Just back to NYC from a wonderful week-long stay in Paris. Thanks to everyone on this board for their help in figuring out where we wanted to eat. Sorry for any typos, grammar screw-ups or other mistakes in the below - just trying to get it all out there quickly. :-D
Full list of interesting/notable dining experiences:
Le Cinq (lunch)
Le Relais Louis XIII
Le Comptoir du Relais (lunch)
Excellent meals (in order):
Le Relais Louis XIII - best meal of the trip. Super old-school french. Stern but perfectly attentive service. Very friendly/gregarious chef. Perfect amount of food in the tasting menu and zero 'throw aways' across the 8 courses. Favorite dish was the Quenelle de Bar - so crazy flavorful and rich while being so light. Amazing.
Neige D'ete - close 2nd. Wonderful service - amazingly varied meal across the 10 course tasting menu. We were surprised at just how Japanese it was - many had said it was strictly French cooking, but there was a ton of Japanese influence, including a 'sashimi' course and an eel course. Highlights were the clam/oyster soup amuse and the 4-month dry-aged, hay-smoked steak. Spectacular flavors in both. Also the best cheese course of the entire trip and the best wine pairing (including an optional excellent Junmai Daiginjo in the mix)
Verjus - very friendly service, terrific food through the meal. Many of the dishes were very interesting as they took a few bites to 'get' - there was a consistent very-complex mixture of flavors and textures that wasn't fully evident on the first bite. Wonderful cooking. Highlight was the lamb tartare with harissa, raddish and yarrow. Amazing flavors. Possible downside to this restaurant was that it didn't feel very different than what's going on in food on this side of the pond. (maybe executed better than average) Very american in flavors, style and staff. Another great wine pairing.
Very good meals:
Le Comptoir du Relais - stopped in for a quick lunch, had a croque monsieur w/ salmon/caviar, eggs-mayonnaise and a rice-stuffed squid. Terrific wine list, good service. This place is obviously operating at a high level and we probably didn't order enough food to get the full experience. The squid and the croque were excellent. Would definitely go back for lunch (or dinner if possible).
Les Déserteurs - Great wine list. Very good service. Maybe best $/performance for the trip, but the meal was just a bit off target when compared to the others. Still very good and would return again considering the price. Highlight was the blood sausage to start and the remarkable young wines available.
Le Cinq - Not sure quite how to think about this meal. Perhaps there's a bit of upheaval going on with the relatively new chef Christian Le Squer? Service was impeccable though slightly 'schtickey', and the amuse - cured sardines on sardine cream with sardine ice-cream and fried sardine bits - was the singular best bite of the trip. The rest of the meal was at-best mediocre, and at worst, borderline inedible. We followed our lovely waiter's advice and skipped the tasting menu to get what he considered were the specials of the day (despite this being a more expensive route). Ordered the spider crab and green asparagus appetizers and the blue lobster and wild turbot for mains. The presentation for all was spectacular. Taste however was just OK. Asparagus is in season and we had it in nearly every tasting menu, and this was without-a-doubt the worst preparation of the bunch. Spider crab was good, but missing the deep crabby flavor I was hoping for (masked by flavorless cream). Lobster was maybe the best of the bunch, but still not as good as recent lobster dishes I've had in NYC (Le Bernardin last fall, for instance). The turbot was a disaster however. Somehow they turned a beautiful, light piece of fish into a brick of dense meat, and combined it with heavy, undercooked potatoes and a truffle-cheese sauce that did not mesh with the fish at all. I could only get half of it down. I could almost forgive a meal if it was the chef's trying new things in the scheme of a multi-course meal, but each *dish* here cost upwards of $120, so we really expected close-to-perfection. By-far the most expensive meal and by-far the biggest disappointment.
Encore - went here for lunch. Tasting menu is very reasonable - think this was the only meal we had under $100. Had asparagus and mackerel as appetizers and both of us had brandade for main as we weren't feeling the veal prep. Only two options for each course - which may have been the reason this place was a disappointment. The asparagus was very good, and the mackerel dish was excellent - a really spectacular combo of cured Japanese mackerel and french bitter/sweet greens/berries. The brandade was a real disappointment - both from a plating (kinda looked like something my old dog would vomit up) and flavor perspective. That said, it's the sort of thing you really need to be in the mood for. This place showed flashes of brilliance, so I'd consider returning if/when they had a new menu.
L'ami Jean - Nice people - solid & efficient service. Nice wine list as well. I loved the rustic nature of the food, but overall the meal ('carte-blanch' tasting menu) was very uneven despite a few good courses. Maybe worst part was the length and pace of the meal. 2 hours in, we were only on our 3rd course. I'm down with a laid-back pace, but 40+minutes between (small) courses is a bit much. There was a large table of regulars next to us who was being served at the same time as us, so it wasn't a screw-up specific to our table. Our neighbors were quickly going through magnums of wine, so perhaps they cared less. :-D Some of the dishes were really terrific - blood sausage w/ radish, braised beef w/ carrot. An greater amount were 'meh' - mackerel with celery root, a piece of cold buri doused by a beef bouillon. The final dish - a duck breast that somehow was transformed into a mushy mess was only made-up-for by the best garlic mashed-potatoes i've ever had. Rice pudding was also as good as advertised. Maybe an off night? Maybe you're better off ordering a la carte?
Other experiences i'd throw out there:
Sherry Butt for cocktails - AWESOME. Went on a relaxed sunday night & the bartender that night (Luca, IIRC) was extremely knowledgeable and welcoming. Consistently terrific drinks & the only place we tried that matched the best of NYC / SF / Tokyo. He shared some of the syrups & infusions he was working on and created some fun new stuff together. Would go back in a second & slightly sad we didn't have a chance during the trip.
L’as du Falafel - OK, It's just a falafel sandwich. I don't get the hype though. Their pita is better than average. The actual falafel is worse than say, Rainbow Falafel in NYC? That said, it was good. Not worth a queue (though it does move very fast).
Overall a really fun trip and we probably don't even regret Le Cinq as it was an 'experience'. (I won't be re-trying that experience until we win the lottery however).