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May 1, 2013 10:12 AM

August trip - Is my bucket list doable / ho hum?

I surprised my then-fiance (now wife!) with a trip to Paris back in May 2011. Some people on this board helped me find great places to eat, and even recommended the spot where I proposed - right on the western point of Isle de Cite in the little park by Pont Neuf, which was perfect and nice and quiet.

So, now we're going back for a few days in August (first week, Saturday - Tues... great dining nights, I know... sigh) and will then be spending a few days in Barcelona (will be leaving CDG on a Tuesday night flight). Back in 2011, I salivated over the following restaurants while planning the trip but was unable to score reservations for any as I was doing things a bit last minute / unprepared:

L'Atelier de Robuchon
Chez Ami Jean

Over time, the mystique in my mind about eating particularly at the first 3 grew and grew so now they're bucket list items of a sort. Now that we're going back, I have the chance (maybe) to try them all, or at least a couple. But I just worry that given all the hype and hoopla that they've become tourist destinations in their own right and the quality has suffered as a result. I've heard mixed reviews of each, and can't tell if this is due to quality issues or the effects of being overhyped (I mean, it is sort of Anthony Bourdain by the numbers to do this itinerary).

I'm sure there are hidden gems that I could swap in, but right now I'm really having a hard time getting over the "magnitude" of the four places in my mind given how long I've viewed these as "must dos." And frankly I don't know when we'll be back.

I guess my question is this: assuming I can get in these places, are they still great? Have any fallen off the mark substantially? My tentative plan would be as follows:

Saturday dinner: Chateaubriand (assuming its even possible to get in... I plan to call a month in advance and cross my fingers) or Ami Jean
Sunday dinner: Robuchon
Monday dinner: Frenchie

And if we score Chateaubriand, we'll do lunch at Ami Jean before our Tuesday night flight out of town. Generally, we plan to do lunches somewhat casually (might try the Reminet set menu, Breizh cafe, but otherwise we'll picnic).

We tell each other we're foodies, but we're clearly not experts. We dine out a lot in Chicago, where we live. She doesn't eat red meat or poultry, I'll eat whatever. We're certainly not wine gurus but we know what we like. We're not looking for anything super formal or dressy - just a good meal, a good bottle of wine, a somewhat casual atmosphere where we can spend time together enjoying great food in the city in which we got engaged before kids come along.

Any thoughts?

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  1. I'm visiting Paris for the first time in a long time this May so while I'm no expert, I've spent a lot of time researching lately and can say that all four spots on your list (maybe Robuchon less so) are still very well received on Chowhound. Of course, there are also other fine restaurants (Spring, Septime, Saturne all seem to be popular on this board, too), but I think that you have a good list there. Also, note that reservations are only taken for the earlier seating at Chateaubriand.

    8 Replies
    1. re: mla19

      I would not agree that Chateaubriand is "well received" here; I would say feelings are mixed. My strong personal opinion, and that of many others who have dined there as well, is that it is highly overrated. Highly.

      My first meal at Chateaubriand was not good at all, and my second try was just slightly less bad.

      Chateaubriand has been masterful with PR and blessed with high praise on restaurant lists. Talk to people who have actually been there, and many many are as disappointed as I was.

      Additionally, Chez L'Ami Jean is crowded, cramped, and loud. The food is very good, and sometimes great, but it does not feel like the great bargain it used to be to me. And if I am not in the mood to be stuffed between two tables occupied by people I may or may not want to share dinner with, there are much more appealing options than this.

      As for Atelier Robuchon, again, I think some are disappointed if they do not know what to expect. The food can be excellent; but if you are sitting at the counter, ordering a few small plates, one can easily drop 100 euros or more, and still be hungry. It is not the coddling Michelin starred experience that some might expect.

      1. re: fishskis

        Thank you for the honest thoughts - this is what I come to this board for.

        I've heard the mixed reviews of Chateaubriand and frankly haven't known what to make of them. On one hand, it seems unlikely to me that a restaurant could be consistently bad and end up so highly praised by so many sources; as such, I've wondered if the negativity was a cynical response to the effusive praise and hype the place has received. On the other hand, it would be awful to go in anticipating the meal of a lifetime ("#19 world's best restaurant on ___ list!") only to be served mediocre food and leave frustrated. After a decent amount of reading up, I'm still not sure. As I said before, my wife and I have a discerning enough palate, but we're not hardcore foodies by any stretch of the imagination. Given that I've had this place on my "to do" list since 2011, and given that I've done this much thinking about it (ha!) I'd like to try to it. If we strike out, or if it's a bad night for the kitchen, ah well - we're still in Paris. We'll definitely be going in with an open mind ready for whatever comes and not expecting the best meal of our lives.

        CAJ is closed in August, so it is off our list (fortunately or unfortunately).

        Understood as well about Atelier. In truth, the things that you mention are actually the reasons we're looking forward to the meal. We're not heavy eaters, and tend to snack on cheese and bread throughout the day when in Paris, so we're not looking for a "large" gut-bursting dinner. And we specifically do not want a fancy, formal tasting menu dinner - we both work a lot, and would just like a few days to downshift and stroll Paris, drinking wine, and enjoying casual but solidly good meals. And Atelier will be one of our "splurge" dinners (we're doing one in Barca as well, haven't settled on a place yet) that will likely be overpriced but still memorable - we're saving up for these outside of our "trip budget". It's a vacation after all, right?

        I will report back and let you know how I felt about each to continue the conversation.

        1. re: fishskis

          Hoo boy, fishskis you have nailed them (that is Chateaubriand, CL'AL and Robuchon); over-rated, over-priced, over-there.
          I'd suggest instead, Radiohead you go to the newer, as yet not New York Time-destroyed places that have been unearthed by Parnessian, Ptipois, Parigi, Mangeur and others.

          1. re: fishskis

            I loved my first meal at Chateaubriand... crazy inventive, surprising flavours that worked, lovely see-and-be-seen clientele.

            The second meal: crazy inventive, surprising flavours that did not work at all... AT ALL!... lots of tourists

            Third meal: "WTF is this?"... but a girlie model in our group thought that the waiters were very cute.

            No fourth meal... ever!

            1. re: Parnassien

              Thanks. I'm starting to change my views. It's just so odd to me how this can happen - on TripAdvisor for example, one review is five stars, the next one, and then that patterns just repeats, over and over again down the page. NYT and others put it on the best places in the world list; others say its inedible. Living in a city with a semi-decent restaurant scene, I tend to agree with most people's lauding of the lauded places in town (sure some are ripoffs or overhyped, but on the whole people have a decent batting average) and I guess I am just not familiar with seeing a place so bad somehow bogarting its way on to everyone's top 10 lists.

              Given my limited dining options in August to begin with, I'll have to keep digging I suppose.

              1. re: radioheaded20

                I think the problem with Chateaubriand is that the chef is so compelled to be inventive and creative that he often forgets to be sensible. Not a good thing in a no-choice restaurant. On a good day, it's magic. On a bad day, it's a total miss. Obviously the world's 50-best compilers were only there on magical days.

                I do like Le Dauphin, Le Chateaubriand's satellite wine bar/ small plates resto on the same street. More choices so less chance of being a victim of the chef's whimsy. But a little too self-consciously trendy.

                1. re: Parnassien

                  Couldn't agree more - Aizpitarte cannot leave well enough alone whether at La Famille, that crazy museum restaurant or Chateaubriand.
                  I think Le Dauphin is good as well except for the stools.

                  1. re: Parnassien

                    Parnassien sums up Chateaubriand very well. It's a high risk restaurant and it can be wonderfully rewarding or a miss. Our meal there was wonderful, but some things didn't work, however those that did were great.

                    Its definitely a place that polarises, if a persons taste is more traditional the chances are they will hate it. The more avant-garde diner will like the risk and probably love it as a result (and we love both ends of the spectrum). Best analogy is modern art: think how that polarises opinion.

                    And remember the "Top 50" list is the modern art equivalent of restaurant lists its the critics and chefs list, it recognises those who are challenging boundaries - thats why its wonderfully controversial. It wouldn't be fun if just had the "usual suspects".

          2. My wife and I prefer Atelier JR St Germain to Etoile
            It is easy to make online reservations for the first seating 6:30

            5 Replies
            1. re: UPDoc

              Atelier Joel Robuchon St. Germain just made the 50 Best Restaurants in the World. Hopefully that won't make it an impossible reservation...

              1. re: ChefJune

                We reserved already, but for the Etoile location (frankly, wasn't aware there was a difference). I'm not in the need of prestige points, and I've heard they're both great. Any reason we'd want to move the reservation to St. Germain?

                1. re: radioheaded20

                  Everyone here who's been say the St. Germain location is better. For the same price, I'd do St. Germain.

                  1. re: ChefJune

                    Okay - I'll see if we can get in at St. Germain. Thank you.

                    1. re: radioheaded20

                      We have switched to St. Germain - thank you for the recommendation.

            2. My first thought was "Will any of those restaurants be open in August (especially the early part)? Much of Paris (indeed all of France) goes "au vacances" for most if not all of August. You'll be lucky if you can go to even one of them.

              5 Replies
              1. re: ChefJune

                Yikes. Yes, I'd thought of that but somehow forgotten. I know Robuchon is open as we already have that reservation. It appears Chateaubriand will still be open, but it may be tough to score that reservation.

                However, if previous years are any indication, Frenchie and CAJ will be closed, which is a bummer. Sigh... too bad this is the only week I can get off work. We'll just have to make do elsewhere.

                1. re: radioheaded20

                  Based on our current information:

                  Saturday: Try our darndest to get into Chateaubriand, either by reserving a month in advance (as I've heard is recommended) or just waiting it out with a bottle of wine on the street for the late seating

                  Sunday: Les Cocettes / Constant (is either better?) or a repeat of the weekend bistro menu at Le Comptoir du Relais (which we did during the engagement and very much enjoyed)

                  Monday: Robuchon St. Germain

                  Obviously disappointed by the timing of it all, but am still very much excited about these options. Open to suggestions if anyone has any.

                  1. re: radioheaded20

                    Regarding reservations at le Chateaubriand, I'm pretty sure they don't take reservations until two weeks to the date. At least that was what they told me in mid-April when I tried to make reservations a month in advance. You can always try though.

                    I just called a couple of days ago, and it was a really easy process. It's best to call them before dinner ~ 4:30/5:00 PM Paris time. Always got through.

                    1. re: projectcookie

                      Thanks - I don't speak French, but my wife does - do you think I could manage making the call myself in English?

                      1. re: radioheaded20

                        For sure, in my experience they were very English friendly. A simple "Bonjour, parlez vous anglais?" and they were ready to speak in English.

              2. Just dined at Chateaubriand this past Saturday, resevations for the first seating only taken 2 weeks in adavance so you will need to plan accordingly. Overall we had a very postive dining experience and would recommend during a stay especially if you are in Paris for a few days. They seem to excel in their fish/seafood dishes so your in for a treat if that is on their menu for the night.

                When we left around 10pm there was a line up out the door for the second seating so be cautious if that is your strategy.

                Another restaurant we tried and can recommend is Le Comptoir Du Relais we went late afternoon on a Sunday and were seated immediately.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Sam C

                  Last night we had a nice leisurely dinner at le Chateaubriand. It was a fantastic experience with some truly inspired dishes. We had a 8:00 reservation and left at 10:45, didn`t feel anything close to being rushed.

                  Creative food, certainly. But not, to my palate, over the top. While there might be a few ingredients that might seem unusual to some, I thought it was all well balanced and absolutely delicious. Perhaps I went on a day that was on, I saw chef Inaki Aizpitarte overlooking the restaurant that day; but if you haven`t had the experience, I highly encourage you to try it yourself!

                2. The trip is approaching; I have a few follow-up questions.

                  Saturday: We'll be jet-lagged and planning on picnicing in Luxembourg leisurely (I plan to do some research on cheese, meat and bread shops nearby). For dinner, I'm still tossing around Chateaubriand. If not, I'm thinking Dauphin or one of Cafe Constant/Cocettes.

                  Sunday: Versailles during the day, and we'll just figure out lunch there I suppose. Dinner at Comptoir du Relais for sentimental reasons.

                  Monday: Any dress code at Atelier d'Joel Robuchon? We're hoping to be pretty relaxed and casual most of the trip. For nicer meals I'm hoping I can get by with a nicer pair of pants (not jeans), a button down shirt and some comfortable loafers/boat shoes - any thoughts on whether this would be too dressed down for AJR?

                  Thanks so much!

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: radioheaded20

                    "any thoughts on whether this would be too dressed down for AJR?"
                    You'd fit right in.

                      1. re: radioheaded20

                        Wait, please don't show up with the ubiquitous mineral water bottle. That kills any hip look. No. That kills any look.

                        1. re: Parigi

                          I agree with you last comment and will tell my wife to leave this at the hotel!

                    1. re: radioheaded20

                      "picnicing in Luxembourg leisurely (I plan to do some research on cheese, meat and bread shops nearby)"
                      While small shops will be he losers, you can do all in one shopping at Bon Marche where their new expanded wine section is quite interesting; it's a bit more pricey but convenient and comphrehensive.

                      1. re: radioheaded20

                        Re jetlagged picnic. Since it's a Saturday, the OP can also hit the Marché Maubert on the place Maubert (next to the Maubert-Mutualité métro station) in the morning for picking up the fixings for a picnic. + Fromagerie Laurent Dubois at 47 bd Saint-Germain. + the caviste next to Dubois. From here it's a 10- to 15-minute walk to the Luxembourg.

                        You can have a bench picnic anywhere in the Luxembourg but the only grassy bit is the sunbathing lawn at the avenue de l'Observatoire end... and likely to be very crowded on Saturday. Some alternatives: the little park and the quai (accessible by a ramp from the park) on the tip of the Ile Saint-Louis at the Pont Sully (10 mins from the place Maubert); or the Paris Plages "beach" on the Right Bank between the Louvre and the Pont Sully... probably the section between the Pont Marie and Pont Sully will be less crowded... btw, Paris Plages runs for just a month from July 20 or so.

                        Re Atelier Joel Robuchon. Since the clientèle is almost entirely tourist, there is a great array of fashion styles... from blinged-out Russians to surfer-shirted Americans and Australians to rather chic and sleek Asians. It's difficult to fit in or stand out so wear what you want as long as there is an overall well-groomed and prosperous effect.

                        1. re: Parnassien

                          "blinged-out Russians to surfer-shirted Americans and Australians to rather chic and sleek Asians"
                          Hilarious great description. Especially the "blingedd-out Russians".