Today was my last day in Paris. I mostly had to spend the day doing work, since I’d spent the previous day wandering around the Louvre. But I did want to make sure to take one last trip back into town, both to walk around Paris, and because I wanted to cap the trip here with something I felt I really should get: A really quality meal at a Paris restaurant.
Honestly, I wanted to eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant. My gold standard for meals in my lifetime is my dinner at Moto in Chicago, and I was surprised back when I did that to learn that not even Moto, the best meal I’d ever eaten, rated even one Michelin star. So I really wanted to try and have at least a one-star meal while here in Paris. Given that Michelin is based in France, the company tends to be a little biased (no matter what they say) to French restaurants and cooking.
Unfortunately, I just couldn’t work it out. Not only are those restaurants extremely expensive (though I probably would have paid because I believe it’s worth it, if I hadn’t already spent way too much money on this trip in general), but you need to make reservations for them far in advance, and/or know someone at the restaurant itself, and I hadn’t had the opportunity to do either. Maybe if I’d planned it out, I would have, but as you know if you’ve been reading my blog here, I obviously didn’t really plan things out.
So I will have to come back to France, I guess, and I will have to eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the future. Maybe after I make my first million. At any rate, I did some poking around, read lots of restaurant review online, and eventually I found a nice, quality Paris restaurant (founded by a Michelin-starred chef, incidentally) that was supposed to have a terrific menu but wouldn’t cost me more than I could afford. The place I found was La Regalade, and I decided to go to the La Regalade on the Rue de St-Honore. That’s the second location of the restaurant, but both were founded by famous Michelin-starred chefs, and the quality is supposed to be equivalent, if not the menus themselves.
I made my reservation for 8pm, and I finally finished work and headed into the city around 3 in the afternoon. I also brought my laptop — the one thing I hadn’t yet done in Paris that I wanted to was sit and write in a cafe, so I found a place with free wifi, and sat down looking at the street, and wrote the previous entry there while eating a small salad (the one about the Louvre). The salad was great and the bread was even better — I have had nothing but incredible bread everywhere I go here in France, with the one exception being the “Quick” fast food restaurant.
After that, I still had a few hours to kill, so I just started walking. I went down to the Bastille to see what was there, but I learned that the Bastille really isn’t any more. I walked along the Seine, because I was in Paris and I could. I found a little courtyard and sat down, and just enjoyed the city (and the warmer weather — the last few days have been cold and rainy, and the sun was very welcome). I walked back down to Notre Dame, and sat for a long while just staring at that facade. When the sun came out and lit it up — I can’t describe how happy I was with the choices I’d made in my life. I walked back up across the Seine, and arrived at the restaurant at 8pm.
I was a little nervous, actually — the other reason I didn’t go to a Michelin-starred restaurant is that many of them have a dress code, and while I’ve already made a resolution to start dressing better when I get back to America, I don’t happen to have any really nice clothes here with me. I did wear a collar, but it’s a warm flannel plaid shirt, not exactly anything you’d wear a tie with (if I had brought a tie to wear). I did take off my hoodie before I entered the restaurant, smoothed my shirt down, and tried to look my best. In the end, though, I shouldn’t have worried. It’s true, I was probably the youngest person in the restaurant, but most of the other patrons were just wearing sweaters and collars — I don’t know if there was one single tie in there at all.
I sat down, and was handed a wine list and a menu. I’m sorry to say the wines on the wine list were mostly out of my price range — at least 23 euros a glass — so I opted for just water. A shame — someday, I will make enough to just tell the maitre’d to bring me something good, and not worry about how much it costs. I tried to do exactly that with the menu, since it was all in French, but the server’s English turned out to be about perfect, so she explained to me the dishes I didn’t understand, and we hashed out the restaurant’s pre fix menu. You get to choose three dishes total from three menus, and those are brought out in three courses. In French, that’s an entree (which means appetizer, actually — it literally means “entrance” — though I think American restaurants use that as the main meal), a plat, and then a dessert. I will tell you what I chose when we get there.
La Regalade famously starts you off with a separate appetizer (an amuse bouche, actually) to begin with: A homemade pate that’s made out of chicken and pork, along with some great French bread to go with it. This is accompanied by a crock of pickled gherkins (the French enjoy their gherkins, I’ve learned) and some sweet and sour onions.
The pate was great, although I wasn’t very dainty with it — I just sort of grabbed a knife and slabbed it on the bread, then chowed the whole thing down. It was excellent, even if a little messy, and for some reason, they hadn’t given me a plate to use with it. I can’t remember ever having a gherkin before, but I did have a couple, and they were fairly good — very fresh despite soaking in the brine, and very flavorful. Again, it was a little messy — without a plate, I just sort of grabbed them and chowed down.
All of this is meant to get you ready for the meal as you chat with your fellow tablemates, but of course in this case, I was alone, so I basically just dug in. I think the servers were a bit worried I’d eat the whole thing then and there, so after just a few bites, they pulled that back away from me, and brought out the first dish of the night.
Unfortunately, I missed exactly what everything in the dish was, so forgive me here — I’m going from my own description, rather than the menu. But it was basically a poached egg form in the center of a sort of foam soup, surrounded by a really tasty, salty ham (serrano, I believe), with a crispy/crunchy baguette draped across the center. I winced a little bit when I cut open the egg and runny yolk came out — it was almost too eggy for me. But the foam was great, and had lentils hiding in the soup underneath. The ham was so incredibly flavorful that I just let it sit in my mouth for a while, and the baguette was perfect at soaking up the rest of that delicious soup.
It was a great dish — probably not my favorite of the three, but as soon as I had some of that ham, I had completely forgotten that they’d pulled the pate away from me so quickly. I cleaned this up, and even grabbed a little leftover bread to sop up some of the soup that my fork hadn’t reached. Probably not kosher, but it was great.
I had worried that La Regalade would be a tourist trap to a certain extent, and indeed, the couple sitting to my left was from Germany, and the couple to my right was from China. But the atmosphere of the place was great, and even though it is situated near the Louvre, it was too small to pull in too many tourists. I showed up at 8, and there were maybe 3 tables taken when I sat down, but within twenty minutes or so, the place had filled up, and I saw the servers turning people without reservations away. Even with a full house, it wasn’t loud or messy. It was really an excellent environment to just sit and chat. Or, as I did, just take in how great the food was.
I thought long and hard about choosing the restaurant’s pork belly for my second dish — it’s supposed to be really great. But in the end, I decided to go with something I’d never eat before, and been told to try while in Paris: Foie gras. Specifically, in this case, foie gras stuffed into a chicken breast, covered with a cream sauce, asparagus, and a few tantalizing gnocchis.
This dish was just marvelous. Again, the sauce was delectable, and I had to time out exactly when to go for the asparagus spears, chopped asparagus, and gnocchi in order to pick up as much sauce as possible with each bite. The chicken was great, and I don’t have a lot of comparison for the foie gras, but I thought it was really, really good. It just fell apart when I cut it, and I had to grab it with the chicken after cutting, but it was very tasty. I tried some by itself, and I don’t know if I’ve quite acquired the taste of just eating it directly. But combining it with the rest of the dish was heavenly.
The one problem here was that I hit a bit of gristle in the chicken at the very end of it — a piece of fat or something that I didn’t really enjoy. But otherwise, the whole thing was great throughout, and the gnocchi were the best I’ve ever had, and I’ve had quite a few gnocchi. They just dissolved when you ate them, and when combined with that sauce and the chicken with the foie gras … oh man.
For desert, I chose the restaurant’s specialty, the Grand Marnier Souffle.
When I ate at Moto, one of the things I noticed and most appreciated about the meal was just how careful it was. At that restaurant, we had three people at the table, and it was amazing how the waiters not only perfectly coordinated what utensils we needed and when, but how they brought the dishes and placed them in front of us at exactly the right time, down to even the temperature of the food.
And while I wouldn’t say La Regulade was quite that impressive, here’s a story that tells you that someone back in that kitchen was thinking about me. When this souffle was brought out, I just marveled at it for a little bit — it’s certainly a strikingly good looking desert. And within 10 seconds or so (no kidding) of it being placed in front of me, it started to deflate just a little bit.
Souffles, of course, are famously only lightly cooked, and they also famously deflate quickly. That means that in getting this dish out to me, the chef and the servers only had a short window of time to place it in front of me, and it was a window that they landed so directly that just ten seconds after it was placed down, the souffle started deflating. Yes, maybe it should have come out sooner, and it would have had more time in front of me before it died (and it certainly died a lot more after I dug in). But just like our servers at Moto, that shows just what quality means in these restaurants — a far cry from the plates that sit in the window for twenty minutes before being served at Denny’s.
Anyway, the souffle was of course amazing. It was light, and fluffy, and tasted just faintly of citrus and cognac. It was almost too hot near the bottom, but I think that’s just because I dove through it so quickly — it was very good. At this point, I was nearly full, given the sizable portions and the relatively heavy food. But even so, I cleaned that little cup out yet again.
And the meal ended with a little treat, poppy seed madelines, nice and crusty on the outside and moist on the inside. They were cold unfortunately, but they were still very good, and well worth what I paid for them.
The meal as a whole was a great value, something that I knew before I went. With my bottle of mineral water (no free water or refills in Europe, I’ve discovered), the whole ticket was under 40 euros, and that was even after I added in a few extra for a tip. The food wasn’t legendary, but it was very excellent, and for that price, I doubt you could eat any better, even in Paris.
It was a great meal to finish my stay here, and afterwards, given that it was still warm and not raining, I couldn’t help myself — I kept walking the streets for another hour or so. I walked over by the Louvre one last time, and then up the Rue de Opera and around the great Paris Opera building, looking in the windows of cafes and restaurants, at patrons and bartenders relaxing on a Thursday night. Paris is a gorgeous, wonderful place. I really loved being here — I loved the food, the art, and those long, amazing boulevards, full of great architecture and great views and great history. I’ll have to be back soon.
Tomorrow, I wake up, check out, and then board the train to Berlin.
Posted on Friday, April 20th, 2012 at 4:37 pm. Filed under general.