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18 meals in Paris: Taillevant to Tan Lien and lots in between


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18 meals in Paris: Taillevant to Tan Lien and lots in between

JmVikmanis | Sep 25, 2006 03:52 PM

Warning this is long. It covers all 18 restaurants we ate in on a recent trip to Paris. To help you decide if you want to slog through it, here’s the ones it includes:

Chez Clovis
Le Dauphin
Atelier Berger
L’Ami Jean
La Divette du Moulin
A Chinese place of unknown name
Bord de l’Eau
Chez Maitre Paul
Auberge Aveyronnaise
Chez Denise
Atelier Joel Robuchon
Tan Lien
Dome du Marais

Here then beginneth the tale:

My husband and I spent 9 days (18 meals) in Paris between September 4 and 14 this year. Before we went I, as usual, spent countless hours poring over guidebooks and websites, in search of the best possible venues for our meals. We wanted to return to some familiar favorites and try some new places. We were willing to tie ourselves (and our travel plans) down with advance reservations for several of the meals—primarily dinners, but also wanted to have some room for choice as we sauntered about the city. I had our hotel make about 5 or 6 advance reservations for us and then developed a tentative itinerary for the entire time and lists of restaurants within the vicinity of locations I thought we might be at during lunchtime to put some structure on our explorations and guard against the unthinkable idea that we might ever be in a position where we’d be forced to eat a bad or wasted meal. I’m please to report that we were pretty well able to work within the boundaries of the plan I’d sketched and probably only wasted one of our 18 opportunities to partake of the gastronomic wonders of Paris.

Looking back over my notes and remembering the good, ok and great meals we had, I placed the 18 into three groups, grading them A, B or C in a rather uninspired but generally easily understood scheme. After having chased the wonders of three star eating for many years, my husband and I have gradually come to prefer small, more traditional bistros to the temples of gastronomy. For that reason the majority of the places we went to fall pretty well into the traditional French bistro genre and the prices of most meals we had ran between 90 and 120 euros for two with one and sometimes two bottles of wine for two. On previous trips we’d tried some of the more popular of this genre (Repaire de Cartouche, L’Os a Moelle, Villaret, L’Ami Louis, Bouquinistes or however they’re spelling it these days, Fish, La Regalade, etc.), so this time we wanted to try a few different places though in a similar vein, and in some instances we were guided by what was available in the location we expected to find ourselves close to lunch time on the day we ate there.

The A Group

Even as I said we’ve come to prefer traditional bistros to three star temples, we are still willing to go to the occasional biggy from time to time, and so this time without much fanfare I booked us for lunch at Taillevant expecting to have a nice 70 euro lunch, see what all the fuss is about and leave with our bank account intact. Well, they apparently are no longer featuring their wonderful 70 euro lunch deal—or at least weren’t the day we stopped. The least expensive menu available was twice that. So we gulped, got over it, and ordered the 140 euro per person menu and prepared to enjoy ourselves. It’s easy to see why this place is at the top or near the top of so many lists and why it has maintained 3 stars for so long. It’s perfect. Not a thing out of place and everything good. There’s nothing showy about it, neither the décor nor the food. The décor is understated, modern, in perfect taste with nothing to gape at but certainly nothing to find offensive. That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement of the décor, but in its own way it is. The walls are covered in wood and large, modern paintings in shades of brown were displayed in the room where we were seated. It’s nice but unremarkable. You feel perfectly relaxed and ready to eat a wonderful meal. The service is similarly perfect, only moreso. They are always there and perfectly interested to see that you have a wonderful meal, but never obtrusive and certainly never pretentious. I felt like Goldilocks in a place where everything was “just right.” The food was also primarily perfect, not envelope pushing, with no silly towers of this and that, but attractive and interesting and always tasty. While the famous cellar has some of the best wines in the world, the wine list also includes some reasonably priced but good wines that will not wipe out the family fortune. We had a Pibernon white bandol for 68 euros and a Bourgueil for a similar amount.

Our menu included eight courses and started with an unlisted amuse which was among the best—a celery cream soup with slices of chestnut. There followed the only course I found less than perfect—a crème brulee of fois gras with little sticks of green apple sticking out of it at odd angles. It looked a bit silly and the caramelized sugar just didn’t quite make it for me with the cold fois gras crème. The risotto with girolles was, however, wonderful. Creamy, thick and mushroomy. The red mullet with provencal flavors was a standout both taste and appearance wise. Green pesto and red pepper coulis over the perfectly prepared fish. I’m not doing justice to this and it’s starting to run on, so I’ll just finish by saying that as good as all of the foregoing was, so was the chevre in a cookie-like crust and the lamb and lamb kidney meat course and, of course, the multiple desserts. A wonderful meal which went a long way toward restoring my faith in three star restaurants.

The other price biggy we did this trip was Atelier Joel Robuchon. We tried it on an earlier trip in February and liked it so much that we were determined to return. For all the carping about it’s limited reservations policy, both this time and last our hotel was able with limited lead time (a couple of weeks only) to get us a reservation—for two at noon this time and for 4 also at lunch on our earlier trip. The welcome was more cordial this time but the service less polished. The food, however, was as good as ever and the décor still stunning with its blacks and reds and use of food and ingredients as art. I often, in fact almost always, prefer eating in the bar to the dining room, so I love the counter-only seating at this place. I feel sorry though for the waitstaff. It isn’t easy to serve everything by reaching over a counter and down to set the plate before the diner. The plates they set before my husband and I were all from the appetizer/small plates menu. We both had the gazpacho and it has become something of the gold standard by which we will forever measure this dish. Its presentation was delightful—tiny basil leaves with long dribbles of probably balsamic ending in little circles of olive oil on top of the orangy, persimmon colored soup, looking for all the world like a small garden of flowers in the bowl. Not silly, actually beautiful and incredibly inviting. The taste is perfection with just the tiniest edge of vinegary sourness to leave a very clean, crispness in the mouth. Again, I’m just not doing it justice. It’s terrific and probably made even better by our having just come in from walking about in 80degree weather on the Paris streets.

My husband loves anchovies and couldn’t resist them on this menu. They were beautifully presented on a glass plate, lined up in a little rectangle dressed in green and red peppers but at bottom they were still anchovies to me and even he said they didn’t rise above others he’d had. We shared iberico ham slices. The presentation here was mundane, but, hey, what else can you do with thin slices of ham except lay them on a parchment and serve them? The sourcing was fantastic, however. The nutty flavor of the foodstuffs these little critters ate before arriving on our parchment came through loud and clear. There followed cooked fois gras with white beams and lox with ethereally whipped chive cream cheese and finally lamb with couscous—all pretty and all tasty. We capped it off with a cheese plate and had both a sancerre and a rose throughout the meal. My notes don’t include the exact price of this extravaganza but it was around 250 euros and surely worth it. This is now one of my favorite places to eat in Paris—along with Chez Clovis, an old fashioned dive of a bistro around the corner from Chez Denise which remains pretty much like it always was when Les Halles was really Les Halles. I say the latter to let you know that our tastes pretty well run the gamut of what’s available in this city.

Vying with the above two temples for our vote for best meal of the trip was a humble little bistro about which I had begun to see incredible amounts of recommendations on the various food sites that I visit—L’Ami Jean on Rue Malar in the 7th. The place is a far cry from the others and the presentation was far more homey and simple, but the tastes were the equal of many we had in the more expensive places. I forget the name of the chef, but he’s a protégé of Yves Cambdeborde of Le Regalade fame. His heritage is Basque and that comes out certainly in the rather kitchy décor of the place with its rustic wood tables and sports memorabilia (sounds terrible, but it’s really ok) and also in the cooking, also rustic but nuanced. Everything, absolutely everything we tasted was good, great even with each dish seemingly better than the last. They started us off with dark bread and yogurt cheese with sweet peppers and spices. My husband had lox which he felt was a cut above others he’d had. I had a lamb appetizer with nice spices and a nice presentation on a wooden square plate. I followed with beef and tongue which was accompanied by the most thinly sliced cauliflower and carrots I’d ever had. Though they’d probably been cooked only a minute or two, they were perfectly done because they were so thin. Made for a different taste and texture in these vegetables than I’d experienced before. Husband followed with suckling pig and other pork products—sausage, bacon, chunks of salt port, over lentils. He was in heaven. Pork was very soft and super tasty and though he professes to hate lentils, he gobbled up every last one. Dessert was more yogurt cheese this time with jammy figs. Again we had Bourguiel and Rose but at about a third of what we’d paid at Taillevant and Robuchon. But this best of the night was a free gift from our neighbors at the adjoining table. They were folks from the neighborhood who were lucky enough to eat at the restaurant once a week or so. They ordered one of the evening specials—tiny scallops in their tiny shells with shallots and a hint of bacon—which arrived in a heap on a large platter. As we had been talking to them (and left them the remains of our wine) and they had been extolling the delights of having this restaurant in their neighborhood, they were kind enough to provide us each one of the wonderful scallops they were scarfing down—the best of the best. Even though we were full to the brim, we could tell that this was a dish to die for. I had half a mind to sit back down and order it right then and there. But the feeling passed and we left hoping that it might be on the specials menu the next time we come, and surely we will. The 3 course menu at this place is only 30 euros, an incredible deal. If I lived anywhere near it I’m sure I’d become a regular too.

Besides the three restaurants reviewed above upon which my husband and I agreed completely, there were 4 others which one or the other of us placed in the A category—
Chez Clovis, our perennial favorite bistro in Les Halles which is always our first meal when we get to Paris, most often l’os au moelle or tete de veau for me and duck confit for him, Chez Maitre Paul, another perennial favorite for their chicken in jura wine sauce with morels which I often look to for a Sunday night supper because we stay in the 5th not far from there and they are open on Sunday night (I foolishly ordered the chicken in cream sauce and cheese this time which is nowhere near as good as the jura wine sauce and morels, so it didn’t live up to its usual rating for me), Chez Denise, a place I’ve been meaning to try forever and which I liked as well as I thought I would (had haricots et mouton) but which pleased my husband not at all since he was still full from the lunch we’d had that day, and Lavinia, a modern wine bar/bistro on the second floor of the wine store with over 6,000 different offerings on Blvd Madeleine. This last deserves special mention. If you haven’t tried it, you should. I can think of nothing more soothing than to eat surrounded by wine and here, plainly, you are surrounded by more wine then anywhere else. Better yet, any of the wines in the store are available to you to accompany your meal at the retail cost, making it the best wine deal in town. We usually try to schedule one meal here and accompany whatever wines we select with a plate of meats and another of cheeses. Rather than some sort of after thought, these are themselves worthy of a detour even apart from the wine. They charge only 22 and 20 euros respectively for enormous platters with selections of top drawer meats and cheeses, including fois gras, a generous serving of pork rillettes, salami, proscuitto, etc. I highly recommend this place, although the service can be a bit hit or miss, mostly miss.

The B Group

Moving from the A to the B list is hardly a terrible thing. I could be perfectly happy eating for the rest of my life at the following places and others like them.

Le Dauphin (not far from the Palace Royale on Rue St. Honore) had treated us kindly in two previous visits and since it was close to the evening’s planned pursuits we gave it a third try. It lived up to its standard. We each had one very good and one ok course. The two hits were my starter of rabbit terrine over a tomato confit with cantaloupe—cool and good on a hot summer evening—and my husband’s main of brandade of duck with sausage and gravy. We were lucky enough to garner an outside table but even those inside get the outdoor air since their floor to ceiling windows pull open completely. Service was very pleasant.

Wepler is a brasserie on the Place Clichy in the 18th. It is one of the few remaining independent brasseries having not been swallowed up by the Flo Group or the Brothers Blanc or whatever. It sure doesn’t have the eye-popping interior of those that have been (swallowed up that is) like Pied de Cochon or Julien, etc. It has a few mirrors and some white glove chandeliers and I think red banquettes arranged in strange patterns that must make navigation for the wait staff difficult, but it’s pretty mundane. It provided me, however, a gazpacho that I had to rate just about on a par with that I just waxed rhapsodic about from Robuchon. This was red rather than orange and quite a bit thinner than that Joel had made for me (as if!) but floating within it was a scoop of tomato sorbet tat melted slowly into the broth, keeping it icy cold throughout its consumption. Again we were hot as we started this meal, and I can’t tell you how perfectly this soup met my needs. I’d give anything to be able to duplicate this dish and make guests as happy as I was as I slurped it down. The other things we ordered were typical brasserie dishes, plateau de fruits de mer, soupe de poissons, oysters, lox, and all were done competently and presented to us civilly. On the whole our experience with Wepler exceeded what we expected from the ratings we’d seen of the place. I’d go again if in the neighborhood, and I’d travel across town for the gazpacho on a warm day.

I am an aligot aficionado—that mashed potato, cheese and garlic concoction that gets whipped into an elastic frenzy and can be pulled into strings as long as three feet or more. I always try to find at least one restaurant per trip where I can get a fix. This time it was Auberge Aveyronnaise in the 12th, coming off a walk through the Bercy area. They do their aligote up right at this place with proper stirring and stringing at the table by a waiter wearing a French beret. Actually I’m not just an aligot aficionado, I’m a potato freak and I come from a long line of them. My mother carried her own personal potato peeler in her purse when she came to visit me and I have been known to order my dinner based not on what the main course is but on what type of potatoes accompany it, so I was in heaven eating the gloppy, gooey mess. I’d have been happy just having that but we also had trout rillettes, a sausage platter, skate with capers and some other main course that I neglected to keep track of—all of a mere 85 euros including a bottle of Auvergne wine. Aside from the aligot, nothing was really inspired but it was fine and the place was very cute and the service very helpful.

Tan Lien is a Vietnamese place on the corner of Blvd St. Germain and Rue Maitre Albert near the hotels we often stay at and I’ve always meant to try it though I’ve viewed it with some trepidation. It sits below street level in an area where they sell sort of messy looking produce by day and that they fill with tables and chairs on warm evenings. We had a reservation at Temps au Temps on the Rue Paul Bert but my husband rebelled when he saw the tiny, crowded space without air conditioning and a small menu on which he couldn’t find anything he might like especially since, again, he was still full from a great lunch. (That’s the trouble with all this great eating, sometimes it catches up with you and while my slogan is “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” my husband is a bit more reasoned, and hence, a bit thinner.) After a bit of a quibble, we left a generous tip with the wait staff and cancelled our reservation and returned to the area by our hotel intent on finding something light. Either we did, or enough time had passed by the time we got there that we were ready to eat again, at any rate, we found this place most pleasant and serviceable and above all offering good food. Dim sum, nems, soup and fish with black mushrooms, silk noodles and dark brown broth. Now that we’ve broken the ice, we’ll probably go again. It will satisfy my husband’s periodic yen for Asian food easily and certainly better than many of the endless string of Chinese places we’ve tried over the years.

Dome du Marais is a beautiful restaurant and it served us well as a final dinner in Paris and as a place to meet and have dinner with a dear cyber friend, Maurice Naughton, whom I met through his wonderful posts about Paris on the Chowhound, Opinionated About, and Mouthfuls food sites. Maurice was on his way into town as we were on our way out and we were delighted to find that he would arrive at 10 a.m. on Wednesday before we departed about 2 p.m. on Thursday. So dinner on Wednesday it was and a delightful one at that. Though tired from his trip, Maurice had his wits about him and was able to impart lots of amusing stories and useful information—like that the restaurant had been the pawn auction house of Paris before its current incarnation. I think I also read somewhere that it had been a deconsecrated church in an even earlier life. Plainly the dome could have been from such a past. The room is round and vast and we were seated at the far side of it with a view onto everything going on. The décor has a somewhat Asian theme (red and gold paint, etc.) and I had read that the food was similarly vaguely Asian, but I sure didn’t detect any such thing. I was a bit fearful as the amuse of radish soup was thin and watery and rather tasteless and the chopped carrots and zucchini in a cute square mini-glass was better looking than tasting. The starters my husband and I both chose, dispelled the concern. Our salads topped with wonderful woodsy mushrooms and warm duck fois gras were very good. My husband liked his lobster and the St. Pierre I had was also to my liking. What I liked even better, however, were the sides, a nice baked tomato topped with eggplant and a good provencal spicing (more Italian than Asian, certainly) and a great pure artichoke puree. Since the meeting with Maurice was a festive occasion we kept the champagne flowing, starting with coupes all around and moving on to a bottle of white and another of pink. It was a fine ending to a great trip.

The C Group

This brings us to the C list, the also rans. Even some of these were not so bad and I would return to a couple of them if in the neighborhood and hungry. Such is the L’AOC
a place where everything on the menu is sourced from the place uniquely able to provide it. Perhaps that’s not the best definition of AOC, better to use the example of Bresse chicken which can only come from Bresse or Champagne which can only come from Champagne, but then you knew that. Anyway, this is one of three traditional old bistros on the fairly short Ave. Bernard Fosses in the 5th, actually a pretty ugly street that is a heavy duty bus route next to some sort of stadium just beyond the rather beautiful Institute de Monde Arabe. The space is not particularly pleasant and rather dimly lit, but they have very cute table linens which they actually weave into slits on either side of the tables to keep them in place. My croustillant of pig foot was very tasty and a wonderful way to eat one of my favorite foods—all the bones had been taken out by some poor soul in the kitchen. My husband had the first of several dishes of just mushrooms here, featuring cepes and girolles. He was happy. He was also happy with his onglet tartare and I with my blanquette de cochon with more girolles and a touch of bacon. Frankly as I look back on the meal, I’m a bit hard pressed to say why it fell into the C category instead of the B, I guess it was the dim, sort of dreary lighting. The welcome was certainly kind and the hostess, obviously an owner, was very cordial. Let’s give it a C+.

Maupertu is one of many restaurants on Latour Mauberg, across from the grounds of the Invalides. I selected it over the others because of its advertised terrace. In hindsight, I should not have been unduly influenced by the advertising. The terrace was hardly wider than a sidewalk, in fact, it was a sidewalk. I had a checken breast with Roquefort and balsamic that was good, but nothing else about the place stood out. Service was pleasant though.

Atelier Berger was a place I was sort of hoping to make my own personal discovery. The only thing I’d ever read about it was an entry in the Zagat guide. I was intrigued by the fact that the chef was Danish and it was in the Les Halles area that we really like a lot. Unfortunately it just didn’t click. Perhaps it had something to do with it being dinner after our Taillevant lunch—a tough act to follow. Many of the offerings were cold and while it was a warm night so that should have been fine, it wasn’t. Veal is often a bit bland, mine here was blander. Maybe we didn’t give it a fair chance but I’m afraid that’s all it’s going to get.

La Divette du Moulin sits on Rue Lepic on Montmartre, across from the more famous Moulin de Gallette. I like the little place. We’d stopped there for drinks in the past and it’s friendly and cute. The food is no better or worse than what you’d expect of a little corner place in Montmartre, though technically it’s not on a corner. I just don’t understand why so many places like this put ketchup in their steak tartare. I must remember to ask next time I order. That’s it.

A Chinese place in the 5th just off Blvd St. Germaine was the scene of another dinner. I never even write down the names of these places. They are the places we go when my husband stages a revolt and demands Chinese food saying he’s had x number of French meals and won’t stand for another until he’s had Chinese. At this point we search around and grab whatever looks best wherever we are and he has his fix and we move on. Enough said. This place filled the bill, but it was certainly no Tan Lien. At least we now have an actual place to head to when the fit overtakes us.

So if you’re still with me and counting you’re wondering where the 18th meal is. I didn’t review it because it wasn’t in Paris. We spent Sunday in Conflans, the little barge town on the Seine where the barge folk go to retire. It’s very cute and I recommend it for a day trip out of Paris for those who have already done Versailles, Fontainebleu, St. Germaine en Laye, etc. They have a Sunday market by the river. You can tour the barge that is actually a church and the Bord de l’Eau restaurant run by the Chef and his wife on the banks of the Seine will provide you a nice meal in a nice setting. I’d put it in the B category.

So there you have it. All 18 meals we ate in Paris and I can’t wait to get back there to return to some and find yet more. Once a gourmand, always a gourmand—or should I just call a spade a spade and say glutton?

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