Our recent scientific trip to Paris was intense to say the least, and started with a curve ball from my beloved, who tried to be casual when he advised me – twenty-four little hours before our departure –  to “place a change of clothes in my carry-on.”  Because, “… who knows if the hotel room will be ready for us early in the morning?”   American visitors typically land in Paris around 7am, and on further (insistent) inquiry he revealed that “our first meeting at Institut Necker will be at noon.”  Five short little hours after stepping out of the plane.

I don’t do scientific discussions very well after an intercontinental flight, no shower, and with a sleeping pill hangover, so to put it mildly, I wasn’t thrilled. Our exchanges on the subject ended with his usual “it will all be fine.” Maybe that’s true, but I’d like to get some credit for it: I wrote the hotel and begged them to get us a room as early as they possibly could. The wonderful folks at “Hôtel Londres Eiffel” had our room ready by the time we made it to Paris, after the usual tribulations of customs, luggage retrieval, and train ride. So,  I only had to deal with the sleeping pill hangover. Isn’t life grand? 😉

As usual in this type of trip, our schedule was hectic, but we promised ourselves three things: wake up early each morning to go running under the Eiffel tower like in the good old days, walk to all our commitments instead of taking the metro, and enjoy one special meal (just the two of us) on the weekend.   Phil made a reservation for lunch at Lasserre, a place we had been before when we lived in the City of Lights, back in 2002.

Lasserre opened in 1942, got its first Michelin star seven years later and its second in 1951.  The restaurant, under the talent of Executive Chef  Christophe Moret is located at Avenue Franklin Roosevelt in the 8th arrondisement,  a place surrounded by embassies and with that majestic aura that comes so naturally to some neighborhoods of Paris.  Once you set foot inside, the adventure begins… You will be greeted by a stylish maître d’hôtel and led to a cozy lift that will take you to the second floor where the dining room is located. In all its glory and splendor.  Glory and splendor are indeed the two words that will be in your mind throughout the whole meal.

The restaurant offers many options for a lunch meal. You can order a la carte if you prefer, but a better deal is to pick one of their prix fixe menus. They have several kinds of menus: {Starter + main dish + dessert},  (Starter + two main dishes + dessert},  and also a more extravagant option with several desserts in very small portions at the end.  Their pastry chef,  Claire Heitzler, is well-known for adapting classic recipes and turning them into slightly lighter fair. That’s what we were told, but even with that assurance, we opted for one dessert only, merci beaucoup.   😉  Of course, Lasserre also offers a menu including one type of wine matched to each course, but I don’t care for wine at lunch (I know, I’m a bit odd, right?),  so Phil was happy sipping a single glass of Bordeaux with his meal.

On a quick side note: all my photos were taken after I asked for permission.  To keep things as discreet as possible, I used my cell phone and only snapped one picture per plate, so don’t expect great quality in the images.

Let’s get this show on the road…

Starter Course


Phil went with (no surprise!) foie gras.  The foie gras was first poached, then grilled, and served in a delicate ginger-broth with daikon, a touch of passion fruit juice and seeds (that gave an unexpected crunch!), mango and shaved, toasted coconut.  The foie was superb and the combination of flavors was delightful.

I chose a green pea veloute’ soup, poured on top of lettuce leaves and very small croutons made of… foie gras. I am clueless as to how they were prepared,  but each small crouton retained a delicious,  rather subtle foie flavor, with a lot of crunch.  Wonderful!

Main Course


For his main dish, Phil had the veal piccata. The preparation surprised me, I thought it would be a type of fricassee with the meat in small slices, but instead there were two large pieces of meat, cooked to perfection, in a wine-reduction sauce over wilted spinach.  Luscious…


I opted for the lamb, served with farro in a sauce with dried figs and warm spices such as cinnamon and coriander.  The lamb was carved by the waiter using a spoon and a fork, so that the tenderness of the meat becomes evident, and acts as a great advertisement for other guests who might be trying to decide what to choose from the menu. You can see our waiter carving the lamb on the second photo of this post.

Dessert Course

Phil closed down his meal with their  version of tiramisu, which happens to be one of his favorite desserts… It was spectacular, with an absolutely perfect coffee ice cream crowning it.


I went with the Paris-Brest…which Claire Heitzler assembled with an almond-based whipped cream, and fresh raspberries. A small portion of raspberry sorbet was served alongside. The presentation was spectacular, as you can see.


Once our lunch was over, they offered a batch of very small lemon-scented madeleines, fresh from the oven – comme il faut – and tiny cubes of a chocolate concoction that reminded me of flourless chocolate cake in texture and taste.  Superb!


Back in 2002, when we were in Paris for a full year, we went to several special restaurants like La Tour d’Argent, Le Jules Verne (at the Eiffel), Taillevent, Le Violon d’Ingres, Benoit, Clos des Gourmets, and Lasserre (at that time for dinner).  In my opinion,  Taillevent (reviewed here) and Lasserre tie for first place as far as dining experiences go.  Of course, the view from Jules Verne is spectacular, the location of La Tour d’Argent cannot be beat, but Lasserre has a touch of elegance and charm that is quite unique. Also, a special added bonus: a ceiling that can be kept closed (showing a painting of dancers and angels by Touchagues) or open to the sky on beautiful nights and sunny days.


In our dinner in 2002, the ceiling was closed, but they opened it a couple of times during the evening.  In our  visit a couple of weeks ago, the weather was spectacular, so the ceiling stayed open full-time, except while the waiter was preparing Crêpes Suzette for guests, and getting ready for the final flambee. The ceiling slowly closed, the lights were dimmed, and the whole restaurant stopped to pay attention to the show.  If it was me trying to prepare that dish under the scrutiny of so many people, a lot more than the crêpes could be set on fire… but the waiter was impecabble, bien sûr!  😉

I hope you enjoyed our recollection of a very special time in Lasserre…  

I close this post with my favorite photo of the week, taken on our way to dinner with a colleague.

P&S_SunsetParis2Au revoir, Paris… et a bientot!

ONE YEAR AGO: Sourdough Bread with Walnuts and Dates

TWO YEARS AGO: Braised Brisket with Bourbon-Apricot Glaze

THREE YEARS AGO: The Real Vodka Sauce

FOUR YEARS AGO: Pork Tenderloin and Blue Cheese


For some people Paris means fashion: clothes, shoes, perfumes, jewelry and make-up. But me, I couldn’t care less if Louis Vuitton’s gold-encrusted store disappeared from the the planet, and along with it all the $2000 handbags and $800 belts. On the other hand, I still mourn the closing of Bistrot du Papa, a simple restaurant in the 7th arrondissement, that served the best quiche Lorraine we ever tasted. Excuse me while I wipe away some tears.

For a long time we contemplated dining at Taillevent, considered by some the best restaurant in France. Indeed, a place that held a three-star rating for 37 years must be doing things right. This dream stayed unfulfilled for many years, until our 10th wedding anniversary provided the extra push to indulge ourselves. We decided on lunch at Taillevent, rather than dinner, and it met our highest expectations!

Entering some of the upscale restaurants (Tour d’Argent comes to mind… ) is intimidating and overwhelming, almost like stepping – uninvited – into a Hollywood movie. Their exquisitely opulent surroundings transform the initial experience into a dream-like blur that’s difficult to even completely remember. In this respect the sophisticated but inviting ambiance of Taillevent was a pleasant surprise. Its beautifully organized table settings, with a modern theme, were overseen by smartly-dressed waiters who were always available, but never intrusive.

After we made our choices among the lunch menu options, the waiter brought a small lentil soup as an amuse-bouche. Calling it just a lentil soup, however, is an understatement. The texture of the lentil component was between that of a cream soup and a mousse. Served cold, it surrounded an icy cream in the central interior, and contained a small “chip” of Serrano ham floating on top. Its inspiration undoubtedly came from the classic ham and lentil soup, and we both loved the chef’s transformations of this dish! The smokiness of the ham did not overpower the lentils, and the cream component provided a contrast of both flavor and temperature. It was a few spoonfuls of perfection.
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For his first dish, my husband chose a cream of broccoli soup. The waiter served the bowl empty, except for seven small ravioli inside, and then spooned the (amazingly green) hot cream of broccoli on top. It was light but substantial: the creamy cheese within the ravioli filled the soup with satisfying flavor. I often think of toppings on cream soups, but now I’ll definitely consider hidden surprises at the bottom instead, and pouring the soup at the table made it even more interesting.

For my first dish, I took a chance and went for the fish (rouget), served with a cumin-seasoned eggplant crisp and black olive tapenade. I eat almost everything, but I’m challenged by strong-tasting fish. In this case, though, my risk paid off with what I’m tempted to say was the best dish I’ve ever had. The fish was prepared with its skin on; the meat was flaky, tender and flavorful, but without a hint of ‘fishiness.’ The eggplant crisp and the olive tapenade lent flavor, but were not so pungent as to distract from the main component, the fish. I can’t explain how the eggplant crisp was made – it was not a thin slice of eggplant, but perhaps it was a thin-spread puree that was dried and baked. Maybe Carol from Alinea at Home knows how to prepare it. The plate was embellished with saucy decorations of parsley and mustard coulis.
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My husband’s main dish was a roasted duck breast, with hydromel and minced dragees (yes, its a type of candy).  The dish was served with a spinach puree, that was, unbelievably, as good as the duck. It was a main dish that blew our gastronomic minds… It’s not new to pair duck with sweets, whether it is oranges, prunes, honey or maple syrup, but the fine dust of candy and hydromel was an eye-opener. I am not sure exactly how the duck meat was prepared, it may have been seared before roasting. The spinach puree was simply outstanding. I detected some nutmeg, without a trace of bitterness in the vegetable. Again, the serving was decorated by spinach crisps, perhaps prepared in the same fashion as the eggplant crisp described above.

My main dish was a beef filet with soy glaze and caramelized root vegetables. The meat was delicious, and the veggies beneath were perhaps even better: carrots, parsnips, turnips, and a perfectly roasted chestnut.

After the main dishes came a cheese course, in this case brie studded with raisins in a creamy middle layer, served with fine slices of Honey Crisp and Granny Smith apples, and a light “angel hair” of celery and finely minced chives. A smaller portion of cheese would have satisfied me, but sometimes in life sacrifices must be made. 😉
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Dessert awaited us. My husband chose a “sable aux deux chocolats”. Dark and white chocolate mousse/cream sandwiched between a lace cookie on top and a chocolate cookie below, surrounded by touches of caramel on the plate. Decadent. Luscious. Sexy.

My dessert was a rhubarb crisp. I’d never experienced rhubarb before, and I’ve been curious about it for a long time. This was my chance, and I wouldn’t let it pass, even if my beloved twists his nose at rhubarb. Friends, I’ve eaten many desserts in my lifetime, but this rhubarb crisp enters my Desserts Hall of Fame. In the picture you’ll see some things on the plate that resemble small specks, perhaps carelessly left by the cook in charge. No, those are little pieces of a sweet ribbon, thin as a sheet of paper, that surrounded the rhubarb mousse, sort of enclosing the two crisps as a package. I wish I knew the preparation. The rhubarb mousse had lemon curd beside it, and everything was topped with a honey sorbet. I can’t master enough adjectives in any language to sufficiently praise this dish; let it suffice to say that even my husband enjoyed it, rhubarb and all… 😉

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We’ve dined in several of the great restaurants of Paris, but Taillevent immediately climbed to the top position, as my favorite.

The restaurant has been managed by the same family since its opening in 1946. Jean-Claude Vrinat was responsible for the three-star rating it obtained in 1973, and for managing it for three decades, even as its many brilliant chefs came and went. He passed away in 2008, and his daughter, Valerie Vrinat, now manages the restaurant, with Alain Soliveres as Head Chef since 2002.

Additional note: I asked for permission to take photos and blog them, and the staff was absolutely wonderful about it.

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When we finally took off for Paris our Boeing 777, the biggest and most comfortable of the jumbo jets, didn’t even notice the heavy rain and overcast enveloping Washington DC. And the happy couple it was transporting to the place they love so much didn’t’ mind the foul weather either. Clouds and rain, after all, are the norm in Parisian winter months, so we were ready for it. But, the initial day of such trips is the most difficult: an early morning arrival after a night on the plane with only a few hours of sleep, followed by the huge but requisite struggle to defeat jet lag. To reset our circadian clocks to the new schedule we walked outside as much as possible, and only saw the inside of our hotel room after night fell.

Having lived in Paris for several years we don’t visit many museums or tourist hot spots. “… Been there, done that,” from the Tour Eiffel to La Defense, from Montmartre to the Louvre, from Musee d’Orsay to Musee Salvador Dali, from cemetiere Pere Lachaise to the quartier Latin … Instead, what we love about Paris are the neighborhoods we used to call home. As we turn each corner we pass by each of our favorite cafes, brasseries, and boulangeries. We enjoy repeating our weekly Saturday afternoon walks, and that’s exactly what we did again yesterday… we departed our hotel close to Ecole Militaire and walked and walked, and walked some more….

We stopped at La Grande Epicerie de Paris, where I bought some “pimente d’espelette,” we strolled up rue de Rennes , then turned down to boulevard Montparnasse. We walked and walked some more, stood at the corner of Boulevards St Michel and St Germain, the gateway to Notre Dame, now so beautiful after its recent cleaning, and continued down to the cafe Les Deux Magots, which brings memories of dining outside at countless cafes throughout Paris, savoring the views of people passing by. Yesterday it was 40 F (3 C), but all the seats outside were filled by people from all over the world, each one living their own private love affair with Paris.

What’s for dinner? It was a simple meal at Le Bosquet, a classic brasserie two blocks from our hotel. The same waiter from several years ago handed us a menu that was almost unchanged. Why change oysters, confit de canard, and tarte Tatin? 😉

On a side note – If you haven’t seen the film Paris, Je t’Aime, I urge you to do so – it is a series of short stories by different directors, filmed in different Parisian neighborhoods. One of our favorites is the final vignette, the narrative (in broken, yet adorable French) of a lonely, middle-aged American woman who, after studying French for a few years, finally visits Paris for the first time in her life. Beautiful, touching, and a declaration of love for one of the most amazing cities in the world.

I feel the same way. It’s so nice to see it all again!

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