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olivierb's Profile

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L'Arpége or Pierre Gagnaire?

The menu is slightly less expensive, but still EUR 290 according to Michelin. A la carte, as far as I remember it's EUR 120-150 for individual starters and main courses, and if you want cheese / and or dessert they're ~30-40 each as well, so all in all you're in for roughly EUR 350 pp without beverages. Which is, sadly, the kind of prices in most 3* restaurants in Paris.
At least, in those two, you can find some comparatively cheap bottles (especially at PG, with coefficients as low as x1.5 on some wines, but some good deals to be found at l'Arpège as well).

Aug 13, 2014
olivierb in France

Good coffee in Paris?

Bit late to the party, but... I'm not a big fan of Coutume, but that was a one time visit some time ago.
However, one of the best espresso I had recently was at le Telescope, in the 2nd near rue Ste-Anne.

Another place worth mentioning is l'Arbre à Café, on the other side of the street from Frenchie to Go. To be honest, I went there mostly to refill on Claudio Corallo Ubric 1 which I could not find anymore where I live, but I've returned for the coffee. They had nice ice creams, too. However, it's a shop, not really a café. They do prepare espresso to showcase their products, but you can't sit down.

Aug 13, 2014
olivierb in France

L'Arpége or Pierre Gagnaire?

To be honest in a vacuum, I would recommend going à la carte rather than for the tasting menu. The latter can be nice, but it's such a roller coaster ride, and it does not always seem completely coherent in my opinion.
You don't get to taste less things à la carte, and I would say it's safer, overall. But if you're feeling adventurous of course...

Aug 13, 2014
olivierb in France

L'Arpége or Pierre Gagnaire?

Both are excellent restaurants, but could not be more different: Gagnaire is ADHD dining, with one item of the menu being made of 4 to 6 individual plates, sometimes with a whole range of flavors, textures going on. And you basically have a full meal before the real meal starts, too (almost like two rounds of Noma "snacks"). That's a lot of food, sometimes strange, but there's always the feeling of a big party. And when it's good it's awesome.

L'Arpège is very minimalist, both in terms of setting and food. I've always had a good time there (well, only went twice, but still), but I know some people can be let down by the simplicity of some dishes. I believe it should almost be approached like going to an art exhibition. Also the lunch menu is good value. Be prepared to pay at least twice as much for food alone at Gagnaire for dinner.

When I hesitate between restaurants, the first thing I do is check their menu, and see if I'm drawn to anything.
http://www.alain-passard.com/fr/20-la...
http://www.pierre-gagnaire.com/en#/ba...
Everything is in French, and sometimes with but even with a crude translation you may get the idea.

Aug 13, 2014
olivierb in France

Jin Saint-Honoré

So there was a heated debate about this restaurant recently. To make up my mind, I bit the bullet and went, 10 days ago, as I happened to be in Paris, and realized we would not be able to go to Japan this year... it was some sort of consolation prize let's say.

And I must admit I'm very happy I went. I had not eaten sushi in Paris for four years, so I don't know how the scene has evolved, but Jin was clearly ahead of everything I had tasted in town before.
Quality of the fish was overall excellent, nothing to be ashamed of even when compared to what's available in Tokyo, and with possibly different fish species/varieties (Brittany lobster, red mullet some fantastic oysters I forgot to ask the origin of come to mind). This made for an excellent first part of the meal, with 8-10 expertly prepared seafood appetizers.

Then came a small dozen nigiri. Contrarily to what I had read, there is a progression. Of course it's not as good as what you can find in the most famous sushi places in Tokyo for example, but it was not completely thoughtless.
What I found interesting is that they used a different rice for white fish, served at the beginning, and for the rest of the nigiri when they switched to a rice prepared with red vinegar (which I generally prefer). However, in both case, it was a bit too salty for my taste. Also, I think there was a touch too much wasabi in some pieces.

All in all, this part of the meal was not as enjoyable as the appetizers in my opinion. It was good, but I felt it could have been even better. It's hard to pinpoint how exactly, but with a slightly fine-tuned progression, maybe a slight adjustment to the rice (that may be a matter of taste, though), it would already be exceptional. Then there is the skill of the chef. I can't say I'm an expert but I indeed feel there was something lacking compared to - once again - what one can find at the same price range in Tokyo.

In short I'd say that whether you consider it worthy of your time and money depends on your situation: if I was still living in Paris (and rich... the place is indeed expensive) I'd be really happy that I have the option to go there. As a tourist with limited time, unless you're curious about tasting a slightly different approach to sushi, it's obviously a different story. By the way, the five other customers were Japanese, whatever that means.

Comparisons with Japan or the US must be forgotten. Jin is in Paris and must be approached with this fact in mind. This is not a plane ticket to Tokyo, but probably one of the next best thing there is.

Jul 06, 2014
olivierb in France
1

What food/restaurants do you crave when not in Paris?

- Fresh seafood ;
- bread and croissants ;
- pastries ;
- good butter ;
- restaurants... both low- and high-end ;
- Perrier at bars/restaurants.

To be honest, I could get most of that in my current country of residence. It's just that it used to be available 200m from my apartment, or anywhere in Paris for that matter. Now, I'd had to travel several kilometers to find them (and that would be cheating as it would more often than not mean crossing the border to... France!).

Jun 15, 2014
olivierb in France

Should I cancel a July Ledoyen reservation?

Apparently not going to happen. Souphie might chime in, but I believe he went recently and asked about the rumour, which the restaurant denied.

And that would be a relief as Le Squer might be the best chef in fine dining restaurants in Paris right now.

I'd rather they part with the one snobby waiter who always ruins all the rest of the team's efforts... (don't worry though, he's not that bad, and probably does not like me only because I come dressed as a bum)

May 23, 2014
olivierb in France

Dinner recs for 10th wedding anniversary meal in Paris

Thanks Delucacheesemonger, unfortunately I'm not living in France anymore, so I don't get to each there much, except for a few "celebratory" meals here and there.

Back to the topic though: while I like it very much, I excluded l'Arpège on purpose. It can be very fun, with Passard acting like a showman, the service is really nice, they toned down the prices on the wine list a few years ago, but... The main reason to go there is to marvel at Passard's genius... and hope he is here and actually cooking.

You have to be a firm "believer" as mangeur says to pay EUR 80-100 for a minimalist plate of vegetables. This can be overcome by having the lunch menu (but then not very celebratory) or splitting à la carte dishes though: I feel they give you more than half the dish for half the price + there may be some "freebies" (given the price you pay for the rest, I'm not sure they're really free, but...). Also the room is not really my style (which is subjective) and not too comfortable (this is objective) for a three-star restaurant.

But at any rate any of the recommendations in the thread should lead to an excellent experience, provided you go with the right mindset.

May 17, 2014
olivierb in France

Dinner recs for 10th wedding anniversary meal in Paris

Adventurous, want a party, and a good wine list at reasonable price (for a high-end Parisian restaurant): Gagnaire could be the one you're looking for.
I really like it, some despise it. There's a lot of hit and misses, but the hits are really, really incredible as far as I'm concerned. Also, it is generally too much food if you want to do the whole starters+mains+(cheese)+dessert. But I always have fun there. Service is really nice, not stuffy, but not the absolute best in Paris.

Best service is probably to be had at Le Cinq, which is one of the restaurants that epitomizes Paris classic high-end dining, with probably the best service ever, in a gorgeous, luxurious setting. However in my experience, Briffard's cuisine requires extreme precision, which they did not always deliver in my 5-6 meals. But the last one was in 2010, and a lot of people on this board go several times a year and are never disappointed. Oh and the wine list weighs like 20 pounds.

Finally, in the area you're staying is l'Ambroisie, which is another favorite of mine. Setting is more bourgeois than royalty, but still very nice. I've always found the service to be really relaxed and even fun, provided that you break the ice. Otherwise they can seem slightly distant. I love the food. It lacks the precision and consistency of, say, Ledoyen, but they do textbook French cuisine extremely well. It probably won't feel as celebratory as the other two, and the wine list is less impressive/safer than the other two, and definitely more expensive than at Gagnaire.

There are many other possibilities but these would be my top 3 recommendations. They're all very different, but you should be fine in any of those as long as you know what to expect. That said there's always a gambling aspect to three-star dining. It's part of the thrill, even if I understand that disappointments should not happen at this price point.

May 15, 2014
olivierb in France
1

Too Much Kaiseki (in Kyoto)?

2 full kaiseki dinner per day seems a bit too much in my opinion.
But I think it is indeed a good idea to experience it in different restaurants. Last time in Kyoto i went to Sakurada, which was comparatively easier to apprehend, and then to Nakamura which seemed much more traditional.

The latter left me with a strange feeling of not belonging, or even not deserving this kind of meal as I didn't have the knowledge to fully understand and appreciate it. But one year later, it still haunts me and remains one of my all time favorite dining experience.
Got some pictures of the dishes here if that helps: http://www.flickr.com/photos/45095140...

Unfortunately I have not been to the other 3 of your list, so can't help you decide which ones to cut.

Mar 22, 2014
olivierb in Japan

L'Ambroisie reservation and other questions

Forget the tie unless you actually want to wear one. Take the jacket just so you're sure to fit in and because it's supposed to be a special moment. But to be honest, at lunch at least, I've always seen people wearing a shirt and jeans but no jacket there.

It can indeed feel like it's stuffy at first, but once you interact a bit with the waiters and the sommelier, you quickly find out that they're very nice. Never heard any of them speak English though, so not sure about their foreign language skills..

Jan 20, 2014
olivierb in France

Coming to Paris in January. Looking for recommendation on one epic dinner

Not sure how Gagnaire's other restaurants compare to his Parisian one. That said, I went to Pierre in HK, and while one could discern Gagnaire's style, it's not even close to being in the same league as the original one in terms or food, service, or wine menu.

Jan 12, 2014
olivierb in France

Best Restaurants in Paris

As for 500EUR good, well you know you can eat there for half that, but I understand.
So the real question is: is it as good as it should given the price? Yes and no. It is excellent but not flawless as it should be. I'd say they cater more to people who want to eat, rather than to people who want to have a transcendental, life-changing, meal. But once again, where do you find those with any kind of consistency, and is there any other place where you can have such a meal?

Pont de Brent is not in the same league. Rabaey is not cooking there anymore... never went during his time unfortunately.
Never went to Louis XV, and narrow-minded as I am, never had any desire to go.
Hedone: yes please!
But all of those are not in Paris anyway (cf. OP).
Ledoyen: it's more precise, maybe less of a rip-off, uhm less expensive I mean, so yes... but I enjoy it less than l'Ambroisie for some reason.

Then there are Gagnaire, l'Arpège, etc. but this is more like gambling than dining. And of course all the ones I haven't tried.

In the end you may be right about the past being better. Too bad I never experienced it!

Jan 03, 2014
olivierb in France

Best Restaurants in Paris

Hey l'Ambroisie is still good. On the basis of three lunches there, I can say it is solid. Better than Ledoyen, I'm not completely sure, but I like l'Ambroisie better overall. Bernard Pacaud is apparently still in the kitchen, if that matters.

Maybe it's not as divine as it used to be. I don't know, I've only been recently, so it does not matter (too much) to me. And anyway, what are the other options? (yes, maybe Ledoyen)

Dec 28, 2013
olivierb in France

Reservation at Sawada - Mission Impossible for a Gaijin

Hear hear.
That said, Yoshitake's not too shabby either.

Sep 14, 2013
olivierb in Japan

High-End Sushi in Tokyo with easier reservations

Hey, I know I'm not Ninisix (well... do I?), but I'd say go to Sushi Taichi.
I went to Tokyo twice. On our first trip we already experienced some mid to high range sushi (Kyubey, Sushiso Masa and Sawada). As many, I fell in love with Sawada's sushi during a quick lunch there.
Fast forward to 2013 and, back in Tokyo, I wanted to try a mix of different kind of places. We ended up doing Taichi, Sawada, Yoshitake. As with all good restaurants, they're all fantastic, but very different.

I went to Taichi first as I wanted to start with "midrange" sushi and I read Ninisix rave about it. Turned out it was even better than expected. We were unfortunately not feeling well that day, so we only had a very light dinner, but everything we tasted was great. I especially loved the rice. Quite vinegary (red vinegar isn't it?) and relatively firm. It is "no-frill" but quality is very high. Taichi seems very nice. I believe he speaks some English too, which can help. So if you've never experienced Japanese high-end sushi, this is a perfect starting point. More so than more sophisticated sushi joints whose appeal you can really understand only once you've already had the very-good-but-classic ones.
You can look at pictures from my meal there: https://plus.google.com/photos/113873...

I also felt that Sawada can be an excellent place to go to for tourists like me, because the (set) menu is so extensive. The sashimi courses are reason enough to book a trip to Tokyo. His nigiri are great, but not perfect for me. Still is one of my favorite restaurants in the world!

Can't comment on Saito, as I never managed to get a reservation there...

Sep 06, 2013
olivierb in Japan

Best Chocolate in Paris?

I remember someone mentioning in another thread that Claudio Corallo's chocolates were now available in Paris. (there it is: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8948...

)

Not saying it's the best, but it's one of a kind and a big favorite of mine. I could live on the 100%, 80% "sablé", 73% soft and Ubric 1 alone.

May 30, 2013
olivierb in France

L'Ambroisie.

Went back last weeks, second time for me, once again at lunch. It was at least as good as the first time around. My girlfriend had the same dishes as last time (egg and caviar then lobster) because she loved them so much. They were still mindblowing yet slightly different, due to being there in an earlier stage of spring.
I had the sole and then the ris de veau. Both came with morels: amazing ones on top of the fish and then a full bowl with comté sauce with the main, that were unfortunately less flavorful yet very enjoyable. I mention that because morels should only have been served with the chicken for 2 that day (public holiday), but the maître d' made it so that I could have my morels fix anyway.

All in all, from my two experiences there I don't get the snobby service or the tired food comments. I found the staff warm and easygoing, and the food... well I guess it's the kind of restaurant where you go to eat good food, as opposed to having an intellectual experience where the medium happens to be food.

As much as I enjoy Gagnaire, or l'Arpège, love the food at Ledoyen, I believe L'Ambroisie may very well be my favorite three-star restaurant in Paris now. In fact I already want to go back!

Some (so-so) photos of this meal: https://plus.google.com/photos/113873...

May 13, 2013
olivierb in France

3 choices here. Would LOVE feedback.

Been twice for lunch, three times for dinner. Food is great for both, with lunch being considerably less expensive (if you chose the lunch menu, of course).
I find the atmosphere even more magical at night, but it's also maybe a bit more formal. That said if there is one thing that Le Cinq does better than most other places, it's service, so you'll never feel uncomfortable there.

Also love l'Arpège, by the way, but it's a completely different, and maybe less "safe" restaurant: way less comfortable, minimalistic food, and maybe worse value than Le Cinq for some -- not me.

Apr 25, 2013
olivierb in France

Pierre Gagnaire

It's expensive, a lot (a LOT) of food whether you chose the menu or order à-la-carte (which I'd recommend), and not particularly light. It's a bit wild, especially the tasting menu, not always for the best.
I personally love it, but don't go there expecting every bite to blow you away, as some dishes seem to be about novelty just for the sake of it, and even the execution is not always fantastic. It may have looked very modern some time ago, but today I'd say it almost looks dated (I don't mind at all, just pointing that out). Still, the highs are very high.
Also, there is good wine to be had at very decent prices.

In fact I am currently considering going back there in a few weeks...

Apr 24, 2013
olivierb in France

Your favorite apéritifs and digestifs?

A lot of French craft breweries have been popping up everywhere these last 5+ years. Not living in France anymore I can't keep up with the new stuff that comes out... Quality varies widely and ranges from the worst (no QC) to the best. In average, beers produced here tend to be less extreme to what can be found in US/Scandinavia. Also, as most of these are new breweries, you won't find as much beers that require a lot of money/time investments, like really big/barrel-aged stouts or sour beers. Still, there are a lot of really enjoyable French beers to be had these days, way more than in, say, 2005.

Actually two of my favorite French breweries are not located in the northern part of France at all, but on the eastern part: La Franche -- from Jura, and la Brasserie du Mont Salève -- from Haute Savoie.

To sample French breweries, your two best bets are La Cave à Bulles (rue Quincampoix, IVe) if you want a shop, or Le Supercoin (rue Baudelique, XVIIIe) which is a bar. Disclaimer: this bar is owned and operated by friends.
La Fine Mousse (avenue Jean Aicard, XIe) also has a very wide selection of beers, including French ones.

Apr 11, 2013
olivierb in France

Sushi, but no shellfish, in Tokyo

Nope, we informed them about a week before, as soon as the allergy was confirmed, but I guess the earlier, the better.

Once again it worked in our case, but if your concern is to have a kosher meal, or if you have really severe allergies to some shellfish, it might prove more difficult than it was for us. You can try to have your hotel concierge discuss that with the restaurants, but communication issues may arise (language, lack of familiarity with your concerns, etc.).

Apr 07, 2013
olivierb in Japan

Sushi, but no shellfish, in Tokyo

May not be useful for the OP but higher end sushi places can accommodate dislikes/allergies if told in advance.

My fiancee has an allergy to squid and some shellfish, and last week both Sawada and Yoshitake adapted their menu, giving her different pieces when needed.

I'll add that her allergy is relatively "mild", not of the life-threatening type. In the latter case, or if this is religion-related exclusion, it might indeed be extremely tricky!

Apr 07, 2013
olivierb in Japan

(Paris) L'Ambroisie, any recent review/report ?

Not very recent, but I went last June, for the first time. Dishes ranged from very good to exceptional . This is of course not as fun a place as, say, l'Arpège or Gagnaire, but it's not so bad either, and the food more than makes up for it.
Wine is on the expensive side unfortunately, and the glassware is a bit "crude" compared to other "3* establishments. Maybe they give you better glasses if you order expensive bottles, though.
Don't know how "meat centric" it is, though. I'd say it's quite balanced, with as many meat/fishes options.

Maybe Ledoyen would be a somewhat "safer" bet. Not sure how I would explain that in a clear, objective way, though.
That said, I postponed going to l'Ambroisie for 5 years, and regretted not going earlier. And now I want to go back.

Pictures from our meal here: https://picasaweb.google.com/11387386...

Feb 14, 2013
olivierb in France

Andechs beer in Paris?

Although the number and quality of beer stores has increased dramatically these last few years in Paris, I don't remember ever seeing anything from Andechs there.
What you'll find is mostly French, Belgian, American and Scandinavian stuff, and not much German beers except for the big names... sorry.

Jul 03, 2012
olivierb in France

l'Arpege or Ledoyen in August?

These are two of my favorite restaurants in Paris -- or anywhere in the world. However they could not be more different.

L'Arpège is very relaxed, minimalist, and can be hit or miss. That means you don't really have to care about dressing up or anything (especially at lunch, and I'm not talking about hawaian shirts and flip-flops), and the two times I was there, I thought service was really good (heard some horror stories from others, though). At lunch, at the end of the service, it basically felt like home, which is a good sign.
Foodwise, if you go ALC, you'll pay 60 EUR for three pieces of vegetables (and the pound of butter they've been cooked in). Yet, it can be the best dish of your life, and will at least turn out to be excellent. At lunch there's a 135 EUR menu that is really awesome. It's basically a compilation of the vegetables dishes from ALC, and a plate of meat/fish, cheese and then all-you-can-eat dessert. And there's the middle road that consists in splitting ALC dishes.
Also, wine prices are now very reasonable. The coefficient on a bottle of Selosse champagne was like 1.5x last time I went!

Ledoyen is more luxurious, even a bit stuffy. I mean, sometimes I wonder if that's not the Queen Elizabeth and her friends dining at the other end of the room, and the servers can seem a bit cold at first. That said, if you make the effort to engage them and talk about your meal, etc. they become a bit more relaxed.
If you don't go for lunch, ALC will cost you a few limbs, maybe with one of your kidneys thrown in if you want wine. I've been there twice and always been lucky, as everything I've eaten there was marvellous. Portion are big and satisfying. There are a few "molecular" touches here and there, but it still feels like a traditional French restaurant. I love the spaghetti dish, it's basically a 3-star mac-and-cheese, but better. Not sure if it's available in August, sorry.
Desserts can range from enjoyable to excellent, many of them being some reinvention of old-classics.
For lunch, there's a 85 EUR menu, with dishes very close to what's offered ALC, albeit with less luxurious ingredients. Never tried it, but apparently, it's a very safe bet.

All in all, if you don't take the lunch menu, you will probably spend something like 400 EUR pp at any of these restaurants.
There are a lot of photos flying around for both, it can help you decide which style of cooking you may prefer.

May 23, 2012
olivierb in France

Paris July dining report

Must say I've had a similar experience at l'Arpège three weeks ago. It was our second time there, first time for lunch. The lunch menu was excellent except a few items I found subpar (tomato salad was one of them... guess it really depends on the day you go). And these were mostly at the beginning of a lunch that went from good to divine.
Passard was only there at the end of the meal, and was clearly not cooking, but chatting with everyone.
Tarte aux pommes was indeed far better. I'd even say it went from "meh" to "excellent", like only second to my stepmother's (or, sometimes, mine, by extension).

It's definitely one of the places that make me nostalgic about Paris (with l'Ami Jean and Génin among others, while Gagnaire who runs one of my favorite restaurants is not), because I feel it could not exist anywhere else... I admit I've never been to Manresa, but I believe that while the philosophy must be somewhat similar, the whole experience is necessarily very different too.

All that drivel to say that, while I believe some of the "horror stories" about l'Arpège, it clearly is on my top list for Paris restaurants.

Jul 22, 2011
olivierb in France

Best Mille-feuille in Paris

Senderens, Génin are my favorites.
Pichard is the best value when you get them fresh (must be lucky for that). Used to like Secco's millefeuilles but I noticed a huge drop in quality about 1-2 years ago.

Any pâtisserie that makes a good pâte feuilletée should be OK, but freshness is of the essence, and that's why Génin and restaurants millefeuilles will most often be better than others.

May 10, 2011
olivierb in France

Welcome to Paris for 2 days

I could not agree more : last time I was in Paris for 3 days, I also spent 8 hours at l'Ami Jean (oh, well, OK, probably more like 6 or 7). And that's only because they're closed on Sundays. Sigh...

Apr 12, 2011
olivierb in France

Beer in Paris

Craft beer in France is a very recent thing. In fact, it's just starting to pick up. France lost a lot of breweries during the end of the last century. It's now growing again.
Until very very recently, however, I felt like, apart from some notable exceptions, French brewers either: made quite bland and uninteresting beers, or just tried to replicate Belgian ones, with more or less success.

Now, a few breweries are more daring, inspired by what has been happening for quite some time now in the USA, while others perpetuate the European tradition in a convincing way. All in all, things are starting to look better, but there's still a lot of room for improvement and newcomers. France is first and foremost a wine country, except maybe in the Nord...

Your best bet to taste French beers is to go see Simon at La Cave à Bulles, rue Quincampoix, just behind Centre Pompidou. He's been selling French beers there for 5 years, and has seen the evolution of breweries and of his customers' interest/taste. Other shops tend to focus on Belgian beers. There's also Terre de Bière in the Marché St Quentin, but I feel the selection is not as good and the owner not as reliable/knowledgeable.

Some good French breweries include Fleurac (Triple Black IPA, to age at least 6 months, and probably preferrably more), Thiriez (vieille brune d'Escquelbecq, an excellent barrel-aged brown ale with oaky flavors that are reminiscent of vanilla), Brasserie De La Vallée De Chevreuse, La Franche, Theiller (very traditional ales from Northern France), Brasserie du Pays Flamand (Anosteke: very good French IPA), Brasserie des Vignes (Vent d'Ange: barrel-aged brown ale that develops gueuze-like flavors)...

But, once again, other European countries have far more interesting beers to offer: Belgium (trappists, de Dolle, Struise, Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen), Italy (Panil for sour ales, Toccalmatto for anything hoppy, Grado Plato...), Netherlands (de Molen), UK (Thornbridge, BrewDog, Harviestoun), and I'm not even beginning to talk about Scandinavia! Germany of course has great beers too, but I don't know much about it.

Apr 10, 2011
olivierb in France