This board was very helpful in planning our trip, so I wanted to report back on our experiences. We don’t have the opportunity to dine in gourmet restaurants very often, so I wanted to have excellent meals on our trip but not food that was “too creative” for us. For that reason, we chose somewhat mainstream restaurants. During our three week trip, we dined at a variety of restaurants in different parts of France, including three one-star Michelin restaurants, and also enjoyed several picnics and roast chicken dinners from the local markets. I can’t describe food in the detail that is given in some other posts, but I can report what we ate (in most cases – I clearly should have taken some notes!) and how we enjoyed both the food and the service. Whether I want to return to a restaurant is usually a good indication of my opinion of its overall quality, so I’m indicating that as well.
For our anniversary dinner, we went to Violon d'Ingres, which was conveniently just around the corner from our hotel. The atmosphere was very tranquil and the waitstaff was very nice; it was our first full day in France and we were somewhat nervous, so I really appreciated their kindness. We both started with a salad of romaine hearts, lardons of ham and parmesan shavings (craving greens after 24 hours of air travel). We both had fish for a main course –the sea bass with almonds and a filet of St. Pierre with anchovy butter. For dessert, we had the “traditionnel millefeuille ‘Christian Constant’” with a little pitcher of very delicious caramel sauce and the chocolate cannellonis with raspberries. The food was delicious, the service was impeccable, and it was quite a memorable dining experience. I understand why it has a Michelin star.
Au Petit Marguery – This traditional French restaurant was lovely, with red walls and white tablecloths, and the service was excellent. The three-course menu was 35E; I had a starter of melon and Serrano ham, duck with nectarines for the main course and a gratin of strawberries and sabayon au Champagne for dessert. The portions were quite large and it was all delicious, a very good value. The other diners were primarily French, and when our dinners were finished we had a delightful conversation with a couple in their 80's at the next table (who were quite curious how we had found their favorite neighborhood restaurant). This was a “would definitely return” restaurant.
La Regalade St Honore – On the Friday night that we dined there, reservations were definitely necessary; they called to confirm our reservation that morning, which was nice. There were other tables with primarily English-speaking guests, but the majority were French speaking. One of the two servers spoke excellent English and the service was very good. As you know, the meal began with a loaf of delicious terrine brought to the table with a jar of cornichons. My husband had the risotto with squid ink and pronounced it delicious. I had a starter with seared tuna that looked beautiful and tasted just as good as it looked. The wonderful rice pudding dessert apparently erased my memory of the details of the main course (duck, I think), but I know I was very happy with it. The 35E menu here was an excellent value. This was also a “would definitely return” restaurant.
Le Reminet -- The small upstairs room was full and we were seated in the cool basement cave which soon filled up too, primarily with non-English speakers. Since we'd had a late lunch, we skipped the starters (to save room for dessert). The service was good, except for the nonchalant response to my cracked champagne flute, and the food was good, but it wasn't as impressive as some of the other meals we enjoyed in Paris. Without the 40% LaFourchette discount, the meal would have been overpriced for just a main course and dessert.
Le Gaigne – They also called to confirm our reservation in the morning; I like that. The one waitstaff who competently served the entire restaurant gave us our choice of tables and took our order for the five course tasting menu. The menu (42E) was very creative; the starters included ham rolled around vegetables that looked like a work of art, a sardine spring roll, a tiny glass of gazpacho, and a piece of mackerel in white wine sauce; the plat was a very tasty guinea hen baked in a salt crust; and the dessert included poached cherries on a dacquoise cake with kirsch cream, topped with a tile cookie, which was great. I think everyone in the room was English-speaking (which doesn’t bother me, but I know it’s important to some). This was a “would probably return” restaurant.
Loire Valley --
Chenonceaux – The Bon Laboureur was my favorite meal of the whole trip. We stayed at the hotel for three nights and had dinner at the restaurant on our last night. I liked that it was not necessary to designate a time; we could simply appear anytime between 7:30 and 9:00. We both chose the 48€ menu which included a starter of foie gras de canard with mango chutney, shrimp accompanied by mashed potatoes with truffle for the main course, and dacquiose praline and ice cream for dessert. The ambiance and service were delightful -- lovely but not stuffy. It would have been enjoyable to eat there every night of our stay. And next time I will be sure to have the cheese course, an amazing assortment delivered on an enormous tray. This was a “would definitely return and would want to eat there every night” restaurant. In my opinion, it totally deserves its Michelin star.
Amboise – La Reserve. Sometimes everything just comes together to create a perfect day. We’d seen beautiful gardens at Villandry, visited the chateau at Azay-le-Rideau, bought baskets in Villaines les Rochers, driven through beautiful countryside near the Vienne River – and now we were hungry on a Sunday evening and in the mood for a more casual dining experience. We guessed that some restaurants would be open in Amboise and we found La Reserve, at the foot of the chateau, with a sidewalk table and a steak frites menu for 16.90, including a terrine starter and dessert. It was just what we wanted.
St Remy de Provence – Maison Jaune. We were with a group of 8 and were seated upstairs in a separate room, which the other diners probably appreciated. The food was very good; we had a melon and ham starter, chicken as a main course, and a dessert plate with strawberry soup, lemon butter, and citrus cake. The service was fine, but overall the restaurant was not at the same level as the other starred restaurants.
St Remy de Provence – La Cantina. What can I say -- after a week of great French food, we were ready for a pizza, and La Cantina’s Italian owners make a great one. Good salads and sorbet too. Would return.
Le Paradou – Le Bistro du Paradou. Loved this place. The starter was a choice of ravioli with foie gras or escargots; main course was lamb; and there was a wide selection of desserts, all for 48 euros including wine. Great food, warm, friendly ambiance and great service; it felt like a neighborhood place but visitors were welcome too. Would definitely return.
L’Est. I just had to eat at a Paul Bocuse brasserie and we were very pleased with l’Est. My Poulet Bresse that was the best chicken I’ve ever had in my life. Service was good at the start, but we had to wait a very long time after we asked for our check. It was the largest and loudest restaurant we ate in, and was full of local families on a Saturday night (the evening before mother’s day). The trains running around the perimeter of the room were a fun touch. I would definitely return to a Bocuse brasserie, maybe a different one for variety.
Leon de Lyon did not live up to our expectations. It was mother’s day, but we had a fairly early reservation and the restaurant wasn’t full, so I don’t think the kitchen was overwhelmed. We had the menu (veal accompanied by a cream of morels), which just wasn’t very good in taste or texture. It was served before we’d finished our starter, which made me wonder if it had been prepared too early. Oh well. Every meal can't be perfect.
My thanks to everyone who posts such helpful information on this board and to those who patiently answered my questions. Next trip, we will be more adventurous, but for this trip, we made excellent choices, thanks to your help.