Paris Notes 2

November 14, 2019

The most fascinating pairing of the trip was the day we ate lunch at Le Grand Restaurant and dinner at David Toutain.  Here you have two supremely talented chefs, both working in the modern idiom, offering completely contrasting notions of what a restaurant might be. 

Le Grand Restaurant is a little jewel box of a restaurant that makes you comfortable from the very moment you walk in.  Every object – from the beautiful glass ceiling to the plates on the table and the gorgeous Venetian glass decanters – is a gift to the eye.  You stroll past an open kitchen where the chefs call out a cheerful “bonjour” and into the soothing quiet of the restaurant.  The service is impeccable: walk in wearing jeans, a sweater and a dripping umbrella and the entire staff treats you as if you were a Dutchess clad in jewels.  It is clear they want you to be happy.

And it is almost impossible to be anything else here.  Children are cosseted, catered to, taken off to visit the kitchen.  The sommelier is solicitous. And the chef is among the most talented of the new modern chefs: his food is delicate, inventive, gorgeously conceived and always surprising.

First there is a long parade of amuses bouches that just keep arriving, one more inventive and delicious than the next.

And then the meal begins. Caviar is cooked with seaweed inside a huge yellow beet. When the lid of the casserole is removed the aroma swirls around the room in the most enticing fashion. The result is caviar raised to a new and even more seductive level.

White truffles are shaved, and shaved – the aroma rising, swirling, growing ever more intense – over an omlette souffle so light it has become a cloud of dreams.

Langoustines are barely cooked, so that they tremble on the fork.

An intermission: the most beautiful bowl arrives wih an intense vegetable stock dotted with bits of meat, with cepes, with…. So that each bite is different.

Yellowtail, cooked in that sherry-like vin jaune of the Jura, topped with cepes and arranged so beautifully it might be a piece of jewelry.

Simply the best, simplest sweetbread I’ve ever eaten has been cooked over smoking walnut shells, then topped with crisped salsify. So soft, so delicate, so tender.

Blue lobster cooked with marigolds, in an intense sauce matelote, the claws tucked into little crisps and served raw.

Dinner ends with an avalanche of desserts, but this inside-out floating island, filled with crème anglaise, was my favorite, along with those beautiful chocolate-dusted herbs.

As we left the chef came running out, horrified that we had managed to sneak away before before he had a chance to bid farewell. For him, it’s personal.

It’s a perfect restaurant experience: all about you.  You float out the door feeling like the most privileged person on the planet.  For a few precious hours you have been held in a delicious bubble where a group of talented people have set out to make sure that you are very, very happy.

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