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L’epicure

January 20, 2016

Months before we ever left for Paris, my husband told me that while we were in Paris he wanted to experience French cuisine to its fullest and that we were going to live large by going to some of the best restaurants in the world.  Paris is the gourmet food capital of the world after all, and anyone one who is anyone in the food world, knows that some of the finest chefs and some of the world’s best restaurants can be found in Paris.  So my husband took this philosophy to the max and told me that he wanted to dine at the restaurant that consistently is ranked #1 of all restaurants in Paris by Trip Advisor.  However, since we were talking about a very high-end restaurant we compromised and decided to dine at this particular establishment for lunch rather than dinner.  Not that it really made a difference because we are still talking about an out-of-this-world, over-the-top 3 hour dining experience to rival any dining experience we’d ever had.

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L’Epicure by renowned chef Eric Frenchon and located at the ultra luxurious, 5-star Bristol Hotel in the heart of Paris, is world-renowned in its own right as a 3-Michelin star restaurant.  3 Michelin stars is the highest rating that any restaurant can achieve and this would be the first time I’d ever dined at a 3-Michelin star restaurant.  With ratings like this and a reputation to live up to, you know this is going to be good.

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A good three months before our arrival in Paris, my husband was able to secure highly sought after reservations at L’Epicure.  The restaurant is airy and light with a mixture of modern minimalistic style and some very traditional French opulence such as the beautiful gold chandelier that hangs in the middle of the dining room.  With less than 15 tables inside the restaurant, just securing reservations can be a challenge.

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The dining room looks out into a garden courtyard inside the restaurant and we were lucky enough to be seated at a table right in front of French doors that open directly onto the garden.  Everything about the restaurant was exquisite and immaculate and we knew we would be in for a treat.  The large round table we were seated at, which easily could have sat four, was turned so that the two seats it accommodated faced out towards the garden with a front row seat.  Beautiful fresh flower displays were placed on every table along with this beautiful glass butterfly.  One thing I’ll note that I’d never seen at a restaurant before, not only was there a coat check at the hostess desk (which I’d seen many times), but once seated at our table, a gorgeous stool was placed alongside the chair of every woman dining in the restaurant as a place for her to place her purse down beside her so that it didn’t have to hang off the arm of the chair, or sit on the floor beside her, or anywhere else a woman might put her purse.  I’d never seen a restaurant go to such lengths to accommodate something as simple as a woman’s purse, and it was these little touches that other restaurants don’t think of that really made L’Epicure stand out in a class of its own.

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Even the place setting on the table when we were seated had this beautifully engraved floral design as did the accompanying bread dish and the polished silver silverware was beautiful and flawless. It’s like the restaurant considered every single detail of their guests dining experience and made sure that everything was presented with the utmost care and consideration.  Everything was above and beyond what you see in any normal day-to-day dining experience.

After we both settled on ordering the seasonal chef’s tasting menu for lunch, the fun began.  Lunch isn’t just lunch here, and things aren’t always as they seem.  While the chef’s tasting menu included a choice of first course, a choice of main dish, and a choice of dessert, we soon came to find out that what we were actually receiving was something akin to multi-course feast of the eyes and the senses.

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First off, we were given bread and butter, but it wasn’t just bread and butter.  The bread display was actually brought around by one of our servers and filled with a selection of various freshly-baked breads.  When in Paris, my husband and I both chose the beautiful baguette.  So crusty and crunchy on the outside, and warm and airy and delicious on the inside.  Fresh baked baguettes in Paris were one of my favorite things.  And in Paris, butter isn’t just butter served at a table.  Butter is like an art form.  There are dairy shops you can go into where all they sell is different types of butter, and in these shops there is a master butter maker who can take large blocks of fresh churned butter and using a couple of wooden paddles roll out for you the exact amount of fresh butter you want to buy.  Each store is unique in the designs of butter rolls they use and they distinguish themselves with the initial or emblem of their store which they stamp on their butter.  We received butter at our table from one of these master butter shops and wow, the butter was just delicious and amazing and of perfect quality and consistency.  I’m drooling over the bread and the butter already and we haven’t really gotten to any of the food yet.

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The first course of many chef’s courses brought to our table for our delight was a small sample of three separate items.  They were all one- or two- bite amuse bouche dishes.  To the left in the small ramekin was limoncello foam over watermelon gelatin.  The combination of the sweet watermelon with the tart lemoncello was terrific and the creation was light and airy.  A true palate cleanser that helped to awaken the senses.  In the middle, presented on a skewer that is intended to be eaten in one bite was a crispy seaweed cracker surrounding something inside that I only understood to be curried.  However, what it was, I don’t know, and at this point, as I’m not a huge adventurous eater, I don’t think I want to know.  The combination between the crispy seaweed cracker that was slightly salty and the curried protein of some sort that it was wrapped around, was a perfect pairing of texture, and flavor.  A little crispy and crunchy, a little salty and creamy and a little chewy.  Finally, the last offering on the plate on the right was foie gras wrapped in choux pastry.  Again, going out of my element here as I’ve never tried foie gras before.  But it was bottoms up, again an offering intended to be eaten in one small bite.  The choux pastry was perfect baked and light and flaky.  The foie gras inside was actually quite flavorful and packed a punch for something that small, and yet, it was creamy and rich.  The play with using choux pastry reminds you of dessert, and even the richness of the foie gras can fool you into thinking that this is a rich, decadent dessert.  You just need to not consider what it is you’re actually eating.  For my first experience with foie gras, it wasn’t bad.  Hey, I’m trying to expand my horizons.  My husband, who has had foie gras before, loved it.  Sweet, like candy, as he described it.

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Served along with this trio offering was a small bowl of some sort of special house-made bread made with olives, bacon and sundried tomatoes also presented to us on our table.  Olives aren’t really my thing (I know, it’s horrible how there are so many things I don’t like), but this bread was quite tasty.  The saltiness from the bacon, the chewiness of the home-made bread, the acidity of the sundried tomatoes all created a heady, and pretty hearty combination for bread.

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The next course brought to the table, again, not actually part of the tasting menu we ordered, was the chef’s play on a deconstructed salad nicoise with anchovies, olives, pepper jelly sauce, a quail egg presented at room temperature, topped by creamy foam, dehydrated crunchy croutons and diced red onions.  First off, this dish was just beautiful to look at.  It certainly didn’t look like any salad, deconstructed or otherwise, that I’d ever seen before.  But these are the creative, unique touches that give Epicure the reputation it has.  I thought I wouldn’t like this dish too much because it had olives (you’ve already read how much I don’t like olives) and pepper jelly sauce (and I don’t like peppers either… ok, I’m picky!), but honestly, I was surprised by how incredibly flavorful this salad nicoise was.  The pepper jelly added a little layer of very subtle heat, the creamy foam added body and texture, but the anchovies and the olives and red onions added the flavor – the salt, the tart, the sweet, it was all present in this dish.  It was literally like an explosion of flavor in my mouth.  And the creaminess of the quail egg was just phenomenal and the perfect complement to this dish.

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Finally, our first dish from our tasting menu was served.  My husband and I both chose the blue lobster dish as our first course.  Described in the menu as “grilled avocado with roasted sesame, a dressing of honey infused with coriander seeds” the dish is so much more than the menu gives it credit for.  Blue lobster is the name for the common lobster found in Europe mainly from the Atlantic ocean, Mediterranean Sea and parts of the Black Sea.  It’s closely related to our American red lobster, except that it generally does have a blue-ish tint when alive, but turns red when cooked.  The plate was filled with chunks of succulent, delicious and slightly sweet blue lobster.  Artfully arranged with the lobster were dollops of avocado mousse along with grilled avocado slices, some micro greens, thin slices of Granny Smith applies and crispy rice paper.  Once the dish is presented at the table, the dressing made of honey and coriander seeds is drizzled over the top of the dish.  The remainder of the dressing is left for you at the table so that you can continue to dress the dish yourself as you eat.  The dressing was absolutely phenomenal, the mixture of the sweet honey and the powerful coriander was just delicious.  It was a nice touch for them to only lightly drizzle the dish and allow you to continue to dress the dish as your taste buds saw fit.  Taking everything in at once, the combination of the crispy rice paper, the succulent lobster, the tartness from the Granny Smith apple, and the creamy richness of the avocado all mixed with the sweetness of the dressing and my husband and I looked at each other like we had died and gone to heaven.  Just one simple bite of a dish that on its own seems so simple was music to my mouth.  I could not stop eating this dish and I had to eat every last bit of avocado mousse and apple slice and micro greens and of course, the lobster.  This was single-handedly the best dish I’ve ever had in my life.  There are lots of dishes I’ve loved through the years, but nothing compares to this blue lobster dish.  It is the single best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.

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The next dish that we received was actually a dish off of the a la carte menu that we had ordered to add on to our tasting menu.  My husband had read about this dish and decided he just had to have it.  I wasn’t actually planning on having much, if any, of the dish at all, except that the restaurant was actually nice enough to take one order of the dish and split it into two dishes for us so that we could both enjoy it (they had no way of knowing that I had just intended for my husband to enjoy this dish on his own).  Presented with my own dish, I kind of felt like I had to at least eat it and if I had any leftover than I could have given it to my husband.  Stuffed macaronis was the dish.  As the name would indicate the dish really was just stuffed macaroni pasta, but yet the name does the dish no justice at all because it’s not as simple as it seems.  The macaronis were stuffed with black truffle, artichoke and duck foie gras, all the decadence you could ever imagine.  The macaronis were then finished with grated mature Parmesan cheese and baked until melted.  Talk about over-the-top decadence.  Again, you’ll remember that I said that I’d never had foie gras before this meal and here I am being presented with foie gras for the second time today.  Let me just say, one bite of this dish and I don’t know where to begin.  There was such flavor in everything.  The richness of the duck foie gras and the added body of the artichoke.  You’ve got the black truffle in the sauce, and believe me that black truffle packed a wallop.  Then you’ve got the saltiness of the Parmesan cheese baked into the macaroni.  This dish was pure decadence, it was almost too sinful to eat.  My husband absolutely loved this dish and was incredibly happy he decided to order it as an extra to our meal.

Finally, the main courses from our tasting menu was served.  I’m not sure I mentioned it before, but we literally had a whole team of waiters serving our table for our meal.  For every course served at the table, someone comes from the kitchen carrying a tray with the dishes, and then once at your table, a waiter for each dish appears.  So, your dishes are presented to you on the table, usually under some sort of a lid, simultaneously by your own individual waiter.  Then both waiters lift the lids on the dishes at the same time before one of the waiters gives you a detailed description of exactly what you’re about to enjoy and how it was prepared.  It was service heads and tails above anything I’d ever experienced before.

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For my main course, I chose the red mullet roasted in a zucchini leaf with “harissa”, zucchini semolina with argan oil and crispy zucchini flowers.  First off, the dish is so beautiful prepared, it’s a work of art in and of itself.  The red mullet was very flaky and mild in flavor and well cooked.  The flavor from the zucchini leaf actually does infuse into the meat of the fish during the steaming process.  The harissa sauce was artfully presented on the dish to make it look like the top fin on the fish.  However, I’m not a huge fan of harissa, so I actually liked that it was presented separately and not as a sauce over the fish.  The zucchini semolina was delicious and I was actually given an extra bowl of the semolina on the side to enjoy with the dish.  What I really loved about the dish was the crisp zucchini flowers that were added in with the zucchini semolina.  Using every part of the zucchini to create this terrific dish, the crispy flowers added a nice balance of texture and flavor to the dish.  This dish was flavorful, fresh and light, which was good when I still had quite a few courses to go.

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My husband went with a dish that was very traditionally French, the young pigeon.  The pigeon was medium rare roasted with citrus fruits and vanilla, served with caramelized onion, onion puree served with cooking juice.  I admit that the dish was so beautifully presented, but it would not be something I’d order.  I’m just not adventurous enough to eat pigeon, but for my husband, we’re in Paris and this is what the French eat, so why not?  He’s way more adventurous than I am because he says I overthink everything and maybe that’s true.  First off, my husband said this dish was absolutely delicious.  The pigeon was perfect roasted and was medium rare on the inside, but nice and golden on the outside.  The caramelized onion and onion puree was a terrific accompaniment, and the cooking juice just enhanced the terrific flavor of the pigeon.  My husband thought that the pigeon was wonderfully prepared and tasted amazing.  It was meaty, but not gamey at all.  In fact, my husband loved it so much that he ate every single last bit of the meat off the pigeon and every single last edible part of the dish.  And he didn’t just eat it, he devoured it and said he would order it all over again.

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The next course presented to our table was the cheese course.  Such a French tradition, my husband who loves cheese, loved this course so much.  A large cart is wheeled to our table and on the cart is laid out approximately 20 different kinds of cheeses – cow’s milk, sheep’s milk and goat’s milk, from all over the world, along with some accompanying bread, fruits and jams.  A presentation is given to us of all of the different kinds of cheeses available and then we are each asked to select some cheeses we’d like to try.  Once chosen, the waiter cuts a section of each of the cheeses, arranges it all on a plate, adds any accompaniments you want, and then you’re presented with your very own cheese plate.  If you’re not quite sure what kind of cheese you want, the waiter can help recommend some cheeses for you based upon what your taste preferences are.  I chose a plate of Camembert, Comte and Roquefort cheeses with a candied apricot.  These are all theses I’ve had before and have enjoyed.  I’m not nearly as adventurous as my husband when it comes to cheese either and I’m definitely not as big of a cheese lover as he is.  For his selections he also chose the Camembert, a different type of blue cheese than the one I chose, and a ripe funky French cow’s milk cheese that smelled awful, but tasted great.  I loved all the different selections and types of cheeses they offered, I only wished I was a bigger cheese fan so I could truly enjoy it.

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The next course we received as a refresher or palate cleanser.  After having the very strong and ripe cheeses, it was time to freshen up the palette to prepare for dessert.  The palate cleanser was a pink grapefruit granita with fresh grapefruit wedges and a grapefruit jelly, all topped with gold leaf.  Wow, was this a palate cleanser.  The grapefruit did its magic and really refreshed our palates and reawakened the senses.  The tartness of the grapefruit really hits your tastebuds, but it’s the fact that the grapefruit is served in so many different forms – the granita, the jelly and the fresh grapefruit – that really refreshes your mouth.  I loved the cool, crispness of the icy granita.  This dish was so simple, yet so well done.

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For dessert, my husband chose the Bergeron apricot roasted with honey, nougats with dried fruits, fresh almond milk ice cream and served with a shot of apricot liqueur.  My husband said that the two green dots on the plate were some sort of sour candied apple that really added a punch to the dessert.  Again, the dessert was beautifully presented, and the flavors of the apricot were fantastic, sweet, yet not overpowering.  The texture of the nougat, and the softness of the apricot combined with the silkiness of the ice cream not only tasted good but was texturally pleasing.

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My dessert was called strawberries from open fields freezed with a Norman farmer cream and marshmallow flavored with wild strawberries, all presented on this clear glass, see-through bowl.  The presentation was beautiful and charming, and much like my husband’s dessert, mine was also finished off with a gold leaf.  The strawberry cream inside the glazed strawberry dome was a thing of beauty.  It really was a frozen cream with the flavor of strawberry because it definitely wasn’t ice cream, but it wasn’t a mousse or gelatin either.  The texture was so pleasing and the little dollops of strawberry sauce, freeze-dried strawberries and the strawberry marshmallow were fantastic.  I loved the playfulness of the dish using something as simple as freeze-dried fruit and homemade marshmallows, and yet the flavor profile was spot on.

 

Served alongside our dessert was a small one-bite post dessert dish that was thrown in as extra course to our meal.  Served on individual serving spoons was something the restaurant called strawberry bubbles (unfortunately I was so excited by the dish and the other desserts I forgot to take a photo!).  The strawberry bubbles was a rounded sphere made of an outer gelatinous coating and liquid strawberry inside, the whole thing was then topped by a gold leaf.  We were told to put the whole thing in our mouth and eat it all in one bite since the liquid strawberry wouldn’t work for more than one bite.  This strawberry bubble was effervescent and bubbly and very strawberry and like a one-bite wonder in my mouth.  A terrific ending to a decadent meal.

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And yet, that wasn’t the end of the meal.  It wasn’t until after the desserts were served that we were asked if we wanted coffee or any other after meal drinks.  I figured why not, and I ordered a latte.  My latte was brought out along with some homemade mini madeleines as an after dinner treat, yet another surprise of the kitchen.

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Again, we weren’t quite done yet.  The final course of our magical meal was the magic box.  The server wheeled over to our table a box, which they call the magic box.  This magic box is like a trunk, once it’s brought to the table, the doors are opened to reveal the magic hidden inside.  In this case, the magic was more dessert treats, as if we hadn’t had enough food yet.  There was a whole selection of macrons, homemade candies and homemade marshmallows and some homemade caramels and chocolate as well.  Each goodie inside the magic box was described to us and then we were told to pick out anything we wanted to enjoy and it was plated for our pleasure.  For my plate, I chose a lemon, coconut with mil chocolate and chocolate with nutella macaron, a homemade almond nougat and a passion fruit mango caramel.  My husband decided he wasn’t quite as full as I was and chose the raspberry with ginger and black currant with violet macarons, along with dark chocolate orange sticks, passion fruit mango caramel, almond nougat and at the urging of the server some of the mint marshmallow.  First off, the mint marshmallow was really minty and soft and chewy.  Homemade marshmallows are always amazing when done right.  The dark chocolate orange sticks were terrific and citrusy.  The passion fruit mango caramel was my favorite as it was chewy, but it had that terrific passion fruit tang to it.  And the macarons were luscious and delicious.  By the end of all of this, we were stuffed.  This was way more than anything either of us had ever expected.

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Before we left Epicure for the day, I asked if it would be possible to take home a copy of the menu as a souvenir.  To my surprise, not only did we get a copy of the menu, but they actually printed our exact menu of what we ordered and put them into a gorgeous portfolio for us bound together with a beautiful gold tassel.  And the menus were reproduced with the date of our visit, plus my husband received one with his order from the tasting menu and I received one with my order from the tasting menu, it was far and above anything I’d ever expected.  The personal touch that we received, even in something as simple as a souvenir menu was taken to the extreme to make our experience that much more memorable.

For my husband, hands down, L’Epicure is the best restaurant he’s ever dined at, both in terms of the food and the service.  Up to this point, I also agreed the L’Epicure was the best restaurant I’d ever been to, until later in the trip when another restaurant, in my book, trumped L’Epicure.  But, I do agree that in terms of service, attention to detail, and making the guest feel like royalty, I’ve never seen another restaurant with the level of service that L’Epicure offers.  Everything at the restaurant is above and beyond in decadence and luxuriousness, and this is considering we only had lunch there.  I could only imagine how over-the-top dinner service at L’Epicure must be.  There’s a reason this restaurant is consistently ranked as the #1 restaurant in Paris, it is very deserving of every accolade it receives as you’ll never have another dining experience like this at any other restaurant.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Heather Morrow permalink
    January 20, 2016 9:27 pm

    Great review.

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