Thoughts on my Paris meals - brief

I enjoyed a few days in Paris last week and was able to try some places that I’ve never been before. I’m passing along my brief impressions that may be helpful to our fellow board members. Santé!

Restaurant David Toutain - (lunch) Wow, the cooking here just blew us away. This guy is a serious talent. Light, fresh, playful and completely delicious food. Modern French cuisine at its finest. The wine list could be a lot better though, it’s pricey and short.

Spring - (dinner) The food was a letdown, which was a surprise given its stellar reputation. Two of the courses were just not good. Service was excellent and the setting is very nice with a beautiful open kitchen. Wine list is superb. Too bad that the food didn’t deliver. Won’t return.

La Tour d’Argent - (lunch) We had a blast. While the food is certainly not the draw, the wine list, the view, the room, the history and the service all make it a great experience. I’ve never seen a more massive wine list. Just wow.

Le 6 Paul Bert - (dinner) Great meal. Totally different experience from Bistro Paul Bert (also excellent) with an emphasis on light and fresh cooking with plenty of fresh vegetables and herbs. My fish dish was cooked to perfection. A great wine list with nice pricing and an emphasis on natural wines.

Clamato - (lunch) Awesome spot. I loved it. Great fresh seafood dishes and delicious natural wines by the glass. No reservations, right next door to Septime. Hip vibe.

Clown Bar - (dinner) Fantastic food. Very innovative flavor combinations coming out of the tiny kitchen. Again, an emphasis on natural wines. Everything I tried by the glass was very well selected. A tiny place. I was lucky to get a seat. Need to come back and try more of the menu.

taoutain is legit, right? that lunch menu has to be one of the best deals in town.

it’s a crazy value. super nice guy too.

I agree with your Spring review- some highs(the squab was the best I have had) but inconsistent…

Funny, Spring was my best meal out if 5 in Paris, including Le Cinq. It was perfect in each course.

Same here, most of our food there was really good but one dish was inexcusably bad.

toutain is one of the only casual environment + serious cooking concepts which is worth experiencing. the service can be a bit lacking but i have had some stellar dishes there. still not a fan of the weird cauliflower and white chocolate pre dessert though, the smell is quite sulfurous.

I couldn’t disagree more that this combination is rarely worth experiencing, in Paris or any other city.

I’m with Sarah here. Which is not to complain about formal environment + serious cooking but I’ve had a lot of great meals in casual environments in recent years.

I kinda would like to complain a little about formal environment + serious cooking, come to think of it. The more of those I go to around the world, the more the formality becomes a serious impediment to my enjoyment. There are so many little affects that formal restaurants think they need to include in order to be ranked among the best, which are, to me (and even more so to Jonathan) detractors rather than enhancers. Not even neutrals, much of the time. Like having to tell you everything about the dish you are about to eat, not just the ingredients but the concept behind it, while it sits there and you are expected to listen politely. Or the notion that there has to be a concept at all. I can name many others. We recently had a meal at Narisawa in Tokyo, one of the greatest restaurants in Asia, according to many, which would have been stupendous if judged just by the food. All the formalities made it difficult to even enjoy the experience.

I do love great service, a beautiful room, linens and tableware and art, and I love to get dressed up, but in so many cases I feel the bells and whistles take away from the food. Have you noticed (I have) that in many of those places, none of the tables seem to be having fun? No one is smiling or laughing. It’s as if the formality makes everyone think they have to be very serious as well.

There are a few places I think get it right, that can be just the right amount of formal without it interfering. Mugaritz, Osteria Francescana and Trois Gros, to name the best. They manage to get perfect service in a beautiful space and fantastic cooking without imposing anything stultifying.

Completely agree Sarah- There are a few that balance formality and service, and in those cases the meal can be a joy… but there are too many with over-bearing service where it feels they may start holding my knife and fork FOR me and start feeding me like an infant.

I’ve loved my 2 meals here more than I did with my last at the regular, more established Bistrot Paul Bert. You pretty much nailed my thoughts - good wine list (for my taste) and more creatively-delicious than the bistrot.

My wife and I were impressed with all our dishes, including dessert, just last Sunday with dinner at Clamato. The execution of the seafood and vegetables dishes were deliciously done. Loved the wine list, too.

I also want to throw in a suggestion, in case anybody is looking for a good, no make that, a great cassoulet in the city, which I’ve always looked for everytime I visit

We dined at L’Assiette in the Montparnasse last Saturday and they serve one very mean cassoulet. The other dishes are also excelllent, plus the mostly natural wine list are well chosen to go with their menu. Don’t miss out on the desserts, especially the Creme Anglaise and the souffle.

this is a weird one for me as I know what both of you are saying and I agree with both of you. Having just been to toutain, it’s not really casual in the normal sense. Also, it’s a Michelin one- star and at that level, i think it’s probably cooking at slightly higher level, but the trappings - which is what Sarah is describing - aren’t at the highest levels. so…it’s seemingly casual.

but thinking this through more, i can’t think of too many places that are cooking at that level AND have a truly casual vibe. that said, in the context of 3-stars, l’Arpege is extremely casual. in my experience, it’s a very rare exception in the 3-star category.

typically, restaurants fit into their categories quite well (not just talking about michelin here). i’d love to hear what other places are cooking at a high level like toutain (which is just a year old and probably strategically over shooting to get higher reviews) that have this vibe.

I had Marea in mind for that air of being formal but not stuffy.

I’ll throw another name out there for people to consider Passage 53. While I didn’t get to visit as it was closed the week I was in Paris, a few foodie friends went last week and came away raving about it. Another restaurant with a Japanese kitchen staff that is so hot in Paris right now. Big Burgundy wine list and some great pricing on Selosse. It will be at the top of my list for my next trip to Paris.

Where does Blue Hill NYC fit in this spectrum. I’ve always found the cooking level/comfortable yet great service ratio to be very good.

i love blue hill, but it’s not at the same level of cooking as toutain. (it’s also not at the same level it was a few years ago, but i think they’re working on that…)

Atelier Crenn in San Francisco comes to mind however.

was probably the meal of our trip - or tied with arpege, depending on my mood.

the list is excellent (but a bit on the pricey side) and the sommelier is a star.

A good friend of mine was at Passage 53 less than a month ago and deemed it the most disappointing meal in Paris (and in Europe in general. )

Agree totally on Toutain. Wonderful meal there a couple nights ago.

I would argue that lunch at Arpege is the real deal, btw. A remarkable 3 hr meal that doesn’t tire one out for enjoying the remainder of the day and then a light wine bar nosh late.

Restaurant A.T. is another place executing on a very high level and also more casual. (I am not even sure what that means anymore, honestly, beyond not having to wear a tie. Not casual =/ not serious.)

Dersou is very casual, super hip and doing great stuff with a cocktail pairing menu.

Jules Verne was fun and the food was better than it needed to be.

Le Coq Rico (which I just heard is due to open in NYC) is not worth the effort.

Highlight of the trip? Finding Claude Papin of Pierre-Bise pouring his wines on the Champs Elysee market and seeing his delight when some random American with almost passable French was mega stoked about meeting him.