Ok, i have taken too long to write this up, so my memory is a little hazy, but in any event, we had a wonderful trip to Paris at the beginning of the month. We had reservations every evening, but played it by ear during the day for lunches and snacks. Here is what we found:
Fontaine du Mars: This was dinner on our first night. Quite good, if fairly basic. Since we were jetlagged and it was our first night in Paris, we couldn't have asked for anything better. Quaint, "typical" bistro. Service was very attentive and they tolerated my horrible french. I had an eggplant and goat cheese tart for starters, the wife had escargots. Both were quite good. My cassoulet entree was excellent and my wife insisted that her duck breast was the best she had ever had (she'd retract that later in the week). Dessert was OK, but not necessarily memorable. On the whole, I'd give it a three and a half out of five.
Ze Kitchen Galerie. The clear winner of the week. Cool setting, fun, buzzing crowd and absolutely amazing food. We did the 75Euro tasting menu. 7 different dishes, all of them outstanding. First course was a smoked salmon and squid with mango and rhubarb (we think). Second course was white asparagus soup with rocket reduction along with a fried cheese (similar to mozzerella) with a mango sauce. Next up was a ravioli of duck and shrimp in a ginger peanut sauce. Next was Sole with mango and "lemon caviar", followed by grilled pigeon with foie gras and various spring vegetables. Desserts were mango soup with passionfruit infusion and coconut ice cream and a white chocolate ice cream with wasabi, pistacios and strawberries. Absolutely amazing all the way through. Only misfire was mine--I ordered a rather ordinary bottle of Sancere and the meal deserved something more. Definitely a five out of five.
Il Vino. Probably the biggest disappointment of the trip. That being said, it was still good, just not as good as I was hoping. definitely more focus on the wines than on the food (but that is the whole concept, isn't it). On the whole, the meal was very bland and I could have gotten just as good a meal (for far less money) back in the states. Part of the problem could have been that I didn't trust my instincts and pick the wines/courses my self. Instead, we once again went for a tasting menu (100 Euros per person). None of the food was especially memorable and (really surprising) neither were the wines. We did have a good rose with the strawberry sorbet dessert. That was the best part of the meal. Two and ahalf out of five.
Fables de la Fontaine. Excellent meal in very pleasant surroundings. It was a warm night so we were able to get a table outside. This was perfect--with the fountain gurgling in the background and the lively street scene on Rue St. Dominique. The starters were amazing. I had a crab meat concoction that was excellent. My wife had a escargot and langoustine mixture that was also quite good. For main course, I had a crusty seabass while my wife got the John Dory special. Both were excellent and we both thought the other had the better dish. We skipped dessert and headed back to some friends' apartment for cheese. Three and a half out of five.
Le Comptoir. Excellent all the way around. Great service and very good food. We were there on a weeknight for the "no choices" 45 Euro menu. For the money this was an incredible meal. First starter was a mixture of spring vegetables in a mousse with horseradish. Very surprising and very tasty. Next was simple white asparagus that was fantastic. Incredibly fresh. Main course was a seared veal steak that I thought was great. There was a seasoned crust on the veal that was just a little too strong. If you scraped it off, though, the meat was fantastic. The cheese course is justly famous--10 different cheeses and all you can eat. Unfortunately, I wasn't feeling great that night, so I limited my participation, but the rest of the table demolished the cheese tray. I believe dessert was a white chocolate ice cream (again, not feeling well and so I didn't concentrate on dessert). Overall, I would say a 4 out of 5.
Afaria. The biggest surprise of the week. Really outstanding ambience, food and service and the best prices we could have hoped for all week. 29Euros for a three course meal. Plus a quite excellent bottle of Pirineiros (sorry about the spelling) for another 29Euros. The staff was very helpful--English is definitely not spoken regularly here. It felt like a great neighborhood joint. White Sangria apertifs, a cocotte of escargots in a provencal sauce that left us licking our plates, a roasted duck breast with potatoes bourginon and then beniets with chocolate dipping sauce and passion fruit sorbet. We had to be rolled out of there. It is a little off the beaten track, but it made for a wonderful night out. I would rank it as our second best meal overall a 4.5 out of 5.
Laserre. Our one really big blow out dinner. I wish I hadn't done it. Again, not really disappointing, but not worth the Euros we dropped either. The experience was amazing. Impeccible service and we really felt like royalty. The dining room is beautiful and they did open the ceiling so we had a beautiful dinner "under the stars" (although the light polution is so bad in Paris, we couldn't see any stars). I had the truffle and foie gras macaroni which was astounding. My wife had the caviar with peas--she also loved it. We both got the Pigeon--the house specialty. It was fine, but really nothing to write home about. Dessert was good, but not especially memorable. Wine was perfect with the meal. Again, it was a wonderful, romantic evening, but I couldn't help thinking about how much it was costing me. Definitely not the value play of the trip. 3 out of 5.
Other notes: we had lunch one day at Fromagerie 31 on Rue de Seine. Excellent little place with a great selection of cheeses. Perfect "pick me up" after tromping around the sights all morning. Also, the DaRosa epicerie right across the street has some wonderful treats--chocolate covered almonds and sauternes raisins. They also have a great selection of hams that they cut right in front of you. We didn't eat lunch there, but they certainly are set up for it and it looked wonderful. We didn't get the Macarons at Laduree, but we did have an eclair and a millefeuille there and they were excellent. We DID get macarons from Pan de Sucre over in the Marais and they were astonishingly good. So fresh and intense, it was heaven.
Thanks to everyone on this board for their suggestions and recommendations. We had a great trip and a wonderful epicurian experience as a result.