More Paris 3-star help
Sorry if this is a redundant post, but I read a bunch of reviews and I'm having trouble figuring out what to do.
I'm considering doing either two fancy lunches or one fancy dinner when I visit in late January. After reading around, I learned that my options are pretty limited due to the schedules of the top restaurants (I'm in Paris Sunday and Monday). Since this is my first opportunity to dine at the top level in Paris, I'm pretty focused on getting the 3-star experience. My primary objective is cuisine. I don't value ambiance, decor, service, or a wine list anywhere close to how I value food. I'm looking for my first *wow* French cuisine experience.
Based on my research, my options are as follows:
Le Meurice - Lunch or Dinner
Arpege - Lunch or Dinner
Ducasse - Dinner Only
Bristol - Lunch or Dinner
Ledoyen - Dinner Only
Gagnaire - Lunch or Dinner
1) Am I better off doing two lunches (where one has to be Le Bristol due to scheduling), or one dinner? I'm not prepared to drop that kind of money on two dinners, but at the lunch price point it's more palatable.
2) Am I already too late to make reservations for January 22 and 23?
3) And of course, which restaurant/restaurants would you choose for a truly exceptional French Haute Cusine experience?
Thanks for all the input.
We had an outstanding meal at Pierre Gagnaire. I felt like his cuisine was challenging and complex, precisely what I'd expect from a top flight restaurant. We particularly enjoyed the urchin veloute poured over crab and the foie gras terrine with oysters. Both featured tremendous ingredients, and a fascinating interplay between unctuous and bitter flavors that were surprising but really worked. My only complaint was that the waiter's descriptions of the dishes didn't match the menu which didn't match what was on our plates. At first I thought this was a language barrier issue, but I took a look at the French menu and noticed the same thing. This was hardly a big deal though, since the meal really had no misses.
We couldn't get a reservation to Passage 53, so we ended up just doing Bib Gourmands instead. All were very popular with locals and reasonably priced, though the quality was somewhat inconsistent. Some quick hits:
L'Oxalis - The food was good, comfort food, but the flavors were a little boring. For an entree I had a nice boudin wrapped in phyllo dough served with fresh greens and my wife had a pleasant but unremarkable creamy lentil soup. Both of our plats were stewed dishes that were tender, but somewhat lifeless (pork and chicken). It was a decent meal, but not memorable.
Stephane Martin - The fanciest and priciest of the Bibs we visited. The entrees were very good. My wife enjoyed a delicate and frothy cream of mushroom soup while I had a plate of lamb medallions served with a punchy vinaigrette and pickled onions. We also really enjoyed the anchovy spread they served with the bread. Unfortunately the plats were clumsy and poorly prepared. My fish was overcooked and served on a bland bed of turnips and my wife's veal kidneys (rognon de veau, we love offal) were tough and chewy. The chef himself was serving the food and seemed distressed that we didn't enjoy our food.
Auberge Aveyronnaise - We loved the beer hall atmosphere. Lots of energy and earthy country cuisine that hit the spot on a dreery evening. We unfortunately didn't notice the house specialty, aligot, until after we ordered. It's a cheesy potato mash that's served with lots of fanfare (launched into the air) out of large copper pots. My tripe stew was rich and flavorful while my wife enjoyed her aveyronnaise salad complete with duck confit and lots of fried potatoes on top. It was a great experience and a fun neighborhood to walk around in afterward.
Villaret - This was my favorite restaurant of the trip (excluding the much pricier Pierre Gagnaire). The atmosphere was convivial but elegant. We started off with the house specialty terrine which was a generous portion and well prepared. For a plat I had the lamb tongue while my wife had the queue de boeuf. Both were tender yet rich and satisfying.
It was interesting to see the range amongst the Bib Gourmands. On the surface they were exactly the types of places I was looking for. Pretty far from the city center, popular with locals, featured quality ingredients, and all reasonably priced. Even though I didn't enjoy all the food equally, they were all the types of places I would have gladly selected if I were just walking around the neighborhood looking for somewhere good to eat.
Some other similarities I noticed were that the portions were pretty generous. We found ourselves quite full after an entree and a plat in all cases, and the one time the menu didn't offer a dessertless option (Stephane Martin), we felt quite stuffed.
All the restaurants offered a fixed menu that featured a plat and an entree for under 30 euros. When compared to the a la carte options, the fixed price option always stood out as a much better value, even though I think I would have been happier splitting a couple entrees and a single plat. We never did that though because it would have ended up costing us more for probably less food. Also, 80% of the restaurant patrons around us were ordering from the fixed menu (if not more), so it seems that's the way to go.
In the past I've found the service in Paris to be brusque, often bordering on rude or completely apathetic. On this trip, we ventured well out of the tourist area and found the service to be much warmer and engaging. However, the service was pretty slow, at least by American standards. At first I figured this was just European pacing and accepted that the French prefer to dine at a more leisurely place, however I came to realize that all the restaurants we visited are staffed by one or two total waitstaff. The waiters were definitely hustling back and forth to the kitchen and were always quick with the bill once we asked for it. It makes sense that waiters can make a living wage in Paris since so many restaurants are only employing one waiter per shift.
It was a wonderful trip and I look forward to returning to Paris.
1) You're better off doing two lunches instead of one dinner but not if one of them is Bristol because their lunch menu is not good compared to their usual food. Same with Meurice. (btw, how can you go to Ducasse on a sunday or a monday?)
2) No -- maybe for Meurice or Ducasse, but no, especially for lunch.
3) Ledoyen and Gagnaire are definitely the top in that list, in my opinion. L'Arpège is definitely the kind of place where one may have the best meal of their life be but there is a element of randomness.
Ledoyen is operating on a level of perfection which I find currently unparalleled in Paris, and Gagnaire has that way of redefining what food is. Funnily enough, it is the former that uses molecular techniques at the service of a very traditional vision of dining, while the latter uses traditional cooking in a revolutionary manner.
I haven't been to Paris for a few years, but I had a shocker at Gagnaire, yet every Le Cinq visit has been stellar. Admittedly, my last visit was the final months of Legendre, but how it had lost a star was beyond me. I think, as Souphie kind of points out, being a hotel it has to open every service, every day, and this can effect consistency.
I think Meurice is an incredible experience. The Louis XIV dining room, married with the entirely bespoke Philip Stark design is unbelievable. And that's even before you factor the food. A reputable friend, who's in the industry went recently, along with visiting many other three stars, and thought it a different league. I'll be heading back there in February - fingers crossed!
My recent lunch experience at Le Meurice was, as Souphie said, less than stellar. The room is gorgeous and the service is excellent; but the food was, the least impressive of any lunch I have had at a two star or three star. The amuses were very nice, and one of the desserts was excellent, but the main course was a bland, boneless, skinless breast of chicken with mustard sauce; plain, boring, risk-free, and tasteless.
This will be a partial answer as l have only been to 4 of your choices. Based on that l would do a lunch at Ledoyen, as while all else there may be less than stellar, the food is fabulous. l would also do Gagnaire for dinner. Had a long luxurious time there and a truly inspired meal. Only downside is you have to do a back to back as Ledoyen is closed Sunday, thus dinner at Gagnaire Sun evening, and Ledoyen lunch Monday. Gagnaire is not open for lunch Sunday regardless.
You are not too late for res IMVHO, but for Gagnaire may be getting close, so reserve now, you can always cancel.