Spring, Saturne 8
le Cinq, la Régalade St-Honoré, la Table d'Eugène 7
Chez l'Ami Jean, le Reminet 6
Joséphine Chez Dumonet 5
l'Épi Dupin 2
*1 inedible, 2-5 I won't be back, 6-7 yummy, 8-9 gives my wife's cooking some competition, 10 perfect. All first-time visits unless otherwise noted. All lunch except L'Ami Jean, Le Reminet and Drouant.
L'AMBROISIE (12th visit?) has an uncanny way of transcending the raw materials without losing their essence. All tastes and textures are elegant and well-mannered. Incomparable bliss. What's more, I haven't detected any problems with consistency of quality despite about a dozen visits over the past few years. By far my favorite restaurant in Paris. My meal this time included a Tropézienne with anchovy cream, feuilletés au sabayon, velouté de châtaignes with royale de foie gras, eggs with white truffles and spinach, tourte de canard au foie gras (special of the day, not on the menu), green apple sorbet with pistachio nuts, boule nacrée with coffee cream. Wines by the glass were a Mersault from F. D'Allaines, a 2003 St-Joseph from B. Gripa, and a 12-year-old Sherry from Ximénez (Wms. & Humbert--quite a revelation!).
BIGARRADE--an endless succession of delectable morsels. Pure pleasure--no danger of being stuffed, as the meal takes so long (2 1/2 hours) and the portions are so small. I was fortunate enough to be seated at the counter directly overlooking the open kitchen from a distance of about 3 feet; it was fascinating to watch and listen to the cooks at work. The dishes were quite deconstructed, occasionally relegating seasoning to condiments rather than integrating it with the main ingredient, so you had to assemble items on your fork in suitable proportions. On the one hand, there were many pleasant surprises. On the other hand, everything was recognizable; recipes as well as sequence of dishes make sense. A few minor slip-ups, e.g. undercooked leek and oversalted reduction sauce on the eel in my opinion, or undercooked monkfish in another diner's opinion (I overheard the waiter each time he reported customers' reactions back to the chef). Great service, always ready to answer questions and offer sample bites of various things.
SPRING--Homey yet light and precise cooking, delightful and subtly impressive. The day's menu consisted of heavenly oysters (Perle Blanche no. 2 d'Oléron); mullet with squid and vegetables; pot au feu with boeuf de Salers (in a thin broth); a nice cheese cart with Brillat-Savarin, Valencay, Époisses, Salers, and St-Nectaire; pear with chestnut cream; chocolate ice cream with basil; and coffee with a luscious chocolate praline.
SATURNE--great ingredients prepared with herbal flair. Excellent sommelier with plenty of good yet little-known wines by the glass. Small portions, but still good value at 49 euros for three courses, two glasses of wine and coffee.
LE CINQ (3rd visit)--I surprised myself in scoring this haute cuisine so low, but I felt that the elaborate preparations failed to tame the somewhat recalcitrant main ingredients: strongly smoked salmon, chewy duck, and sour lemon, respectively. I might have been less critical if I hadn't just been to l'Ambroisie the day before, but in any event I was left with the impression that les Ambassadeurs (where I last had lunch 4 months ago) is superior to le Cinq.
LA RÉGALADE ST-HONORÉ--The terrine de volaille (which arrived on my table promptly), vegetable lasagna, and raspberry/vanilla cream dessert were all excellent. The main course, on the other hand, consisted of somewhat dry/overcooked chicken (saved by lovely foie gras) in a sauce that I found too sour. Service was impressively efficient.
LA TABLE D'EUGÈNE (3rd visit)--Surprisingly elaborate recipes. All well-executed and mostly well-conceived, although my wife and I agreed that the dark truffle sauce was not a happy marriage with the scallops.
CHEZ L'AMI JEAN (2nd visit)--My appetizer was slow-cooked rabbit with scampi on coffee-flavored biscuits! Talk about pushing boundaries...but I quite liked it. Otherwise pretty straightforward cooking, but not without interest. Oversized portions. Lumberjack chic. Of course the place is great fun, and that goes for customers and staff alike.
LE REMINET--Traditional. Tasty and pleasant, but not exceptional. The walnut-oil sauce on the marbré de veau au foie gras was too salty, but the accompanying fondue de celeri was luscious. Unattractive presentation of the dessert. Nice sourdough bread. Friendly service.
FRENCHIE--Our exultant first impression from the extraordinary beet salad with hibiscus juice was soon eclipsed by irritation due to the oversalting of both main courses (gnocchi with mussels, and chicken). The cheese course (which I selected instead of dessert) was just a little piece of Fourme d'Ambert with some cherries. Cramped, dark, and sparsely decorated. I won't be wearing out my telephone trying to make reservations here again.
JOSÉPHINE CHEZ DUMONET is very good at what it does...but what exactly is that? If Chez L'Ami Jean is lumberjack chic, then this is the original lumberjack. A slice of cold foie gras with toast? Come on, that's what I grab sometimes when I get home late from work and am waiting for the oven to warm up. This is supposed to be a restaurant, not a grocery store, right? The "monolithic" style continued with the main course (boeuf bourguignon) and dessert (grand marnier soufflé), both of which were nicely done but still so intense and one-sided that they cried out for some creative counterfoil. The "half portions" were big enough for two--anybody who can manage whole portions here could compete for a Guinness record in ogredom. Service was jolly if a bit erratic; one waiter in particular was quite the comedian. When I called and made my reservation about two months in advance, I asked to be placed in the front room near the bar, but ended up getting seated in back by the kitchen door anyway.
DROUANT--The royale de foie gras with velouté de potimarron was relatively tasteless. The same can't be said of the tourte d'agneau, which was too sour. OK desserts (I had the four classics.) Surprisingly inept (though well-meaning) service. Boring decor, dead ambience.
L'ÉPI DUPIN--I know, Souphie warned us 'Hounds that it "sucks", but I had to go and find out for myself, especially since it has gotten good press from Lobrano, Mignot et al. Souphie was right. The appetizer, a fricassée of snails with (nice) chèvre frais, tasted strongly of licorice and little else, even though licorice wasn't even mentioned in the menu's description of this item. I told the waiter they had overdone it with the licorice, for which he apologized; amusingly, on the bill there was an item called "2 Reclame entree 0.00" (translation: complaint about the appetizer, no charge for listening). The main was daurade royale sauvage, tagliatelles de courgettes/carottes, émulsion gingembre (fish atop shredded squash and carrots in a ginger emulsion); it was too sweet. Dessert was a rhubarb crumble (tartelette) not half as good as the one my wife makes. OK wines by the glass and Langres cheese.