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Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Taste of Paris

As you may have guessed from the serious dearth of posts around here, the last few months have been completely crazy for me at work.   A massive patent case on which I had been working was slated for five back-to-back trials spanning from March through August, and the flurry of activity that's needed for such an enormous undertaking had our entire team completely consumed.   Then, suddenly and without warning, the parties reached a settlement that resolved the entire case -- changing my very existence overnight.   Whereas one day I felt like I was drowning in an endless sea of work, the next day I was happily concerned about whether I had enough work on my plate.   The summer vacation that I had written off as an impossibility was miraculously resurrected.   And when my close friend and coworker A decided to accelerate her sabbatical and travel through Europe now instead of waiting until later in the year, I found myself toying with the idea of a spur-of-the-moment trip to Paris to meet up with her.   And so it is that I now find myself sitting in a hotel in Rive Droite, midway through a glorious six days of fantastic food, wine, and fun.

Now, one of my fellow Bay Area food bloggers just returned from a great week in Paris last month, while another seems to be in Paris just about every other week.   But as hard as it is for me to believe, my last trip to Paris was nearly seventeen years ago, when a friend and I backpacked through Europe in the summer between finishing college and starting graduate school.   It was a time before I had experienced the wonders of San Francisco's incredible restaurant scene, before I had developed any kind of appreciation for fine dining, and -- most importantly -- before I had achieved the luxury of receiving a regular paycheck.   And believe me, when you're traveling as a student on $40 per day all inclusive, the Paris that you experience is one of baguettes and cheap fruit -- not degustation menus and wine pairings.

A lot has changed in the intervening years, most notably my admiration -- and even reverence -- for great cuisine and the talented chefs who create it.   But let's face it, for those of us who live in and love the Bay Area's restaurant scene, there's always someone standing by to rain on our parade by saying one of two things:   the premier restaurants in New York, on average, are better than San Francisco's best, and the top restaurants in Paris are even better still.   Is it really true that the upper-tier restaurants in Paris are that much better than the top restaurants in the Bay Area?   Does Paris really deserve to have ten restaurants rated by Michelin at three stars, compared to the Bay Area's paltry one?   If I were going to go to Paris, I simply had to find out.   Or, to be more honest, I should probably put it this way:   a trip to Paris -- specifically for the purpose of experiencing the offerings of the city's best establishments and chefs for myself -- was an absolute imperative.

Most normal people, of course, would book a flight and hotel and then give some thought to where they might want to eat.   I, on the other hand, approached it in precisely the reverse order.   After all, if I couldn't experience the great restaurants that I had read and heard so much about, wouldn't it be better to postpone my trip until I could?   (I'm hoping that at least a few of my fellow food bloggers, if nobody else, will understand my twisted logic here!)   I accordingly stayed up late one evening and called all of the Michelin three-star restaurants, a mere three weeks before my potential arrival date.   Not surprisingly, virtually all of the restaurants had limited availability, and getting the overall schedule to fit neatly into a six-day period was an exercise akin to the so-called "logic games" section of the LSAT that I had taken many years earlier (making me glad to know that it was useful for something).   In the end, I arrived at a schedule that truly excited me, a veritable tasting menu of Paris itself.   Here is my "seven-course" sampling of the city's finest:
Course 1:   L'Arpege
Course 2:   Le Meurice
Course 3:   Ledoyen
Course 4:   Guy Savoy
Course 5:   Pierre Gagnaire (lunch)
Course 6:   Plaza Athenee
Course 7:   Le Pre Catalan
All seven of the restaurants hold three stars in Michelin's 2007 guide for Paris, with Le Meurice and Le Pre Catalan having just been elevated to that ranking this year.   Of the remaining three Paris establishments that enjoy three-star status (i.e., L'Astrance, Le Grand Vefour, and L'Ambroisie), I couldn't get into the first one and didn't try too hard with regard to latter two.   After all, I would only be in Paris for six days, and I was reluctant to schedule too many days with both a lunch and a dinner (especially since I intended to order the degustation menu at dinner each night, which typically results in my skipping lunch both that day and the next day).   Thus, I resolved that the final three would have to wait for my next trip, and I went ahead and booked my plane ticket and hotel.

Well, I just returned from dinner at Guy Savoy this evening, and the results so far have been extremely interesting and very eye-opening.   I won't give away the results just yet, as I do want to evaluate all seven restaurants against one another before I reach any definitive conclusions.   So, tune in again starting next week, as I describe each of my dining experiences!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

NS, good for you! Sounds like you're having a grand time in Paris and eating rather well. I'm looking forward to hearing your perspective on these *** places (even though I didn't go to any of them). Can't wait to read your perspective as our intrepid SF Gourmet. This ought to make for some great reading (and vicarious eating)!

Oh, by the way, one (multi-course) meal a day? At last we learn the secret to your success at 3-star dining!

May 10, 2007 4:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gourmet? Try sybarite! I can't wait to read the results. Bon appetit!

May 10, 2007 5:57 PM  
Blogger K and S said...

I am so jealous of your trip! Enjoy!

May 10, 2007 8:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Manresa and TFL are true 3-star restaurants; the rest of the bay area doesn't come close to Paris's top.

That said, it's very possible to have off meals. Gagnaire impressed me immensely the 1st but has left me wanting the last 2x. L'Arpege gets better & better. I don't understand the fascination of L'Astrance. Ledoyen was a true gem on my last visit and I will definitely visit it on my next trip.

You can read my reviews over the past year (3 visits) at my blog - http://www.chuckeats.com/

May 11, 2007 9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't wait to read about your adventures! I have never been to any of these restaurants, nor will the opportunity arise any time soon, so I will taste these meals through your excellent writing :)

May 14, 2007 2:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am happy to say that I am not jealous in the least, that I am delighted you are writing again, delighted that you have a sudden reprieve from your oppressive workload, and that I wish you all happiness in breathing and eating, because your considerate opinions mean much.

May 19, 2007 11:00 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

mmm... can't wait to live vicariously through you

May 27, 2007 9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hats off to you. I hope you had time to walk around the beautiful city to digest the food! I am excited to hear your thoughts, as I have not been to all of those restaurants (yet!).

November 02, 2007 8:33 PM  
Blogger Chez Us said...

So jealous! We usually go every year but had to skip last year. Hoping to squeeze a Paris trip in this year! Great choice of restaurants. If you would like a casual but romantic little spot in the Marais, go to Au Gamin de Paris ~ 51, Rue Vieille-du-Temple, 75004 Paris, France, Tel : 01 42 78 97 24. http://realreviews4everydaypeople.blogspot.com/2007/02/paris-france.html

We went 4 times our last trip - twice for dinner and twice for lunch. For dinner ask for the back room. For dessert you have to have the apple tart or chocolate cake. I do not like apple pies, etc... and this tart is out of this world! All entrees were fantastic!

I am hungry now!

By the way, great site!

February 09, 2008 8:07 AM  

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