Michelin Star Dining in the City of Lights

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I had the good fortune to travel to Paris recently. Naturally, food was a focus, with Michelin starred restaurants being of prime interest.

But the price tags for dinner at these establishments made that a rather costly proposition. I noodled around on a few websites and discovered that the set menus for lunch and brunch are a far more economical way to experience the cuisine. We are still talking between 30-45 euros per person for a three-course meal, but if that is the main splurge of the day, foodie travelers may consider it justifiable. I certainly did.

Gougeres

I enjoyed a spectacular lunch at Benoit, an esteemed restaurant that dates to 1912. The tiled floor, dark wood fixtures adorned with glass and brass, and the waitstaff attired in long, crisp white aprons was straight out of central casting for “classic Parisian bistro.”

While not kosher, there were several selections off the prix fixe lunch menu that were kosher-style friendly. When we sat down, a plate of hot gougeres arrived at the table; these savory, gruyere-laced pastries were spectacular. The constantly replenished basket of bread and the soft, thick slab of house-made butter fulfilled a carb lover’s dream. And that was before we had ingested a morsel off the menu.

Smoked haddock

My daughter started with the green lentil veloute, a rich, smooth puree of perfectly flavored lentils and vegetables elegantly poured into her bowl from a pretty little pitcher. I opted for the smoked haddock, served on a bed of potatoes and dotted with caramelized onions and horseradish cream. We both had the Koulibiac-style salmon with tarragon in beurre blanc. This salmon en croute, a filet of perfectly cooked fish surrounded by a bit of salmon mousse, julienned carrots and onions, then a rim of flaky pastry, was sublime.

While dessert was ambitious, we soldiered on. Daughter chose the coffee ice cream, and I opted for the Armagnac Severin, a rich, moist bundt-style cake doused tableside in booze and topped with whipped cream. Coffee, truffles, marshmallows and freshly baked madeleines completed the feast. The price was 39 Euros before wine. For more information, visit benoit-paris.com/en.

We also enjoyed a spectacular, if not terribly Parisian, brunch at Drouant, another Michelin star establishment.

The restaurant itself was plenty French — white linen tablecloths, subtly attentive waitstaff, traditional menu — but the way brunch was served seemed more, well, American. The four “courses” were served simultaneously, along with a glass of Cremant (sparkling French wine), and we were given extra jars of house-made jam and gianduja (French Nutella) to take home.

For 31 Euros, it was a great way to dine on Michelin star Chef Emile Cotte’s food, we were more than sated, and the takeaway bread basket and jams enabled me to extend my trip for one more Parisian breakfast in my Philadelphia kitchen upon my return home. But I still think the concept was catering more to Americans than locals. That said, the scrambled eggs, pumpkin soup, salmon tartare, fruit salad, croissant, pan au chocolate, pan au raison and cheese-filled Danish were among the best versions of each I have tasted anywhere, and I would both return and heartily recommend the experience. For more information, visit drouant.com/en/menus.html.

While I do not have the culinary arrogance to aspire to a Michelin star chef’s skills, I have been playing around with salmon tartare after the delicious version I had a Drouant.

Unlike many tartare recipes in the United States, the French version avoids the Asian flavor palate, eschewing soy/ginger/chili for mustard/herbs/lemon. Not better, just different, and for me, as I am motivated to keep my Parisian vibe alive, what is called for in the moment.

C’est parfait!

Salmon Tartare a la Paris

Serves 2

  • 8 ounces fresh wild or organically farmed salmon filet, skin removed
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon chives, snipped very finely
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill, snipped very finely
  • ¼ teaspoon Maldon sea salt
  • Generous sprinkle of freshly cracked pepper

Place the fish in the freezer for 20 minutes. This makes chopping it much easier.

While the fish chills, prep the remaining ingredients in a medium-sized bowl

Chop the fish into small cubes, and add it to the bowl. Mix, cover tightly and refrigerate.

Serve atop a bed of greens with or without toast, baguette or crackers.

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