In NYC, I have my fair share of lavish dining: Eleven Madison Park, the lunch tasting menu at The Modern Dining Room, Jean Georges, and Marea. All were very good to excellent experiences but frankly, I’m getting bored with NYC fine dining. The restaurants that I’ve went to over the span of a few years pretty much kept the menu almost the same except configuring the flavors according to season. In other words, I’m a jaded New Yorker and the fine dining scene here is getting monotonous.
I’ve asked the good people of France Chowhound what three-star Michelin restaurant in Paris that serves a great lunch? I’ve made contact with a few friendly people who are familiar with the fine dining scene in Europe like Julien and Food Snob (via France Chowhound) and asked for input since I’m going to a city where there are many three-star Michelin restaurants than NYC. After much contemplation, I picked up the phone and called Ledoyen for a reservation.
Walking off from the posh, busy boulevard off of Champs Elysses into Avenue Dutuit, HC and I felt like were slowly transported off to an isolated, peaceful place. First we encountered their small stretch of rose gardens that surround the restaurant on the side. When we walked up to the entrance, we’re welcomed by the doorman and welcomed again by the hostess.
Though the interior looks like it needs a bit of sprucing up, it does look charming. After checking in, we were escorted up the stairs into the dining room, I’m a bit surprised as to how vintage this place looks. According to this restaurant’s history, it’s existed since 1792.
Despite it’s antique look, I do like it. It’s charming and sophisticated. Quite refreshing not to see stainless steel everything or feel so commercialized or casual, like everyone wants to do these days. I want refinement. There’s a reason why I’m spending my hard earned money and I want to do it with class and there’s a need to have a “wow” factor.
What I do appreciate, when it comes to three-star restaurants like this, is the service. Even my huge Givenchy Nightgale purse got its own cushioned footstool. Technically, every woman who has a medium to large sized bag will have one, fit according to size. (Then again, most female diners was carrying a Chanel clutch or Louis Vuitton purse.)
As the both of us were relatively hungry, we opted for the four course prix fixe lunch (Menu Dejeuner; 88€) since we’re new to the restaurant and try to get a taste a little bit of everything.
After ordering, we’ve started with a round of pre-amuses. Our server said it was best to start with the wooden spoon of ginger gelée ball and continue on. The ginger gelée unusual in terms of texture (think of a mouthful-sized, edible bubble that “pops” and floods your mouth with a cool, ginger flavored soup) and shape, quite gingery in flavor. The green lemon (citron vert) macaron was more savory than sweet but lacks much flavor and filling I expect from a macaron. The caramel topped, coffee crisp-sided foie gras was foodgasmic; being so creamy, sweet, salty with subtle nuances of bitterness from the coffee crisps. The cucumber-raspberry gelée ball was turning down the volume a bit from the high of the foie gras to return us back to Earth to proceed eating other things that were served.
One of the waiters walked toward our table with a large, long, silver tray, lined with a crustless, golden brown slab of bread, topped with the actual rolls. Being a carbaholic that I am, I requested to have all of their rolls: sesame topped brioche, mini baguette, and the olive roll. All were amazing in its own right and they’re warm (it’s one of my many pet peeves). The sesame brioche was flaky and buttery like a croissant, the olive roll was soft like foccacia, and the best one, in my opinion was the baguette. Just hearing the crackling symphony as I tear the miniature baguette, revealing the wonderfully, soft crumb made my heart swoon. And like the bread, the butter is earth shattering as well. Salted well, creamy, oh-so-spreadable, and I think I tasted a floral nuance in it.
Proceeding on to the amuse of mushrooms and almonds served with a warm pea emulsion, this deceptively simple looking soup (almost) was extremely comforting yet unusual in terms of pairing. The pea soup screamed spring! and it was velvety rich and sweet, while having little bits of crunchy almonds dispersed around with the small pile of meaty mushrooms to enrich the body of the soup. Really amazing. Usually amuses were short-lived highs but they really shine and linger in my mind.
HC chose to have the Langostine tartare with veal vanilla jus as her first course. A large disc-shaped round of tartare surrounded with a small puddle of veal, vanilla scented jus. This was a simple and well done dish: not too salted and it had a nice peppery bite with a touch of fruitiness from the olive oil used.
My Soufflé d’oeuf truffé was the best of the first courses. Imagine of having a cloud sitting in a large black ombre bowl, flooded with pea coulis (essentially, pea purée but thinner) then you reveal an egg yolk that’s barely cooked. Once it touched your flatware, it’ll ooze out into the pea coulis. Spoon a bit of that said shaved black truffle topped meringue cloud with a bit of yolk mixed pea soup and it’s complete bliss. It helps that this dish smelled heavenly of fresh truffles.
My second course Semoule de Agneau au parfume d’olive was pretty successful. Three quenelles of couscous spaced evenly, filled with a medium-rare lamb meat, little balls of potato gelée, black olives, and thin strips of ham. A mix of comfort and textural interest was in play. The gamy lamb juxtaposing the al dente, herby coucous smeared with the acidic sauce and the small, warm potato purée explosion when pops it in your mouth. It’s really comfort food gone luxury and whimsical.
HC’s Viennoise de Sole was quite good. Fluffy, tender fish fillet that’s coated in an eggy, chopped almond speckled crust, stuffed in the center of mushrooms and a small pool of coffee flavored foam sauce. I liked the almond crunch and the coffee flavor was interesting to put together with sole.
We’re finally bestowed with the cheese cart.
Knowing HC is the person who likes mild cheeses (her preference is fresh mozzarella, for crying out loud), she stuck with the Camembert, goat, and Brillat Savarin. All fit to her liking: mild, buttery, and creamy. The goat cheese (the waiter didn’t specify which) was mild but it’s a touch drier than the rest.
Mine was truly one for the brazen who likes their cheese strong and stinky: spicy Persillé de Malzieu, runny, punchy, really stinky Epoisses, and Tomme de Savoie, being the lightweight of the bunch but still pretty pungent. It all went very well with the sweet fig bread. (Side note, I wish I can buy their loaf of fig bread. It’s to die for).
The plate of pre-desserts followed up: praline swathed in a sesame tuile, a ball of coffee meringue filled with vanilla pastry cream topped with a coffee gelée cube, a strawberry, raspberry, bluberry mint gelée ball and a little square (about the size of my fingertip) of strawberry gelée layered with fresh cream. I would imagine the latter was difficult for the pastry chefs to compose this miniature bite of berries and cream bliss: super thin strata of fresh cream and strawberry gelée (more jam-like consistency) barely enrobed in white chocolate, then strawberry gelée covered, flecked with edible gold paint.
As we’re hitting the tipping point of our fullness scale, HC and I trying our hardest to finish our meal and must have dessert. HC ordered the Chocolate noir rehaussé de citron vert, meaning dark chocolate enhanced with green lemon. This minimalist-looking dessert is deceptive. It’s flavorful, intense, and rich dessert. A cold, banana-flavored cream set on top of a chocolate glazed praline base, both sides carefully paved and dropped in droplets of bittersweet sauce.
The Fraise Contemporain (Contemporary strawberry) looked like something a young girl would like with this much pink. Beyond aesthetics, this dessert was essentially a “strawberry dream.” This entire dessert was mainly made of strawberry meringue with fresh halved strawberries embedded on its walls hollowed out in the center to find a cold vanilla custard core. It’s all ethereal and light and the strawberry flavor was delicate even though this dessert looked like a strawberry bomb.
Settling our stomachs a bit, we ordered Earl Grey tea.
To tie off the entire food extravaganza, we’re served with Kouing Aman with a side of Marcona almonds and a small tray of nougats and chocolate candied orange peels. Since I’m not going to Breton anytime soon, the Kouing Aman transported me there. Crisp crust with a crackly, sugar coating on the top with soft, flaky crumb. It’s like eating a cross between a brioche and a croissant. Even though, it’s not really the real Kouing Aman but the spirit is there.
In all, this lunch was truly memorable for me. Granted, it’s not the most mind stretching, intellectual food but Chef Le Squer’s food is comfort with a luxurious, whimsical twist with a few techniques I haven’t seen done in NYC (referring to the gelée bubble balls and having food encased in meringue without dissipating like foam). In terms of service, the waiters were friendly, attentive and helpful (for us non-French speaking people).
For a luxurious, three and a half hour lunch for 110€ (per person, including the mineral water and tea), it’s a modest splurge. At the end of our meal, we both wanted to hail a cab, take a nap in our room, and not eat anything for the rest of the day. (All were true but we did amble around Paris for wine shopping later on the afternoon.)