Dispatch from our September stay in Paris - the Wunderkinds, the wine bars, the 3-star, the lunch spots and Others
With all the great information I got from this board for our recent 10 day trip to Paris, it’s only fair I should return the favor with some reviews of spots we hit.
The Wunderkinds – I’m grouping our visits to spots with young, chef-driven places under this moniker. These restaurants are run by chefs that are probably younger than 30 or 35 years old and are turning the 3-star Michelin model of fine dining on its head. This was a trip to remember Paris at this point in time, with these young chefs branching out on their own what seems less regard for the decades-old establishment.
Spring: This was the first of the many meals at “wunderkind” restaurants. Although I’d reserved 30 days to the day in advance we somehow got the worst table in the basement area of the restaurant so my displeasure may possibly taint this quick review. The restaurant just seemed too narcissistic for such a young place. Pacing was awful as some dishes tailgated each other while others took eons to arrive. Overall the quality of the food was good, but the place just seemed too precious for its own good. Winning dishes included a mushroom/cepes ravioli and rustic roasted figs. Dish of trout(s) which included a fried head seemed over the top.
Saturne: Next meal of the “wunderkinds” was a much better and more refined experience than Spring, even though everyone on the staff was probably in their mid-20’s. Pacing was great and the innovativeness and complexity of the dishes were a step beyond spring. Most excellent were the gazpacho with monkfish, a beautiful dish of pumpkin with lobster coral and a dessert of sorrel, blackberry and cottage cheese. Although Saturne is described as a wine bar, and the wine list was much more extensive than other “wunderkind” places, it’s definitely more a restaurant with stellar, reasonable wine list.
Le Chateaubriand: Wunderkind resto #3 and oh boy, again with the “even though you were probably the first to reserve you’re getting the table by the kitchen door” scenario. This time I didn’t put up with it and pointed to a more favorable table which we immediately took over. I completely understand Inaki Aizpitarte’s mission to deliver diners high quality ingredients and techniques at a more than fair price, but given the higher and higher cost of ingredients in Paris, it was apparent that dishes may have suffered. Our entrée of ceviche was a tiny shot of marinating liquid in which was hidden a morsel of an unannounced fish. While Parisians sitting around us oohed and awed about the ceviche, coming from Miami where you can trip over good ceviche while walking to your bathroom, this was nowhere near what a ceviche should be. This downer was made up for with a single grilled shrimp with pumpkin and sea salt. I could have had these for a meal and been satisfied as the subsequent dishes of pickled mackerel with seaweed (tasty) and a thin bouillabaisse with a surprise, unnecessary grape (worst dish of the night) followed. Calamar with thin sliced potatoes followed by a dish of beets were much more successful. Lastly, chicken with freeze-dried raspberries worked as the raspberries added a bit of sourness to the salty, crispy chicken. Chocolate with mushrooms for dessert (meh) ended the meal. Again, for keeping the prices as low as he does, Aizpitarte does wonders. If he bumped the price up 5 to 10 euros, I can only imagine what would happen.
Septime: Unabashadly my favorite of the “wunderkind” establishments. The best I can describe chef Bertrand Grébaut’s food is elevated bistro. Nothing overly complex: steak tartare covered in a velvety pommes puree, ridiculously tender octopus with tomatoes, crispy skinned snapper with anchovy puree all were executed perfectly. Some reviews malign Septime for skimpy portions for the price but I can’t see how anyone could eat our 5 courses and still be hungry. Add to this a casual vibe, Nordic farmhouse décor and a great staff and that’s why Septime was a winner for us.
Le Dauphin: Le Chateubriand’s tapas-centric sister restaurant. Whereas Le Chateaubriand focused on value, Le Dauphine not so much. The menu is split into meats, vegetables, seafood and charcuterie and you’re encouraged to order as much as you can the first time around. Ignore this and take your time getting through the menu. Seafood dishes were the best, including a “tandoori” octopus and “they were alive 5 minutes ago” baby shrimp a la plancha with whisky.
L’agape Substance: Last of the wunderkind places. Whereas Guy Savoy was a party, L’agape Substance was a pretentious lounge where everyone was trying to out-cool everyone else. Dishes here are described in one word (carrotte or poulpe). During the meal you’re asked to smell, crunch and bite-then-spit-out various plants, herbs, etc. that complement the dish at hand. Dishes here were as complex as anywhere and there were successes as well as failures. It’s a place that demands seriousness which was evident when our waiter, with whom we had a great rapport, on finding out we had rented a place in Le Marais couldn’t help but tell us about his favorite old Jewish deli/shop but was cut short by the steely eyes of the maître d’. Very little smiling happens at L’agape substance and laughing is probably out of the question, but when it comes to creativity and seriousness the place has those in spades.
The Wine Bars – serving great small plates with reasonably priced wines made for some welcome respites for us exchange rate deprived Americans.
Au Passage: Our first meal after my fiancée arrived on a late flight. Extremely casual wine bar with the simplest but very well executed small plates you can imagine. Warm mussels with potatoes, sausage with celery remoulade and a dessert of figs with ricotta and honey were outstanding.
L’avant Comptoir: The place is the size of my kitchen but cranks out tapa-sized dishes that I never could. A boudin noir macaron, tasty brandade and sweet shrimp a la plancha were standouts. The only drawback is the size. Get there before 7:30 if you want to carve out some space (standing room only) without waiting.
The 3-star visit – we had to have at least one.
Guy Savoy: I’d reserved the 110 euro lunch menu in advance and as we were seated we were handed the appropriate menus without missing a beat. So much has been written about the dishes at Guy Savoy that I won’t go into them here. What I want to get across, and which I read on other reviews, is that it is true that dining at Guy Savoy is like you’re at a party at someone’s home. The staff was phenomenal with Chef Savoy making an appearance to welcome us. Other tables didn’t seem to be having as much fun as we were as I think the staff adjusts their serving style to each table. I’m certain the tourists at the table across from us were jealous as they’d give servers dirty looks when they’d depart our table smiling. It was good to see the restaurant before the move to the new space next year. It gives us something to look forward to.
Lunch spots – a varied lot.
Les Cocottes: Went for lunch during a warm Saturday after visiting the Eiffel Tower. Not the best idea as the casseroles were large and filling. I’d recommend if you’re there at a cooler time of year. I had cod with potatoes but the crispy skin wilted after being covered for too long. My fiancee’s Moroccan inspired lamb pastilla was much better. Chocolate tart for dessert was amazing.
Poilane’s Cuisine de Bar: had a couple of quick lunches here and would recommend the formula of salad, tartine, drink and coffee (15 euros I believe) if in St. Germain or Le Marais.
Café des Musees: What can I say, it’s now a complete tourist trap. Great steak frites and staff, but lunch on a Sunday was completely booked so we sat at a bar table near the entrance watching American after Japanese after Russian walk in. Great salad of warm chantrelles though.
Other + tips – just what it means
Pain de Sucre: in the battle of macarons nothing beat our local patisserie’s macaron of beurre sale caramel. It was as addicting as oxygen. We brought back an entire box and I have one left in our fridge and am debating on the perfect moment to eat it. Other pastries including the Baobab were delicious. It’s tucked away in Le Marais and worth seeking out if you’re near the Centre Pompidou.
Where to stay: rent an apartment…in any neighborhood…as big or small as you need. We rented a studio and Le Marais and the ability to buy meats and produce at local markets to make yourself was priceless. Our rained out trip to the Bastille market produced a memorable meal of tiny mussels from St. Michele made with bacon from the butcher stand, langoustines a la plancha, salad and a cheese platter cornered by raw milk tome de Savoie and Comte along with St. Marcelin. The following Sunday we went two blocks down to Rue Rambuteau where we had a produce shop, butcher, fromagerie, fish monger and patisserie (Pain de Sucre) which made getting ingredients for Sunday dinner easy.
Thanks to all posters and respondents on this Board. You were a great help and integral to a great trip.