Destination: France: Paris
Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée
Ducasse himself may not be in the kitchen of this three-Michelin-star at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, but one of his top lieutenants, Christophe Moret, has made this restaurant one of Paris’ most exciting. The contemporary decor was created by designer Patrick Jouin, the service is superb, the wine list extraordinary and the food simply out of this world. Try the langoustine with caviar to start, then the sea bass with asparagus and baby peas, or roasted veal sweetbreads. And don’t miss the signature dessert: caillé de brebis (ewe’s milk curd) with arbutus honey and peppered caramel. Reserve two months in advance. Closed Saturday, Sunday and Monday through Wednesday for lunch. Métro: Alma-Marceau.
By shedding his three stars and reinventing his Belle Époque restaurant as a brasserie de luxe, Senderens has scored a major hit. The landmarked Art Nouveau paneling survives, but an undulating tented ceiling and white Corian tables leave no doubt that 21st-century modern is what this space is all about. A forward-looking menu includes dishes like smoked salmon steak with Thai spices and cucumber ribbons, tartare of veal and langoustine with fine rice vermicelli and Parmesan shavings. Lunch in the cozier upstairs dining room is desperately très chic. Reserve four to six weeks in advance for dinner. Open daily. Métro: Madeleine.
Located in a beautiful maison particulier in the 8th arrondissement, this restaurant (part of Relais & Châteaux) is one of Paris’ best-kept secrets. The food, by chef Jean-Pierre Vigato, is haute cuisine to be sure, with a focus on seasonal and often-changing dishes, and the setting is divine, complete with a garden. Says an Indagare member: “We had an amazing dinner at Apicius on Rue D’Artois. It’s in a gorgeous building owned by Luc Besson. The food and service were divine. It seemed like we were the only Americans which was great.”
The astonishingly inventive cooking of chef Pascal Barbot—as well as a third Michelin star, awarded this year—have made this the toughest reservation to land right now (lunch is easier than dinner). Barbot cooks for some twenty-five diners in a gracious, modern duplex dining room not far from the Trocadero. There’s no à la carte menu, only two prix-fixes: Euro120 (about $163) for a six-course lunch and Euro170 ($230) for a ten-course dinner. Dishes like his avocado ravioli filled with crab and drizzled with almond oil and turbot with a coulis of lemon and ginger are simply amazing. Reserve two months in advance for dinner. Closed Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Métro: Passy.
Alain Ducasse deserves the gratitude of all bistro lovers not only for saving one of the most-loved bistros in Paris—Benoit, founded in 1912—but for making it even better. Don’t miss such hard-to-find cuisine bourgeoise classics as langue Lucullus (layered mousse of foie gras and smoked tongue) and sole à la Dieppoise in a velvety sauce made with fish fumet, butter, mussels and tiny gray shrimp from the North Sea. Reserve one to two weeks in advance. Open daily. Métro: Hotel de Ville.
Cristal Room Baccarat
One of Paris’ most dramatic restaurant settings, the Cristal Room, is located in the Maison Baccarat, opened in 2003 in the former private residence of influential arts patron Marie-Laure de Noailles. The interiors of the gorgeous 19th-century maison privée, which also houses the venerable French crystal company’s headquarters, museum and the country’s largest Baccarat boutique, was re-imagined by French designer Philippe Starck, who was given carte blanche in the Empire-style spaces. The resulting dining room, complete with massive mirrors, exposed brick walls, pastel-pink banquet seating and a black crystal chandelier, is a playful merging of old-world elegance and cutting-edge design. Michelin-starred Chef Guy Martin oversees an innovative, frequently changing French menu. For a special group dinner, book the terraced private dining room that seats up to ten. Reservations recommended. Métro: Boissière_
Simple, brown and white decor at Guy Savoy provides a subdued almost Zen-like backdrop (Savoy is apparently a Kung Fu master) that better showcases the chef’s elaborately prepared (and sometimes elaborately presented) cuisine. Savoy, who was awarded Chef of the Year in 2002 and is considered a founder of the nouvelle cuisine movement, has since opened numerous restaurants—including a much hyped-up outpost in Las Vegas—but this remains his only three-star establishment. One last bit of trivia about the head toque: he is a mushroom fanatic. You can, thus, expect fall’s menu to showcase multiple truffle varieties and the summer menu even includes such dishes as browned sweetbreads and truffle-stuffed potatoes; artichoke and black truffle soup; and roasted veal with a truffle-potato puree.
Read about Guy Savoy in Las Vegas.
Soft-spoken and serious, chef Philippe Labbé has one of the most impressive culinary resumes in France. He honed his skills in the kitchens of legendary chefs, including Gérard Boyer and Roger Verger, and won accolades and multiple Michelin stars at such dinig destinations as the Château de Bagnols and the Château de la Chèvre d’Or, in Eze. That the Shangri-La hired Labbé to oversee its fine dining restaurant L’Abeille showcases the company’s desire to become a major player in the palace hotel’s dining scene. And according to Paris’s most renowned critics, including Le Figaro and ex-pat Alexander Lobrano, L’Abeille is well on its way to achieving this.
The experience is old-school, for sure. The dining room, on the ground floor of the hotel, is formal, with an understated palette of gold and beiges, small bunches of roses adding color to the tables and an army of waiters, all friendly and welcoming, relaxing the ambience somewhat. The focused, well-edited menu is precise and detailed when it comes to describing the dishes. Market-driven menus are de rigeur these days, but Labbé takes his sourcing of the best ingredients to a new level. Wild salmon from Southwestern France; farm-raised veal from Limousin and foie gras from Vendée. Dishes are beautifully presented and many ingredients are conceived as duos, like the delectable foie gras, prepared first with praline, cocoa powder, Chiogga, and a chocolate vinaigrette, and the second cooked in a salt and sugar crust with orange and praline aromas. Another highlight of the evening is the lovely sommelière who walks diners through the tome-like wine list without the least bit of pretention.
A meal at L’Abeille, which is open for dinner only, is a good match for dedicated gourmets who can appreciate the artistry, ingredients and work behind each dish. It goes without saying that the restaurant is very expensive and a meal here is a multi-hour commitment.
Indagare Tip: Request the one table (seating two) which has glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.
Unlike Bernard Pacaud’s original nine-table L’Ambroisie on the Left Bank, where the décor was spare and contemporary, the interior here is filled with antiques and designed to resemble an Italian palazzo. Some say the cuisine is slipping, though foodies still come in droves and Michelin has yet to demote the restaurant from its current three-star standing. Pacaud’s menu changes seasonally—in fall, for instance, you can get lobster fricassee with chestnuts served in a pumpkin purée—and the emphasis in on fresh ingredients and taste rather than, as is the case at some of France’s more cutting-edge fusion restaurants, dramatic, over-the-top presentations. The two dining rooms can seat only 38 guests so reservations are absolutely essential.
The minimalist-modern dining room, designed with warm colors of red and chocolate, serves as the perfect backdrop of chef Alain Passard’s mostly vegetable-focused menu. The chef is passionate about fresh veggies (many of them grown on Passard’s organic farm outside Paris), though shellfish and poultry also make appearances (carnivores will be disappointed, though). The restaurant has three Michelin stars. Closed Saturday and Sunday.
La Grande Cascade
Built as a hunting pavilion for Napoléon III, this restaurant, tucked away in the Bois de Boulogne, is undeniably romantic. The dining room, with curved glass windows and sumptuous crystal chandeliers, overlooks a sweeping lawn lined with centuries-old trees, and a brigade of minutely attentive waiters is at the ready. Since the arrival of chef Fréderic Robert, La Grande Cascade is one of the best restaurants to sample the Escoffier-inspired Grande Cuisine that won France its original gastronomic laurels. Fine examples of Robert’s style include an amusingly rustic starter of stuffed cepes with a garnish of chopped soft-boiled egg, a canard croisé (roast duck with a pastilla of thigh meat and dried fruits), pork belly roasted with mace and accompanied by with glazed baby turnips and desserts like puff pastry filled with black fig marmalade and served with cinnamon ice cream. Cheeses come from Quatrehommes, and an expert sommelier creates a superlative wine list. During good weather, meals are served on the beautiful terrace. Open daily. Accessible only by car or taxi.
Depending on the season, you’ll enjoy chef Eric Fréchon’s earthy, graceful cooking in either an oak-paneled dining room or a tented room overlooking an interior courtyard garden. Frechon boldly mixes luxury produce with homelier ingredients with delectable results, including a ris de veau (veal sweetbreads) braised in dry fennel and a farmed Bresse hen served with crayfish and morels that I’m still hankering for since my last visit there. Reserve two weeks in advance. Open daily. Métro: Miromesnil.
The dining room of the Four Seasons George V is ideal for a festive meal. Not only is the room refined and comfortable, but the service is impeccable, and the wine list and classic French food are sublime. Be sure to try the leeks stuffed with black truffles and the perfectly roasted pigeon with Savoy cabbage. And don’t miss the cheese trolley. Reserve one month in advance. Open daily. Métro: George V.
Le Grand Vefour
The venerable Grand Vefour may have lost one of its Michelin stars, but a recent lunch there was a flawless demonstration of old-world French elegance (and the food was excellent, too). For one, the setting is stunning: housed in a mirror-clad Belle Époque dining room that overlooks the leafy gardens of the Palais Royal, Le Grand Vefour has red-velvet banquette seating and gorgeous handpainted wall panels and ceilings lit up by gilded chandeliers. The army of waiters—all men, bien sur —is dressed in black suits and bowties, but unlike at some other culinary temples, they are friendly and generous with dining suggestions (and, at least when the over-laden cheese trolley is parked next to you, you’ll welcome their advice).
The ambience hails from another era—women are given menus without prices and seated, without fail, on the chairs and banquettes with the best views of the room—but overall, it’s a congenial vibe, which may explain the large number of locals who dine there (my husband and I were one of only two parties that spoke English). As for the food, even the Michelin inspectors stressed that the demotion was due to inconsistencies not lack of talent of the chef. Indeed, the self-taught Guy Martin, who also owns the restaurant, has been hailed as one of the most innovative chefs in France, and the dishes we tried, including a velvety foie gras, crispy côte de veau and spiced turbot meunière, did not disappoint. Too many flavors made the desserts a bit overloaded, but considering the array of petit fours, chocolates and feathery chiffon cake served with coffee, they were hardly even necessary (the seemingly endless finale of sweets felt like the dramatic culmination of a fireworks display).
After a nearly four-hour culinary extravaganza, we left with a card on which the sommelier had dutifully written out the name of the excellent Burgundy white that he had suggested for my fish course. The next day, I took it to the wine store at the Bon Marché’s La Grande Épicerie, hoping to take a few bottles back to the U.S., but the man behind the counter only smiled weakly: “Non, Madame,” he said, “I promise you will not find this anywhere. It is a very small vineyard. Very special.” It seemed like the perfect, bittersweet, conclusion to our meal—and made me want to return on my next trip.
Lunch at the Grand Vefour is a bargain at €78 ($120). Dinner menus start from €256 ($399). Reservations should be made weeks in advance. Closed Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday.
Le Jules Verne
Two French icons, Alain Ducasse and the Eiffel Tower. Put them together and what do you get? Possibly the toughest restaurant reservation to secure in Paris but if you get one, a very memorable meal. Despite the griping of some in his camp that running a restaurant inside a city monument was too touristy for the gourmet genius, Ducasse fought for and won the contract to run Le Jules Verne restaurant, located on the second level of the historic tower. Renovation took close to two years as the existing rooms and kitchens were torn out and 21st century comforts and equipment were installed. Among the innovations: The main kitchen, where prep work and cleaning is done, lies below ground; food then ascends in elevators to a small finale kitchen.
Guests, too, arrive in a private elevator from within the base of the south leg of the tower. In fact, for a perfectionist like Ducasse, the one inelegant aspect of the new Le Jules Verne experience is the arrival. Those with sought-after reservations funnel into a small, dark waiting area to line up for a spot on the elevator. Aside from a Jules Verne quote that adorns one wall, there is nothing to amuse or comfort them. After suffering feelings of claustrophobia or thoughts of Sartre’s No Exit, the reward is semi-celestial, though. The music begins in the elevator, which rises skyward at a slight angle following the curve of the tower’s leg. The dining rooms, too, feel ergonomically respectful of the structure in which they are cradled. Cognac-colored leather banquettes and chairs evoke the aerodynamic splendor of the Concorde with much better views. Patrick Jouin, who also designed Mix in Las Vegas for Ducasse, has created an elegant universe that cossets without distracting from the main event. Whether you face the Left Bank or the Right, the city’s swaths of greenery and grandiose boulevards and Places will fill you with wonder.
Then, of course, there is the food. Ducasse’s attention to every dining detail, from the breads (don’t skip the mini-brioches) to the post-dessert sweets that come with silver toothpick-like implements for spearing the truffles, celebrates the joy of eating well. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy many of Ducasse’s meals but again, here, I was reminded of why he deserves his reputation. He continues to push his craft (okay, the amoeba-like plates didn’t work for me), but he never strays from the essential devotion to extraordinary tastes. A delicate white melange of celery and truffles and apples sets off the lobster in the lobster salad. Beef arrives with a pouch of thin French fry chips. Everything from the veal to seafood is perfectly cooked, tender and juicy, and seasoned with juices and sides that enhance flavor. Even the house white Burgundy was memorable—a delicious Meursault poured from a jeroboam with a proud flourish by our waiter.
Indagare Tip: Lunch reservations are easier to get than dinner ones, which are booked months in advance. Reservations can be requested through the web site.
Chef Yannick Alléno has just been awarded a much-deserved third Michelin star, and overnight the dining room of the Le Meurice hotel has become a hot reservation. It’s worth wangling for a table, since the opulent marble-and-gilt dining room is fairy tale–like, and Alléno’s cooking is brilliant. Don’t miss his langoustine “risotto,” which is made with tiny pasta, and in winter, his innovative four-course riff on pot-au-feu. Reserve three weeks in advance. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Métro: Tuileries.
Young chef Samuel Cavagnis hit the mark with this sophisticated restaurant with dove-gray decor featuring 19th-century moldings. The traditional French cooking is outstanding. Recommended dishes include foie gras à la plancha (griddled foie gras), thick veal chop with an endive tatin and a short-crusted fig tart with rosemary syrup and violet ice cream. As good for a business meal as it is for a tête-à-tête, Le Versance will also make cigar smokers happy with its well-stocked fumoir; coffee, a selection of rare teas and digestifs are served here after dinner. Closed Saturday lunch, Sunday and Monday. Métro: Bourse.
The Hôtel de Crillon restaurant’s marble walls, glittering crystal chandeliers and frescoes playfully depicting cherubim constructing the building, in 1758, makes this a most sumptuous place to dine. Young chef Christophe Hache follows in big footsteps indeed (former acclaimed chef Jean-François Piège left to create a hostelry in the 7th with Thierry Costes), but Hache has already earned a Michelin star and rave reviews from locals and visitors. Closed Sunday. Métro: Concorde.
One of the city’s great grand dame restaurants (it dates back to 1798), the three-starred Pavillon Ledoyen, or Doyen as it was called originally, has hosted major historical figures of varying political stripes. Past guests include Revolutionaries like Robbespiere and Barras, Second Empire duelists and even Bonaparte himself. The grand multistory pavilion was rebuilt in 1848 in the gardens of the Champs Elysées, but since then little about the Napoleonic decor has changed. Christian Le Squer’s seafood-heavy cuisine, like that of Bernard Pacaud’s L’Ambroisie, emphasizes fresh ingredients and taste over more esoteric, conceptual dishes.
The culinary imagination and technical finesse of chef Pierre Gagnaire continue to make this a fascinating haute cuisine spot. Every dish is an elaborate composition of tastes and textures, and Gagnaire’s main course of turbot and conch, for example, includes a snowy chunk of the fish in pepper butter with fine slices of conch in a sherry-spiked reduction of citrus and garnishes of cauliflower, turnip and Jerusalem artichoke with arugula-flavored whipped cream. Gagnaire’s tasting plate of nine different desserts is legendary. The restaurant is located within the Hôtel Balzac but is entirely independent. Reserve one month in advance for dinner. Closed Sunday lunch and Saturday. Métro: George V.
With the arrival of gifted chef Jean-François Rouquette, the Pur’Grill, at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme hotel, has become an interesting contemporary restaurant. Rouquette, former sous-chef to Philip Legendre at Taillevent, has designed a cosmopolitan menu with deep culinary roots in the most exacting techniques of French haute cuisine. Dishes include: lobster Caesar salad; steamed petit gris snails in an intriguing sauce of red radishes, for texture, and horseradish, for a racy contrast; grilled scallops with sauce of buttermilk and lovage (a brilliant way of underlining the natural sweetness in the bivalve); spit-roasted pigeon with Swiss chard and Turrón (almond brittle) butter. Desserts are scrumptious, too, including gelée of aloe vera with lychees and kumquats. Don’t be confused: to make a distinction between lunch and evening dining, the hotel calls the restaurant Les Orchidées during the day; Rouquette is in charge of lunch and dinner menus. Open daily. Métro: Opéra.
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