After 3 weeks in Rouen, Alsace (Strasbourg, Colmar, wine villages), Burgundy (Beaune, Dijon), Lyon and Avignon, I finally made it to Paris where I ate at Guy Savoy, Louis Relais XIII (hope I got the number right) and Lucas Carton. And now I'm pretty much broke.
To all the hounds here that suggested splurges in the provinces - thank you (I repeat) thank you so much!!! The Parisan places were excellent and sophisticated and totally worth it, but the they were not significantly better that those in Alsace (Au Crocodile and Auberge de L'ill) which cost a little more than half as much.
The eating was wonderful; I came to France as an enthusiastic amateur and it's been a real eye-opener for me. I had timed my trip for truffle (which I got a bit) and game (which I got a lot, from venison to patridge to pigeon to one very good wild boar). Some highlights (a few teasers before the real posts when I get back to SF):
Travelling and dining by myself meant that I was quite limited when it came to wine choices during dinner. Plus I'm not a big drinker, which really limited me to wines by the glasses, all of while were fine or even great, but few scintillated. Lucas Carton was great in providing matching wines by the glass, but the glass of wine that truly stood out in my mind was a 89 Hugels et Fils reserve riesling. I had it with a lobster with cajun stuffing at Auberge de L'ill in Illhausen and I'll remember that for a long time. The sweet complexity of the riesling, which had started to acquire a subtle smoky flavor, was a perfect match for the lobster and the mild in stuffing. (Incidentally, this lobster ties with the lobster in vanilla sauce that I had at Lucas Carton for my favorite lobster on this trip).
On a related note, few days prior, a pretty good Tokay Pinot Gris also worked magic with a seared whole foie gras with apple sauce at Au Crocodile. That was the best foie gras I had on this trip, and I was really impressed with how the sweetness of the apples did a nice number to the perfectly cooked liver (crisp smoky surface, firm to the knife but fluid on the palate).
The best duck I had was in a homey place little in Rouen called Beffroy. Carnard a la Rouennaise was only made for 2 but the waiter cheerfully said he'd persuade the chef (his wife). I've never had duck this tender and so full of flavor.
The artichoke soup with black truffles and parmesan cheese and truffle brioche at Guy Savoy is everything Jake Parrott and others have described.
Leon de Lyon takes the cake for my favorite dessert of 6 chocolate desserts.
Lastly 2 brief observations:
I'm starting to see a few rare Asian touches on menus, but encountered only one spicy dish (the forementioned lobster which was not Asian influenced).
In terms of finding good places to eat, the Michelin guide wasn't a bad deal at all and foodwise, only 2 places were below expectation - Leon de Lyon in Lyon and Louis Relais XIII in Paris. I relied entirely on the Little Red Book in the Provinces where chowhound reporting was thinner than Paris.
On the other hand, I totally agree with Gareth William's observations in a recent post about was the stars really mean. It's a bit harder to predict how good the food is when comparing a 1 star place to a 2 star place (or a 2 star to a 3). Sometimes the quality of service, ambiance, silverware etc... seem to make a bigger difference starwise.
Hopefully, I'll be able to put out the detailed restaurant posts next week.