after a 10 day trip from San Sebastian through Paris, we decided to eat our final meal at Taillevent. I had been there 20 years ago with my parents, and to this day still remember it as the best meal I've ever had.
Wrote an e-mail to the owner (mentioning the experience), got a lovely response from the owner and reservation for 8:30 September 6, 4 people. I called the day before to see if we could add one more person - no problem.
We get there, and are led all the way to the back of the third room, where they sit us at a banquette (sp?) designed, IMO, for two people. Every other table is either round or a banquet with the people facing out. In addition, banquet is squeezed in between two wood columns, so that to go to the bathroom the two people on the other side have to get up and the entire table moved. This was obviously the worst table in the house. Normally, I would have said something (actually, i would have left), but the entire restaurant was full. We were the last to be seated. Oh, and at the adjacent banquette were six americans squeezed in even tighter. SIBERIA!!!
We order with the owner (a slightly modified tasting menu), and then the sommelier comes over. I'm a bit of a wine geek, so I'm looking forward to something unusual, rare or a great bargain - Taillevent is known for an excellent REASONABLE list. I mentioned a Loire/Rhone as they are inexpensive and usually quite good. I suggest a Chinon red and the sommelier says it will be too heavy for the food. Huh??? I then ask him to suggest something for the menu. He suggests a Chablis and Bordeaux.
At this point, I should have gotten up and walked out. He obviously wasn't listening to me and was just giving me the old standards. But by this point, I was feeling so uncomfortable and claustrophobic at our table my mind was not functioning properly.
We order apperifs - le aperitif de maison. It is a disgusting fruit cocktail. I'd ordered these house cocktails at a few restaurants - this was by far the worst.
Then our amuse bouche, if you want to call it, comes. Set in the middle of the table are tiny ovals of toast - one with a piece of smoked salmon and dill, the other will a scoop of fois gras pate. These tasted and reminded me of something you might get at a Airport Marriot - and not as good.
By now, I am losing it. Then the fois gras comes (with burnt toast), they put it down and serve the white wine. It is dismal - barnyardy, thin, little fruit, unpleasantly acidic. Another person tries it and doesn't like it.
By this point, I feel physically ill, and go to the bathroom. At the entrance, I ask the staff to get my wife, and we decide to leave the restaurant. My dining companions, two of whom were only aquaintances, decided to stay. That was fine with me.
The story gets worse. I call my friend at the restaurant at 12:15. He says he is waiting for desert, but the food and service have been fabulous. Some of the best food he's ever had. He should be home in an hour.
Two hours he comes home, fuming mad. Mine and my wifes fois gras (untouched) were on the bill as well as the white wine which they didn't offer to pour the rest of the meal. (Incidentally, my friends ordered another bottle of wine, port, sauternes, fromage, etc - the bill was over 5000 francs). The remainder of the events is all secondhand, but basically they refused to take back the white and in fact when my friend said they could use it for cooking, the manager said "you want to see what I can do with it...here" and proceeded to empty the bottle into ice bucket. He then accused my friends of having stolen credit cards. Apparently there was a lot of screaming, cursing and insulting. Obviously not the right way to get things done, but they had tried to get it done the nice way first.
The funny thing is the minute I walked into the door, I knew it was going to be a disaster. The ambiance is stuffy, businesslike - like a Ritz Carlton hotel dining room. When I get a table I'm unhappy with, I will complain, and if not satisfied, walk out.
The two things I am most shocked at are:
1. The table. Three star dining is luxurious and sumptuous. You are supposed to feel like royalty and leave fully indulged. This was obviously not the case.
2. The bill. The wine, which was only 480 ff ($66), should have been removed from the bill. The fois gras as well - it was untouched.
The night before, we ate at Chez Catherine (good bistro). The American couple next to us told us to order the rabbit appetizer (it looked good). Apparently, they were served the wrong dish as it was the tuna appetizer. How this woman didn't distinguish between rabbit and tuna is a mystery to me. However, when my wife's rabbit came, it was a terrine. She explained the situation to the waiter and the tuna was brought out. Were we charged for both apps - of course not, even though one was sent back.
Bad restaurant experiences are part of dining out - it happens. However, considering the pedigree and reputation of this establishment, this has to rank as the most disappointing yet.
PS. I'll post later on some great restaurant and hotel experiences from our trip.