But before we get to the review let me take a second to remind you about the American Heart Association’s 2009 Wall Street Heart Walk. Team Traveler Bill is participating for the second year and would appreciate your support.
January 15, 2006 – Restaurant de la La Tour d’Argent by Wilstafa
15 Quai de la Tournelle – Paris, France
Ever since I was originally scheduled to visit the City of Light back in 2000 it was always my intent to have at least one experience of “Haute Cuisine.” So when I was told that I was rescheduled to go in early 2006, I immediately investigated the possibility of a meal of fine dining.
Having squirreled away my pennies, I decided to go for broke and make a reservation at one of the finer restaurants in Paris. Contemplating my choices I came across the Grand Pere of all the great restaurants of France, if not Europe, La Tour d’Argent. Reading the pidgin English website they have available I was immediately taken in by their signature dish, duck. Without hesitation I made the call and was told that no dinner reservations were available in the time I was scheduled to be in country, but that they could fit me in for lunch on Sunday.
Confirming that I was early, I whiled away the half-hour circling the Cathedral Notre Dame, soaking up the atmosphere of the city on a Sunday afternoon in Winter. All the while I was glancing at my watch, counting down the minutes.
Arriving at the restaurant, the friendly doorman led me in where I checked my coat and re-confirmed my reservation with a man in a butler’s uniform. He then brought me to, and called for, an elevator. The operator of which was a young man in a coachman’s uniform with a robin’s egg blue jacket. It was only upon arriving at the sixth floor that I finally encountered the maitre d’ who brought me to my table. The only member of the staff not wearing an Edwardian uniform, he wore a sharp gray three-piece suit complimented by a tasteful cravat and pocket square.
Tucked away in a corner my table for one could not have been situated any better with a perfect view of Paris and the cathedral before me. My waiter brought a plate of amuse bouche and asked if I was interested in a aperitif. Asking for his suggestion I was told either champagne or Scotch would be appropriate. Opting for the single malt, I headed for the pre-appetizer.
The plate held three small delicacies, each one better than the last. The first was, I believe, a little pastry with mustard. The second was warmed goat cheese in puff pastry. The last was a soft boiled quail egg that had been set in jelly and covered with fresh mayonnaise.
The scotch came as I was perusing the menu. My waiter brought the full bottle of Glen Ord 1962 – 25 year old single malt Scotch for my inspection and approval. I chose to have the whiskey with a splash of water as I did not want to take a sip and start coughing like a provincial rube. My caution was completely unnecessary as the beverage was smooth you would hope for a whisky eight years older than you.
Reviewing the menu I immediately decided to choose the prix fixe menu. Why? Repeat after me…$150 Lobster entrée. But I was not shortchanged by eschewing an a la carte meal. Quite the contrary the chef took a great deal of care making several selections for the diner. I chose the appetizer of Ravioles de Queude Boeuf en Ravigot (Oxtail Ravioli) and the entrée of Caneton Roti a l’Orange (Duck a l’Orange).
The sommelier arrived (discernable from the nearly identically uniformed waiters by the brass lapel pin of a bunch of grapes) and inquired if I would like to have some wine with my dinner. Hardly an oenophile, I left it up to his discretion to suggest a bottle. (Technically a half-bottle as it was a little after 1:00 and I was dining alone.) A few minutes later he returned with what appeared to be an unabridged dictionary. The six inch thick tome was in fact the restaurant’s vaunted wine list. I decided to accept his first choice, 1990 Volnay Taillepieds (Angerville), which elicited a reaction with a discernable degree of surprise. Perhaps he expected the oddly dressed American tourist to blanche at the $85 price. For the record, while I did not visibly, I was calculating the exchange rate in my head.
Now despite the lush setting and terrific service I was not blinded to my surroundings. And even if I had been, I’m fairly certain that the party of 13 seated to the right of center would have roused me from my stupor. For assembled at the corner window sat a group of presumed warlords (Seated at the head of the table was a gentleman who bore a striking resemblance to North Korean strongman and Charter Member of the Axis-of-Evil, Kim Jong-Il.) But their presence was not disturbing because I sat mere feet from likely war criminals, but because they insisted on dousing everything they ate (excepting the dessert) with not only Tabasco hot sauce but, and I could not make this up, LIQUID SMOKE. I would have endeavored to take a surreptitious photo had I not feared a bowler hat being thrown at my neck.
Fortunately it was about this time that the assistant sommelier arrived with my half bottle of wine. He deftly uncorked the bottle, slipped it into a basket, placed the cork between the neck of the bottle and the basket to, I assumed, help prevent spillage. The young man than poured a not more than a sip into a glass and tasted it himself. Assured it was not poisonous he then poured a slightly more generous sip into my glass (made of a fine crystal) for my approval. It was, or course delicious.
And it was perfectly suited with to my appetizer, the oxtail ravioli. More delicate than the animal from whence it came, it melted in the mouth. The sauce was tangy without overpowering the dish. It took all measures of restraint to not sop the remains with the delicious rolls that were continuously replenished. But fearing I would be considered as gauche as reunion from the Indo-Chine campaign I resisted, only consuming that which I could eat with the genuine silver flatware.
But perhaps I should not have worried for soon a party arrived that sat in a window seat on the far side of the warlords. It was a refined gentleman with two dowagers. How could this prototypical French trio been considered noteworthy? Because there was four at the table as I neglected to mention that the gentleman was followed by his pet dog.
The canine presence was soon banished from my mind as the duck arrived. I’ve had duck before in restaurants, with varied results, rarely good. Ranging from slimy to chewy it is amazing that I even ventured to order it again. But at La Tour d’Argent, it is know as “His majesty the Duck.” So, to quote from their website.
“If tomorrow you order a duck au Sang à l’Orange with Pepper,… it will be served to you accompanied with a card stating the number of your Duck: in the guest book of the famous ducks, one can learn that the n° 328 was served to King EDOUARD VII in 1890, the n° 40 312 was served to King Alphonse XIII in 1914 and the n° 53 211 was served to the Emperor Hiro Hito in 1921.”
And n° 1 039 988 was served to Wilstafa in 2006. It was, as on might expect a signature dish to be, exceptional. Apparently after a hundred or so years of practice you really can master a preparation. I hesitate to even try and describe it further for I am not a poet, and beautiful words are needed to describe such a delight.
But I will describe the optional cheese course. One of the waiters brought over a cart with a selection of at least 20 cheeses. At the suggestion of the fromagier I opted for two goats, a bleu, a hard sheep’s milk cheese and, “ef curse, ah Camembert.” I also received two generous slices of a raisin bread that went superbly with all the cheese but particularly the bleu.
The dessert selection I chose from the prix fixe menu was the Mille Fieulle, or essentially a Napoleon. It was transcendent with a coffee cream filling. And while the coffee was weaker than I like La Tour d’Argent receives a pass, as I grew up in a family that prefers to make a exceptionally robust coffee. Especially considering that accompanying the coffee was a plate of tiny sweet pastries that were as good as the dessert proper.
I think it goes without saying that this was not only a fine restaurant, but the finest restaurant I have ever had the fortune in which to sup. In the Golden fez scale (which is equivalent to the Traggis Scale) Restaurant de la La Tour d’Argent receives 4 Golden fez. Reservations are required weeks in advance, and if you plan on eating dinner I’d advise a month. Bring your wallet however, as luxury is not cheap. The lunch described above (including a previously unmentioned bottle of Evian) ran me €202. The bill includes an 18% tip, but I added another €50 hoping my munificence would trickle down to the terrific staff. With the exchange rate at the time it tallied a little over $300.