If we were to believe “La Vie En Rose,” there is no better way to see Paris than through rose-colored glasses, with your eyes ready for stars and your heart ready for love.
But for those among us who are not ready, past being ready, or may never be ready, for that rose-colored spell, there is another way to see France: through the palate, with a ready stomach!
From homey to haute, Paris is truly the ultimate in cuisine. Any corner cafe may make you smile.
But for a taste of competitive caliber without a Napoles-sized budget, here’s a list of your best bets: (Note: one euro=P58.27)
La Cour Jardin
Average: 150 €
The first on your checklist should be any of the restaurants of culinary icon Alain Ducasse. He is the only chef in the world to have achieved three Michelin stars in three different cities: Le Louis XV at the Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo, The Dorchester in London and Alain Ducasse at the Hotel du Parc in Paris.
For a view of Paris from the Eiffel Tower, try to get that much-coveted reservation at Le Jules Verne.
But for a more approachable yet romantic version of Ducasse, there is La Cour Jardin at Plaza Athenee. (The hotel entrenched in pop culture by the TV series “Sex and the City,” where Carrie jumps in glee as she gets her first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower from her hotel room terrace.)
Lush green vines and red roses crawl on the walls; tents safeguard diners from the sun and falling leaves, and vegetables are served in the famed Alain Ducasse cookpot. The menus change by the season but you can count on dishes whose colors are vibrant and whose flavors are sharp, such as the blue lobster made exuberant by a coral vinaigrette, or the dory embellished with five different kinds of tomatoes.
Desserts merge plate art with performance art: The waitress pours syrups that melt the topmost layer of chocolate to reveal a second layer of delight for your sweet tooth.
All this is in line with the Alain Ducasse philosophy: “The product is the only truth. A turbot without a stroke of genius is better than a genius without turbot. Each good product, grown with love and respect, in its distinctive land, has an incomparable flavor. Without which, a chef is nothing.”
And the good news: He’s coming to the Philippines this November!
Prix Fixe 70 €
On another side of the genius spectrum is Le Chateaubriand, by Chef Inaki Aizpitarte. His cuisine is called “inventive bistronomie” by the World’s 50 Best. Contrary to the philosophy of Ducasse, the kitchen here prefers a more, shall we say, avant-garde approach to cuisine. The menu changes every day. The cooks look at what ingredients are available in the morning and create a menu by noon—sometimes calmly, other times in a frenzy.
Le Chateaubriand has been on the World’s Best Restaurant list for five years now and is presently No. 18 in the world. It doesn’t take reservations for the second seating and the line is impressively long (I endured a 40-minute wait). But this neo-bistro concept is not for the purist. Some dishes shine: a crab salad with feta and morning glory was like a beautiful ensemble of angels jeté-ing in the sky.
But some shock you at the massacre of the main ingredient, such as the o toro drowned in red wine and berries. Sacrilege!
Nevertheless the vibe is Parisian hip. And it seems to be the go-to of those in the know.
L’Atelier Saint-Germain de Joel Robuchon
Average 130 €
Worldly and far wiser than the frenzied young Le Chateaubriand is the atelier of the most Michelin-starred chef in the world, Joel Robuchon.
Of course the name speaks for itself: awarded the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (France’s Best Craftsman) in cuisine as far back as 1976; given the title of “Chef of the Century” by the Gault Millau guide in 1989 and, after his retirement and comeback, awarded the Laurent Perrier 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Robuchon today stands as arguably the world’s most recognized, awarded and critically acclaimed chef.
After being head chef at the hotel Concorde-Lafayette, he opened his restaurant Jamin, retired at the young age of 51, then rose from retirement with eponymous restaurants around the world that have allowed him to garner the most number of Michelin stars for any chef in the world: a total of 28 stars.
The good news for Asians is that the original L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Paris is almost exactly the same as those in Hong Kong and Singapore. The same dark interiors accented by red. The same bar that allows you to watch the artisans of the atelier at work and have a nice chat with the sommelier. The same come-as-you-are but not without your culinary intellect ambiance. The same welcoming demeanor and attentive service from the staff. The same attention to detail; with no item on the plate neglected, even the fries and mashed potatoes are to die for.
Best of all, the same mini burger with foie gras, plus a few specialized dishes featuring the home country’s best ingredients. On my visit, it was pigeon delicately rolled in cabbage to somehow successfully temper yet lengthen and highlight its strong flavors.
It was comforting and impressive to note that anywhere in the world, Robuchon makes you understand the (Michelin) stars.
For pastries: There is the industrial Paul, which you must avoid at all costs unless you want to ruin your French experience. There is the very popular Laduree macaron, which you must try (with hot chocolate!) just for the sheer knowledge of it.
And then there is Lenotre.
Let me put it this way: Alain Ducasse himself trained under Gaston Lenôtre in his younger years. The search for excellence is evident in every pastry. The macarons are heavenly, but even more heavenly is the chocolate eclair. You will have an out-of-body experience. I dare say Lenotre’s creations could have stopped the French Revolution!
Breakfast is respected by the French and both Laduree and Angelina, with their unparallelled hot chocolate, are open as early as 7 a.m.
But here’s an additional foodie tipid tip: Don’t dine out for breakfast every day! There is an adorable and best-on-the-budget boutique hotel in the Republique area that offers not only comfortable rooms but a lovely Parisian setting for breakfast where even the lamps and chairs look like works of art! You can baguette all you want! Just take out some cheese from the nearest fromagerie. At magbaon ng sandwich para sa museum. (And brown-bag a sandwich for the museum!)
French Home Cooking
Of course, nothing beats the home cooking of a real Parisian. I had the fortune of dining at the country home of Parisian Thierry Soenen with dinner cooked by our very own adopted French chef Cyril Soenen of Brasserie Cicou.
On the menu: jambonet (a sausage stuffed with foie gras!) and Lyon salad matched with rosé; ratatouille, and the most beautifully marinated grilled beef and chicken matched with 1998 reds; as well as Trappist monk cheese with champagne for dessert. And then more champagne. And more champagne. And more champagne. Until the spirit of gay Paris possessed everyone in the room. (I therefore conclude that champagne is the key to happiness!)
The good news is that all these dishes from southwestern France are within reach, thanks to Brasserie Cicou in Greenhills. Forget the main dish (although I love their bourguignon). Just have the jambonet with a rosé or chardonnay; then either cheese with champagne or Kouign Amman with coffee!
The restaurants named here are very reasonably priced compared to their fine dining versions, e.g. Alain Ducasse at Plaza Athenee will set you back around 250 € without wine! They may appear to still be le mahal (compared to average Pinoy fine dining prices) but these are really le tipid (considering that these are Paris’ top chefs and top-ranked and starred restaurants).
So now that there are promo flights to Europe, go forth to la fang and la sing. Merci beaucoup, coconut buko! •
Details and more photos at margauxlicious.com
Three Musts for Foodies in Lyon
France is too big and beautiful for the visitor to stay in Paris alone. For foodies, a must-see city is Lyon, the capital of gastronomy in France. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lyon will transport you back to those days of carriages and corsets not only because of its cobblestoned streets but also its cuisine.
The top three musts for foodies visiting Lyon:
1. Eat at a “bouchon,” which, according to book sources, is a restaurant that serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine, that is, dishes that are quite fatty and heavily oriented around meat.
One of the more respected bouchons in this land of competitive cuisine is Bouchon-Comptoir Brunet (23 Rue Claudia), with Chef Gilles Maysonnave, a contemporary of Paul Bocuse, at the helm. Recommended by Ritz-trained, Les Touque Blanche chef Eric Hubert (who has his own Les Toque Blanche member restaurants Cafe Gadagne at the Musees Gadagne and Les Terrasses Saint Pierre at the Musee des Beaux Arts), it offers truly the most authentic of Lyon cuisine.
The meat platter here proves that the nose to tail movement is as old as the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Have a taste of pig’s snout, intestine, cervelas (a type of smoked sausage made of beef or pork), and feet (or shall we say trotters) the Lyonnaise way. They will reveal the following truths: that it is possible to make a pig taste light and that trotters are a delightful delicacy!
Nearer the city center is Le Petit Flore (Rue de Garet). This is a great bouchon for a visitor’s first taste of real Salad Lyonnaise (lardon!) and andouillette, an authentic Lyonnaise sausage (ang tapang!—such sharp taste!). But for the oldest bouchon, go to the famous restaurant row Rue de Merciere and look for Le Bistrot de Lyon. Just the fact that this has been around since 1886 is reason enough to dine—it’s older than the Republic of the Philippines!
2. Pay tribute to Paul Bocuse
Culinary living legend Paul Bocuse is known for being one of the leaders in nouvelle cuisine. Recognizing his contributions to the culinary world, the Bocuse d’Or awards was started in 1987 and considered the Olympics for chefs. If you are loaded with gas and cash (approx 250 € per head, without wine), visit the main resto. If you have more modest means or have less time, or would appreciate a less stuffy ambiance, go to Bocuse’s brasserie in the city center called Le Nord (Rue Neuve).
For all the artisanal cheese you can ever imagine— and that’s just in one stall—hit Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, which is very near the train station. For the taste of a true macaron, hit Ritchel on Rue Colonel Chambonnet) on your way to the Basilica of Notre Dame de Foirviere. For lovely chocolate goodies, there is a magical shop called Pignol on Rue E. Zola.