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Europe Trip 2005


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This summer, my girlfriend and I traveled through France and parts of the British Isles. Although we both have a reasonable amount of experience with dining in Montreal and Toronto we remain relative neophytes on the larger scale. Thus, this trip afforded us somewhat of a culinary education; a chance to sample a large variety of restaurants from across France and, perhaps even more interestingly, Wales. Of course, with the exception of a few meals, we were faced with a budgetary constraint for our meals in France while in Wales, since we were traveling with my family, there was much less of a limitation. This made finding an acceptable place for dinner quite the hunt. Trying to find restaurants that served food within our price range and were not ‘tourist traps’ was often difficult. Anyway, here are some thoughts and observations from the trip.


In Paris we stayed with a friend of ours just off of place Victor Hugo. Paris was also to be the site of our big event dinner (okay, lunch), a four year anniversary present of a sort. In what seems like a thoroughly unsurprising decision after reading this board, we chose to eat at Taillevent. However, as compared to other destination restaurants I looked at, Taillevent seemed to offer a more classical version of French Haute Cuisine. This was what I wanted from an educational perspective- the goal was not only to enjoy the meal but to learn something from it. Taillevent’s style of cooking appeared to be both easily understandable, something I doubt a restaurant like, say, L’Arpege is, and well founded in the traditions of French cooking. Something that seems to be surprisingly rare in Canada.

In the few days leading up to the lunch we ate at a variety of unremarkable but nonetheless good brasseries around our friend’s place. I had a fairly good chicken gratin and salmon tartar at Le Corner on rue Kleber, although the dinner was almost completely overwhelmed by the slow, rude service, an overcooked entrecote and the fact that our dishes came out in the wrong order. Luckily, this was one of the few instances of rude service we faced. Another Brasserie, Le Copernic on, you guessed it, rue Copernic, served me fantastic entrecote the evening after our lunch at Taillevent.

When it came to the lunch at Taillevent, I had similar feeling to those Andrew Todhunter describes at the beginning of A Meal Observed. Like Todhunter I was nervous, apprehensive, and wary of embarrassment, unlike him I had to deal with a jacket and a tie in nearly 40 degree weather. I needn’t have worried. I was amazed by the courtesy and warmth of the welcome. We began the meal with the house aperitif and the standard cheese puff amuse. The second amuse was a surprisingly lackluster dish of melon in a basil sauce. Although the melon was beautiful and the flavors were very clean and pure, the dish seemed hastily put together, as if the fresh melons had just arrived and the chef couldn’t bare to not use them. We ordered the Menu Degustation that was described in another post on this board. Although if I were to do it again I would, due to increased confidence, order from the carte, the menu seemed to showcase the full spectrum of the kitchen’s talents: a soup, an entrée, a fish course, a meat course, a cheese course, a fruit dessert, and a chocolate dessert. Although we ordered only one bottle of relatively inexpensive wine to go with our menu our sommelier, one Monsieur Pelletier (a Quebecois from the South Shore of Montreal, actually), picked out a light, fruity, Burgundy that went easily with the entire menu. Sadly, I do not recall the name of the wine. He also gave us a complementary glass of desert wine. Although I fail to recall the name of this wine, it was made by a process in which the fermentation of the wine was halted by the addition of armagnac to the fermenting grape juice. As for the food, our feelings about it were much the same as that of the other poster. The risotto with grenouilles was perhaps my favorite. The depth of flavor and texture was so miles beyond anything I‘ve ever had. Also, the Gourmandise au Chocolat with thyme infused milk was delightful. The thyme flavor was both fascinating and surprising.

What struck me most about the experience, after the professional, unobtrusive, welcoming service was the care that went into every aspect of the food. In contrast to other fine restaurants I’ve been to the food here was exceptionally precise. It was classic, streamlined, and elegant. Not one element of each dish seemed to be misplaced or out of place. It was not that every dish was ‘perfect’ but more that there seemed to be an attention to detail that does not exist in other restaurants I’ve been to. While I have no way of judging the merits of Taillevent in respect to the other 50 or so restaurants in the three star range, I can see what sets this sort of dining apart from the fine dining I’ve experienced in Canada. While my menu had very few of the typical luxury ingredients that I normally think of when I imagine a three star restaurant, it became apparent to me that the judicious use of truffle is perhaps the least important part of what makes this sort of restaurant special. It is a level of exactitude in the execution of dishes that is most important.

In a somewhat humorous incident, a middle aged heavy set man with, what we gathered to be, his well dressed, pretty, also middle aged wife sat down across from us. In a stroke of brilliance, he pulled out a mini-fan and placed it on his table. The cheap fan looked hilariously out of place in the uber-luxury setting. Although, given the weather, I wish I had thought of bringing a fan. Evidently they were prominent food critics who received a large amount of attention from the staff. Interestingly, the women seemed to be engaged in a conversation with a member of the wait staff about my girlfriend and I. I guess being the youngest people in the restaurant makes you stand out as much as a fan on the table. Next up, Dijon, Lyon, Geneva and Grenoble.

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