18, rue Duphot
Metro Station: Madeleine (Lines 8, 12, and 14)
Type of cuisine: French
Days & hours of operation: Mon Noon to 2:30 p.m. Tues – Friday Noon to 2:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Sat 7:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Credit card: Visa, MC, Amex
When we arrived at the door of this spacious restaurant, we were cordially greeted by a distinguished-looking man, who took our coats and then escorted us up a spiral staircase to the dining room. The man, it turns out, was Luc Ménier, formerly a sommelier at the Laserre and Jules Verne restaurants. He knows wines really well, and, in fact, has created a number of before-dinner, wine-based cocktails, which he invited us to try. I opted for a cocktail made with rosé wine and syrup of lichee and rose water, which I found light and refreshing. My partner tried a cocktail made with red wine and syrups of mint and chocolate. She found it unique because of the unusual burst of mint on the palate, followed very closely by the flavor of the wine, and finally, a distinctive cocoa finish.
The restaurant offers a 38€ three-course menu, from which my partner made her selection. For my part, I ordered à la carte. I selected the Terrine “maison” de canard, estragon, cerfeuil, aromates. While duck can sometimes have a gamey flavor, I found the terrine savory and mild. Thinly sliced lemon peel added zest to the dish, and a sweetly dressed salad of sucrine lettuce and exotic greens was served on the side. My partner ordered from the menu and chose the Vélouté d’asperge, coppa en cappuccino. She was served a leaf-shaped porcelain dish that cradled a thick, creamy asparagus soup. A thin slice of coppa, the traditional Italian dry-cured cold cut, floated on top of the soup, topped with a dollop of crème fraîche. This starter was both rich and delicious!
I selected Cochon de lait confit aux épices, tombée de Granny Smith, réglisse for the main course. This was a serving of roasted, pressed, milk-fed pork served on a bed of sweet caramelized onions. Three generous dollops of slightly sour, coarsely-cut compote of Granny Smith apples were served alongside. The flavors of the three ingredients, pork, apple, and onion, harmonized well. My partner opted for Sauté d’agneau “Madras,” riz basmati, a serving of fork-tender stewed lamb on a bed of basmati rice. The lamb was delectably seasoned with apple, banana, pineapple, and coconut milk, whose savor and tang melded perfectly with the perfumed basmati.
Coarsely-cut, dark country bread was served alongside in a basket.
For the wine accompaniment, we ordered a pitcher (46 cl) of red Minervois from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. It was recommended by M. Ménier in consideration of what we had selected as main dishes, and we found his selection to be quite appropriate.
When it came time to order dessert, I belatedly realized that I had not ordered the Soufflé au Grand Marnier in advance, as the restaurant requires. So, I chose the Pomme golden, confite façon Tatin, glace vanille and was not disappointed to receive a dish of tender slices of caramelized Golden apple garnished with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The ice cream was “peppered” with tiny bits of vanilla bean, which is the sign that true vanilla is used to flavor the frozen dessert. My partner had the foresight to order a soufflé in advance. It arrived with a beautifully browned top, indicating that it had been pulled out of the oven at just the right moment of doneness. The taste of egg was not too pronounced for her, and the taste of Grand Marnier was evident, but not overpowering.
During our meal, we noted that personnel from the kitchen came out to serve dishes (including our dessert) to customers as the restaurant became more and more busy. Their assistance helped prevent the prolonged wait that diners often experience between the main course and dessert in crowded restaurants. We also noted that Mr. Ménier patiently explained the menu in English to an American couple that was seated nearby, an indication that Anglophones who come here need not feel chagrin if their French is not fluent.
After dinner, M. Ménier graciously gave us a tour of his restaurant and showed us the wine cave, which boasts original stone walls. With three levels for dining, the restaurant can accommodate private parties for lunch or dinner and for special events.
The bill for two, including two aperitifs, one three-course menu at 38€, one three-course à la carte dinner, and a pitcher of wine came to 101.80€.
Opened in May 2009, the restaurant has already attained world renown, judging from the number of foreign customers that we observed dining there. It is a bistrot that we recommend without hesitation!
Tom Reeves has been a confirmed Francophile since he first traveled to France in 1975. A native of northern California, he moved to France permanently in 1992. Reeves’ love of French language and culture inspired him to create Discover Paris!, a travel planning service that caters to Americans interested in cultural travel to Paris. His book, Paris Insights – An Anthology, has been called “the kind of insider’s view of the French capital…that first or even second time visitors pine for.” He publishes a monthly newsletter entitled Paris Insights about history, culture, and contemporary life in the City of Light, and posts daily information about the French capital on Facebook.