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La Tour d’Argent, Paris

July 8, 2009

DSC00039On 7th July 2009, I headed down to La Tour d’Argent, at 15 Quai de la Tournelle in the 5th arondissement, for what surely must count as one of the culinary highlights of my life. This had been recommended to me by Kieron, and I discovered that this is an institution in France, as far as grand dining is concerned. The oldest restaurant in Paris, its history dates back to 1582, when it was first established to separate itself from the cheap inns of Paris. King Henry III was one of the first to dine there, where he discovered the usage of the fork. Since then practically every King & Queen or notable person has dined there. The venue is still the same, overlooking the Seine with the Notre Dame just in the background. Absolutely stunning.

When I arrived at the appointed hour of 1230h, I found the general manager, another staff member and a page boy waiting at the front entrance. The ground floor is basically a museum, decorated in late 18th century decor, the way it was. Photographs and autographs of luminaries who had dined there lined one of the walls. The page boy, who ushered me to the elevator and operated it as well, was dressed in period costume. When I reached the 6th floor, all the wait staff, dressed in coat-tails, greeted me in French. Very formal. I was the first one there, and was ushered to a window seat, overlooking the Notre Dame. This is the prime seat! Very soon after, the restaurant filled up, and a few Americans came as well but, thankfully, they were not loud. The entire decor in the restaurant was 18th century period European.

 I started with some still water, which was poured not into a cup, but a goblet made of pewter, with the restaurant’s coat of arms. It could have passed off as the Holy Grail. Then the waiter served me a trio of amuse bousche, explaining it all in French (he could actually speak English). I didn’t catch a word. They looked like miniature pastries and puffs, but simply melted in the mouth. I ordered the prix-fixee menu, at 65 Euro. This must be considered a bargain, considering the equivalent for dinner is 220 Euro, before any wine! Their speciality is, of course, the canard (duck), which I enquired. However, the waiter shook his head, saying it’s meant for 2 persons and would be too heavy. Instead, he pointed out a smaller version (canette) which is available on the lunch menu which I took, preferring it to be pink on the inside as recommended, instead of brown. I chose their trademark “Andre Terrail” (a direct descendant of the early owners; died 2006) Pike dumpling as entree, and a strawberry tart for dessert.

The young Sommelier then came over and planted a huge thick book, the size of two encyclopedias, on my table. This is the famous wine list!! Everything is there, in breadth and depth. Verticals of various chateaux abound, at prices that do not seem too unreasonable. After spending 10-15 minutes browsing through the Bordeaux section, I engaged the Sommelier in some serious discussion, and settled on a glass of white, and a red. The former was a 2007 Bourgogne Aligote from J.M. Boillot (15 Euro). This is an impressive thing: pale yellow, but immediately exuding its class with quality fruit, minerality and acidity imparting a wonderful freshness. Le canetteThe wine service was even more impressive. When I enquired about the producer but failed to catch the name, the Sommelier actually had the wine label removed, stuck it onto the restaurant’s card (resembling a greeting card), and presented the whole thing to me in a sealed envelope!

As this is a traditional restaurant, the servings are generous. The entree consisted of 2 dumplings, made of the softest of textures, with mushroom stuffing, the whole thing being covered in a generous coating, the ingredients of which slipped me, but I’m sure egg, custard, cheese and butter played significant roles. Superb. The canette was even more impressive: a big slice, laid on a base of green-colored sauce. The presentation was so perfect that I didn’t touch it for 10 minutes. Since 1890, the restaurant  has been serving duck, done its way, amongst other things. Each duck that’s slaughtered since 1890 is numbered, and a certificate is issued to the diner. Halfway through mine, the maitre’d came over and planted a postcard-sized certificate on the table, indicating  that I was eating the 1079824th duck in the restaurant’s history.

It went perfectly well with the half bottle of 1988 Ch Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (165 Euro). I had initially considered having either the 1988 Ch Trotanoy or the 1989 Ch Pichon Baron, but the Sommelier suggested the Comtesse instead, and he was absolutely spot on. The wine was fully matured, displaying an evolved red that was bordering on vermillion. The nose was unmistakably that of a top-flight aged Bordeaux, the wood and tannins having receded far away, leaving the glorious fruit to shine, revealing all its complex tertiary flavours in full cry. Medium-full, structured but softened by time, perfectly balanced and elegant, ending on a sweet glycerin note that lasted and lasted. Unbelievable, coming from a half bottle. Who needs First Growths when you have this? The Sommelier seemed impressed with my wine experience and, as lunch wore on, we got along very well, talking at length about wine and Bordeaux. I asked to visit their renowned cellar, but was told it’s under renovation.

And so I munched there, taking my own sweet time to appreciate the food, the view, the superb service (perfect on this occasion even though various internet discussion groups have suggested that it can be highy variable), and snapping away on my camera. The whole experience was almost surreal. This restaurant lost a Michelin star in 2007 following the demise of Andre Terrail, becoming a one-star restaurant. But based on my experience, I’m rooting for it to regain its former glory. It can, and should, achieve that through its history, uniqueness, and uncompromising quality.

The strawberry tart was just nice, and the petit-fours and superb cafe rounded off a most remarkable lunch. When the bill came, it didn’t seem too bad. On the other hand, it was a lot of money, no doubt about that. Was it worth it? Well, there are many mindless ways to blow away good money. But on this occasion, at least, I knew it was spent on a most memorable and, perhaps, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 30, 2014 03:54

    It’s hard to come by educated people about this subject, however, you sound like you know what you’re talking about!

    Thanks

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