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France report - Paris mostly, also Rouen, Honfleur, Angers, Saumur, and Tours

j_gordon | Jun 9, 201504:34 PM

I just did a three week trip through Paris, Rouen, Honfleur, Angers, Saumur, and Tours and have some free time on the flight back. This is all from memory so there could be mistakes in the dish descriptions.

Cafe des Musees.
I came here twice, the first time because it was close to my apartment and the second time because it was close to my apartment and the food is very, very good. This was easily my favorite bistro experience even though I came here a couple hours after my flight and was in a jetlag-induced altered state. Since this was my first meal and I had few expectations, Cafe des Musees got me excited at the possibility that you could walk into a random bistro in Paris and get food like this. Not so. The Basque pork, which comes with a lightly sweet sauce and caramelized shallots, is magical and served with bubbling potatoes au gratin. The steak was served bloody alongside great frittes. The duck confit had perfectly crisp skin and was cooked so excellently that you could eat the meat with a spoon. The strawberry tart was great – in-season strawberries are among my favorite things – but the rice pudding was unmemorable. The coffee, for what it’s worth, is mildly effective at staving off jetlag. If you’re looking for the Paris bistro experience where you sit elbow to elbow with everyone else and want classic dishes, come here. This is perfect Paris food, and you can look at Picassos afterwards.

Cigale Recamier.
A recent name change to Le Souffle Recamier, apparently, so it won’t show on google maps. We had the three-cheese soufflé and the chocolate soufflé, and both were perfectly cooked and good as soufflés go. Valhrona chocolate, it turns out, makes things taste good.

I don’t have much more to add here except that the meal (76 euros, set menu) was extremely satisfying and the cooking wonderfully high quality. The first course was foie gras with smoked eel. Delicious. The second course was an egg with white asparagus and foam, which sold me on France’s seriousness about eggs. The third course was great mackerel in a light white wine sauce. The meat course was just a hunk of veal – an extremely evenly cooked hunk of veal (maybe they use cool equipment to cook it the same throughout?), but not particularly exciting relative to the rest of the meal. The sweetbreads and potatoes that came alongside the veal were good and simple but kind of overkill from a how-much-can-a-human-being-eat-at-once perspective. We added a cheese course for 15 euros, which was just okay. The dessert included a delicious pancake that we were too full to eat much of and an extraordinary strawberry sorbet over pistachio mousse.

Chez Denise.
Maybe my mistake was coming during lunch on a weekday. We were one of two groups there at 12:45 so the atmosphere was pretty forgettable, which wasn’t what I was expecting. The famous haricot au mouton was just okay. Steak tartare was standard but forgettable. Decided to skip dessert. This was my least favorite meal of the Paris part of the trip, which in an optimistic light is probably a good thing.

Carre des Feuillants.
I chose Les Carre des Feuillants as my Paris Michelin representative mostly because of the affordable 60 euro lunch menu (80 with wine pairing). There were no tourists here, and no English-speaking folk at all, and no English menu at all. And the menu, affordable as it is, includes choices, and I like having choices. The meal was excellent. Amuse-bouches included a delicious fish ravioli-looking thing and a poached egg with an asparagus foam – similar to Spring’s, so a seemingly trendy dish – and memorably good mushrooms. The entrees we sampled were a smoked eel with raw asparagus and melt-in-your-mouth scallops over salad. The main courses were lamb and pigeon, both fairly traditional but both probably my favorite meat courses of the trip. I’m not super into the hunks of meat fascination, but these were good hunks of meat. Dessert was a set of chocolate things which were good and some good cheeses. This was not an innovative meal – maybe he saves the experiments for dinner – but it was very good cooking.

Chez Georges.
A much better and more lively atmosphere than Chez Denise, which by itself makes it a fun experience. I learned, for example, that the lady, not the gentleman, is supposed to sit on the booth side of the table, and if you were to radically attempt the reverse you will be scolded by not one but two waitresses. As an uncourteous gentleman who likes booth seats, this is an unfortunate development. And the lady in question showed her appreciation by spilling her glass of water all over my duck breast, which was only slightly more forgiveable because most of the bird was safely in my stomach. I like Chez Georges, though I would also say that the main dishes, including the 42 euro sole meuniere, are questionably priced for the quality, which I guess is what happens when a bunch of English-speaking folk pack your tables every night. And the tarte tatin tasted a couple days old.

Les Enfant Rouges.
The server, who I suspect is the chef’s wife, is very charming and effectively innovative in her attempts to communicate in English. I like this restaurant though at times it felt like the chef was trying to do too much. The chorizo terrine was delicious. The broccoli soup was kind of odd. Both the seared tuna and hunk of pork had a lot of things going on, but both were ultimately tasty. The desserts – a strawberry shortcake and wonderfully fresh cherries with whipped cream – were simple and great. A satisfying meal overall. The dinner menu is 40 euros.

The 33 euro dinner menu is a good deal. The foie gras terrine with smoked eel had great flavors. The cold soup with foie gras ice cream was a little weird but it grew on me. The tagliatelle with grated white truffle, which was the day’s special, was excellent and was a great break from the hunks of meat. My eating partner, though, did get a hunk of meat – veal onglet with mashed potatoes – which was perfectly good as hunks of meat go, though I’d recommend going for the more creative options because the chef can do it. The desserts – chili chocolate ice cream and millefeuille – were not as good.

Breizh Café.
I wish I could take this place in my suitcase. What a wonderful place to eat. The galettes are heavy and filling but the ingredients – every single one of them – are so amazingly fresh. We had the salmon and cream galette and the day’s special, which had smoked duck and white asparagus with a cream sauce. Dessert was a crepe with a perfect ginger salted caramel sauce and ginger ice cream. And the ciders are wonderful. Easily the best crepes I’ve ever had.

Le Coq Rico.
In my baguette pursuits, I decided it was necessary to head to the 18th and try Le Grenier au Pain and head to the basilica. After the baguettes, Le Coq Rico was a really a second lunch so it was hard to eat everything but this place is worth a visit. They start you off with an Eric Kayser baguette – which was way better than the baguette I actually got from the Eric Kayser near the Palais Royal – and some Bellevaire demi-sel butter, which I learned is among the most effective ways to make me immediately appreciate you. The specialty, unsurprisingly, is chicken, and the quarter-chicken (22 euros) was good enough that I am considering a return visit to France where I just sample rotisserie chickens. I also want the duck. Ask to sit by the bar so you can watch the kitchen work.

Cuisine de Bar.
It’s a good idea to head to the Marais when you're hungry and hit Cuisine de Bar, 134 RDT, Jacques Genin, and Popelini (see below) all at once. Cuisine de Bar is just for tartines, which I figured I needed to have a couple of while in Paris. This is connected to Poilane and all the tartines are made with Poilane bread. The mozzarella one was perfectly nice and certainly edible, but the roasted chicken tartine with capers was surprisingly delicious and worth detouring for.

Patisseries/ice cream/coffee -
Jacques Genin.
This man will get a place in the heavens for his contributions to the delights of sugar. The millefeuille is better than advertised. It is a perfect food. The hot chocolate is as good as what you find at Angelina, and the whipped cream it comes with (for 2 extra euros) is easily the best whipped cream I’ve ever had, and I didn’t even know before I ate it that I had a breakable standard for whipped cream. The chocolates are great too, but it’s the millefeuille I’ll dream about.

Down the street from 134 RDT/Jacques Genin and across from Cuisine de Bar. This place only has cream puffs, and I kind of entered on a whim because I’d read about it and I was there but my stomach was also dangerously full of food. But the salted caramel cream puff… it turns out I have extra stomachs for them. Another perfect food.

Maison Georges Larnicol.
I don’t understand the fascination with macorons, but these were good. My favorite was the caramel.

Pain de Sucre.
Tried the millefeille and the tarte au citron, and both were very good, with the tarte au citron being particularly memorable.

Stopped by for a cone. Not much to add. You’d probably need to be a little demented to actively dislike this place. I thought the chocolate was spectacular.

Angelina (Rivoli).
I realized very quickly that this is an excellent chocolate chaud, but it turns out other people figured that out already.

L’éclair de Genie.
If you’re willing to pay 5.50 for an éclair, this would probably be it. My vanilla-pecan éclair was so delightful I ate two. I tried to go to L’atelier de l’éclair but it was closed for renovations or something, which may or may not have been tragic.

I’m increasingly disturbed by the increasingly popular idea that tasteless coffee is the best coffee. Yes, the coffee is light and smooth, but so is water. Also, he wouldn’t let me eat my Eric Kayser baguette OR my Salon Hisada cheese while I was drinking my coffee, even though my chevre was clearly melting, which on the service scale, I’m deciding, could be akin to physical assault.

The coffee was lukewarm but better than Telescope’s. Again, just take me to Cuba or Vietnam.

Boot Cafe.
Of the regarded coffee spots, this was my favorite, if only because it somehow managed to be smaller than my Paris apartment and the setup was adorable.

134 RDT.
This is across the street from Jacques Genin, so just do both at the same time around 11 am when Jacques Genin opens. I ended up having the baguette twice, and the first day I had it was the best baguette I’ve had. I like my baguettes with a crusty exterior and a soft but substantial interior that has hints of yeasty sourness, and this baguette was basically that. The second time I had it was good but not quite as good. The croissant, which I was told was (understandably) named the best in Paris, is also perfect. The pain au chocolate is not as good.

Eric Kayser (near Palais Royal).
Not convincing at all. Just a standard baguette. Again, I had a great baguette at Le Coq Rico that was sourced from Eric Kayser (they give it to the restaurant half baked) and that baguette was complex and delicious, so perhaps it was location.

Le Pain Quotidien.
Why not? The baguette is edible.

Le Grenier au Pain.
I can understand, from a certain perspective, that this could be considered a perfect baguette. The constant line helps because your baguette will almost certainly be warm. But I was most convinced by the pain au chocolat, which was stunningly good, and definitely the best I’ve had: crisp on the outside, slightly undercooked and buttery on the inside, with viscous, melty chocolate clinging to the layers. Delicious.

Boulangerie D’Antan.
Down the street from Le Grenier au Pain. It won best baguette in 2011 apparently, so I decided to use valuable stomach space on it, but ultimately I was unconvinced that it contributes to the supposed best baguette street in the world.

Boulangerie Julien (near Centre Pompidou).
This was an excellent baguette and probably my second favorite behind RDT.

For cheese, I tried Bellevaire, Laurent Dubois, Salon Hisada, and Androuet. I loved most everything I got at them, but I don’t have enough of a grasp on cheese to tell you exactly what I got, except I know at Hisada I enjoyed the chevre wrapped in blueberry leaves and I liked the coulommiers au truffes, cabecou, and saint marcellin at Bellevaire and brie au truffes at Laurent Dubois. I ended up eating a lot more cheese in Normandy.

Went to the Bastille market on Thursday and Sunday which was nice but not amazing, more for locals on Thursday and a little bigger and more atmospheric on Sunday.

For Rouen, Honfleur, Angers, Saumur, and Tours, I’ll be brief because less people go to those places, but feel free to ask more questions:

La Couronne in Rouen was maybe my most disappointing meal in France. I don’t think it would have inspired Julia Child today. Bland and poorly cooked food.

Origine in Rouen (1 star) is Japanese-inspired French and was delightful. 47 and 67 euro and 95 euro menus. Light refreshing cold cucumber salad to start. Raw salmon with a light citrus cream. A grilled dorade that was stunning. Foie gras ravioli in miso soup, also stunning. Perfectly steamed cod. Slow cooked beef. Perfectly cooked guinea fowl. Coconut passion fruit dessert shaped like a boiled egg that was amazing. Peanut butter ice cream with other things also was good. Worth it for sure.

Sa Qua Na (2 stars) in Honfleur was my best meal in France. Also a lot of Japanese influence. The mackerel in coconut-miso broth was among the best things I’ve ever tasted. The other things on the menu change all the time depending on what’s available. Go for the 120 euro menu – it’s worth it, and he’ll get his third star soon.

Fleur de Sel in Honfleur was pretty good. A very memorable camembert mousse dish.

Good Saturday market in Honfleur.

Le Relais in Angers (33 euro lunch menu) was a very nice meal. My best steak in France and also great fish. Le Petit Comptoir in Angers (30 euro menu) was pretty good.

La Gambetta (1 star) in Saumur was a perfectly nice lunch, though not amazing. 31 euro menu with wine and coffee included (26 without) is a good deal.

Les Annees 30 in Chinon has a 19 euro lunch menu with wine and coffee that was maybe my best deal in France. Very nice meal.

Les Linottes in Tours (31 euro menu) is a great meal. The chef has Michelin training but hates exposure and hides her Trip Advisor and Michelin guide signs to stay small. We were the only group there for lunch and she came and talked to us for about a half an hour to practice her English. Wonderful food and intimate.

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