Paris’s Taillevent: Classic French

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Crab with dill and lemon
If you think I’m foodcentric, you should meet my family. Discussions about where we should eat in Paris and who would make the reservation went on for months beforehand. Some woke up at ungodly hours to catch a hostess who would (maybe) answer the line before service started. Some wrote countless emails to hotel concierges. But, finally, here we were on Christmas Eve (just barely, after flight cancellations due to snow) and we would enjoy our first proper French dinner.

Named after a 14th-century chef believed to have written the first French cookbook, Taillevent opened in 1946 and won its first Michelin star by 1950. It would ascend to three stars in 1973 and settle at two stars in 2007. In 2008, the founder’s son (and carrier of tradition) passed away. Had the last two years without the founder’s direction affected its reputation? That was the burning question. And, also, keep the Sancerre coming.

Hungry at Taillevent

The boys are ready for their first multi-course, no-stop-I’m-stuffed, wait-there-are-two-desserts?! meal in Paris.

Celery emulsion

Excellent start: Celery emulsion pudding with a cream-and-beef base

Next course, pictured at top: Crab with dill and lemon topped with radish slices

Langoustines wrapped in crispy potato

Whoops, I started eating this one. Langoustines, or big prawns native to northern Europe, wrapped in crispy potato with citrus and green tea rémoulades (similar to tartar sauce). Don’t miss this “Norway lobster” when in Europe. I have eaten it in Italy as well, where it can be found in the northern Adriatic Sea, and the tender and slightly sweet flavor makes me wish we had access to it in the U.S.

Cracked wheat risotto with frog's legs

Oh mama. Cracked wheat risotto with frog’s legs, mushrooms, black truffle, and cream. This was outstanding; comfort food with a haute cuisine twist. We didn’t know it yet, but black truffle and mushroom would be showing their faces a lot around here. (‘Tis the season!)

Red snapper with olive sauce and onion rings

Red snapper with olive sauce and onion rings (note the “painted eye”).

Foie gras with roasted apple and cipollini onions

Foie gras with roasted apple and cipollini onions. We soon learned that the French eat a lot of foie gras during the holidays; every tasting menu served it up at least once. Foie gras has never been on my Top 10 list; it’s simply too rich for my blood. By the last meal at Passage 53, which actually had the most inventive take on the decadent ingredient, we had to wave it off after a few bites. (I know, woe is us! But I’d like to live past 50.) This dish was paired with a sweet cider; it was nice, but maybe a bit of overkill with the roasted apple and rich sauce. Plus, I need to save room for cheese, people!

Taillevent cheese platter

Now here’s some fat I can get down with! The cheese plate. Besides this array of goodies, they also present the seasonal Mont d’Or—a runny, creamy, slightly stinky, heavenly cow’s-milk cheese that reaches its peak in the winter. Bring it on.

Cheese plate

Besides the Mont d’Or (I think you can guess which one it is), the waiter chose a Roquefort and a Reblochon for me. I think you can also guess which cheese won the race. (Is it rude to clean the plate with one’s fingers?)

Dessert #1

Dessert Number One. I’ve been keeping it together, but the jig is up. Not being a big dessert person, this is about the time my stomach gets to busting. But I take a breath and give it a taste. It has a light and refreshing Key lime pie quality: maybe some egg whites, definitely some citrus, and perhaps caramelized pear?

Dessert #2

Now that they’ve thrown us a sweet tease, they bring on the dense chocolate. I have to decline at this point, but the chocoholics at the table nod and moan accordingly.

Petit fours

Where do you think you’re going? We like to ensure a food coma with some petit fours! (more moaning ensues)

Wounded warrior

Yes, I’m the one who called for the stretcher.

So the verdict? It would come to be argued whether this meal was better than Christmas dinner at Le Cinq, another French war horse we tackled (or, more accurately, tackled us) the next night. My vote goes to Taillevent; the dishes may have been more “old school,” but the execution was better and the portions more manageable (so you can imagine the stomach pains tomorrow!). I would, however, be outvoted by my family members, who I think preferred the more modern presentation of Le Cinq. But I think we all know who’s in the right here, yes? *wink*

Other Paris restaurant reviews:

Joël Robuchon’s 3-week-old L’Atelier Etoile
Frederic Simonin: An Excellent Secret

Nomiya: Art Installation or Lunch?

Christmas dinner at Le Cinq

Casual Paris: Le 404 (Moroccan) and Café de l’Alma

Passage 53: We’re going out with a bang
Bonus Paris post: Le Chateaubriand, Darling or Dud?

Related posts:

The Top 10 Things I Learned About Paris
Paris Food Tour: Baguettes, Cheese & Chocolate
Paris: The Last Bits (Photos)

Jan. 18 2011 |
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