PARIS — This is what a three star restaurant experience should be. Refined, unforced elegance; masterful, effortless service; and, of course, food that surprises and delights and ultimately satisfies.
Guy Savoy has been a Paris destination for connoisseurs for a long time, but the chef recently moved his restaurant from a side street near the Etoile and the Arc de Triomphe to a rather grand and stately new address: the Monnaie de Paris, or Paris mint, a neoclassical building on the Left Bank, just over the Pont Neuf, across from the Louvre.
Guy Savoy (say ghee sahv-WAH) is reached by climbing a grand, red-carpeted staircase to the second level. The small, intimate dining rooms mostly overlook the Seine and the famous museum on the other side. I was able to arrange a reservation for what would eventually be a highlight of my recent trip to this magnificent city.
First off, a meal at GS ain’t cheap. The prix fixe menus range from 360 euros to 490 euros. The current conversion rate, which is about as close to parity the U.S. dollar has had for a very long time, puts that at $408 to over $550. But in my research, I discovered a note on the restaurant’s website that offered a lunch menu for “guests who wish to discover (or rediscover) a gourmet restaurant ... but who hesitate!” for a relative bargain basement price of 110 euro.
But when my guest and I were seated, only the 360 and up menu options were presented. I’ve lived through enough Orlando Magical Dining months to know that restaurants never offer the cheaper menu without asking, so I asked, and it was presented gladly. And at no time during the two hour lunch did we feel we were being given short shrift or that we were experiencing anything less in way of the food.
And Savoy himself even stopped by the table and invited me in to see his kitchen. What a treat.
Our prix fixe menu got us three courses, but we were also favored with an amuse bouche or surprise here and there. One was a little sandwich hors d’oeuvre served on a pick. Another was a demitasse of carrot soup, and underneath the cup of carrot nectar was a little tartlet.
For my first course I chose the Bresse chicken terrine, which also had layers of foie gras and artichoke hearts. (The hearts made an unusual but delightful texture in the cold terrine.) The terrine was served with a creamy truffle vinaigrette. Bresse, by the way, is the regional chicken used by all the top houses in France. Paul Bocuse features it prominently on his menus, as well. I loved that the glass plate was garnished simply with a small pinch of fleur de sel and, next to it, a stack of fresh cracked black pepper.
Rick chose one of Savoy’s signature dishes, the artichoke soup with black truffle and parmesan. The soup itself was worth the price of admission, a thick and luscious puree with heavy accents of truffle. But it was served with flaky brioche and a cup of truffle butter. As he placed them on the table, the waiter said to slather the butter on the brioche and dip it in the soup. And then he paused a beat and said, “You must.” In the future, when I’m asked the inevitable question of what’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten, this soup will be one of the finalists.
For my main course I selected another of Savoy’s signature dishes, the rouget barbet, a more lyrical name for red mullet. The two small fish were served “en situation,” swimming on the plate in a pool of spinach dust, next to a lily pad of fresh spinach topped with squid and fregula sarda, a Sardinian pasta with couscous properties. A little careful cutting was needed to avoid the still-intact backbone of the fish, but the flesh was deliciously sweet.
Rick chose well again with the tranche de carre de veau, or sliced veal. The menu’s translation calls it “around the calf” because the dish also featured sweetbreads and veal liver with bits of sliced radishes and new potatoes, all graced with veal jus, which was hidden beneath a puff pastry atop a copper pot.
My dessert was a rather unusual one, listed on the menu simply as “Salted.” It featured eight raspberries topped with avocado cream dollops and surrounding a meringue “egg” that when cracked revealed a sorbet with salty foam. The meringue was also saltier than your run-of-the-mill variety.
Rick has another classic, the rhubarb millefeuille, which had cubes of poached rhubarb in a pretty pink syrup, next to what looked like a giant pecan but which was actually a shell fashioned out of crisped rhubarb with a sorbet in the center. Nasturtium petals also decorated.
The dining rooms of Guy Savoy are studies in monochrome, the walls painted a sort of grayish brown, the floors covered with sound-absorbing gray carpeting, and simple gray felt chairs that look like something you might find in a modern office. Tables are covered with luxurious white linens, and a bit of color is offered by the Miro-ish chargers, which, like most of what you’ll find on the table, were specially designed for Guy Savoy. Even the shiny suits the servers wear are especially designed.
Leaving, we were thanked several times for our visit and gifted with a small bag of brioche, though, sadly, no truffle butter to slather.
Should you go to Guy Savoy? In the words of the waiter, if you are a true gourmet, “You must.”
Guy Savoy is at 11 Quai de Conti, Paris. It is open for lunch Tuesday to Friday and for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. The phone number is 33 (0) 1 43 80 40 61.