Chez L'Ami Jean. Orgasm schmorgasm
Parisjo, Sistereurope, Deluccacheesemonger and consorts and I had our annual multi-orgasmic blowout chez L'Ami Jean.
First of all, after reading all the recent complaints, some of us were frankly apprehensive. I admit I went out of a sense of loyalty and friendship with each other. It's our annual blowout, especially among the 3 dudettes. We go first and foremost to laugh until we choke. So what if this meal chez l'Ami Jean means only 3 orgasms instead of 5 ? Orgasm schmorgasm
4 As Usual's coming up:
1. As usual, I reserved for us the table nearest the kitchen, so that the outer half the table could see the action there.
2. As usual, I sat at the seat right next to the kitchen window, sacrificing my right ear-drum. (And sacrifice I did. Stéphane Jégo's yelling is still ringing in my right ear this morning.)
3. As usual it was lunch, which is always less frantic than dinner.
4. As usual we dont bother to open the menu. It may have nude portraits of Peter Beard, or the winning ticket to the Spanish lottery, or a copy of the Satanic Verses. We'll never know.
Told Mario to ask the chef to take care of us.
Just like the last dozen times, we say right afterwards: oops, forgot to ask the price. Oh well.
As usual, Irouléguy Branna wines. Red & white.
O. The starters - charcuteries, jambon de Bayonne, pâté, game pâté. BIting into the lean, bloody game pâté, Sistereurope pronounces: "let the orgasms begin."
1. Parmesan soup poured over crunchy stuff and raw leek bits.
All of us have had riffs of this soup here. All of us thought consider this the best yet, and feel a little reassured.
2. Tuna, just this side of cooked, topped with a slice of green apple and turnip
Daring balancing of contrasting tastes of terre et mer, which is Jégo's trip these days. Moan, we approve. The oohs and ahs rise, but not loud enough to cover Jégo's yelling. He's definitely en forme today, says my right ear-drum.
3. Orzo risotto buoying 2 scallops
Collective loud moan from table.
Parisjo and I want to take off all our clothes and roll amidst the swooningly good orzo matter.
4. Abalone with foie gras and wild hare Oyster juice ?
The abalone may be the one ingredient in this meal that is not virtuoso. The texture of my same piece of abalone varies from tender to thick. But the signature evanescent foie gras melts in our mouth and shuts us up.
5. Swordfish with a side of pheasant aspic paté.
Definitely, by this time, with this main dish, our moans sometimes cover Jégo's Strum und Drang. Even the gentlemen are experiencing multiple orgams, a clinical first.
Oops, that was not the main dish. -- Not the only main dish.
6. Ris de veau
How does he do this ? How does he make ris de veau taste light? How can we finish this chunk of heaven ?
This is Jégo's thAng: between yelling, he sticks his head out of the kitchen window and surveys the orgy. If he sees one diner leave something, anything, on the plate, he frets and asks: what's wrong ? You don't like ? Should have told me. Want something else instead ?
Major diplomatic incident: I can't finish.
The flesh is weak. The spirit is pretty weak.
I whisper to Mario that I don't like to waste orgasms. He immediately whisks the plate off to the kitchen, which comes out a minute later in the form of a Sac à Chien.
7. Rice pudding plus 4 side-desserts: chocolate mousse, panacotte red fruit, pina colada ice cream, Paris-Brest.
My fave - yes I continue to eat, wouldn't you? - is, besides the rice pudding which contrary to rumor has not perdu de son superbe, the Paris-Brest: Crunch is crunch. Shell is shell. Cream is cream. With all kinds of tastes in between, alternating in major and minor keys.
The cheque reveals the price per person for the let-the-chef-take-care-of-you menu to be … 55 euro. All six of us were expecting more, around 75 euro.
Since we had 7 dishes (8 counting the starting charcuteries), that amounts to less than 8 euro per dish. Some hounds complain that Chez L'Ami Jean has become too expensive. Do the math. Do you want Jégo to feed us like a humanitarian mission or what.
Including the bottles of water and two bottles of Irouléguy, and tips, we pay 74 euro per person.
1. I just came back from a week of excess in Burgundy, with back-to-back Lameloise, Loiseau and Ferme de la Ruchette & co proverbially under the belt, hands down this was my favorite meal.
2. Not that we ever ask about the price (yet we are usually budget-sort-of-conscious), value-wise this meal can't be beat. Don't even think about comparing with the prices of the aforementioned six stars.
3. Never mind comparing with others, compared with past meals here, all 6 of us agree that clearly, clearly, this was the best meal, of all the orgasmic meals we've had there.
My guesses - they remain guesses - re how to get a good meal out of CLAJ:
1. Lunch. Consistently We eat better at lunch than at dinner. Why ? I don't know. Maybe the marginally more leisurely pace allows Jégo to focus his unfathomable multi-tasking brain better.
2. Try to have more interaction with Jégo, or with Mario the head waiter. Mario cultivates a super-cool attitude - probably to counterbalance all the kitchen drama that permeates the salle - and in his dry humor gives good advice and relays your fears and loathing and libido to the kitchen. The more Jégo/Mario know about you, the more they go out of their way to give you … care.
3. Don't bother with the menu. Let Jégo play your palette like an instrument.
4. Are you a picky eater ? Theoretically no problem. Mario always asks if everybody eats everything, including game, including offal, seafood, etc. But remember, Jégo - and he is not the only chef who does this, composes. He planseach taste to contrast with other tastes. Asking for a substitute is asking to be a volunteer for diluted pleasures. Every time you add an antichrist constraint about what you chicken-eating vegetarians can't eat, it's is like asking Glenn Gould to play with one finger less. A Glenn Gould who plays with 7 fingers is not going to sound like a Glenn Gould who plays with his all.
5. Last but not least, I DON'T KNOW !! We have had excellent meals starting with our first meal chez l'Ami Jean, when no one knew us from Mars. Yes by now Jégo and Mario recognize some of us mainly as the kind of diners who will pop anything proposed by him into our mouth, but starting on Day One, we already got the kind of great low-key service and outstanding food.
Au fond, I don't understand the rhetoric that maintains that Jégo is like a wild beast (uh, wait a minute, maybe I do), that you need to know how to tame him somehow in order to get a good meal. We do the opposite. Every time we go, we tell him in no uncertain terms: "Do it ! Do it to us."
And, yes, maybe his yelling is directly proportionate to his form, his rhapsodic inspirations. I am starting to guess: the more he yells, the better the meal gets.
P.S.I must have forgotten many details, which I count on my table partners in crime to provide.
Parisjo and Sistereurope took many photos while I stuffed my visage.
re: John Talbott
Just went to Hai Kai... the food is fab but just culinary echoes of L'Ami Jean... estrogen rather than testosterone in the air... and the clientèle was hopelessly earnest (foodie and/or bobo) and whoopee-less... that will, of course, change when Parigi and her "youpi" set assemble here.
re: John Talbott
Does anyone have any tips for making reservations at L’Ami Jean? I tried to call this morning at 10am in Paris, but couldn't get through. I'm so hoping to go for lunch or dinner Feb 19, 20, or 21 when I'm there. (A total last minute trip for me.) I also don't speak a lick of French aside from "Bon Jour" and "Merci" and so desperately don't want to offend! I'm trying to cram in a few basics before I arrive to be respectful at least.
I've been waking at 4am in the US for a few days now and not having much luck nailing down any reservations for my trip. Any tips on this one in particular would be truly appreciated!
"I've been waking at 4am in the US"
I assume you are calling from the east coast, in order to call at 10am Paris time?
10am Pars time is too early, as the restaurant does not start serving until 12:30.
Try 12 noon time Paris time. If you call now for a lunch spot or a non-wkend dinner spot, you should be ok. Unlike Abri and Frenchie, Che L'Ami Jean does answer the phone.
The staff speaks English. It is always nicer to start the conversion by saying : "Bonjour, parlez-vous Anglais s'il vous plaît ?"
Another good time to call is right before dinner serving time, which means Paris 7pm. That way you don't have to set your alarm clock to some god-awful hour.
I wish you an orgasmic meal, like all the meals we have had.
Certainly, the soup is the same served to all who eat soup, the orzo risotto has been served to many over the last month, but l suspect some dishes came together that day.
When he serves petoncle( bay scallops) everyone seems to get them as they are as good as it gets and he knows it.
I am late to this party, having just arrived back in the states. In my jet-lagged state I don't think I could possibly add anything to Parigi's eloquent if slightly R rated description of our meal. Sigh,
So I'll just say that I am a CLJ fan, no apologies. I have been going there at least once per year for the past 8 years. Have been there with hounds mentioned above and "incognito" with my husband and while the lunch that Parigi described above was by far the culinary pinnacle (deserving of it's 6 O rating), I have always had really good food and a wonderful experience. Every time. Once and a while I was served something that didn't quite hit the big 6 O. No chef is 100% on the mark every day, day in and day out. But it was always worth it and I've never left there feeling anything but full and warm and happy and grateful that I had the experience. It's Paris to me. I personally love the noise, and the cramped tables and the frenzy and the rustic atmosphere. It suits me but It's not for everyone, which is what makes Paris such a food lover's paradise. No restaurant could ever please everyone. And I don't think that any of us Jego "fans" believe that he could. And no, I don't feel that our experience could not be had by everyone. Yes I was with people known tho the chef. But I think it's really an insult to the house to imply that he only only serves the best to people he knows and the hell with the others...he wouldn't have lasted in the business if that were the case.
To each his or her own...me, I will dream of and fantasize about that creamy soup, and those light as air scallops, and that hunk of seared foie, and that swordfish cooked to perfection, and that heavenly ris de veau, and the Paris-Brest. And count down the days until I can return. It was that damn good...
I am hereby awarding this review Three Typewriters for enjoyment as well technical excellence.
I enjoy reading this like a discourse from Hemingway about bullfights. While it may not be something I will ever experience, I have gained so much in the telling. Not to mention the pictures. I lust for the basket of charcuterie.
As the saying goes, "Next year in Paris".
There's not much I can add to Parigi's spot-on report of the greatest meal of our 15 day trip. Yes, the orgasms were plentiful this meal (makes me so happy Adam chose first and Eve got the second choice, right P?). Yes, Jego was in fine vocal form that day, but he is a fiery genius and if he has to let off steam by screaming a few times to produce the thrills that come out of that tiny kitchen, than I am thankful that Parigi is willing to sacrifice her hearing for a day or so for us. Yes, the price was incredibly fair for both the quantity and quality we were so generously provided with. But this meal was so much more than the sum of its parts ~ first, it was the company that we shared the meal with. We had the privilege of being with 4 like minded gourmands, who trust that when asked if they would like the chef to take care of them, know that he will do exactly that. We don't ask how, how much, what or why ~ we just know Jego will move heaven and earth to make us happy we placed this trust in him and he does. None of us would ever think to question what we will get because it doesn't matter ~ we just know it will be amazing. Enjoying a meal is more than just enjoying the food though ~ it's enjoying the food with the people you are sharing it with, making memories together, laughing, catching up, solving world peace, whatever. It's spending 4 hours having the time of your life, trusting the chef and the staff to take care of you so you can spend your precious time just being, enjoying, laughing, with friends you don't get to see very often. It's all those things together that add up to make memorable meals, and this one was one I will remember for a very, very long time.
Second, for the life of me, I don't know how this chef can come up with (and keep track of) the complex meals that come out of his tiny kitchen. Yes, our table of 6 was served 8 amazingly executed, beautifully plated courses, but I was watching as many more plates left and were served to diners all around us. I heard the chef describe a platter of fowl cooked 2 different ways to his waiter so they could explain it to the diners, I saw a huge casserole pot lugged to a table, I saw elaborate desserts served to amazed faces, plate after plate of different home runs going out to those eager to catch and devour them. How can this man come up with this many different ideas and concepts and keep executing them day after day after day? When you look up multi tasking, Jego's face should be the only thing you see.
Third, about being a regular or not ~ I can't speak about how we would be treated at CLJ if we were not sitting with the people we are lucky enough to call our friends since we've only eaten here with them. But I do know that Den and I have had some of our most wonderful and memorable experiences at Parisian restaurants whenever we have put ourselves in the hands of the chef or the lovely people serving us. Since we only go to Paris once a year for 2 weeks at a time, most meals are not repeat visits and even if they are, the visits are so far apart, we're not remembered. But we are social, we speak French, we interact with those around us, we're open to suggestions, we're thankful, inquisitive and just happy to be there. We show appreciation with our words and our expressions and I think all of these things contribute to enhancing the experience just as much as the food on our plate. I really believe you get what you give and that's why we've had such memorable experiences at so many restaurants all over the world, not just in Paris. The first time we went to Spring, Au Vieux Comptoir, Caffe Angela, Le Baratin,etc, we had some of the best meals, but also the most fun and that's what keeps us going back.
Getting back to Parigi's report,I can't provide any better details or descriptions than my erudite amie, but as she said, I did take lots of pictures, so here they are, pretty much in the same order as the courses she perfectly described above. The last one is of 3 happy, satisfied groupies and their rock star.
The only additional thing I remember is the spontaneous round of applause we gave the chef as we devoured the scallop orzo soup. Parigi is right ~ I did want to take off all my clothes and roll around in it and I would have if terrified diners wouldn't have scattered away in horror. OMG, in a sea of perfect 10s, this one was a 73. I would have eaten a wheelbarrow of it, but that would mean I wouldn't have had the rest of those sublime courses, so I'm happy the way it worked out, lol.
I'll have a full report of our 2 week eating orgy in a few days, but this lunch was without question the home run, the power ball winning ticket, the Stanley Cup goal (for any fellow Canadians out there), the pinnacle of a trip full of great meals. For that, I thank Chef Jego, CLJ's fast,funny and professional staff, and most of all, my dining companions with whom I got to share this amazing experience.
Here's to next year's orgy!
This whole discussion of needing to be a regular and putting trust in the house reminds me of our last visit to Roellinger, just before he closed the village restaurant.
We were not regulars. Our son was not feeling well and our d-i-l does not drink much. Wine pairing was not offered, but we asked the Som if he could pour appropriate glasses for each course, adding that our d-i-l was not a wine drinker. He thought a minute, agreed and brought four glasses for the first pour.
His choices were spectacular and, more important, very interesting. He warmed to the task as we emoted and discussed the various wines at each course. Our d-i-l was given full pours each time. When the tab arrived, my husband was prepared for the worst and, indeed, reared back when he read the addition. The entire wine service was billed at 80€.
There is something about trust and engagement.
Am a first time visitor to Paris and poured over this board for information on where to dine. LMJ was not on my original list but after a reservation didn't pan out, my hotel concierge recommended we dine here. I was skeptical after reading previous posts, but decided to go for it. Ate at L'ami Jean last night and I am certain it will be one of the most memorable of the trip, partly because of the entertainment value we got from chef. We were not right next to kitchen but two tables away, which may have ultimately saved our ear drums. Mushroom appetizer was simple but phenomenal. I had veal cheeks, which were tender and delicious. I was chided by servers for not finishing but in a playful way. Bread pudding was outstanding. so plentiful we actually shared with couple sitting next to us.
I am so glad we dined here. we had wonderful service and food, and no one knew who we were. Wish I had seen this post before going though, as it would have taken less time to erase any of my initial doubts.
( also compared Jego to Gordon Ramsey but I'm guessing Jego is a far better chef)
It is hard not to be jealous of the meal you had but I am jealous of all the Paris Chowhounds because you live in Paris. Since we don't see many descriptions of meals like this one from Chez l'Ami Jean I think we ascribe the reason for your good fortune to being regulars. I will say that lunch is definitely the way to go but dinner has it own frenetic charm. I should ask for a table near the kitchen since I miss the atmosphere in a working kitchen.
You totally "get" Chez L'Ami Jean.
You have to dig the buzz, the frenzy, the yelling, the sitting on each other's lap, the whole CLAJ fengshui, in order to dig the experience. And that is definitely not for everyone.
It is like trying to love Provence without embracing the mistral.
What I mean is that I sincerely don't think we were unduly privileged. We were well treated, but it's not as though you had to be there and you had to be me, lol.
A seat with a kitchen view is the real privileged part. And that is true for many restaurants.
Why the difference in experience? It has to be that you are a regular and are well known to the house so you get different and special treatment. You say it yourself......
"Last but not least, I DON'T KNOW !! We have had excellent meals starting with our first meal chez l'Ami Jean, when no one knew us from Mars. Yes by now Jégo and Mario recognize some of us mainly as the kind of diners who will pop anything proposed by him into our mouth, but starting on Day One, we already got the kind of great low-key service and outstanding food".
I agree that years ago it was a really great place, I went their frequently but in the six years since I moved from Paris it has changed, maybe it wouldn't have if I had continued to go as regularity as I had.
Obviously if you can "Try to have more interaction with Jégo, or with Mario the head waiter. Mario cultivates a super-cool attitude...." Your meal is going to be better and more enjoyable if you do, but that's easy to do as a regular and is going to be next to impossible for a one time visitor.
It's great to hear your meal was so inexpensive...
"The cheque reveals the price per person for the let-the-chef-take-care-of-you menu to be … 55 euro. All six of us were expecting more, around 75 euro."
....but I wonder if this only goes to emphasize that you are well known regulars that treated differently to the casual visitor. As you say you expected to pay more and the price you expected to pay €75 is the published price for the "Carte Blanche" souped-up menu you received. I don't expect many other visitors will get a €20 discount per head.
"Including the bottles of water and two bottles of Irouléguy, and tips, we pay 74 euro per person." Or if you had paid full price for the menu the bill would have been north of €100 a head. Probably still not bad for the volume if food but hardly an experience that the average punter can access.
I know it's dangerous trying to counter balance such an ecstatic review of the local board members favorite chef but I think it's essential to point out that it's probably a unique experience and thus available to few people.
Good points, Phil. But I would add that I have come to the conclusion that enjoying a restaurant is much like going to church. If you enter with the attitude of having an enriching experience, of believing, of going along with the liturgy, you have a fairly good shot of coming out fulfilled. However, if you doubt or are passive, not so much. Or not at all. IMHO.
Mangeur - this may not be the best analogy....!!!!
Using that analogy it could be argued that eight of the faithful entered their place of worship, and partook of a great experience based on their faith, and the fact they were surrounded by like minded people, despite there being any physical or scientific evidence for the basis of their faith.
However, more seriously, I do agree that if you go to a restaurant with a positive attitude and with a group of good friends the chances of a great meal are higher than if in so bad mood etc. I find that good company, high expectations, and familiarity can boost a meal. You overlook the faults, you join in the celebration, you don't get hung up on things. And weirdly on my last visit to CLJ I went with a group of friends and I had chosen it for exactly this reason and it didn't do it for us - all the other meals of our week in Paris did though.
"Why the difference in experience? It has to be that you are a regular and are well known to the house so you get different and special treatment. You say it yourself......"
Not only did Parigi write that she got great food and great treatment from Day One at L'Ami Jean (I can confirm that from my own experience), but here's another thing: you can be one of these "regulars" and sometimes eat less well than usual at L'Ami Jean. This happened to me a few times, as it happens to everybody everywhere. Making the restaurant appear as a "for regulars only" through unfounded insinuations and suppositions seems a bit pernicious.
The restaurant is most of the time full (less so at lunch, packed at dinner). It has quite a few regulars but also many new customers attracted by the reputation. If the treatment of customers were so inequal, would the restaurant be so consistently successful?
>>> I agree that years ago it was a really great place, I went their frequently but in the six years since I moved from Paris it has changed, maybe it wouldn't have if I had continued to go as regularity as I had.
Excuse me? Are you saying that the quality of the restaurant depends on how often *you* go there and that your mere presence would have prevented any slip in consistency over the years? That can't possibly be what you mean. Please reformulate.
The truth is that the place experiences a bit of fluctuation at times. It is not a calibered, preformatted formula. It is organic and is like grape harvest: some years are better than others. But that is true of Château Latour as it is true of most other wines, excluding industrial plonk that is wonderfully consistent over the years.
"Obviously if you can "Try to have more interaction with Jégo, or with Mario the head waiter. Mario cultivates a super-cool attitude...." Your meal is going to be better and more enjoyable if you do, but that's easy to do as a regular and is going to be next to impossible for a one time visitor."
Not true, I have seen the waiters at L'Ami Jean being just as helpful and compassionate with first-time visitors (provided that they enjoyed and lent themselves to the interaction) as they are with regulars. Sometimes more than regulars, who are known already so they don't need to be coddled. But it takes the diner a bit of effort, namely letting go of any puzzled look and stiff attitude from the expectation to get the conventional, formatted service that they are used to. It is easy to miss the experience when you insist on entering without abandon.
"....but I wonder if this only goes to emphasize that you are well known regulars that treated differently to the casual visitor. As you say you expected to pay more and the price you expected to pay €75 is the published price for the "Carte Blanche" souped-up menu you received. I don't expect many other visitors will get a €20 discount per head."
That only means that the entire table had agreed to let the chef "take care of the meal" and that Stéphane cooked up a tailor-made formula from what was available that day. That is usually a good way to control costs, especially with a large table, and if there is no reason to charge a lot, he won't overcharge. Simple as that. They did not get the Carte Blanche even if they expected to be charged for the equivalent. 'Wondering' when you weren't there is nothing but conjecture.
"Including the bottles of water and two bottles of Irouléguy, and tips, we pay 74 euro per person." Or if you had paid full price for the menu the bill would have been north of €100 a head. Probably still not bad for the volume if food but hardly an experience that the average punter can access."
As long as you are not aware of what the Carte Blanche menu included that day, you cannot compare it with what they had and there is no conclusion that you can safely draw from that.
"I know it's dangerous trying to counter balance such an ecstatic review of the local board members favorite chef but I think it's essential to point out that it's probably a unique experience and thus available to few people."
And now you're implying that there is a kernel of Jégo fans here who will take everything from him and try to justify the restaurant every time. Maybe there is, maybe not. Well I'm giving you a different picture and putting things into perspective based on many experiences and many interactions with that place.
A unique experience? Certainly.
Available to few people? I think not.
Besides, Stéphane has his first book out now, he is quite happy about it, and he is getting in the Fall produce with amazing new stuff, so he is in a particularly good mood. No wonder that he cooks stellar meals these days.
It's impressive how passionate the fans of CLJ are as evidenced by the lengthy reviews and comments around this post.
To clarify what I meant when referred to the frequency of my visits. I did go there frequently it was good, and we did get better service etc. if I had continued to be a frequent diner over the years it seems likely I too would have got the special service as I would have continued to be a regular.
As I go infrequently I now feel I get the regular punters treatment, so maybe as an infrequent visitor I may be in quite a good position to judge how other infrequent visitors may be treated. If as you say it can be patchy for the regulars then clearly it may be more patchy for the irregulars.
I really do think Jego is a great chef but I think his format is now wrong. And whilst it's still busy it really seemed a lot less busy than it once was so maybe others agree (and I would never use popularity in a tourist area of Paris as a yardstick to judge quality).
If I knew him well I would suggest, as you seem to confirm, that he is best when he is cooking in this free form way for a table. At the moment he seems to be straddling this style, when is constrained by the multiple format menus he is less good. But when he lets go, as evidenced by Parigi's experience he can be stellar. Maybe time to drop the multiple formats and focus?
Is CLJ on a "must try" list for Paris? Obviously when you get a meal like this it is, but in my experience this isn't the norm.
I am not going to address the other points because we're walking in circles. All your reasoning is based on one idea: regulars get better treatment that new customers. I have explained that this reasoning is mostly false (in fact the difference does not lie in being a regular but in asking the chef to "take care of you", which perfect unknowns may also ask with the same results), but you keep piling up the same idea on and on, so the point I would like to make is the following: you actually have no proof that the restaurant functions on the basis you claim. You are only supposing, and concluding from the fan club's reports.
The fan club is obviously charmed and the enthusiasm in their reports would tend to indicate that they are getting a radically different treatment from the "ordinary" customers. But they may be just as wrong as you are, for I have seen many fantastic dishes land on the tables of these so-called "ordinary" customers, witnessed just the same care and hospitality lavished on them, and seen quite a few first-comers who were extatic about the experience. I also know Stéphane would sooner commit seppuku than being suspected of caring less for some customers than for others.
Above all, being an infrequent visitor makes you not exactly the most reliable witness to spread what I have to describe as some kind of bashing of a honest place, for indeed writing that it functions on a two-speed basis is typically a kind of claim that is likely to harm a restaurant's reputation.
Deux petites questions, Parigi--asking M. Jego to take care of us is exactly what I'd like to do next time we go to CLJ. But I realise I don't know precisely how to phrase that request en français (et ça me gêne profondément). Can you enlighten?
And...is such a request more likely to be well received from a large party? Or is it also acceptable from a two-top?
'Functions on a two-speed basis'
I've really enjoyed all of Parigi, Parisjo and PhilD's posts on this and don't particularly want to prolong the contentious side-show more than necessary, but it is simply incorrect to state that the above does not happen at l'Ami Jean.
Indeed it does and I don't think it is bashing to say so, unless a person is also saying that looking after friends-of-the-house comes at the expense of other customers (which I don't think PhilD is).
Over the years, I've seen plenty of special treatment to alumni, suppliers and once to a food writer (I'm guessing a food writer from the diner's small talk with neighbours, copious note- and picture-taking, frantic signalling by the waiter to the chef, followed by the arrival of extra food 'for tasting' including the famous rice pudding, on top of an initial order of a single business lunch).
I've also heard a first-hand account of an experience very similar to the one Parigi describes (great food, lots of it, tiny price), by a young restaurant-owner whose reservation had been telegraphed beforehand to the house by a mutual professional contact.
Heck, my party has been on the receiving end of special love when we've ordered big-ticket items from the wine list or the carte. And in the cases of the writer, the owner and my own party, I know for a fact that there was no element of being especially trusting of the chef to compose special food. Food was ordered from a menu and extra portions of un-ordered un-billed goodies showed up along side.
Is this a bad thing ? No, the ability to be open-handed with friends and potential friends is one of the pleasures of being a hands-on owner-chef who isn't accountable to 3rd-party managers. And then the high-speed efficiency of the l'Ami Jean team is such that these spontaneous gestures can happen without missing a beat on the other diners.
Does it happen for 'normal folks' ? Clearly yes since Deluca has had first-hand experience of it. I can only say I haven't noticed it myself without the additional friends-and-family element.
I am going to admit defeat. I still find it the lengthy glowing reviews of the restaurant at odds with my recent experiences, and the extremely passionate rebuttals of any criticism makes it difficult to have a rational discussion about the restaurants merits. So I give up, will keep my council, and will move on to other restaurants when next I visit Paris.
However, I will be gracious as I bow out: I will offer my congratulations to Ptipois (aka - Sophie Brissaud) on the publication of her new book "À peine cru" co-authored with CLJ's chef and owner - Stephane Jego (the launch is mentioned up thread). I hope it's very successful.
"the extremely passionate rebuttals of any criticism makes it difficult to have a rational discussion about the restaurants merits."
Phil, we've all three (you, Pti, me) known each other at least cyberly, for a long time and Pti and Parigi have moderately thick skin, so I'll just say that while I love the youthful exhuberance of the posters on the Jego thread, there are indeed "other voices, other rooms."
Don't slink off in defeat, CLJ is not the be all and end all in mine or many other "books." But if the 6 or 8 of them had simultaneous culinary orgasms that night, it may even beat Rob Reiner's mother.
re: John Talbott
Nice counterbalance, John. The joy of Paris is the extraordinary panoply of dining options. As in yours, mine, hers and theirs. Something for everyone. We just need, as my DH repeatedly begs me, to read between the lines to find our gurus.
This has, in all events, been an unusually instructive thread. Viva la Chow France!
re: John Talbott
I wasn't indeed. My only point was that I wished to address the case of misshapen reality that results from describing L'Ami Jean repeatedly from the angle of a so-called "two-speed" functioning, which is putting far too much stress on a misunderstood feature (being able to create a menu from scratch and pull out fantastic unplanned specials at any moment is one thing, pampering regulars is a rather common thing in the bistrot world, but treating newcomers or Joe Schmoes on an inferior basis would be another thing and I was pointing out that it wasn't the case).
Nobody in this thread has been seen focusing excessively on the restaurant; the restaurant was the topic of discussion so it was quite normal that it was discussed. So recalling other dining options is somewhat off-topic.
PhilD - I have to say my experience at CLJ was definitely more like yours than what the others have experienced. We went for dinner a year and a half ago and sat right next to the kitchen. One of members of the party was French as well so there was nothing lost in translation. The three of us sat down, agreed that we wanted to let the chef do his thing and told the server we would like the carte Blanche menu and did not have any restrictions. So two of the factors others have mentioned as helping to garner an optimal experience at CLJ are in play. We're right next to the kitchen and also giving him carte blanche.
Our first dish is a soup where beef broth that contains a carrot and potato is ladled over a variety of vegetables. Notice we don't start with the terrine, charcuterie or anything of the like.
What then follows are 3 more dishes 2 of which use the same broth somewhere in the dish. While our meal is progressing, two young French ladies to our right are receiving a completely different meal. Their plate of charcuterie and terrine are sitting there barely touched, begging for us to whisk them away into our bellies. They're served a dish which looked like an oyster and a seared lobe of foie gras. This may not be the exact dish but what I'm trying to illustrate is how vastly different our meals were. These girls were getting questions on occasion from the chef - which we noticed because he had to speak past us to communicate to them. The two girls continued to get these delicious smelling and looking dishes while we got...variations of the beef broth dish. We did end up with a huge baseball portion of sweetbreads but by then it was too little too late. We began with an unbridled enthusiasm fueled by the reviews of those Parigi and Ptipois and left wondering what happened. Granted, I've had some meals recommended by hounds that didn't live up to expectations but this has been the only meal on 4 continents using chowhound recommendations that differed so drastically.
My wife and I are in Paris 10/23 - 10/26. I would love to experience the meal everyone here raves about if some of the regular posters are interested in setting up a lunch. If not then no worries, Paris (and France in general) will be a great vacation as always.
I agree that the fact that we are regulars enhanced the experience. Firstly this factor is true of any restaurant. Secondly, I believe by now Jégo trusts our palette and lets fly with his creativity.
The price was a mystery. Did we get a break ? I'll never know. Mind you, 55 euro is not the lowest I have paid in the blindly-let-the-chef-take-care-of-us formule chez l'Ami Jean.
Nor the lowest. I have indeed paid 75 euro with no wine no water, in the company of DCM and another hound who is an even greater regular of the house. And that was 2, 3 years ago. I don't know if DCM agrees with my culinary memory: I remember eating exceedingly well and copiously, but not as well and as copiously as yesterday's lunch.
And of course years ago hubby poo once orderd the game menu, for which he paid the indicated price of 75 euro. No mystery there
I know two other establishments that charge us "mystery prices", and in their cases did not care either. One is La Palette on rue Seine: hubby poo always ordered a beer, the same beer, and Jean-François never charged him the same price. Never.
The other place is Cal Pep of Barcelona. We used to ask the house to take care of us instead of doing our own ordering. (I don't think it HAS a menu.) Now we ask Pep himself to take care of us. Once when the waiter was in charge of us from A to Z, we ate very well, but not outstandingly so. Another time Pep took over half way, and the dishes that kept coming suddenly … found love on our tongue. The cuisine there is not inventive, just excellent Catalan fare. Pep just intuited what we would like to eat, through my broken Spanish. -- Broken does not even start to describe my Vamos-a-la-playa vocab.
Last time when we came in the door and were seated in the corner by the door, Pep even vetoed our seating and reseated us in front of the stove, which we loved as we could see the cooking, and he supervised our dishes from beginning to end. Of all our times eating there, this time we ate the best, and the bill was the lowest.
Therefore, regarding your two well-raised points, my two comments are : Yes, and Dunno.
In conclusion, as I said, yes, we probably eat better now that we are known by the house, but we used to eat very well as nobodys too.
And I agree the experience is not for everyone. Jégo really, I mean really, yelled yesterday. The carte, when I used to look at it (dunno now) is confusing with too many different options, too many formules (but that's less our problem than the organisational problems for the waiters and the kitchen), and dinner is hectic. That is why I choose lunch, and let Jégo take care of us and not think 6 different menus with different comings and goings of plates. It is one way to help him streamline the organization of our table, and hopefully he can focus on the food instead of feeding six persons different stuff at different times.
It seems normal that you got a low price for a custom-composed meal for one large table. For the reasons I stated above.
I agree that you got a special experience, naturally, but I think that has more to with the fact that Jégo knows your palate and what he can inflict on that very group of people you were in than with low pricing. I don't even think he priced the meal lower than it should have been.
What really makes the check go whizz! are the specials on the "today's arrivals" notebook, handwritten by Mario every day. As a "take care of us" table you probably weren't handed that notebook. That's the expensive part. That's where the wild pigeon, lièvre à la royale, poêlée de cèpes and other outstanding products of the day are found. And that's mighty expensive.
I don't believe it's about being a regular (I am and haven't been getting that kind of treatment, especially the low bill, in a long while), but I don't believe everyone gets the same treatment.
In fact, I think the orgasm reference is the right one: no matter the lover, his/her stamina and his/her body, a connection has to happen for the orgasm to be possible, and this connection is evasive.
That's the case with Stéphane and with CAJ overall. It clicks or it doesn't. It's not about the mood or the tastes (though the riz au lait is, I maintain and it's not a rumour, a sad shadow of what it was and of what La Régalade does). It's about the alchemy, about both parties having a good time. I'm pretty sure being a woman helps, but DCM never needed it.
One thing is for sure: the orgasm won't happen if you don't have a strong desire going in.
Oh my, I think I need a cigarette....
Thank you, Parigi, for the very-detailed and mouth-watering review.
"Ask the chef to take care of us" is exactly the way we like to eat. I wish we could do that in more restaurants.
CLJ was already on the list, but it needs to move towards the top. And I agree - from what you described, it sounds like a great value indeed.
Madame, your review is as good as the meal was. Amazing how you remembered details without jotting a note.
It was an awesome lunch, in every detail, service, food and company.
The dishes that rally hit me hard
The game pate was so moist, finest pate l have ever experienced, could have made my meal from just that.
The soup, yes his soup is always the same, but who cares it is fabulous, bitingly hot, creamy, and so full of flavor.
The 'risotto', first time have had it, was indeed soupy, but what soup. It really made me moan.
The abalone dish at the bottom had a wine stew of rabbit that again could easily have made my meal alone, it was that good. After God knows how many courses at that point, still had to take bread to get ever drop of sauce, just outstanding.
The rice pudding with bitter caramel custard has had high notes and lesser notes over the years. Yesterday hit on all cylinders, not too sweet, not too creamy, it was baby bear, perfect.
Look forward to doing it with this group next year.
I had that orzo risotto last Monday, at one of the dinners celebrating our new book. Stéphane cooked at Table Ronde, a new restaurant in the Marais specializing in guest-chef events. The risotto was laced with shitloads of fresh cèpes from Normandy and too much whipped cream. It was, indeed, worth howling like a wolf and being heard as far as the tour Eiffel. And Stéphane does some pretty crazy things with tuna and sweetbreads these days. I'm glad you had a great time.
And I do agree with your last "au fond" remark. You don't tame Jégo (the mere thought makes me chuckle). You surrender.
Still, to be fair, this is not a restaurant for everybody. People who can truly surrender are rare.