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Dec 30, 2013 05:09 AM

Paris Christmas report

First of all, thanks to everybody who contributed to my former thread about restaurants open for Christmas. Overall I was very happy with my choices with about a third of them excellent in their chosen position of style and price.

We arrived on Friday 20th, a bit too late for a regular lunch so we stopped by L'Avant Comptoir, which served rather good tapas and small plates, we found the croquettes, the carpaccio and the duck hot dog to be the highlights of this visit. They offer a fair amount of wines by the glass, which is very nice if you are traveling alone. Unfortunately a little bit too much focus on vin nature, but some more conventional choices were also to be found.

The dinner on the 20th proved to be the highlight of the meals we had, La Table d'Aki. Very elegant and understated dishes, all fish and shellfish with the exception of the dessert naturally. I can't even pick a favorite among the them as they were all so beautifully prepared and the price was a bargain for this quality. It think it was somewhere around 50 and 60 euro for five dishes and an amuse. Wine-list consisted of six white, six red and one champagne, but good selections pairing well with the sublime food and very reasonable mark ups so I didn't mind the few choices available. The atmosphere is in line with the food, low key and there is a very hearty feel to the place. Can't recommend it enough.

On Saturday 21st we had lunch at Les Papilles. I had forgotten I had already been there once, but on our way there my wife remembered we had been there two or three years ago and enjoyed it a lot. I am very glad to say that it still is as good as how we remembered it. Good, hearty food and owner Bertrand Bluy brings a lot of passion and warmth to the place. Lunch menu was four courses and priced just above 30 euro. From what I understand the menu changes daily, but on our day we had a sweet potato soup with chorizo, followed by slow cooked lamb. Preparations of the dishes, at least for this day, made me think of sud-ouest cuisine. As it is based in a wine shop, wine selection is excellent and you choose what to drink from the bottle displayed on the shelf with a low mark up of 7 euro a bottle I think. Especially good selection on Rhône wines.

Dinner was at Pierre Gagnaire, the restaurant we had the highest expectations of, but I'm afraid was a let down. Welcome was very good, as it should be. This night there was huge party taking up almost all of the tables, but we were happy to be seated in one of the best tables in the room. We decided to go a la carte as I had read at various places that this is the best way to enjoy this restaurant since it gives them a chance to excel in different preparations of the protein chosen. My wife started with the lobster, whereas I chose a starter of different dishes from various shellfishes. Naturally we received a bunch of amuses, I think it was around seven and after gone through them we felt that all of them were well prepared, but nothing extraordinary. We were therefore hoping that it would catch on with the starters, but it didn't. Everything, with the exception of one of the lobster dishes that was very bitter, was well made but nothing stood out. The same thing with the main courses, where my wife chose the turbot and I the langoustine. I believe that our biggest complaints was the lack of texture. This I find a bit interesting as if there is one of thing PG is famous for, it is displaying variations of techniques, but we felt everything was rather soft, lacking anything crisp or something to sink your teeth into. There was a lot of gels and mousses and we also wished there would have been more warm elements as almost all dishes were served cold. However portions are huge so we were stuffed and did not have dessert. Service was ok, but not stellar. Maybe they were a bit understaffed due to the holidays coming up, this was their last evening before closing for Christmas, but at a three star restaurant you shouldn't have to sit with empty glasses which happened a few times. Wine list was a bit smaller than expected, but given its three star mark ups were fair. We didn't have a bad evening, but given the price we felt underwhelmed.

For Sunday we were planning to just have some cold cuts and wine at Le Baron Rouge, but when we arrived the place was crowded. Further it was smelling a lot from the plastic jugs collecting wine that were placed under the tap of wine barrels. I understand this might be charming to some people, but after spending most of our days with this smell at wine fairs and in wineries it's just not very appealing when you are about to have even a causal lunch. Not to be too negative, as we didn't try the place, but from looking at what was on display wine selection didn't seem to be very impressive. Had it been, we might have stayed regardless of the crowd and the smell. So we headed over to Verré Vole. We have been there several times, but not since they expended. I have a weak spot for this place, mainly due to the nice atmosphere in the shop with some jazz in the background and a cosy setting. Food was good, rustic, but well made and just as at Les Papilles you can chose any bottle from the shelf for a low mark up. Selection has gone more and more towards vin nature, but there are other options available.

Dinner were at Semilla, which we enjoyed. A fun, buzzing atmosphere. Both of us started with a very fresh ceviche and I followed it with sweetbreads, whereas my wife chose a fish dish (can't remember what fish at the moment) with a ruccola pesto. Prices reflected that it was a very happening place and I believe my sweetbreads were around 45 euro for the plate. Preparations felt like modern and fresher takes on classic dishes. Service was friendly, but understaffed. Winelist, a bit short with ok rather than exciting choices.

Lunch a Caïus was similar in terms of style of the food. Setting was very different however, with a more sombre feeling compared to the happening buzz at Semilla. Naturally you can't compare lunch to dinner, but I feel rather convinced that a more down toned experience is to be expected here even if we had gone for dinner. Menu was four dishes for around 40 euro starting with a light soup of leeks, followed by a ravioli and a main of beef and pak choi. For dessert I had a crumble and my wife fresh berries and cream. Everything was good and well worth the modest price tag. Wine list was 20-30 different wines, all available by the glass. Some good choices and fairly priced. Service was good and friendly.

For dinner we returned to Astier. This was the first restaurant we went to as a couple in Paris, almost ten years ago. I had read various reviews on it so expectations weren't very high, but we were happy to see that even though it seems to have changed management at least twice since we were there the style and quality of the food still remained. Traditional and well made dishes with a very fair price tag. Menu was around 40 euro for starter, main and dessert. As we chose côte de bouef as a main, there was an extra charge of 19 euro per person, but we still felt it was very good quality to price ratio. We remembered the wine list to be unexpectedly good for a casual bistro and it still is. Several good choices with low mark ups.

On Christmas eve we had lunch at 110 de Taillevent and was very impressed with everything surrounding this place. Modern style wine bar with 110 wines by the glass! Good, attentive service and most important very tasty food. My wife chose to start with a risotto with beets, celery and broccoli and this was one of the best dishes of this trip. Excellently prepared. I had a huge starter of fried squids as I always find it hard to resist it when I find it on a menu and although it was good it was over shadowed by wife's starter. For main I had a vol au vent and my wife beef tartar. Both very tasty and elegant in style. Given the huge selection of wines by the glass all price segments can be found and as I often travel alone I am very appreciative when good wines are available by the glass.

For the evening we had cancelled our reservation at Mange Tout a few days ahead and decided to stay at home with some good wines, cold cuts, rilettes, foie gras, cheese and roasted chicken as we celebrate the 24th rather than the 25th in Sweden.

Christmas day had the most disappointing experience of the trip in store for us. We had made reservations at Point Bulles via their internet booking and had it confirmed just to arris and find it close. I really think this is unacceptable. If you have a booking system somebody has to check it and if it accepts bookings on a day that it normally would have been opened, but isn't due to holiday or any other reasons. people who have made a booking should be given notice way ahead. I mean to write them and give them my opinion on how I think they handle reservations. Anyways, stranded in the sixth on Christmas day without reservations we went to the first place that looked decent enough which happened to be Café Germain. Nothing spectacular, but good burgers and a bottle of good Bordeaux saved this lunch even though expectations had been on shellfish and champagne…

Evening restaurant was open however, Le Violin d'Ingres. Food was fine, but didn't quite live up to expectations. We started with a slow cooked egg with some black truffle, supposedly one of their specialties and it was well made but lacked a bit of depth compared to similar dishes we had at other restaurants. not bad, but hardly a signature dish of starred restaurant. For main my wife had sweetbreads and I had a beef "Rossini style". Again, well made, but nothing spectacular. Service was understaffed and a bit arrogant. At one point they realised my glass was empty and rushed over to pour me some wine, but neglected to pour some to my wife whose glass was half empty, nor fill my water glass that was equally empty as my wine glass and as the bottles were placed far from reach we couldn't help ourselves either. I should mention that part of the staff was friendly and did a good job, it was mainly the head waiters that didn't have things under control. Wine list was a bit boring with rather high mark ups.

Last restaurant visit was lunch on the 26th and it proved to be another gem, Les Climats. If you fancy Burgundy wine this is the place for you. A great list, consisting of just Burgundy wines with very reasonable marks ups. Setting is beautiful, art deco style. Food is traditional, well made and very suitable for the elegant wines. I had a starter consisting of oysters, foie gras and chicken broth whereas my wife had a classic foie gras. For main I chose the hare and my wife went with the veal. Service was ok, though head waiter was a bit too familiar with us. I don't mind a casual atmosphere, but he was intruding a bit. However, we felt we left on a high note and was very happy with the trip with several restaurants we are bound to revisit.

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  1. Great review. I will save this for the upcoming trip to Paris.

    1. Thanks for the very detailed report, excepting one thing - you forgot the "Mangeur Rule" - to give the prices. Thus when you say "given the price we felt underwhelmed" [at Pierre Gagniere] or "Several good choices with low mark ups" [at Astier] I don't know what that means.
      As an example four of us ate today at the "new" Enfants Rouges and it was one of the best meals of 2013 (another was also here a few weeks ago); the "menus" were 35 E for 3 courses, the wines started at 26 E a bottle and for a couple with a bottle of wine and coffee but no bottled water a couple walked out only 102.00 E lighter.
      Anyone wanting to read the gory details can go to John Talbott's Paris.

      17 Replies
      1. re: John Talbott

        I see what you mean. For PG the bill ended at 900 euro for two persons including wine and a tip. I can't recall exactly the bottle prices at Astier, but it would be less than three times the shelf price in a store, which in comparison with other restaurants (excluding wine bar like Les Papilles) is very fair.

        1. re: JosefK

          Thanks Josef; I'm just trying to follow the rules set up by my betters.
          But isn't "three times the shelf price in a store" sort of the standard [confession time; I just got 6 bottles of drinkable stuff that we like at the Franprix downstairs - yes, I live upstairs from booze and upwind from the boozers - for from 4.83-6.88 E]. I'd expect to pay 26-36 E for them in a resto. No problem.

          1. re: John Talbott

            John, I know that you know Paris prices far better than me. I expect marks in Paris to be 3-4 times the shelf price, but if you say 3 I take your word for it. I did however just look at wine-searcher for accurate prices of the wine we had that evening, which was a lovely Cornas from Thierry Allemand and it seems marks up are just above two times (we payed 80 something for it and it seems to be selling for around 40 euro for the same vintage). However I guess that three times the shelf price might be true to some less expensive wines.

            1. re: JosefK

              I tend to find the mark-ups in France are a lot lower than many other countries where the three times plus rule applies. So twice is not that odd especially for reasonable wine. I am a little surprised to see a €5 to €7 wine marked up by five times, either Franprix is knocking them out cheaply or the restaurants pushing the mark-up at the bottom of the list.

              That said the wine buying wisdom is that the bottom part of the list usually represents the worst value with the second to bottom being the worst as that is where the many people head and thus restaurants stretch the margins here.

              1. re: PhilD

                Several of the wines that I've had at Saturne are sold at Verre Volé (cave). The mark-up at Saturne would seem to be, approximately, 3 times the price at the shop.

                1. re: PhilD

                  " the wine buying wisdom is that the bottom part of the list usually represents the worst value with the second to bottom being the worst"
                  Interesting; a sociologist friend suggest that US men are wary of buying from the bottom of the list lest they look cheap in their dates' eyes; but a wine consultant I know said to order from above the bottom because the house increases mainly the bottom of the list.

                  1. re: PhilD

                    PhilD - mark ups in France is definitely lower than UK and Sweden. From my experience I would expect three times the shelf price in most of France, but in Paris 3-4 times. However for countries with low mark ups, Spain and often Italy are hard to beat. Also agree with you in terms of that the lowest priced wines on the wine list are certain to have the highest mark ups in percentage.

                2. re: John Talbott

                  Would you care to share your favs @ 5-7EUR in a franprix? (My strategy is to watch well dressed people, who quickly snatch up inexpensive bots, buy 4 to 5 of these and pitch what doesn't suit.)

                  1. re: hychka

                    What goes beyond LOL and ROTFL? I love your method. I LOVE your method! It makes lots of sense in many markets. Think I'll head over to the Bourse and watch what's coming down.

                    1. re: hychka

                      As others have pointed out, I'm not a wine-guy but yesterday I chose (because Colette really liked the bottles we had last week);
                      A Beaumes de Venise at 6.88 E
                      A Fitou at 4.83 E &
                      A Bergerac at 2.99 E.
                      By the way, I'd point out that my new Franprix at 63 Rue du Poteau is entirely different from that at 19 (I'd like to think it's because I've moved to a classier block); better fruit, wine and non-food items.

                      1. re: John Talbott

                        Thanks. I'll be loitering near the wine @ Franprix La Motte -Picquet. we moved our lease from the 2nd to a new neighborhood with elevator due to six flights and old age.

                        1. re: hychka

                          "elevator "
                          Ditto us and just when I had figured out how to get delivery of food from Monoprix.

                          1. re: John Talbott

                            I'll outline the trip as now revised in a new post once we get back from Christmas with grandchildren.

                          2. re: hychka

                            " I'll be loitering near the wine @ Franprix La Motte -Picquet."
                            I just want to be clear to readers who don't know what you, Pti and Parigi do; I'm cheap, very cheap, esp. when it comes to wines, esp when it comes to wines at home.
                            When I was a medical student, we had a Citarella (no, not the trendy one in the 80's, but the cheapo one in the 160's) where there was a 99c barrel. That was heaven.
                            I've never lost hope.

                            1. re: John Talbott

                              Why? If you enjoy good food, why not decent wine. Decent wine does not have to be expensive, but it is very rare when decent wine is cheap or very cheap.

                    2. re: JosefK

                      By my calculations, your meal at PG came to $585 U.S. per person . . . at those prices, I would expect to be blown away by each and every dish, and to experience impeccable service. Going back and re-reading your review in light of the cost of the meal ("nothing extraordinary" "service was ok"), to me the meal that you experienced would have been an expensive disappointment. Of course, at those prices, anything short of culinary perfection would have been a let-down!

                      1. re: bauskern

                        bauskern - you are right. I had higher hopes for PG.

                  2. What a great review. I'm saving it for next time. :)

                    1. Thanks for what reads like very balanced reporting. I concur with your observations at all rooms we have also visited. A pleasure.

                      1. Astier - "traditional and well-made dishes with a very fair price tag" - agree, this was our experience as well, some months back. Although this board is divided in their enthusiasm for Astier, we had a very good dinner there. The rabbit dish I had was memorable - a boned loin stuffed with bacon and mushrooms served over whole braised carrots, accompanied with a silver jug of rich jus. The 35e bottle of Burdundy with it hit the right note. After eating at so many new and modern bistros, we do take pleasure in traditional French bistro food.