sufficient to put forth a menu of vegetarian dishes that the restaurant could stand behind. I appreciate your perspective though and will keep it in mind.

            I definitely plan to contact the restaurants directly and I'm sure everything will work out fine.

          2. re: michaelstl

            I am a vegetarian and have so far experienced tasting menus at two three-stars: l'Arpege and l'Astrance. l'Arpege, as others have observed, is masterful with vegetables, and our lunch there had an excellent balance of tastes and textures. l'Astrance, on the other hand, had a couple of incredibly fantastic dishes, but the others were downright mediocre. Seems like Chef Barbot goes for broke on each dish, and that made the mishits stand out even more during our meal.

            Both restaurants were gracious on the phone while discussing our dietary requests. Service at l'Arpege was warm and friendly; l'Astrance was somewhat aloof and distant. I would return to l'Arpege soon, but have no desire to try l'Astrance again despite a couple of memorable courses.

            I plan to try vegetarian lunch tastings at Pierre Gagnaire and le Cinq during my next visit in October...

            1. re: prashant

              Thank you for your response. This was very helpful. L'Astrance is a place I've been very intrigued by, but hadn't even considered it a possibility as I assume that the places with the one "surprise" menu would have the most difficulty accomodating a meat eater and vegetarian. I may end up at L'Arpege in the end as I'm sure my wife would love it and I know many who hold it in high regard.

              I'd love to hear how your meals at Le Cinq and Pierre Gagnaire turn out.

        2. Paris remains one of the worst western cities to be a vegetarian gourmand. For some reason, Parisian restaurants ignore what most other major cities have long realised: that a significant minority of diners are looking for vegetarian meals. Although the percentage of Parisians who are vegetarian may be low, the guests at ** and *** restaurants are a much more international bunch. Vegetarianism is much more prevalent amongst wealthy English, American and German diners and this is reflected by the availability of full vegetarian degustation menus in top restaurants in those countries.

          This is not to mention places like Napa and Sydney where the light fusion style means that restaurants can deploy their signature approach in the vegetarian dishes often more easily than in the meat options.

          Anyone who finds the concept of vegetarian fine dining difficult to understand would be well advised to check out (moving roughly West to East) French Laundry, Ubuntu, Charlie Trotter's, Del Posto, Per Se, El Bulli (before it closed), Joia, L'Alexandrin, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, The Greenhouse, The Ledbury, Murano, Pied a Terre, Noma, Aqua, Tantra, Quay, Becasse, Sepia, Bilson's (before it closed), Tetsuya's ... and there are many more.

          Maceo in Paris is great. I have also heard good things about Arpege and Pierre Gagnaire (one of which I am planning on checking out later this month) but otherwise it seems uninspiring. I would love to hear from anyone who can tell me otherwise.

          7 Replies
          1. re: gourmet_vegetarian

            Couple of things.

            1-- Too late for the original poster, but most top restaurant will actually arrange brilliant vegetarian meals if given notice. This is definitely the case for Le Cinq, Ledoyen, La Grande Cascade, les Ambassadeurs, etc. L'Arpège does not need notice and places like Gagnaire or Ducasse actually have had vegetable menus when it was fashionable.

            2- Indeed among the simpler restaurants, Macéo's vegetarian menu seem to reign. The one at le Gourmand is good, but not as interesting as Macéo's. Most specialised, vegetarian restaurants, often health/organic centered, are quite terrible with maybe a handful of exceptions.

            3- It's true that vegetarianism is not traditionally part of the food culture in France. It might be because it was historically associated with extreme poverty.

            4- But cultural explanations only take you so far -- how about the very basic fact that vegetable cooking is *very* work intensive and that labor in France is expensive? Even Passard's way with vegetables is very minimalistic, and, while I'm sure there are aesthetic reasons, it can't hurt that it lowers costs. Very high end, French vegetable cooking exists -- Passard probably could not execute it in his small kitchen with his limited cooking staff.

            1. re: souphie

              For future visits to Paris, I'll be sure to keep in mind that most of the top places can put together a vegetarian menu. I ended up going with Le Cinq as I figured they'd be the easiest to deal with in regards to arranging a vegetarian meal for my wife (if it'd' been just me, I'd have gone with Pierre Gagnaire). For what it's worth, our meal at Le Cinq was good, not great. The room and service was magnificent and it was educational in experiencing the sort of palace hotel dining that is uncommon in most cities, but the food will not be a reference point for future meals. It was good, but not memorable.

              I find myself in a complicated position in the discussion of why more restaurants top restaurants in France don't always have a prepared vegetarian menu on hand. Since I eat all kinds of meat/fish, I want to adapt to the French restaurant culture when in France and eat whatever the restaurant serves, but I also want to be considerate of my wife. I appreciate that, according to Souphie, many of the top places can accomodate a vegetarian if given notice, but it's nice, as in cities like London, where I can research places and know that they have a vegetarian menu in place at all times. It makes it easier to evaluate restaurants and plan initeraries so in that regard I agree with the thinking that France/Paris should develop more vegetable centric menus/cooking. However, I also travel to experience new cultures/traditions so one would lose something if the French restaurants and menus adopted too much of an international approach. I've accepted that traveling to France will be more complicated than to the U.K./elsewhere in planning meals that satisfy both what I'm looking for in a restaurant and what my wife wants (when we finally get to Spain, I'm expecting that to be even more difficult).

              1. re: michaelstl

                "(when we finally get to Spain, I'm expecting that to be even more difficult)."

                Long ago, on another discussion board, someone was writing about a trip to Spain where finding suitable food for his vegetarian wife was very difficult.
                "She does not eat any meat", he said to a restaurateur.
                The restaurateur looked really sorry and then said: "Then perhaps some tripe?"

                1. re: Ptipois

                  That's pretty much what I expect to encounter. Thankfully, even though she doesn't eat meat/fish, my wife isn't picky so I'm counting on her to find a way to eat something while we're there.

                2. re: michaelstl

                  You have our sympathy.
                  Is separate dining an option? I dread to imagine your missing all the gastronomic temples in Spain because you have to eat in the handful of vegetarian restaurants there, if such exist.

                  "I agree with the thinking that France/Paris should develop more vegetable centric menus/cooking."

                  I am waiting for the day when vegetarian restaurants develop carnivore-centric dishes to show consideration for considerate people like you, but am not holding breath.

                  1. re: Parigi

                    Thankfully my wife does not give me too hard of a time about eating meat (She often says that she's a vegetarian to counter all of the meat I eat) so I'm not worried about ever being forced to dine at purely vegetarian restaurants. We've worked out a healthy understanding in this regard and, despite it being more work for me to arrange tasting menus in advance at many of the restaurants we go to, it as allowed us to get to know a few chefs we otherwise wouldn't have met.

                    More than likely, if I can't arrange for her to at least have something to eat at restaurants in Spain, I will go on my own. We plan to hit a few of the 3* in San Sebastian on that trip and I'm definitely not letting her restrictions keep me from dining at those restaurants.

                    1. re: michaelstl

                      " 3* in San Sebastian"

                      YES !! (hissed)

            2. I've got a question similar to the OP's. My wife is not a vegetarian, but I am (ovo-lacto, to be precise). Because of our schedule lunch works better for dinner. I'm considering L'Arpege, Le Cinq, Gagnaire. Wondering who is doing the best vegetarian food right now, and what the prices are for lunch?

              1 Reply
              1. re: crimson212

                I'd go to l'Arpège; safer bet for vegatarian at that level.

                As for the prices, it's expensive (for two, I'd say about 300+ euro for lunch)