Letter from Paris

Despite the best “striking” efforts of the Air France pilots to mess with our trip, we managed to find alternate routes to get to Paris. We arrive late Friday morning, drop the bags at the hotel and hoof it to Le Severo. (Never underestimate the recuperative power of a post-flight, pre-lunch walk.) Located just the other side of the Montparnasse, it is a tiny, unpretentious temple to perfectly aged, cooked (and uncooked) beef: Cote de Boeuf and Steak Tartare. In fact, the owner used to work for one of the best butchers in Paris.

I’m not really sure how to define molecular gastronomy, but I do know that the opposite of it is Le Severo. Add in some duck fat French fries plus a substantial Bonneau Chateauneuf du Pape “Celestins” and you have throw-back food heaven. The meal also started a theme that would run through our trip: great ingredients, treated lightly, and cooked perfectly competing with, and often surpassing, the most elaborate of Michelin-esque dishes.

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Off we walked to enjoy the mid 70s weather and head to the fancy parts of Paris to people watch: it was Fashion Week!

While the beautiful Paris dusk light was still bright enough, we found our way to the rooftop terrace bar at the newly opened Peninsula Hotel. Fabulous views, great (albeit pricey) cocktails. Worth a visit, if nothing else to see what you can turn $1 billion into! This is a very historic building that has functioned at multiple times as both a hotel and government building. A favorite anecdote is noting that Gershwin reportedly wrote much of “An American in Paris” while staying there in 1928.

Around the corner, we sat for dinner at Akrame, a 20-seat Michelin Two Star that had come very highly recommended. The menu changes constantly. Unfortunately, our meal was just OK. Certainly not “star” quality. My conclusion, given that the recommendation to eat here came from someone who ate here a few weeks earlier, and whose palate I know well and trust, is that we were served some dishes that were experiments that didn’t quite work. Bad luck for us. Maybe I will give it another shot — but then again, Paris has so many options that I’m not sure I want to take the risk. Oh well, to paraphrase Scarlett, “Tomorrow is another meal”.

Saturday lunch. In the 11th Arrondissement, not far from the Filles du Calvaire Metro station, is Clown Bar. From the outside, it looks like any one of a hundred neighborhood cafes, but looks can be deceiving. Inside, it isn’t called Clown Bar for nothing.

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The food? Fantastic. Every dish we had tasted great, or coveted at a nearby table, and looked great.The place was recently taken over by the chefs from Saturne, and they have greatly upgraded this historic bar. Think upscale bistro food. Highlights included octopus & potato salad and perfectly cooked squab. A well curated and reasonably priced wine list was fun to explore –- since very few were familiar. The staff was patient and helpful in making our selections.

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That evening? Spring. Interestingly, a Paris restaurant whose chef is an American. Tasting menu only. Food was well executed and tasted good, but just lacked any “wow” factor. Not sorry we went, but in the absence of any new news or changes, do not see a reason to go back. Investors seek Alpha, eaters seeks Wow.

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The good news about Sunday in Paris: many places are closed, so we took advantage to take a small breather from our eating marathon. This added to the anticipation for a dinner we were really looking forward to: L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (the Saint Germain location).

As you may know, Robuchon was perhaps the most decorated and acclaimed French chef of the last 30 years. But he, like many top-tier chefs, tired of the grind of Michelin perfection and opted to turn to creating more casual establishments where the focus was more on the food and not the trappings or formality. L’Atelier was Robuchon’s answer. He now has several of these — including two in Paris. Open kitchen, counter seating. The food is still great. We started with a signature dish: poached egg with caviar. Then, a tasting of pigs feet (off the bone!) and a squab wrapped in cabbage. Main courses were a terrific whole Rouget and incredibly young lamb. All in all, a fun dinner. My only complaint: too many Americans.

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Monday lunch was at a place I’ve wanted to go for years: L’Arpège, Alain Passard’s Michelin Three Star that is very vegetable centric. You can go with a vegetarian tasting menu -– but we opted for the omnivore version –- which was probably 80% vegetarian. The man is a genius in highlighting the essence of each flavor. Would love to know how his stuff tastes so much more intense than my vegetables! Much of the produce comes from his garden that supplies only his restaurant. It would be impossible to pick my favorite offering, but the ethereal ravioli filled with puréed root vegetables in a broth was near the top. Even with a tasting menu of countless courses, you leave wanting more: tastes great, less filling! The wine list is extensive and priced a bit on the steep side. But, with a bit of digging, some reasonable bottles can be found. This was a fabulous lunch and a very high note on which to end our time in Paris.


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Off to Bilbao –- and yes dinner will be at a Michelin One Star! A four-star day.

Steve Dow

One Response to “Letter from Paris”

  1. Next time Fred and i go to Paris, we’re going with Steve Dow!

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