This is a lengthy post and I thank you for taking the time to read it!
I am following up to a separate thread that discussed selecting a 3 star Michelin restaurant in France (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/534285). I found that thread, along with several others, very useful. Those threads along with some other blogs I have read, particularly Souphie’s (http://www.julotlespinceaux.com/ ) have lead me to reduce the list of choices to Ledoyen, Le Meurice and L’Arpege at least for now.
A bit about us and our trip: This meal will be the centrepiece of our honeymoon which we will be taking to France in November (from about Nov 10/11-Nov 27). While we are doing reasonably well financially, we are not rich and neither of us makes 6 figures but we love food and try to do 1 or 2 great restaurants each year. So a meal such as this it is a significant expense for us and we always want to ensure that we do not regret a choice as it is not simply throw-away money.
A bit about our tastes: I am very open and adventurous to trying almost anything and will even eat, and sometimes like, food that I have not enjoyed previously. My fiancée is less like this. While she has some adventure, she is averse to mushrooms, foie gras (this I don’t get!), sweetbreads, legumes in general, olives, pickles, sea urchin and caviar (though she did like oyster and pearls at Per Se). We both have enjoyed great tasting/7-10 course meals together and Per Se was probably the best restaurant we have enjoyed. Because of my fiancée’s aversions we usually want a restaurant that will be flexible with us and Per Se was more than happy to change things around for her. In fact, the waiter said when discussing the menu that there are 30 people in the kitchen wanting to make her happy! We had one experience that was less accommodating (their solution to her aversion to the foie gras course of a 7 course meal was to serve the foie gras dish minus the foie gras and add nothing else (the charge for the meal stayed the same)).
How to get the information I need to choose: One of the issues I am facing is finding out what each restaurant charges and what I will be getting for it. While Le Meurice has their menus on their website along with the prices, there is nothing for Ledoyen and no prices for L’Arpege. Any suggestions as to what I would find there specifically in terms of the menu and cost. I realize I will not know what is exactly is on the menu but I am curious exactly how the menu will look. Some questions about Aperge and Ledoyen:
1) Will the choice be limited to a 3 course meal and the possibility of a cheese course as well? (I have read somewhere that Aperge is 360 Euro per person. Is a 3 course meal what I get for that?)
2) Are there many amuse bouche’s/unofficial mini courses/pre-desserts that come with the meals at Aperge or Ledoyen?
3) What are my choices at Ledoyen in general terms?
Ideally, I think I would like a meal similar in terms of pace to what I had a Per Se - 9 official courses along with 5-6 unofficial courses spread over 3.5-4 hours. The degustation meal at Le Meurice looks entice but I remain unsure. What do people think who have been to Le Meurice?
Souphie mentioned that the tasting menus are not necessarily the wisest bet as most restaurants don’t excel in that category. I guess I have a couple questions with regards to that.
1) Do any of the three restaurants that I have noted offer a good “degustation/tasting menu or 7-10 course meal.
2) Is there any other restaurant of the 3 star calibre I should consider, either in Paris or 2 hour train trip away, that would offer me that?
3) How open are they to changes, of the sort my future wife would want, as well as me wanting something off the ala carte menu (I have no problem if there is a reasonable extra charge for this)
4) Should I really just stop searching for a tasting meal and just go for a 3 course meal?
On the décor of the restaurants I am curious to know what they are like. Le Meurice looks spectacular. I have seen a few pictures of Ledoyen (at Souphie’s blog) and L’Arpege but I still wonder how spectacular they are in terms of the décor? Souphie describe Ledoyen as being really romantic and that is a consideration since it will be a honeymoon.
Are the 3 places I am thinking about consistent in terms of the food and service or are there wild swings in quality?
Questions of strategy:
1) What is the best day to go for dinner at one of these restaurants? Here I am interested in knowing when I am likely to get a reservation, when the kitchen will have all of its main players working, when they will not be totally over worked that their standards might slip? We are looking to go in November (preferably at the end of our trip (Thursday Nov 20-Wednesday November 27) Does anyone know if any restaurants will be closed then?
2) How should I go about booking my meal. Le Meurice and L’Aperge offer an online option – is that a good idea? Am I better to call, or have a francophone call on my behalf? When should I make the reservation – is now too soon?
3) I am Canadian. I have heard that many in Paris are not fond of my American friends. Should I try to find away of noting I am from Canada or this unlikely to make any difference?
4) Are the restaurants noted above photography friendly? In other words, will anyone mind if I am taking pictures of each course? (I promise share them here!)
A final note: Pierre Gagnaire interested me a great deal for the adventure it offers and I still could be convinced. However, I also read that meals swing from excellent to disaster. I must say that surprises me. While there were some courses at Per Se that were ok and certainly less inspired than others, the overall meal was great with moments of sublime perfection and the impression I have is that is the way it is most, if not all of the time. Are Gagnaire’s entire meals prone to disaster or just the odd course and is it true disasters or just particular plates that do not work as well as one might have hoped?