by Ya & Shi
During a recent trip to Paris, I had lunch at Les Ambassadeurs, the restaurant at the famed Crillon hotel.
According to the Crillon website, the hotel is on the "world-famous Place de la Concorde, ... steps away from the luxurious boutiques of Faubourg St.-Honoré, and is within walking distance of the Champs Elysées, the Avenue Montaigne, the Louvre, the Tuileries Gardens and many more of this famous city’s most acclaimed attractions." It's not an exaggeration that this hotel, steeped in history, is also the epitome of luxury.
The chef Jean-François Piège has generated a great deal of excitement. Michelin rated the restaurant in the "Espoir 3*" category in its 2007 guide -- meaning that it's nearly a 3* restaurant, the highest rating bestowed by Michelin. Currently it's rated as 2*.
Though the restaurant is not a 3* restaurant, its prices are certainly stratospheric, as I discovered during my Saturday lunch. During weekdays, the restaurant offers a modestly priced menu at around 80 euros, if I recall correctly. On Saturdays, there's no such option. The tasting menu was priced at 210 euros.
It's impossible to save money on this sort of restaurant, but I tried. In the end I spent 171 euros, including 6 euros for a 1/2 bottle of Evian.
Service was efficient -- more so than I was expecting. The menu was placed vertically like a flag in a tube. That was a very nice touch. Immediately panic set in when I realized how high the prices were. But soon enough I settled in. Once I chose my dishes, I was given a dessert menu, and this surprised me. I decided to skip dessert to save money.
Here's a photo of the amuses the restaurant served:
Langoustine Three Ways
I opted to start with the langoustine prepared three ways. This was advertised as a signature plat and one of the first items on the menu. The cost was 100 euros (about $150 with current exchange rates). There were actually two versions of this dish. I opted for (the cheaper) caviar d'Aquitaine. I was not aware that France produced caviar. And I figured that if I was paying for something I might as well get something that was probably expensive. The servings of caviar seemed extremely generous.
The first method was the langoustine in a fried crust. The second method was langoustine sushi. The waitstaff suggested that I dip both into the cream supplied. The third method was raw (or perhaps rare) langoustine in a broth. This Asian-accented dish was quite nice and delicious, but I couldn't get over the 100 euro price tag. However, this is the norm for 3* Michelin restaurants -- especially those in Paris.
I felt a bit silly asking the waitstaff to translate désossé. It means "deboned (or boneless)." The pigeon was one of the cheapest items on the menu at 65 euros. It came stuffed with foie gras and olives. I figured that I couldn't be too wrong to order what must be a twist on a classic French dish. I was asked if I'd be ok with the pigeon being "pink." I'm actually a squeamish eater, but needless to say, I didn't ask for well done.
I'm not a fan of pigeons, but I was somewhat pleasantly surprised by this dish. The olives balanced the flavor of the meat well. But I did feel, at times, a little disgusted with the dish as the stuffing oozed. The dish came with a small side of salad and potato twists/crisps in a paper cone (with a Crillon sticker, of course!).
As I mentioned, I was too cheap to order desserts. Of course I was asked if I wanted a cheese course, which I declined.
But needless to say, the restaurant wouldn't let me walk away without some (free) sweets. I was given coconut ice-cream, an assortment of petits-fours and (a box of) chocolate truffles. I could eat the latter two to my heart's content. The petits-fours were a pastry with perhaps raspberry (?) that reminded me of a linzer torte, mini pineapple macarons (if memory serves) and another pastry infused with sangria. As nice as the macarons were, I didn't think that they were special (not at the Ladurée standard, for example). I didn't think the chocolates were at the La Maison du Chocolat or JP Hévin level either.
There was quite a bit of showmanship during desserts as well. I was also given some sticks to dip into chocolate sauce and sugar to eat. As I ate them, there was a popping sensation in my mouth, and that was exciting. Also at the very end, a container that glowed in green was brought out. I was given an item shaped like a candy, which turned out to be a minty sorbet that cleansed my palette.
Part of the fun of dining in these restaurants is people watching.
I found it interesting that some of the waitstaff seemed very young -- barely out of school, perhaps.
I sat next to a table of four French women who probably lived in the 8th or 16th Arrondissement. They were the rich ladies who had extravagant lunches. Diagonally across from me at a corner was what seemed to me to be a very wealthy French family of four. If I remember right, they ordered a bottle of Latour. There was another solo diner, who I guessed was a Japanese businessman who spoke French. He ordered a great deal, including a lot of wine. His bill must have been several times mine.
Lunch took about two hours. The service slowed down considerably as they kept bringing me desserts.
"More later on the technicalities; for now, suffice it to say that they are slim, pink, thin-shelled relatives of lobsters, with bodies 3 to 10 inches long and skinny claws.... At its best the meat is heavenly, more subtle in flavor and delicate in texture than that of their huskier cousins from Maine."
© 2008 Ya & Shi