Feed on:

Lunch at Taillevent

A letter from Shreesh to friends from our Paris holiday in 2006

Today Paris redeemed itself. For the bone chilling dampness, the steamy humidity, for the Maginot line, every surrender, and for all the unwashed french in the metro. For today we ate at Taillevent the most celebrated restaurant in France and for good reason.

We came to Taillevent with very high expectations, perhaps even higher than French Laundry, having heard the name over and over in literature and film. Reserving two months in advance we could only get in for lunch so we set aside an entire day of our trip for it. The room was very traditional and full of men wearing dark suits – can you say expense account?

The ameuse bouche was a gaspachio with ice cream, drizzled with drops of olive oil and basil. For me the first spoon was an OMG* moment – just like the mussel souffle at Aqua and the oyster sabayon at the French Laundry. If, at that moment I had been crushed by a tourist from Quebec** falling from the sky I would have died happy.

The sommelier came over – I switched to English as this was a matter of grave importance! As he recommended a glass of the 5 year old Madeira with the first course of Foie Gras Creme broulee he must have seen me wince and assured me that it belies its age and displays much more complexity than expected. We also settled on a half bottle of Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet (2000) for the next two courses and a bottle of 1999 Pommard for the viandes.

The foie gras creme brulee spiced with Feve Tonka*** was topped with a crusty sugar crust with batons of green apple. The madeira was a perfect foil for the unctuous foie gras and carmelized sugar – the sommelier walked over beaming but was too polite to gloat. An older gentleman, whom we were to later learn was Monsieur Vrinat (owner), walked over and asked how we were enjoying ourselves. All I could do was shake my head and say “Compliments, monsieur! Compliments!”. He smiled and said “Non, mes compliments a vous, d’etre tellement elegant!”

We had dressed up to the hilt and cut a lively figure amongst all the black suits, not an Armani amongst them. I was quite surprised that they had seen such few people wearing traditonal indian dress at Taillevent.

The next course, ravioli with mousserons (baby wild mushrooms) was a delight of textures and flavours. The soft filling of the ravioli with the toothy mushrooms and broth lightly flavoured with marjoram was a perfect match for the Chassagne Montrachet. Usually Chassagne is quite fruit forward but the Gagnard had some age on it (2000) and had integrated the oak nicely. I think I’m going to cellar my Chassagnes from now on!

Alors, the Rouget Barbet**** presented a riot of colors. Normally we in the US relegate Rouget Barbet to a second class status so we were quite surprised to see it on the menu at Taillevent, no less. Citron and saffron reduction with a basil infusion pooled arond the baby vegetables and fish with crispy skin. Baby fennel and squash redolent of saffron and anise worked well with the meaty fish. Again the Chassagne was up to the task, this time much stiffer competiton.

The maitre d’honneur Monsieur Ancher came by and talked to us about India and his Indian girlfriend from Madagascar. We passed on Chris Levaggi’s comment: “Sleep in the Metro if you have to, but eat at Taillevent!”

The Agneau Princier arrived moist, tender and wrapped in a layer of fat. Neena exclaimed “This is the best lamb I have ever had!” The 1999 Pommard was tapped – it was restrained with light perfume and light body but still worked as the lamb was so tender. The center of the medallion had a bit of lamb liver that I enjoyed but Neena eschewed. Another massive hit!

The Chevre frais had a cookie like top and a tapnade – a palate cleanser after all the rich courses. In the middle Monsieur Vrinat sneaked up and put a Billet de Metro on our table. I looked at him quizzically until I “got it” and Taillevent echoed with mine and Neena’s laughter. “This is so you can sleep!” he said. Ancher had told him about Chris’ comment and he had scrounged up a Metro ticket so we could sleep!!

The first dessert course was Oeuf-Neige aux fruits, a lightly cooked meringue with a rasberry reduction inside. As we cut the oeuf the reduction oozed out like blood. Light, another transition course to the main dessert…

The main dessert was rich, rich chocolate wrapped with more rich chocolate. The petits fours were even more amazing than the main dessert – a tart as a street walker gooseberry with a candy shell, gingered chocolate, and a mini key-lime pie.

Monsieur Ancher regaled us with tales of his adventures with his Indian girlfriend as he poured us the complementary cognac and the three and a half hour saga came to an end. We have seldom felt so welcome at a restaurant, anywhere.

We topped off our food extravaganza with a short walk in the Pere Lachaise cemetary … Lots of luminaries are buried there, but we just had enough time to see Rossini’s grave. Draped in our fineries, we made purchases of poulet roti, Camembert and a Cote du Rhone for dinner and came back satisfied.

Neena’s Notes
* Oh Mi God
** From the movie “Amelie”, her mother was crushed by a Quebecois committing suicide by jumping off the Notre Dame.
*** A spice with a light perfume of patchuli
**** Red snapper

Shreesh Taskar

Comments are closed.