We spent five great nights in Paris in early December and had some amazing meals, thanks to the great recommendations on this site. Here’s the report (with multiple typos that I hope you will forgive):
1) Dinner at Le Violon de Ingres: Overall a great meal, save for one dish. We were here on a Sunday night and the mood was very subdued. My husband was somewhat suspicious of the fact that the restaurant was half empty and that the diners were mostly non-French speaking, but all suspicions evaporated when the food arrived. He had a venison meat and goose foie gras terrine that was meaty and unctuous and punctuated by bright notes of acid and parsley. I had the eggs in red wine sauce with chunks of bacon. It was so delicious that I sopped the plate clean with bread. Then I had the cassoulet, which was also very delicious. The beans were perfect, soft without being mealy or falling apart. The confit duck still had some chewiness to the meat, which I enjoyed very much. (Too often, I feel like duck confit is cooked beyond recognition.) The portion was huge and I sadly had to leave my plate unfinished. My husband had a pheasant dish. The pheasant was tasty, but a bit dry and the pasta that it came with was undersauced. For dessert, we shared an excellent vanilla soufflé with a salty caramel sauce. The service was impeccable. Attentive and friendly.
2) Dinner at Au Petit Marguery: My husband is really into game and I love traditional, hearty cooking so we were both excited about this restaurant. Unfortunately, we had our most disappointing meal of the trip. We sat in the back room of the restaurant, where there were about 5-6 other tables. The room was rampant with flying gnats. Throughout the entire meal, we (and the other diners in the room) would swat at them with our hands and/or clap our hands to squash them mid-air. It was very distracting. The food was good, but not great. I started with scallops in a chestnut sauce. The scallops were overdone (to the point of being rubbery) and the sauce, while nicely redolent of chestnuts was very underseasoned. My husband had the selection of house pates and terrines. They tasted fine, but nothing beyond what we could find in the States. I then had the grouse for my main plate. It was overcooked in some parts, and too bloody rare in other parts. It came with a wild mushroom sauce, but there were very few mushrooms (perhaps 2 or 3 total). My husband had hare that was braised and then served with a sauce made of the hare’s blood. The meat was nicely braised and shredded, but the flavors of the dish were muddled. We tasted blood, butter, and not much else. We shared the gran marnier soufflé, which was the best part of the meal, but still not as light and tender as the vanilla soufflé we had the night before. Overall, not a terrible meal, but not memorable as well.
3) Lunch at Spring: Excellent, excellent, excellent. We arrived early for our reservation, thinking we would use the extra time to walk around the neighborhood and spur our appetites into action. But then it started to snow, and we weren’t properly dressed. So we ducked into the nearby Spring wine shop. We were warmly greeted and the manager/wine director kindly offered to let us join him in a tasting that he was participating in with some winemakers from the south of France. He spoke English to us, French to the winemakers, and everyone had a great time. We offered to pay, but he declined. When it was time for our reservation, we walked over to the restaurant and they sat us at one of the best tables – the two top by the large picture window. We started with a house made terrine that was delicious. Then our starter was a poached egg with sautéed wild mushrooms. Phenomenal. The mushrooms tasted like they had just been foraged that morning and their earthiness mixed with the runny, rich egg yolk was simply divine. It took the upmost restraint not to pick up my plate and lick it clean. Our main was equally satisfying. It was a veal pot au feau. The veal was sweet and tender, the vegetables (cabbage and carrots) were still crunchy, and the broth was rich without being fatty and had a mild acidic tang that played off the sweetness of the veal perfectly. The chestnuts in the pot au feau were some of the best I’ve tasted. Sweet, nutty, but with none of the mealiness that chestnuts often have. Dessert was an ice cream with a crumbled biscotti. The sommelier offered us some great wines by the glass. With each description of the wine, she mentioned the price without us having to ask, which was nice. My husband and I left feeling full and sated, without feeling heavy or overindulgent. We would eat here every week if we lived in Paris. A simply fantastic restaurant.
4) Dinner at Les Papilles – This is the other restaurant we would go to on a regular basis if we lived in Paris. This was homey, uncomplicated cooking at its best. The restaurant itself is warm and cozy and perfect for the cold winter evening that we were there. We started with a brilliant lentil soup. The base was blended lentils with a rich stock. And that was served with lentils cooked al dente and crunchy, tasty bits of bacon. The tureen held a generous portion of soup but my husband and I managed to polish off the entire thing. Our main was beautiful cooper pot of pork curry with carrots and aubergine, served with a basmati rice seasoned with almonds and raisens. It was simple, but still rich and complex in flavor and utterly satisfying. I had one helping of the curry and then cried uncle. It was absolutely delicious, but the lentil soup had kicked in and my stomach would have no more. My husband was thrilled because he got to finish off the curry. The owner selected a great vacquerays that went beautifully with both courses. Dessert was a delicious panna cotta with an orange marmalade.
5) Dinner at Aux Lyonnais – We came for the special menu prepared by a guest chef from Lyon. (His name escapes me right now.) My husband had the special menu, which consisted of a delicious lardon, frisee, and soft egg salad. All of the elements were separated, almost in a deconstructed style, which was a preparation we had never had before for this particular dish. I started with a potted pork rillette. It came with warm bread, which melted the congealed pork fat nicely. The pickled vegetables provided the perfect acidic contrast to the fatty pork. I only wish there had been more pickeld veggies though. I was out before even half of the pork was finished. For our mains, my husband had various pork parts chopped up, stewed, and the fried into a think pancake. It was fried porkiness at its best. I had the brochet quenelles, which were fantastic. They were light and airy and went beautifully with the rich crawfish sauce. The atmosphere was perfect – each table was occupied with animated diners who were happy to be there. It felt very Parisian and we were happy to be part of the conviviality.
6) Lunch at L’Ami Jean – We were here about two years ago and had an amazing meal. This time around was just as amazing. We started with a plate of the house made sausage. My husband (who spends a lot of his free time making charcuterie, including fermented sausages) said the sausage was excellent. He then had a soup with a rich lobster base, aged parmesan shards, and bits of toasted grain (perhaps grouts?). It was a unique and tasty soup. With every bite we had, we kept discovering a new taste and texture. Truly superb. I had an egg dish that defies description. At first I thought it was a poached egg, or perhaps a coddled egg. But I think somehow the chef made a custard of the yolk and yet managed to retain the overall integrity of the egg. In any event, it came with a rich eggy sauce and was studded with chunks of bacon and other yummy bits. As with the soup, with every taste of my egg dish, there was a new dimension that kept my husband and I guessing. We both pretty good cooks at home with a fair amount of knowledge between the two of us and can usually guess at how a chef executes a particular dish (even if we could never execute it ourselves at that level), but we were both left guessing with Mr. Jego’s techniques. For his main plate, my husband had a roasted pheasant with a pheasant meat roulade. Unlike the pheasant at Le Violon De’ Ingres, this one was moist and juicy and tender. I had a scallop dish that was also delicious but I can’t remember the details of it. We passed on dessert as we were stuffed to the gills. This seemed to disappoint the waiter, who urged us to try the rice pudding. We both knew that it was a house special, but were simple incapable of bringing ourselves to eat more. There’s always a next time!
In addition to the places mentioned above, we visited some superb patisseries and other food shops. Here are some highlights: Mille fuille and tea at Jacques Genin salon. An experience not to be missed. The mille fuille was crisp, shattered perfectly with each forkful, and the pastry cream was rich without being cloying. The tea came with an absolutely delicious tiny chocolate pyramid filled with a salty peanut puree. Baguettes and croissants at Eric Kayser. We stayed near Place Maubert and had the pleasure of daily morning baguettes, bread, and croissants at the Eric Kayser shop near there. The croissants were pillowly, flaky, buttery, but not too bready inside. His pain au cereal is divine. Pastries at des Gâteaux et du Pain. I got a chocolate pastry from here that was amazing. It looked like a simple dome, but inside it was filled with multiple layers of cream, ganache, cake and crunchy cookie. My husband used his fork to cut a cross section of the dome and kept saying “How did she get so many layers into such a small package?!” Each layer came together to create a harmonious bite of chocolate heaven. Another highlight was the Gilles Verot charcuterie shop. We are both fans of head cheese and his award winning head cheese is truly outstanding. We also had from there an excellent duck pate with green pepper corns and slices of Jambon de Paris. One afternoon, we ate the ham with slices of pain lavain from Anis Boubsa’s bakery slathered with some Bordier salted butter. Words cannot describe how happy we were.
So that was our trip. And it was fantastic. Thank you Chowhounds for your tremendous help in making our trip so memorable.