A few days in Paris

Paris

Tasted July 18, 2006 - July 23, 2006 by psmith with 796 views

Introduction

We finished our 16-day trip with five nights in Paris. To be sure, we planned on drinking here, but I was more interested in the food than the wine and we had a number of great reservations lined up. Unfortunately, these didn't include the day we arrived so we discussed where to eat that night over a nice Champagne:

Flight 1 (1 note)

White - Sparkling
1998 Billecart-Salmon Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut Millésimé France, Champagne
93 points
Ripe, crisp apple pie and yeast notes with some nutty flavors. Crisp and well supported by a vibrant acidity. Quite rich for such a young Blanc de Blancs. Oxidative traces. Excellent wine.

Flight 2 (1 note)

We decided on dinner at l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Not a bad restaurant to be sure, and I suppose it accomplishes what it sets out to do, but I couldn't help help but to be disappointed on leaving. Firstly, the wine list was overpriced enough that I was content to drink water and a single glass of Champagne. The eight-course degustation was all well done to be sure, but nothing that made me say "wow", no really great or especially interesting dishes, and not particularly good service. It just seemed like the sort of boring, trendy, place, with a fashionable name that pops up in every major city - the food being the only real variable. The fact that we came late and sat facing the wall rather than the bar didn't help, though the restaurant can't really be blamed for that.

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Lunch the next day was at Taillevent, an old-guard 3* known for its exceptional service and wine program. These folks have service down to an art and, coupled with the extremely charismatic and gracious Jean-Claude Vrinat, it makes up the core of the restaurant’s success. Waiters float around the room in an almost symphonic manner, seemingly reading the minds of the patrons. I left feeling like they could have put a Big-Mac on my plate, charged me $1000, and I would have happily paid it. Fortunately the food was much better than that, everything was excellent really, though in hindsight I can't remember a single dish that I'd call truly great. While they offer a full wine list I opted for the condensed version with 300 or so generally well-priced selections to avoid making Jen angry while I searched the full list for the "perfect wine". I settled on a spectacular Chablis:

White
1998 François Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
95 points
Flinty, smoke-laden nose with great mix of young citrus and earthy notes. A full-bodied palate with a great tension and minerals galore. Wonderfully deep and pure flavors and a readily apparent, yet background acidity. Intense as hell. Superb now, and will only improve

Flight 3 (2 notes)

As might be expected, the digestif list at Taillevent is pretty extensive as well. We finished lunch with a wonderful 1921 Michel Huard Calvados and a 1976 Chateau de Ravignan Armagnac 'Selection Taillevent'. As a side note, this was the only 3* we went to that seemed happy to accommodate Jen's dietary restrictions in their degustation, cementing it at the top of her list of Paris restaurants.

It may have been lunchtime, but we had essentially eaten dinner as they weren't offering their lunch menu that day. The rest of the day we lived off of snacks and enjoyed a few more wines:

White
2002 Coche-Dury Bourgogne Blanc France, Burgundy, Bourgogne Blanc
88 points
Lush attractive fruit for its level - very Coche in style. Flinty with a good, and unexpected, dose of minerallity not often found in such basic wine. Not the body or depth of his more pedigreed wines, but an excellent introduction to the style and a great value.
White
2003 François Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
Overt lemon flavors come across as somewhat artificially sweetened on the palate. Odd, unbalanced flavors with firm acidity but only traces of Chablis minerallity. More full than the MdT, but not Clos-type build. Strange kool-aid mouthfeel and weight. Not a bad wine by any means, but a disappointment given its pedigree. Hopefully just in a bad place right now.

Flight 4 (1 note)

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We opted for lunch the next day at Arpege after deciding against the 420€/person anniversary dinner menu. I have to say, Alain Passard does things with vegetables that I would never have believed possible and the lunch was absolutely superb. While the execution was clearly at a higher level than Taillevent, the service was a huge step down, the staff dropping the ball on a few requests. The wine list is frightfully expensive with the norm being a 5-10x markup. I settled on one of the cheapest wines on the list, a Trimbach Frederic Emile for the bargain price of 112€, only about 4x what I can get it for in the United States:

White
2000 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile France, Alsace
90 points
Classic diesel fume notes with pear and peach-type fruits, white flowers, and a rich mineral backbone. Young palate with forward fruit and a tart, young finish. Pure and with loads of character. Quite good.

Flight 5 (1 note)

A 40€ glass of grappa that runs about that price per bottle in the US finished the meal.

Again, we ate cheap for dinner and finished the day up with another tasty champagne:

White - Sparkling
1998 Vilmart & Cie Champagne Premier Cru Coeur de Cuvée France, Champagne, Champagne Premier Cru
91 points
Full, bold Vilmart toasted brioche and wood-laced flavors with citrus fruit. As usual, this cuvee boarders on a touch heavy. Tart finishing acidity. Needs time, though not in a style for everyone.

Flight 6 (2 notes)

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I was really looking forward to dinner at Pierre Gagnaire the next day and it didn't disappoint. The man simply has an uncanny command of ingredients and the dishes he constructs are among the most intellectual and complex I've had. Critics say his highs are very high and his lows quite low, and I can see that, but this was clearly the highest level of cooking that we had seen on our trip, the service not Taillevent good but still quite good, and the wine list not cheap but not bad either. The restaurant was offering 1996 Salon for the very reasonable price of 28€/glass, and the Lafon Meursault was at a good enough price:

White - Sparkling
1996 Salon Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut France, Champagne
96 points
A rather toasty nose for such a young Salon. An austere palate as usual, but with a wonderful balance of citrus fruit and explosive mousse that I find the 1995 to be lacking. Tart and young but with so much clear potential. Firmly acidic. Wonderful young Champagne.
White
2002 Domaine des Comtes Lafon Meursault France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault
90 points
Rich apple and pear-type flavors come across as uncharacteristically ripe for Lafon but never lacking in focus. A rich mineral core. Quite full for the level. Excellent Meursault.

Closing

Pierre Gagnaire was my favorite restaurant of the trip - really a unique experience that I'll hopefully get a chance to do again. The rest of our Paris trip involved bistros and wines I didn't take notes on.

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