Taillevent, 15 rue Lamonnais, email: resa@taillevent.com, 01 44 95 15 01

It made no difference to my two friends and me that we walked into Taillevent’s main dining room in the immediate wake of Jacques Chirac, the former president of the French Republic. Ted (very natty in his tie and jacket), Joby (elegant as usual), and I were terrified that this famously expensive, highly acclaimed restaurant would let us down. Powerful people like Chirac probably take restaurants like Taillevent for granted. In the two weeks prior to our date with gastronomic destiny, the three of us had eaten some pretty good meals in unpretentious restaurants that we could claim were the real deal. Was our lunch at one of the top restaurants of the world going to seem stuck-up? Or would it replicate the blissful feeling we’d all experienced at the French Laundry?

I’m happy to report that our lunch was worth every penny (95 euros, 4 courses, and four glasses of wine selected to complement each course). To start with the superficial, the decor was very different from what I expected. Think of a club room, only lighten the wood panelling to maple. Modern upholstery, sleek lines created by crisp white tablecloths. We shared the dining room with apparently very wealthy business and political men with a business woman here and there.

We sat down prepared to act fiscally responsible and go straight to the fixed lunch menu. But the à la carte menu and the tasting menu sorely tested us.

The à la carte list was short:

  • Noix de coquilles Saint-Jacques et olives de Lucques en salade d’hiver (Scallops Saint-Jacques and Luccan olives in a winter salad) – 64 euros.
  • Mousseline de pomme ratte, oeuf de poule et truffe noire (a mousse of fingerling potato with egg and black truffle) – 110 euros.
  • Epeautre du Pays de Sault en risotto à la truffe noire (spelt risotto with black truffles)- 120 euros.
  • Homard et châtaignes cuisinés en cocotte lutée (pastry-covered lobster and chestnut bisque — I think) — 120 euros.
  • Soufflé au chocolat (self-evident) – 30 euros.

Right. Then we looked at the tasting menu.

For 190 euros (or about $260), we could have the tasting menu:

  • Rémoulade de tourteau à l’aneth, sauce fleurette citronnée (remoulade of dill oil with a lemony hollandaise sauce)
  • Langoustine croustillante, marmelade d’agrumes et thé vert (fried crayfish with green tea and citrus marmelade).
  • Epeautre du Pays de Sault en risotto, cuisses de grenouilles dorées (spelt risotto with grilled frogs’ legs).
  • Rouget barbet poêlé, artichauts poivrade en barigoule (braised mullet fish, artichokes in a sauce made of mushrooms and crushed peppercorns.
  • Canard de Challans rôti aux épices, fruits et légumes caramelisés (Roasted duck with caramelized spices, fruit and vegetables).
  • Ossau Iraty, confiture de cerises noires (cheese with a black cherry paste)
  • Gourmandise à l’ananas, mousse à la Pina Colada (a tasty morsel of banana and Pina Colada mousse).
  • Palet au chocolat, parfumé au Rooibo (little chocolates flavored with Rooibo).

Nope. Fiscal responsibility lazily reared its sage head.

Here’s what we ate:

The amuse bouche, something in form between a mousse and a foam, was made of  fish stock (but not shellfish stock) and had a tiny little dab of lemon sorbet on top.

Ted had Langoustines et avocat en tartare: minced crayfish formed in a circle mold sitting on a thin, bright green avocado sauce. The bite Ted gave me had a burst of salmon roe. Doesn’t sound extraordinary, but it was delicious. Ted drank a glass of white wine, a fruity Reuilly.

Joby and I had ravioli de foie gras de canard: four little ravioli, filled with liquid foie gras that exploded in our mouths. They were barely immersed in a rich veal broth and sprinkled with grated black truffle. We drank a crisp, slightly sweet sauvignon blanc.

Joby’s main course was hands down the best. But when they put her plate in front of her, she was a little disappointed and we were for her. It didn’t look like much. Centered on the white china plate was a round and decoratively topped puff pastry that looked like a small circus tent. Then, one of our servers (we had two or three) ladled a sauce around one side of it that looked as thick and dark as chocolate. Inside the pastry contained shredded duck and duck liver. The sauce was Rouennaise, which means it was made with a red Bordeaux wine and pureed duck liver. I must confess once I had a bite I nearly shoved her off the banquette and took control of her plate. But I restrained myself. She drank a glass of very good Crozes Hermitage, which I also envied.

But I had a slice of exquisitely flavored veal on roasted baby root vegetables in a wine reduction. Ted had the same. We drank a pinot noir from Burgundy.

When we reached the cheese course, they brought us a plate with one large prune braised in Banyuls, the sweet wine from southwestern France (to die for), and a mousse made of one of my favorite blue cheeses, Fourme d’Ambert.

For dessert, we all had the same thing: a passion fruit cut in half, scooped out completely, and filled with batter made with the pulp that became a passion fruit soufflé. They looked like light brown toadstools. Along side was passion fruit sorbet.

We languidly reviewed the meal over a concluding coffee. What impressed us most was how friendly and welcoming the staff was. Chirac received no better service than we did. No snobbery, no looking down on us as Americans or even as tourists. The service was superb.

This lunch entered my Pantheon of top five lifetime meals. Maybe even top three, French Laundry, La Mirande in Avignon (under a previous chef than the current one, and Taillevent.

We left Taillevent on such a high that, slightly giddy, we wandered down the Champs-Élysées, around the Madeleine, strolled into a private art gallery with an impressive collection of 19th c. stuff (Renoir, Redon, Cassatt, Corot, Bonnard) and floated towards the metro. The sky, cloudy in spots, bright in others, created the kind of light people notice is particular to Paris. The city looked so beautiful. We kissed cheeks, waved, and descended slowly underground.