2 weeks in France - week one
Just back from my first trip to France and after having spent many months reading this board, my friend and I managed to dine well every night of our trip. We spent the first week in Paris then divided the second week between a biking trip in the Loire and a few days in Provence (Avignon and Aix). Being on somewhat of a budget, we decided to skip the big Michelin starred places in Paris and also chose to avoid the madness of trying to secure a reservation at Frenchie or Chateaubriand. The other choice we made in advance of our trip was to concentrate our restaurant experiences on dinners as I wanted to spend the days exploring the city. In the interests of full disclosure, I work in a fairly high end restaurant in New York so my views on a restaurant experience definitely look at the whole package rather than just the quality of the food.
On our arrival day we opted for a bread/cheese/wine picnic along the Seine which was the perfect choice as we had both had long travel delays getting to Paris. On day 2 took we started the dining experience in earnest and here are my thoughts:
Caius: This restaurant is not mentioned much on this board but I was thrilled to have found it. Highlights of the meal were the gnocchi starter, pork chop main and the rhubarb dessert. The crowd was a combination of tourists who seemed to have done their restaurant research, a group of French business men entertaining some German clients and a couple of tables who appeared to be regulars. The staff was terrific - our server could not have been more charming. He spoke enough English and I speak enough French that we never had a problem communicating and we even taught him some good American idioms. The experience here reminded me of the importance of good service as he truly made this a special night for us - the food was excellent but it was the service that put it over the top. Total for 2 dinners with aperitifs and a bottle of Burgundy: 165 euros.
Jaja: My friend had gone up to Normandy for the day so we were meeting up for a late dinner (9:30) and wanted to stay close to our apartment in the Marais and we were happy we did. We kept it simple by sharing a zucchini and goat cheese app and then each having a duck confit burger. Dessert was a bit of a bust but didn't impact our overall enjoyment. The crowd seemed to be predominantly local - somewhat loud but definitely energetic and fun vibe to the place. Definitely good to break up the big dining experiences with something like this.
Verjus: The friend I was traveling with had been to Paris 2 years ago and had missed out on going to Hidden Kitchen so we made sure to hit Verjus this time around. To me there was nothing wrong with our evening there but it somehow didn't all add up either. The food was beautifully prepared and plated - highlights were an excellent green gazpacho, a lovely duck breast and a chocolate-peanut butter dessert that was pure heaven. We did the wine pairings and were happy with them as well, particularly a chardonnay from Jura - something I definitely don't see very often at home. Many of the comments I had read in advance complained about the small portion size here and I will say that I had no problems with that. I am a 6' 1", 200 pound American with a good appetite and I left this restaurant fully satisfied with my meal. To me the only problem here is that the whole experience - service, food, lighting, music - doesn't all work together. Perhaps in time that will change and it wasn't truly a major problem, just something I kept noticing. For those who care about these things, the crowd appeared to be almost entirely English speaking as was the crowd in the wine bar downstairs.Total for 2 including wines was 200 euros. Small side note - our server told us that they are hoping to re-start Hidden Kitchen at some point in the future - that might be a more interesting way to experience this great cooking.
Terroir Parisien:Chose this for our Sunday night dinner and very glad to have done so. We sat at the bar and thoroughly enjoyed the high energy feel of the place. We started by sharing a charcuterie plate then each had the justly acclaimed onion soup. I went with the sweetbreads as a main and loved them. My friend opted for a second starter and had the short ribs which seemed to underwhelm her a bit. Desserts were a mixed bag - excellent apple tart but the pots de cremes were, as my friend described them, close to being Snack Pack puddings. Great mix of tourists and locals and as I said, loved feeling like a part of the action by sitting at the bar. Total including a pichet of white and a bottle of red - 135 euros.
Back later with my report on our second week.
Many thanks for reporting back and for adding tone and colour to your opinions. I quite agree that a great dining experience is more than just gastronomic and that service, vibe, etc can contribute just as much to an enjoyable meal as the quality of the cuisine.
And a great list. As a big fan of Caius, I'm delighted to find my appreciation is shared. And you sort of echo my sentiments about Verjus as well. Something not quite gelled there.