I’m reporting back on a week’s worth of eating in Paris at the beginning of June. I apologize for the delay and for the fuzziness on details that results! The highlights of the trip for us were Le Gaigne, Spring, and Lao-Lane Xang (as well as daily croissants from Boulangerie Saint-Louis, bread from Eric Kayser, cheese from La Ferme Saint-Aubin on the Ile St-Louis, and many casual picnics in parks, at Versailles, and along the Seine). Thanks to everyone who provided advice, in response to my post or to others on the board – we would not have eaten so well without it!
Le Gaigne – We had dinner here on our first Saturday and both opted for the 5-course tasting menu with paired wines for 59 euro. Everything was complex, inventive, and delicious (and luckily I took some notes). First was a roll of ham filled with vegetables, accompanied by leeks w/vinaigrette and a deviled egg with ham. I thought the combination of ham around chunks of vegetables would be strange, but the textures worked very well together. Next we had a sardine spring roll with mint and romaine – the sardine and mint were fantastic together – along with a nicely vinegary gazpacho and some sort of white fish on bread with vegetables. Next was John Dory with peas, red peppers, and mushrooms – a phenomenal combo, pleasingly sweet with nice textures. Then came guinea fowl in croute de sel, which was moist with a crispy exterior. My plate was missing chorizo for some reason, but I got some of my boyfriend’s, and it added a lot. This also came with spaetzle, which I found a little greasy but had a nice flavor. We paid 3 euro extra for one cheese plate to share, and I’m so glad we did – it was a delightfully light epoisse “cloud,” with fresh greens on the side. Finally dessert was cherries with custard, a thin layer of cake, candied almonds, and a crispy thin wafer on top – it was the dessert item I was least excited by originally but it turned out to be incredibly delicious. The four wines were very good, but I don’t know much about wines to comment. The service was incredibly friendly and welcoming, and the price was extremely reasonable given the complexity and quality of the dishes.
Breizh Café – We walked into Breizh around 1:30 on a Sunday afternoon thinking we wouldn’t need a reservation but had to wait almost an hour. We didn’t mind and strolled around the neighborhood in the meantime. Lunch was tasty but nothing extraordinary. We split some really nice, meaty oysters and a bottle of cidre – I forget what it was called but it was described as being acidic and dry, and it had a hint of vinegar to it – and I had a crepe with cheese, egg, and onion confit. Service was a little too accommodating – we were hardly allowed to speak French.
Josephine Chez Dumonet – We enjoyed JCD but agreed that we wouldn’t rush to go back – it felt like an interesting experience more than anything. The service was friendly but something about it seemed a bit strange (we were in the “tourist” back room), and I had been made nervous by some reports here and was constantly worried they were going to take advantage of us – when they brought us two unasked for glasses of wine to start, when they insisted on bringing us a bottle of wine that didn’t have a price next to it on the menu – but they didn’t! We started with the foie gras, which was as smooth and delicious as promised, though huge – we almost couldn’t finish it. I had the duck confit, which also lived up to its reputation. I was sad when I had to hand over the second half to my boyfriend, as we were sharing, in exchange for the pigeon millefeuille, which wasn’t that special. Neither the meat nor the potatoes were very flavorful and the textures didn’t complement each other very well. Finally we received two soufflés despite only having ordered one – we protested but they assured us not to worry and only charged us for one. They were fantastic, but we could hardly get through half each after the rich meal. If they were going to give us a free second dessert, I wish they’d given us something different so we could taste two things!
Lao-Lane Xang – We went to this Laotian restaurant on a night when we didn’t have anything planned. We found it mentioned on David Lebovitz’s blog and as we’d never had Laotian food, we decided to try. Obviously we had no basis for comparison, but we found it delicious and refreshing, a nice break from French food all the time. We shared the toasted rice salad, which was a highlight – crispy and flavorful – as well as the cold hacked beef (forget the actual name), which had an unusual texture, almost like ground beef, but was very tasty. I think we shared another small dish but I forget what. With two beers, I think our total was only about 30 euro, and it was fun to check out an area of Paris I had never been to.
Chez l’Ami Jean – We did CAJ for lunch on Thursday. We sat at the long communal table in the middle and found the service to be very nice, if a little playful (in a charming way). I actually thought the highlight was the starter we shared of white asparagus. I wish I remembered all the components but bacon and raspberries were involved, as well as an acidic (maybe lemony) vinaigrette. It was phenomenal – refreshing, imaginative, and surprising. My boyfriend had the pigeon, which we agreed was far better than JCD’s. It was half of the bird in a tureen, dripping with its own juices as I recall. The waiter encouraged him to attack it with his hands and, despite the fact that no one else seemed to be eating with their hands, he went for it. I had the veal chop, which was well cooked and huge but didn’t really wow me. We were stuffed but knew we had to have the riz au lit, and it was totally worth it – so creamy and sweet and caramel-y. We spent way too much – I don’t even want to look at what the total was on my credit card statement – but it was a great experience (and actually we were surprised that the two glasses of wine we had ordered, without a list, were only something like 6 euros – a bargain compared to everything else!). We also chatted with a really nice American girl next to us who had also come to CAJ by way of Chowhound, so if she’s reading this – hi!
Spring – Spring lunch on Friday was probably our favorite meal of the whole trip. Like Le Gaigne, the food was incredibly complex and inventive. We started with a small plate of seared cuttlefish, perfectly done. Next was a dish I don’t think I’ll ever forget – “salad soup” made of arugula and romaine, with braised romaine, pickled chanterelles, some kind of bacon, and a wedge of tuna sitting in it. Actually there may be even more components I’m forgetting, but the whole thing was stunningly good. The main course also made a strong impression – pigeon (three times in one week!) with almond puree and cherries. The almond puree was amazing – it had the texture of creamy mashed potatoes with a wonderful almond flavor. Together with the pigeon and its juices and the sweet cherries, I never wanted to stop eating it. I had to stop myself from licking the plate (also with the salad soup). Dessert was a bowl of mixed berries with whipped cream, crumbled cookies, and I think something else on top – it was very good, and nice after the rich main course, but not as remarkable. The amuse-bouche of yogurt sorbet with crumbled cocoa beans was more exciting. Service was very friendly and helpful with choosing a glass of wine each. The space is beautiful too. I would go back in a heartbeat, even with the high price tag for lunch (it worked out to about $150 in USD – not that much less than CAJ).
Huitrerie Regis – We stumbled upon Huitrerie Regis and came back later in the day hoping to split a dozen oysters before a picnic dinner. Once we were seated and excited about oysters, they told us we had to order a dozen each, which was annoying but obviously within their rights (it was written on the menu). So we got a dozen of each kind – clairs and fines I think? – both in the smaller size available and split a carafe of sancerre. The oysters were huge! I guess we’re just not used to French oysters, but they were significantly bigger than the ones we’d had (and preferred) at Café Breizh, which already seemed quite meaty. The flavor was very very briny, which was good, but in such large quantity, it was a bit overwhelming. And then to have to eat a dozen each! I’d like to continue exploring French oysters in the future, but I didn’t love these.
Bistrot Paul Bert – We had a disappointing experience that had nothing to do with the food – we showed up after biking over on our velibs from Pere Lachaise and were told that lunch had ended at 2 pm – and it was only 2:05! But they refused to seat us. Maybe I should have appealed to them that it was our last day in Paris and I really wanted to eat there, but I got the impression they would not have been swayed. Comically, the waiter recommended another place down the street where we could eat, but when I asked if it was good, he shrugged! And couldn’t recommend anywhere else in the area. Disappointing. So if you want to go, don’t show up a minute late!
Unknown falafel place – We tried to go to L’As du Falafel but it was mysteriously closed when we showed up in the afternoon, mid-week (I forget which day, but I checked their schedule beforehand). Instead we ate at a place on the same street, closer to Rue Vielle du Temple, that had a falafel window on the side. It looked more touristy than anything, but the falafel was fantastic, crisp and fresh and packed with vegetables.
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