LES AMBASSADEURS, A Diplomatic Success; LA REGALADE SAINT HONORE, Delicious and Maybe the Best Buy in Paris This Spring
I think it's partly attributable to a certain lingering distaste for conspicuous consumption that's a symptom of the very deep and still slowly healing recession that afflicted most western industrial countries and also a sign of a certain strident generational cleavage among the major clans of French food writers, but recent local coverage of any Paris restaurant where a meal costs 100 Euros ($130, at current exchange rates) or more has been sour to overtly hostile during the last few months. As the recurring and recurrently scornful script would have it, you don't really need to spend this much money to have a really good meal in Paris this days
This is a real shame, too, because without those tables that serve as the pinnacle of the Gallic food chain there will be no one to enforce the exigent training that underpins the deceptively simple bistro cooking of chefs like Yves Camdeborde or Thierry Breton (Chez Michel). What brought all of this to mind was the tepid reception accorded to talented young chef Christophe Hache, who has just taken over the kitchens at the Hotel de Crillon.
Stopping by for a lunch recently, I was dumbstuck by the opulent beauty of this gastronomic boudoir of a dining room all over again. I love the frescoes of the puttae depicted building the Hotel de Crillon, the marble checkerboard floor, the heavy silver, the superb service, all of which are intended to be offer a potent dose of the aesthetics that underline French civilization.
And I liked my lunch very much, too. To be sure, a tiny piece of gold leaf on an amuse bouche of marinated salmon with fresh peas struck me as gilding the lily, or rather le poisson, but my starter of ormeaux sauvage (wild abalone) with mousseron mushrooms, peas and lardons was superb, and Hache, who previously trained with Senderens and Eric Frechon, among others, really showed his well-drilled technique with impeccably cooked veal sweetbreads with crushed cashews and sauteed cabbage. A tart of Gariguette strawberries for dessert was magnificent, too--perfect berries mounted on pastry with lemon cream under a round pane of transparent caramel.
To be sure, Hache's cooking doesn't have the creative muscles of Jean-Francois Piege, his predecessor, and he's unlikely to launch at revolution from this culinary pulpit the way that Christian Constant did when he cooked here and deliciously thumbed his nose at the traditions of haute cuisine by associating luxury produce with such homely ingredients as pig's feet and offal. But as almost everyone knows, the Crillon is currently for sale, so Hache is clearly meant to be an intermediary chef who is doing a quietly luxurious menu of those classical French haute cuisine dishes that appeal to the world's well-heeled until such a time as new owners arrive.
And with these obvious marching orders in mind, I think he's doing a fine job, and would recommend Les Ambassadeurs 68 Euro lunch menu as a terrific way of enjoying a fine feed in one of the most beautiful rooms in the world.
Meanwhile, there's a brilliant miniature gastronomic revival taking place on the edges of Les Halles in the 1st arrondissement. This is where Daniel Rose's new restaurant will open shortly, and in the meantime, I'd strongly advise anyone who loves good food and a bargain to make a bee-line for the new La Regalade Saint Honore, which is one of the most brilliant restaurant openings Paris has seen in a while.
Doucet bought chef Yves Camdeborde's La Regalade in the 14th arrondissement when Camdeborde took a sabatical before opening his place at the Odeon in the 6th, and if his food there has consistently been excellent, many people were resistent to make the trek to this somewhat remote location after the buzz had worn off. Now, happily, they don't have to, since Doucet's second address is bang in the heart of the city and an easy walk from the Louvre and many of its other most popular attractions.
Doucet's food at this new address is baldly delicious, too. My chicken-broth-and coconut-milk soup with grilled shrimp and spaghettini was one of the best things I've eaten anywhere recently and a huge nacreous piece of demi-salt cod steak came to the table on a bed of wilted baby spinach garnished with tiny cubes of chopped tomato, crumbed hard-boiled egg and microscopic croutons in a very light and refreshing vinaigrette and was simply superb. I loved my rhubarb compote, too, and meanwhile across the table, Bruno was blissing out, too.
He loved his marinated salmon with a salad of fresh herbs, sea bream with grilled squid and shellfish cream sauce and a Grand Marnier souffle. And with a nice bottle of Jurancon sec, the bill was less than 100 Euros, and so a blindingly good bargain in my book. So book this one now before it becomes completely impossible to get into.
Les Ambassadeurs, Hotel de Crillon, 10 place de la Concorde, 8th arrondissement, Tel. 01-44-71-15-00. Metro: Concorde. Open daily. Lunch menu 68 Euros, Tasting menu 140 Euros, a la carte 160 Euros.
La Régalade Saint-Honoré, 123 rue Saint-Honoré, 1st arrondissement, Tel. 01-42-21-92-40. Metro: Louvre-Rivoli. Closed Saturday & Sunday