I am new to chowhound, and feel a little unqualified to post. DH and I enjoy eating, but are not experts like most of the posters here. However, we received so much great advice from lurking on the boards before our trip, that I decided to post on our recent trip to Paris in hopes it may be helpful to others.
We stayed in the 7th arr., and were happy that it had a neighborhood feel. Yes, we were not the only Anglophone tourists, but there were plenty of locals about as well. Twice during our stay we ate at Le Petite Cler on Rue Cler. It was very handy to our hotel. I believe that the charcuterie is the same as that at their fancier sister restaurant (I can’t recall the name), and the cheese is from the excellent fromagerie Marie Cantin. While not fancy, these items were excellent, as was the fresh squeezed OJ by our waiter. Service was fast and friendly, and everything was reasonably priced.
Our big splurge was the 110 euro lunch at Ledoyen. Far and away the best meal we’ve eaten in our lives. It was an utterly amazing blend of classical French with some modernist twists. This blog’s photos are representative of our meal:
Amuse bouche 1 and 3 were the same, as were the post-desserts. We were told to eat amuse bouche 1 in a single bite. It was a ginger and orange liquid-filled pillow. Great palate cleanser. Our amuse bouche #2 on the slate slab included foie gras with crunchy carmelized pieces on the sides (I didn’t think I’d like that touch but it was inspired), fried orange-stuffed caperberries (delicious), and some kind of ultra-thin wafer with a dollop of an herb paste. Amuse #3 (pictured in the photo) included squid ink wafers and horseradish wafers. I am a sucker for salty crunchy things, and these were mind-blowing, especially with the champagne. Our amuse #4 was a little dish of cubed radishes on an herb cream. Just lovely. Springtime in a bowl. Finally we had our “official” first courses. I chose the poached lobster that arrived with a jellied lobster stock. The lobster was perfectly cooked. I am the sort of person who will eat jellied chicken stock from the pyrex bowl in the fridge, so to say that I enjoyed the lobster consommé would be quite an understatement. DH enjoyed his dish of white and green asparagus, sauced with an emulsified egg vinaigrette, and dotted with salmon eggs. Amazing combination of flavors. My main course was a piece of sole rolled up, and covered with a translucent sheet. I couldn’t figure out what the sheet was, but now I think it may have been a sort of dehydrated fish stock (perhaps with gelatin) made into a translucent sheet. This was served with a beurre blanc and “pea garnishes.” The pea garnishes were nothing short of amazing. Green cylinders (I am guessing some sort of dehydrated pea puree cut into a rectangle and rolled into a cylinder), filled with pea puree, then lightly steamed peas, then pea foam, and finally, pea shoots. This dish surpassed even the lobster, in terms of flavor and complexity, while not overwhelming the sweet peas. I felt like I had never eaten a proper pea! My husband had a chicken breast covered with brioche crumbs, and if I am correct, more caviar. I am not a particular fan of chicken, but he said it was by far the most exquisite chicken he’d eaten. After our mains came the cheese trolley, with both familiar and unfamiliar cheeses that were perfectly aged. Then came the merengue adorned with little lollipop-type desserts (I have to respectfully disagree with fatmanslimwallet and characterize the base as a merengue and not a pavlova which is chewy in the center). Desserts were the low point for us (although we would have thought they were amazing preceded by any other meal). I had a salted caramel and citrus mousse type dessert. I didn’t think the citrus did much for the salted caramel. DH had a crème brulee topped with ice cream and some sort of creamy fruit concoction, and I think he’d have preferred the brulee plain. But we are just nit-picking here. The desserts were very tasty, just (in our view) not quite up to the standards of the savory courses. When a server appeared with the tray of pastries and candies, and I left out a very big sigh, she immediately asked if we’d like them wrapped to go. Well… yes indeed! We had the pastries for breakfast the next morning. We savored the chocolates and caramels for three days. The caramels in particular were the best we have ever had – amazingly deep flavor, and not so sticky to pull off your crowns. The overall takeaway from this experience is that the chef is masterful in extracting the most flavor from each ingredient. Each bite was like a flavor explosion.
Yes, the rose champagne from the trolley was expensive. But it was by far the best and richest rose champagne I’ve had. It was a label I had never seen in the US. We asked the waiter for a wine recommendation, and he gave us a wonderful recommendation that was only around 85 euros and it perfectly complemented the meal. Interestingly, the waiter kept moving the bottle in and out of the ice bucket to keep it at optimal temperature.
The service, while formal, was attentive, and uniformly professional. While I only read restaurant French (and speak even less), the staff treated us well and we did not feel looked down upon. Of course, we expressed appreciation for the quality of the food and wine. That, along with a few words of French, seems to go a long way. While this meal set us back around $500 US, and we are by no means wealthy, astonishingly, we actually felt it was a good value given the superior quality of the food and wine.
Several days later we had lunch at Josephine Chez Dumonet. We specifically went for the boeuf bourgignon, foie gras, and Napolean. The food was outstanding, and as others have indicated, the sauce for the beef bourgignon was mind-blowingly complex and rich. A half order should be plenty for most people. The foie gras was pretty good, and I had the pigeon (first time) which was extremely tender and accompanied by a very flavorful reduction sauce (although the potato gallette that accompanied the pigeon was in my opinion overcooked nearly to the point of being burnt. The Napolean was also quite good – different than I expected. It had very thin layers of crispy pastry filled with thin layers of pastry cream and dusted with confectioners’ sugar. As a side, don’t miss the perfectly cooked and seasoned haricot verts. While the food was (mostly) outstanding, as others have noted, the service was another story. The waiter whisked away our amuse bouche before we were finished, saying he had to take it away to make room for our next course, which was the (cold) foie gras! We were obviously sharing the foie gras, but they did not bring us individual plates. Worst of all, they brought out all of the main courses except one order of the beef, and we waited about 10 minutes for our friend’s order to arrive, all the while our food was getting cold. As a few others others have implied, in our opinion the wine list is criminal. There was very little under 100 euros. Since we do not know much about French wine other than champagnes, we asked the headwaiter for a recommendation. We ended up paying 118 euros for the worst wine (a harsh Burgundy) we had during our 10-day trip (worse than the house wine from the little Italian bistro down the street from our hotel). Bottom line: I’m glad we went and were able to taste the classical French comfort food, but I wouldn’t go back.
One night when we had no reservations we lined up at 6:30 for Les Cocottes. We started with a Caesar salad, which oddly came with chicken strips. It was ok, but nothing special. I had the langoustine ravioli with artichoke mousse that also seemed to have langoustine bisque and foam. It was an extremely rich and delicious dish. My husband had cod with spring vegetables, which oddly came with a rather sweet sauce. After he got over the sweetness he enjoyed it, but I couldn’t have eaten it. Both dishes were perfectly cooked (and we are loathe to eat overcooked seafood), which had been a concern with ordering seafood cooked in cast iron pots. Service was great, and our server gave a wonderful and reasonably priced wine recommendation (a Sancerre under 50 euros which was very tasty). What we didn’t like was the mob scene. Not only were tables jammed together, but people waiting to eat were jammed together in every possible space in the room. I don’t know how our waiter managed to bring food/etc. it was so crowded. And noisy. Would we return? Probably not, because of the mob scene. Although the ravioli were just divine.
Another evening we dined at Le Petite Sud Ouest. That was our first experience with foie gras, and it was the best of our entire trip (setting aside the bites at Ledoyen). The owner, Chantal, told us that she made it herself. We had the scrambled eggs with truffles, which was also a very large serving, with a generous amount of truffles. I had the duck confit, and DH had the magret. Both were very delicious, although I have to give the edge to the confit. The servings were huge, and the quality was very good. Madame Chantal gave us a perfect wine recommendation that was also reasonably priced. Service was very friendly and prompt. At the next table, a little girl was playing with the toaster on her table (warm toast for the foie gras), and soon there was a burning smell. She was toasting the wood tongs used to remove the toast from the toasters! Madame Chantal could not have been nicer or more cheery to the young girl, saying that “it’s much better to toast the bread!” Another plus is that this was the one restaurant where I successfully made a reservation via email.
After seeing what appeared to be a three hour line to get into the Pompidou, our tired feet instead took us to L’As du Falafel for an early lunch. We shared the falafel plate and a bowl of French fries. The plate must have had 20 of the most delicious falafel, along with hummus, tahini sauce, two kinds of cabbage salad, and a cucumber/tomato salad. We ate nearly the whole dish of green hot sauce on the falafel, it was so delicious.
My final food-related recommendation is we really enjoyed our day trip to the champagne region with Paris Champagne Tours (www.parischampagnetour.com). This is a small van tour with a maximum of 7 guests. Our guide, Trong, used to live in Reims, and seemed to know every second person we met. He started by taking us to the vinyards and explaining the painstaking work of growing and harvesting the grapes (all manual, virtually no machines). Then we went to a small grower-producer who is a 5th generation champagne maker. She explained the process of producing and bottling champagne (again, largely by hand). We tasted 4 different types of champagne, and of course had the opportunity to purchase some. We thought it was a very good value for the price, and bought a bottle to bring home, and one to drink in our hotel. Then it was off to lunch (our guide indicated that the board of directors of Taittinger were seated at the next table), and after lunch we had a tour of the spectacular cathedral in Reims. Last stop was a (touristy) tour of Pommery, which has 25 million bottles of champagne in miles of cellars. The highlight of the tour was the small grower-producer in the morning, and the tour was well worth the (nontrivial) cost. (I don’t think the train tour option that skips the morning activities would be worth the time and money.)
I hope this posting will be helpful for other newbies to Paris. Thanks to all of the posters who helped us decide where to spend our scarce meals in Paris.