Tag Archives: paris

Dining Review: L’Arpège, Paris, France (Revisited)

I had dined at L’Arpège a couple of years prior and had a wonderful experience, so I knew I wanted to return on my most recent trip to Paris. I had a bit of trouble making the reservation myself, so I got one of my credit card concierges to make the reservation for me. Once again, I decided to eat there at lunch, as it’s significantly more affordable than dinner (although the dinner menu is also available at lunch).

Exterior of L'Arpège

Exterior of L’Arpège

Place setting

Place setting

I ended up going for the lunch surprise menu, which was 145 euro. I said that I didn’t eat meat, which the person who took my order confirmed, but I later realized that not eating meat doesn’t mean quite the same thing in French as it does in English.

Up first was an egg course. Last time, I had l’oeuf parfait, or the perfect egg. This time, the egg was good–an egg yolk served with maple syrup and sherry vinegar foam–but it wasn’t as rich as other egg dishes I’ve had. The yolk itself was rich and delicious, but I felt like the accompaniments didn’t bring enough to the table. You can also see butter in the background of this picture. The bread and butter service at L’Arpège is absolutely incredible–best I’ve ever had. I think I ate two wedges of butter and eight slices of bread throughout my meal.

An egg to start (with Bordier butter in the background)

An egg to start (with Bordier butter in the background)

A tomato gazpacho with celery and mustard ice cream followed. A fun play on acidity and temperature. This course was refreshing and light.

Tomato gazpacho with celery and mustard ice cream

Tomato gazpacho with celery and mustard ice cream

Up next was beet sushi with fig. Sushi is often about the rice, but I did not think the sushi rice was very good, and I’ve had much better vegetarian sushi. There was a bit of a smoky flavor, but the plate was overall a bit too sweet with the beet, fig, and surrounding caramel sauce.

Beet sushi with fig

Beet sushi with fig

The following course was simple, but one of my favorites. Melon with buffalo mozzarella and olive oil. It was creamy, salty, sweet, with the perfect balance of flavors and textures. The olive oil was perfectly salted; the melon was perfectly sweet; the mozzarella was perfectly creamy. This dish was so, so good.

Melon with buffalo mozzarella and olive oil

Melon with buffalo mozzarella and olive oil

Next was vegetable ravioli, which is a “classic” dish as this restaurant (as is an egg dish). I wasn’t a huge fan of this dish the last time I was at L’Arpège, and I wasn’t a huge fan this time around either. The soup was very acidic, the ravioli interiors were very herbal and crunchy, and the pasta was overdone.

Vegetable ravioli

Vegetable ravioli

My first clue that my statement “I don’t eat meat” was lost in translation was when the next course came. It was described as a lunchtime surprise, as sea urchin had just come into season. Now, I love sea urchin, so I wasn’t about to send it back, but it seemed odd to serve seafood to someone who said he doesn’t eat meat (of course, in French, not eating meat means not eating land animals, rather than being vegetarian and not eating seafood either). The sea urchin was served with scallops and an apple, carrot, and cucumber emulsion.

Sea urchin with scallops

Sea urchin with scallops

The following course was a sweet onion gratin with parmesan cheese and caviar tomatoes. This was so sinfully rich and delicious. Incredible sweetness from the onions, richness and umami from the parmesan, and great acid from the tomatoes and greens. This was like the best grilled you’ve ever had, but multiply that experience ten times to get this dish.

Sweet onion gratin

Sweet onion gratin

I forgot to take a picture of the next dish, but it was a fricassee of green beans with pear and juice of sage. It was like an extremely elevated green bean casserole. Absolutely delicious, and the pear was a great addition.

The next dish certainly surprised me. It was a filet of dover solefish, potatoes, mussels, leeks, fennel, and cabbage. First, it was seafood, and second, it was an absolutely enormous portion. It’s not really realistic to serve such large portions in a tasting menu. Not all tables received this dish–for example, the table next to me got a lobster preparation that was similar instead.

Dover solefish, potatoes, mussels

Dover solefish, potatoes, mussels

An umami bomb was served next. A ball of vegetables composed of peppers, tomatoes, hazelnuts, beets, and other things, accompanied by a tomato sauce.

Vegetable ball

Vegetable ball

Beet root tartare followed, which was really good. The “tartare” was creamy and sweet, the tomatoes provided some nice acid, and the “egg” on top was actually a tomato sitting on cream. Super playful take on steak tartare (and the plate is gorgeous).

Beet root tartare

Beet root tartare

The final savory dish was a sweet potato lasagna. Hazelnuts on top, sweet onions and parmesan inside, with a super acidic foam surrounding. This was good, but super rich, and a bit challenging to eat after 11 other courses and way too much bread and butter.

Sweet potato lasagna

Sweet potato lasagna

Dessert number one was a hazelnut Paris Brest. The choux pastry was actually a bit salty, which made the dessert all the more delicious. This was such an incredible pastry.

Hazelnut Paris Brest

Hazelnut Paris Brest

At this point, I was also given a plate of mignardises. Often, I find that this is one of the weakest parts of the meal, but I greatly enjoyed most of these. The only one that I found a bit strange was that one of the cookies had cream and bell pepper in it.

Mignardises

Mignardises

The second dessert was a pear and raspberry sorbet served tableside. So soft and creamy and deliciously tart.

Pear and raspberry sorbet

Pear and raspberry sorbet

The final dessert was a chestnut and caramel napoleon. I had specifically requested the millefeuille for dessert since I had missed out the last time I dined here, so I was super happy to receive this dessert. There was a bit of tartness from apples inside, and the pastry was so ridiculously rich and flaky. So much sugar and butter.

Chestnut and caramel napoleon

Chestnut and caramel napoleon

Overall, the meal was 145 euro for the lunch menu, and 9 euro for a bottle of San Pellegrino. Was it as good as I remembered? Not quite, but I’ve also eaten quite a bit more since that first meal. I still think it’s a great value at lunch, and it’s definitely a restaurant to visit if you like vegetables (although if you’re vegetarian, you need to explicitly specify no meat and no seafood!).

Review: Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees, Paris, France

I had an expiring free night certificate due to keeping the Club Carlson credit card around for another year and paying the annual fee, in spite of their devaluations. So on a recent trip to Paris, I used the certificate at the Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysées. The Club Carlson footprint in Paris has gotten significantly smaller since some of the hotels have since left the Club Carlson umbrella (e.g. Le Dokhan Trocadero is now an SPG property instead of a Club Carlson one). If you’re redeeming points, this hotel costs 70k per night.

The location of the hotel is super convenient. It’s quite close to L’Arc de Triomphe and, of course, the Champs Elysées. This also means that it’s quite close to the Charles de Gaulle Étoile metro stop, so it’s pretty convenient to get around via public transportation.

I was assigned a small but perfectly functional room on the 4th floor of the hotel. There was a small hallway as I entered with the bathroom off to the side, and then there was another door that could be closed to enter the bedroom. The second door was helpful for blocking out what little noise there was coming from the hallway.

Bed

Bed

Furnishings

Furnishings

The room wasn’t particularly large, but the curtains blocked out the light, and it was quiet, so it was great to take a quick nap after the red eye from the US. The shower design could have been somewhat better, though. It was a bit awkward to reach the faucet given the pane of glass, but the pane of glass also didn’t do enough to block water from getting on the floor.

Bathroom

Bathroom

When I came back to the room at night after a day of exploring, there was a welcome amenity of a bottle of water and three macarons. The macarons weren’t anything special, but I’ve never been one to turn down a macaron.

Welcome amenity

Welcome amenity

Overall, I had a perfectly comfortable and competent stay at this hotel. Would I pay 70k points per night? Probably not, but Club Carlson points are relatively easy to come by.

Dining Review: L’Arpège, Paris, France

L’Arpège is mecca for vegetarians. It’s the only 3 Michelin star restaurant that I know of where the primary focus of the food is on vegetables. Chef Alain Passard decided to showcase vegetables in 2001, several years after he had already received a vaulted third Michelin star, and it’s a testament to his craft that he retained all three stars after making the switch. L’Arpège is also reputed to have the best butter in the world, with Bordier making a butter specifically for Chef Passard.

Given all of the above, and the fact that several chefs that I adore said that L’Arpège was on their must-eat lists, I knew that I had to eat there when I visited Paris. I made reservations well in advance using the Visa Signature Concierge, but for lunch service instead of dinner service, as the lunch menu is considerably less expensive than the dinner menu. While lunch was still a very pricey 140 euro per person, the dinner menu clocked in at 420 euro, which I believe is the most expensive menu in Paris.

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Lunch menu for the day

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Compare to a 420 euro truffle menu! Granted, truffles are expensive.

Before getting into the food, I have to say that the service was impeccable. I loved the hostess in particular, who was personable in both English and French. When my dining partner had a hard time choosing between “scales” or “feathers” for his meat course, she exclaimed, “why not have both!”, and we had an extra course compliments of the house. Chef Passard also comes around during the meal service to talk to every table. While he does seem to prefer diners who speak French, he’s friendly to all, and it’s a nice gesture for him to make an effort to chat with everyone.

Now, onto the food:

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Trio of tartelettes as an amuse bouche. Bonus: they gave us two plates! Possibly because we devoured the first plate so quickly.

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Beurre Bordier. Best butter in the world? We went through two of these slices.

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Vegetable “sushi” with horseradish

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Described as the perfect egg. I think that’s a fair description. While I’ve had great imitations at other restaurants, the egg at L’Arpège is a must.

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Onion gratin with SO MUCH BLACK TRUFFLE. I’ve never had so much truffle in my life. It’s a very different flavor than what I thought truffles tasted like. See this NYTimes article for more information about truffle oil.

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This is a vegetarian ravioli soup not on the menu

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This is one of two courses which I didn’t “get”. It’s a beet. A rather large one at that. While it was subtle and pure, I wish this course would have been smaller.

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Vegetable garden with couscous

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Celeriac pasta. Better than any actual pasta that I’ve had.

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Some of the most delicious things to grace a plate

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The other course that wasn’t my favorite, but that’s largely because I’m not a cheese person.

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Sucrerie

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Dessert #1: The archetypal creme brulee

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Dessert #2: Avocado souffle

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Dessert #3: Apple tart

In spite of consuming no meat, this was the most gluttonous food experience of my life. To give you a sense of perspective, we were seated at 12:30pm, and we finished 4.5 hours later where we had to waddle out of the restaurant. Chef Passard had warned us to save room for dessert when he came to chat with us, but I didn’t expect to receive three! (For what it’s worth, it seemed like the desserts were distributed somewhat arbitrarily: some tables received a millefeuille, which I really wanted and will be sure to request next time; some received ice cream; all seemed to receive at least two different things) When the apple tart was set on our table, my dining companion and I burst out laughing because it was all too much.

L’Arpège was a superlative dining experience. I will surely return whenever I’m in Paris. Although the price tag is high, I firmly believe that it was actually quite inexpensive for what you receive. The Michelin guide describes three-star restaurants as having “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”, and I have to agree that L’Arpège is worth a special journey, especially if you have any vegetarian tendencies.

Trip Report: Park Hyatt Paris Vendome

For our trip to Europe, our flight arrived in Paris, but we were headed to Belgium the next day on the train. Since it was only one night and I thought we would likely spend a lot of time sleeping that first day since we would be tired from the flight over, I decided to splurge and book the Park Hyatt for this first night. Rather than spend 600 euro for a single night, I instead transferred 22,000 points from Ultimate Rewards over to Hyatt to book an award night.

A couple of days before arriving, I emailed the hotel asking if they provided any special accommodations for first-time guests. Even though I don’t have any sort of status with Hyatt, I had read that numerous people had received free breakfast during their first stay, and I definitely wanted to see if I could get that. Luckily, the manager who responded saying that she would be happy to extend us free breakfast and a possible room upgrade. Score!

The Park Hyatt Paris Vendome is without a doubt the nicest hotel I’ve had the opportunity to stay at. Everything was luxurious and bougie, and the service was generally spot on. Since our flight arrived so early in the morning, we got to the hotel well before the normal check-in time. I figured that we would just drop off our stuff and walk around Paris until the afternoon, but they were super gracious to offer us super early check in.

The staff was superb. Our check-in agent walked us to our room and gave us a mini-tour of the hotel and various features of our room, and our luggage was waiting for us when we got there. We had been upgraded to a larger Park Deluxe King, which gave us a little bit more space for all of our things, and there was a small gift of the most delicious shortbread I’ve ever had in my life waiting for us in the room.

bed

King-sized bed

bathroom

Bathroom with tub, shower, and sink in shower. Not sure why there needed to be a sink in the shower.

Later in the evening, they delivered another welcome amenity: macarons. I’m not sure exactly where they came from, but they were as delicious as macarons from Pierre Herme or La Duree.

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Macarons

It was definitely a good choice to get a nice hotel on that first day. Not only did we take a lengthy nap during the day, but I slept like a rock for that first night and was pretty much over my jetlag for the rest of the trip.

Breakfast the next morning was great as well, although I probably would not have paid the over 40 euro it would have been out of pocket. There was a nice selection of pastries, breads, meats, cheeses, and other cold items; hot items were generally limited to eggs.

I loved the juices they offered

I loved the juices they offered

A sample of the breakfast offerings

A sample of the breakfast offerings

Overall, I’m so glad to have had the chance to stay at this hotel. I would definitely recommend this hotel to anyone visiting Paris, and I would definitely try to book with points rather than cash.

How to Save Money in Paris

Here are some random quick tips for saving money in Paris:

1. If you’re younger than 26 and visiting Paris on the weekend, consider buying a Ticket Jeunes Week-end for the Metro. It’s only 3,65 euro for a one-day pass for zones 1-3, which will make up for itself after 3 rides. A normal metro ticket is 1,70 euro, a carnet of 10 tickets is 13,30 euro, and a normal day pass is 6,60 euro, so this is a great deal for young people.

2. Most museums in Paris are free the first Sunday of every month. This can be great if you’re traveling on a budget and fine dealing with crowds, but be aware that the museums will be VERY crowded on these days. It might be worth it for some just to pay the admission and go on a less crowded day…

3. For cheap eating, I highly recommend Maoz and L’as du fallafel. Both have some of the best falafel I’ve ever had. While L’as du fallafel is clearly the more famous of the two, I’m going to give a slight edge to Maoz due to no lines, great Belgian frites, and the ability to customize your falafel via their salad bar. In both cases, you can buy a filling meal for less than 6 euro.

4. Another cheap eat is L’avant comptoir. They have a great take-out window where you can get an amazing crepe for less than 2 euro, and they also serve sandwiches which are just a couple of euro more. If you’re willing to splurge a little bit, I think that this place offers one of the best deliciousness-per-dollar-spent ratios for dinner as well, plus you get unlimited access to good bread and Bordier butter. You can stuff yourself silly with great food and spend less than 20 euro for dinner.

5. If you want to ascend the Eiffel Tower and you’re in reasonably good shape, I recommend climbing the stairs rather than waiting for the lift. Tickets are slightly cheaper, you’ll get some much needed exercise to burn off all of the pastries that you’ve been eating, and you don’t have to wait hours in line for the elevator (there’s a separate line/entrance for stairs-only tickets). Tickets are also cheaper if you’re a young person (24 years or younger).

Do you have any good tips for saving money in Paris? Feel free to leave them in the comments.