A belated report from my Paris dining adventures. But first, a big thank you to the regulars and not-so-regulars here alike - I ate incredibly well because of your generous postings!
In the category of transcendent: L’Ambroisie and L’Arpege. I can’t say enough about both of these. Although the atmosphere at the two is quite different, the flavors in the dishes at both elicited swoon after swoon. If I had to give the edge to one food-wise, it would be L’Ambroisie, only because the dishes I had were a bit more earthy, and therefore perhaps more to my taste, but had L’Arpege followed L’Ambroisie, I might feel differently. The service at each was wonderful, although the room at L’Arpege certainly does not match the cuisine.
[Note, for the menu descriptions, I used a combination of my notes and the menus, hence the French mixed in with the English. My apologies in advance if accents are incorrect/missing, my passable French is better spoken than written.]
L’Ambroisie: amuse: St. Jaques, truffe blanche (white truffle soup with puree of watercress and scallops); entrée (demi) : Oeufs brouillés a la truffe blanche, emulsion de cepe (superbly scrambled eggs, almost a custard, on an emulsion of mushrooms with shaved truffles); entrée (demi): Croustillant d’escargot et ris de veau (sweetbreads in a light batter with sautéed escargots and an anise chantilly); plat: Suprème de volaille de bresse aux ecrevisses, turban de macaroni; dessert: tarte fine sable au cacao amer, glace à la vanille; mignardises: florentines, madelines, petites chocolate éclairs, and tarte aux pommes. I cannot describe the amuse and the two entrées as to do them justice, transcendent is really the best word, and to my taste, these are perhaps the best dishes I’ve had anywhere. I was unfortunately too full to appreciate the chicken. I rallied for dessert, which was far beyond your average chocolate tart and their mignardises are currently the bar by which I measure others.
L’Arpege: (tasting menu) Oeuf à la coque; pumpkin velouté with speck chantilly; couleur, saveur, parfum et dessin du jardin (shaved vegetable salad); homard vinaigrette acidulée (lobster with sliced turnip honey and vinegar); fois gras (grilled with sliced radish, served with a whole date); turbot de Bretagne (with rutabaga mousseline and smoked potatoes); agnon de lait (buttery lamb with exquisite spinach); tarte à la Fourme D’Ambert et poire (blue cheese and pear tart); soufflé (vanilla with a swirl of dark chocolate, made with jerusalem artichoke); mignardises (including arugula, beetroot and carrot macarons). Highlights: the L’Arpege egg, the interplay of tart and sweet with the lobster, the simple deliciousness of the fois gras, the pumpkin soup. After the last bite of a carrot macaron, I jotted in my notebook “This is a meal I came to Paris for.” (and can't wait to return here as well as L'Ambroisie.)
In the next category of absolutely delicious: Guy Savoy and Taillevent. The dishes at these two do not scintillate in the way they do at L’Arpege and L’Ambroisie, but I had culinary delights at both and enjoyed both of these dining experiences immeasurably. I look forward to returning to each, due in no small part to the service, which is so warm as to be embracing. And both dining rooms are extremely comfortable, GS more modern, Taillevent a bit more classic, and neither stuffy.
Guy Savoy: Tasting menu: amuse, foie gras and toast presented on skewers; lobste bisque with shredded lobster, and under the other side of the soup cup was a petite crab pastry; turbot et champignons à la mode d’automne; homard Breton juste grille (grilled lobster served on a bed of carrot purée); artichoke soup with black truffle and brioche with mushrooms and truffle butter (the brioche is buttered for you tableside, and they brought me another without my asking, as they could see how much was enjoying it. As they were buttering the second one, I politely requested they butter with a heavy hand. J); foie gras; pre-dessert: pomme (apple compote, apple gelée, apple chip and apple sorbet); and a then a dessert extravaganza: gimauves; petits fours; warm raisin coffee cake; lemon meringue tart; earl grey sorbet accompanying a small slice of tarte tatin, complementing my earl grey tea; vanilla glace, there was more and they would have kept going but I was so full I had to decline. (This dessert extravaganza played out in similar fashion at every table in the room.)
Taillevent: amuse: artichoke velouté, plat (demi): tourte lapin de garenne a genièvre endives dorées (rabbit in pastry with grilled endive),; langoustine rôties, artichauts poivrade au basilic (shrimp with artichokes); homard sauté a cru, basilic thaï, olives taggisches et tomate (lobster sautéed with olives and tomatoes). Cheese: Brillat Savarin, Comté, Reblochon and Vacherin. The bread and butter here were the best twosome (Savoy and L’Arpege have the same swoon-worthy butter, Bordier, but Taillevent’s bread is the most to my taste - super crunchy.)
In the category of “Why I Love Chowhound” – L’Ardoise. When I needed last minute deliciousness on my last night in Paris, I remembered reading here about L’Ardoise on a thread about Sunday night spots, and fortunately they had a table. Delicious meal, warm service. I had two entrées, dessert, tea and a large bottle of mineral water for 40 euros. Poached eggs in a seafood velouté with sautéed ham and croutons (other than what it would do to my cholesterol, I could eat this every day), foie gras, sausage and sage ravioli in a mushroom sauce, another winner. Then chocolate tart for dessert. (The tart may have been better than it seemed at the time, at this point I was extremely full and had also had L’Ambroisie’s chocolate tart the day before, so pretty much any chocolate tart would have paled in comparison.)
In the next category, very good food, just did not love the overall experience: L’Atelier du Joel Robuchon. Waited a very long time for my seat, despite having a reservation. The sweetbreads dish I had was quite good, but given the other dining experiences I had in Paris, along with my long ‘to try’ list, I will not rush back here.
In the category, very good food, not sure what all the fuss is about: Le Comptoir (on a Sunday evening.) Obviously this was the “no reservation” Comptoir, which I understand differs from the weekday evening Comptoir, but the dishes I had though tasty, were not transporting. Now perhaps this is a case of my expectations being too high or not ordering well, and I did enjoy my terrine (entrée) and lamb (plat), but I was not left with the feeling of waiting to return to explore the menu further, whereas when I am taken with a place, I want to go back.
In the category of biggest disappointment: Pierre Gagnaire. It is hard to put words to my experience here. Beautiful setting and the service was warm but the food was just not good. Dish after dish came out of the kitchen (Gagnaire was not there this evening) and I wondered when the deliciousness would arrive. Not only were most of the dishes flavorless, a few of them tasted bad. I was chuckling to myself, thinking, “here I am at Pierre Gagnaire, he is considered one of the best chefs in the world, and these dishes just do not taste good (and some of them really didn’t look good either) - this is hard to believe.” Even the desserts were not good, and the last dessert had so much citrus rind in it, I had to spit out the bite I took for bitterness.
Pierre Gagnaire: (tasting menu) amuse were stunning and delicious, but unfortunately it was downhill from here; gelée fraiche a la coriandre (green gelée with crab, herbs and raw cauliflower); grosses huitres Gillardeau (large oyster with mackerel on a bed of avocado); foie gras with beet root purée; curry de legumes d’automne (with apple tarragon ice cream, chestnut cream and a chiffonade of romaine. The curry looked and tasted like bottled steak sauce); cabillaud nacré vert (this was a white fish completely covered in bright green chlorophyll, brought to the table on a sheet of saran wrap over a white bowl, in which were dried mushrooms. When they presented this to me, it was not the least bit appetizing, not to mention confusing. At first I could not figure out what it was - it was so green, as if it were painted on the fish – and I wondered why they were using saran wrap, and what that (the dried mushrooms) under it. The whole presentation struck me odd. The fish was transferred from the saran wrap onto a plate with quinoa and some the dried mushrooms, which taste exactly like, yep, dried mushrooms. Had this dish tasted good, this unusual presentation may have made sense in the end, but it was with this dish the meal went from blah to bad); royale d’oursin, chain d’aubergine et haddock en assaisonement (this was poached sea bass which had the consistency of smoked salmon, topped with a béchamel and served with an eggplant puree along with pieces of dried eggplant. This was a relatively bland dish, both visually and taste-wise, however it had a strong fish smell that did not match the taste of the dish. After two bites, I said I was done, and they lifted the plate, revealing the source of the smell. Underneath was a very shallow bowl holding a sea urchin brulée with haddock and leeks. A nice surprise, but too fishy for my taste.); the last dish was beef with caviar butter, a pigeon brochette and a radicchio purée. It was not a tender piece of beef and the pigeon was overcooked. I have joked since returning that I could get a more tender skewer from a cart here in Manhattan. I passed on the cheese, which as I read the menu to write this, may have been a mistake.
Miscellaneous deliciousness – I am smitten with the croissants and macarons at Ladurée, especially the pain aux chocolate et pistache and the caramel fleur de sel macarons. The longchamps pastry and pralines from Hévin, were also very good, but I did not get to as many of the other patisseries and chocolatiers recommended here as I would have liked. I did get Bernachon chocolates at L’Etoile d’Or, and wish I had purchased more, as I love the pralines. Ditto for the LeRoux caramels. And the 2000 Feuilles from Pierre Hermé, a praline mille feuille, is fantastic! (You can eat the Hermé pastries at Aux Vieux Columbier around the corner) Another one of my favorites is the Mazel Tov at Hévin, non-fat cheesecake, great when you want something sweet and need a break from the richness. If someone could duplicate it here in Manhattan, they would make a killing. I liked Amorino better than Berthillon. (In the name of “research” I had cups of both within the time it took to walk down the block from one shop to the other. Berthillon: caramel, hazlenut and vanilla. Amorino: hazlenut and pistachio.)
p.s. Chef June, I walked the length of rue Mouffetard to try the croissants you recommended and could not find Café Mouffetard I found Le Mouffetard, (which may be what you were referring to) but it did not look like a place that made its own croissants or brioche. Next trip!