Before boarding a high-speed train to London followed by a flight back to Los Angeles, we made time for one last lunch in Paris. For our final feast in the city, I desired nothing more than simple, perfectly made crêpes. While most visitors head to Breizh Café or Josselin for this Breton specialty, I took David Lebovitz‘s advice and sought out West Country Girl in the 11th arrondissement.
Here, at this minimally appointed restaurant on the Passage Saint-Ambroise, Breton-native Sophie Le Floc’h makes an assortment of sweet and savory crêpes.
There’s also plenty of cidre to go around, another Breton specialty.
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For our final dinner in Paris, we dined at Chef Stéphane Jégo’s bastion of Basque cuisine Chez l’Ami Jean.
Before I get to what we ate and how splendid it all was, a little background on the significance of the restaurant and the chef (pictured above). Take it away, Food Snob Blog:
Chez l’Ami Jean, first opened by a Basque nationalist in 1931, is Paris’ most celebrated exponent of that region’s cuisine. It is also one of the city’s best representatives of the ‘Bistro Moderne’ movement. This is the name bestowed by Gault Millau on the 1990s trend that saw traditional bistros reinvented by chefs who had been formally trained in France’s more formal kitchens. In short summary, after the 1980s and what was the apogee of haute cuisine, kitchens were full of enthusiastic young chefs dreaming of opening their own restaurants. The economic recession of the early 1990s, however, meant that for many this remained but a dream, whilst for others it meant a compromise and instead of their own fine-dining restaurants, they settled on (cheaper) bistros. They brought with them new, more advanced techniques and ideas and succeeded in reversing the decline of these old establishments. The founding fathers of this movement included Christian Constant, Eric Frechon and Yves Camdeborde. In Paris, these men are household names and it was with the last, at La Régalade, where Chez l’Ami Jean’s chef, Stephane Jégo, spent twelve years as his second.
Stéphane and his wife Sandrine took over the Chez l’Ami Jean in 2002 following his departure from La Régalade. Rumor has it that the rugby-playing chef once forced a Michelin inspector dining at the restaurant out onto the street. “They will never be welcome at the restaurant; they have too many tick boxes,” he says.
The Astronomer, Mom, and I arrived early for our reservation and were seated straightaway without too much fuss. A beautiful loaf of bread accompanied by a glass of “country cheese spread” was brought to the table soon after we were seated. The spread was quite mild, so several spoonfuls were required to pack the punch that I desired.
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Restaurant Pierre Gagnaire is a Parisian institution famous for its jarring juxtaposition of flavors and textures, as well as its dizzying presentation of small dishes. Chef Pierre Gagnaire opened his eponymous restaurant in 1996 on the ground floor of the Hotel Balzac, a short walk from the Champs-Élysées. It is the recipient of three Michelin stars and other prestigious accolades.
Prior to dining at Pierre Gagnaire, I had read that one either loves or loathes the dining experience here because of its unorthodox flow and composition. I was pretty sure that I’d fall into the former camp because I appreciate modern, unexpected, and inventive flourishes when it comes to fine dining.
While I was curious to try Pierre Gagnaire’s unique style of cooking, the 265€ price tag for dinner seemed like too much to gamble. We came in for lunch instead, which was priced at a more palatable 105€.
To start, we were treated to lots of little bites whimsically scattered around the table.
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After a week of countryside explorations in the Loire Valley, Provence, Burgundy, and Normandy, we returned to a sweltering Paris for one final hurrah. Air conditioning is a luxury that the French don’t seem to appreciate, which made for some uncomfortably hot hotels, museums, and restaurants. Easily the stickiest and sweatiest meal that we endured was at Le Chateaubriand, a renowned neo-bistrot led by Chef Inaki Aizpitarte.
Here at Le Chateaubriand, the self-trained Basque chef prepares his signature cuisine de vagabond, which is known for its unique flavor combinations and a penchant for raw and sous-vide preparations.
While lunchtime is a casual affair, dinner brings two seatings and one set menu (60€). We managed to reserve a table for the first one, which saved us from waiting in line at 10 PM for the first-come-first-served second round.
A series of small nibbles graced the table to start. Poppy seed-crusted gougeres arrived warm, cheesy, and poofy.
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The Astronomer, my mom, and I each had a defined and important role to play prior to taking off on our two-and-a-half week European adventure. The Astronomer was in charge of all manner of logistics. From trains to planes to automobiles, not to mention lodging and scheduling, he made sure that everything was in place for a smooth and stress-free trip. My mother was in charge of language acquisition. As a former student of the French language in Vietnam, she was responsible for learning vocabulary and phrases to help us navigate the country.
I, of course, was charged with the all-important task of making sure that we not only ate well, but weren’t feeling completely overwhelmed by trip’s end. I took my responsibility as the conductor of our culinary tour seriously and orchestrated lunches and dinners that were complementary and calorically responsible. For instance, our indulgent five-course lunch at L’Astrance was followed by a light and simple dinner of oysters, wine, and good bread at Huîtrerie Régis. It was just what we (and our bodies) were in the mood for.
Huîtrerie Régis is a tiny, 20-seat oyster bar in the 6th arrondissement with a devoted expatriate and local clientele. After spending the afternoon battling crowds and admiring art in the sweltering Louvre, we were more than ready for a simple feast of oysters on the half shell. Ah, natural air conditioning.
Even though we were trying to keep dinner as uncomplicated as possible, I had to try the terrine de coquille Saint Jacques (€9). The scallop terrine with chives, carrots, and black pepper had a snappy way about it that reminded me of Vietnamese cha lua (steamed pork loaf). It was well-balanced enough to be eaten straight up, but tasted even better with a little bread and butter.
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