Paying it forward - short reviews of LTDA, Pierre Gagnaire, L'Arpège, Michel Rostang, Taillevent, L'entrecote, L'Atelier Maitre Albert, L'ami Louis, Etoile Joel Robuchon
Hi everyone. I have been a lurker here for a while - and after doing so much research and reading about all the delightful recommendations, I have decided to "pay back" so to speak, and write about the 'food tour' that I did with my wife over 10 days. It was an amazing experience - and certainly a humbling one (well definitely made my wallet lighter) - will jump straight in and talk about these restaurants relying on memory rather than extensive notes... I will also not discuss too much about each course that I had (not having taken many photos and also a lot of the food has blurred after suffering from caloric overdose almost everyday) moreover, I do not think I can do the food justice. I decided against splitting up the topic and I hope that it is not too long (and tiresome) for everyone to read.
La Tour D'argent - landed on a saturday morning and after a couple of hours of rest, decided to head out to LTDA for my first meal having heard a lot about the restaurant and their duck. Duly seated (last seating at 1.30pm) and had a great view of the restaurant. It was bustling and certainly packed to the brim with families and dare I say it, tourists. We had the lunch fixed menu (at a pretty good price) and we were off. I really loved their wine list. It is the size of a telephone book and it is incredibly intimidating. You can probably spend days, just examining the tome and for all that, prices are surprisingly affordable, and for some reason, as a general observation, I find bordeaux prices to be very marked up, whilst prices of red and white burgundy to be very decent. I settled on a 2000 grand cru Chablis from Raveneau, which was singing. Great acidity, good balance. Very enjoyable. Whilst the overall quality of the food was high (the escargots were delightful), I found that they were on the richer side, and perhaps a bit more one-dimensionally. The duck (which came with a nice postcard with the number of the duck on it) was decent, but not something I would come back for. I found it a bit gamey, and not extremely enjoyable. But food aside, LTDA lacked a certain refinement of service - for example, we could not speak french, and having told them that a few times, they still explained to us the dishes in french, which was a little annoying. For me.. LTDA is all about the wine list - the view and perhaps the history (the walls on the side of the lift had ridiculous photos of people who have eaten there).
Pierre Gagnaire - made reservations for sunday dinner (as someone on this board said, Pierre Gagnaire is the king of sunday dinners) and off we went. This was an epic meal - we had the tasting menu which consists of something like 20 over little dishes of mindblowing food that changed my view of how food should be like. There is something about PG's restaurant that feels like a temple. Everyone is very serious (including our server) and I constantly feel as if I am in a place of serious business - as if to say "respect the food". Food is taken to a new level - food is not food - but more like a play in 20 acts, unfolding constantly to new heights - and I never felt comfortable. i can't quite describe it, except to say that at the end of the meal (4 hours later), I felt exhausted, and challenged. Certainly wasn't my favorite restaurant of all time (perhaps I am not that sophisticated) maybe because it was too challenging for me (I felt a little not worthy - and certainly no fault of theirs) but definitely a place to go. Service was impeccable (you really feel like a king) but not 'warm'
L'Arpege - went for monday lunch and had the fixed price menu. Decided to go for the hay smoked chicken which was sublime (Hints of hay without over grassiness). I felt like this was home - perhaps with all the vegetables and was cooked with no pretense. I loved their pumpkin soup with bacon foam (sounds far less than it tastes), and overall an excellent excellent meal. My favorite in Paris; mainly because it challenged my world on how vegetables can be cooked, and as a bonus, not terribly expensive either!
Michel Rostang - Tuesday lunch. By now, you must be wondering how I can stuff myself with so much food without palate fatigue. Basically the premise is simple - one good meal a day, coupled with a lot of walking. I know many posters here recommended pacing, and here I must say that it is extremely good advise. I did not pace as well as I could (after Taillevent on Wednesday, I was exhausted and began to yearn for something 'simple'), and certainly I suffered from 2 states - either very hungry, or very full, which is definitely not healthy. In anycase - I couldn't remember much of the food at Michel Rostang - but certainly I would suggest that one should order half portions here. Their portions were huge! I had a great seat overlooking the kitchen (looking at Mr Rostang - still looking so energetic in the kitchen despite being old), and had a look at their wine cellar (in the basement). They have an epic cellar (not as intimidating as LTDA), with some really old grail wines. I ordered a 91 chablis for an apperitif and d'yquem by the glass (which was very decently priced) for desert. What I really like about Michel Rostang is their generosity. Their sommelier for example, served the d'yquem out of a fresh new bottle. Portions were immense. Very hearty / rich food that made me so full that I swore not to eat at anymore restaurants again.
Taillevent - Wednesday dinner. Having had more than 24 hours to recuperate; we proceeded to another old establishment - Taillevent. Taillevent is a beautiful restaurant; finely decorated, packed seating (I was not seated on the main hall, but the backroom). Again, another fine wine cellar. I was simply amazed at how cheap their wines were - I ordered a grand cru musigny which was selling at 30% of the market value!!! Taillevent's food was quite straightforward (I had the dinner tasting menu - deciding to skip the truffles), but very delightful.. and I felt really like a king here. The service was absolutely amazing, with me mentioning that I did not like the artichoke; they removed the artichoke from all my dishes. I had fun here, even though I expected this to be quite a staid environment, with the server constantly teasing whether I was full etc. Taillevent feels like an old friend - warm, comforting. I would definitely be back.
Having had a few restaurants in succession, I decided to check out L'entrecote on Thursday (the one at rue marbeauf). Nothing too difficult - and it was more like comfort food. Small dish of beef and fries.. after you finish the dish, the server (a wonderful lady) will come and give you a new dish of beef and fries. Nothing too sophisticated, and feeling warm and happy, we were ready for the assault to find the best poulot roti in France.
As my concierge could only secure l'ami louis for Saturday dinner, I decided to check out Atelier Maitre Albert for lunch on Friday. Very modern; simple food (menu off a chalkboard) - had a chicken liver salad and the chicken for main. They served the chicken thighs - great firmness, excellent texture. The jus of the chicken was really concentrated, which added to the balance of the dish. Certainly not cardboard tasting. Skipped dessert (by now, we were eating as little as possible).
L'ami Louis - after having an extremely light lunch at Breizh cafe (oysters and crepes), we were all eagerly waiting for dinner at l'ami louis (yes, having read the great debates on the board, read and re-read AA Gill's article etc). Turned up at 10.30pm, and amazingly still packed. Guy with white suit walks over, snorts out "you have a reservation?" and then proceeded to place me on a table near the back. Let me just say this first. I really really enjoyed l'ami louis. I think back about a memorable experience in Paris, and I smile when I think about this place. Yes the restaurant looked pretty beat up, and yes the servers did this "throw the jacket onto the top" shtick, but it did not feel very touristy to me (everyone there spoke french, other than a japanese couple who knew one of the burly white jacketed men). Service was not as bad as I thought it would be, and for all that is said and done, the escargots and chicken was amazing. I steered away from the wine menu (ordered coke instead - thinking that the servers must have sneered at me - but they didn't). Now the chicken. It is very juicy - very firm. It was a lot more flavorful than a normal chicken, and certainly worth every euro. Walked out with a smile and probably paid the least amount of money in the restaurant (spied some tables drinking some crazy first growth bordeaux).
Sunday dinner - final day. I told my wife that Sundays were typically not a good day for dining, and that perhaps we should eat something simple. My wife suggested that we could perhaps walk down the champs-elysee and see if there was anything to nibble. Ended up at Etoile Joel Robuchon. Ironic. Pretty light food and I was really happy at Etoile (Suga was there that night). Had the most amazing calamari (which had the texture of fish!?), and I think a wonderful end to the crazy food tour.
Alright, will answer any questions (if any) and many apologies for writing such a long post and at the same not being able to do justice to some of the restaurants. Thanks to chowhound France board once again!
Thanks, enjoyed your writing.. Regarding Gagnaire, did you go for the Esprit PG menu ? What was the cost of this tasting menu ? Sounds like an interesting option for Sunday evening, and i wonder how it may be for a lunch.. Altough i promised myself a diet from starred places this time "-)
If you recall what was the price of the Grand Cru Raveneau at LTDA ? l get it at Le Cinq for @ 140 and at Le Villaret for @ 85. L'Ami Louis , on their wine list have a vendage tardive gewurtztraminer in half or whole 52/104 euros that stopped the show last time through, even had a Morgan for @ 45 euros per bottle, thus you can get wine there for a decent price, easy no, possible yes. When l had the 'special' lunch at L'Arpege last year, they let us sit untouched for 25 minutes and never served us the protein on the menu, plus no tomato dessert. l somewhat agree with your opinion of Gagnaire, rigerous and less fun than hoped. Some of the food was otherworldly though. Thanks for your report.
Oh yes, the GC (I forgot which plot) Raveneau was 130.. Some markup, but not obscenely so. Interestingly extremely old vintages are amazing value - for example, a 61 La Chapelle at Rostang is about 9000+, which is extremely good value and definitely of impeccable provenance. But yes, before going to l'ami louis, i was actually at Les Papilles (which I somehow forgot about writing in my reviews) and drank a full bottle of an aged beaucastel - I definitely overpaid for that bottle, but was too happy to care too much.
For sure there are definitely showstoppers at decent prices - alas - I stuck to coke at l'ami .. but having said that, they charged me 22 for 2 cokes and 1 bottle of water!
Nice report thanks !
I'm not sure I had the same experience at Gagnaire concerning the seriousness of the place. Our servers weren't as familiar as some descriptions of Le Cinq, Guy Savoy, or your description of Taillevent, but they didn't seem too serious. They were pleasantly smiling, and discreet.
I will not comment on the coke as I am ashamed to say I am a recovering addict myself...
Nice report. Agree to most, but…
I was invited to Atelier Maître Albert several times and never liked the food; liked the movie theater-level darkness even less. One thing I always enjoyed though, to the point of asking the waiter for extra portion, - is the saffron rice side-dish. Most restaurants in France serve mediocre rice. The only restaurants where I had good rice were Fogon (but of course) and Atelier MA.