Before we left Washington, our friend, Debbie McMullen, who was joining us in Paris for an evening, had sent a text to Nancy suggesting a restaurant for us for Friday evening. Nancy said that Debbie had warned that the restaurant was a bit pricey. “Sure,” I said expansively, “What’s the name of the restaurant?” I asked. “Taillevent,” said Nancy. I was taken aback, way aback. I had heard of Taillevent, as one of the Grand Restaurants of Paris. With fear and trembling, I checked the menu and the first thing I saw was an appetizer for 105€. Nancy revived me and clarified that Debbie had mentioned Les 110 de Taillevent, which is associated with Taillevent but less rarified.
Les 100 de Taillevent is all about wine pairings. The 110 refers not to an address, but to the number of wines by the glass available at every meal. Here’s how it works: For each entree, plat, and dessert, the menu offers four choice of wines by the glass, for a total of 110 wines by the glass. Actually, that leaves two wines left over, or perhaps some wines are recommended twice — but ignore that. Take a look at the menu. The four choices of wine are organized by price: under 10€, under 16€, under 26€, and over 26€ per glass. The over 26 list goes as high as 160€ for a glass of 2009 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Reserve des Celestins, to go with the Iberian Pluma. You also can get a small glass (7 cl.) instead of a regular glass (14 cl.) for half the price.
So off we went, by Metro to the Arc de Triomphe followed by a short walk to a handsome building in the 8th.
What a lovely restaurant, and what service! I’d made a reservation for three, and they had a table waiting — a regular four top, set and spaced for three. That’s the sort of extra attention that was routine at Les 110 de Taillevent.
The restaurant itself is stylish. The space is divided into a series of small dining spaces that mute the noise, so that everyone can converse easily. The lighting is subdued and indirect (which shows up, alas, in the quality of my photographs). The walls all are decorated, as you can see in this picture with these lovely ladies.
The waiter brought an amuse bouche — delightful puffs of cheese soufflé that disappeared before I could photograph them — and our menus. We ordered. Each glass of wine, by the way, comes with a little tag that identifies the wine for those who have forgotten, or, I suppose, who want to make sure they’re getting the glass for which they’re paying 160€.
Nancy ordered the seared calamari appetizer, which came with green pepper, chorizo and Espelette (peppers from the Basque area).
If/when I return, I think I’ll order that.
Debbie and I each ordered a half portion of the pâté en croûte with a good 2015 Le Trescol, Domaine O. Jullien.
Doesn’t that look good, despite the shadow? It was. It was full of flavor, well seasoned, and there was a nice bit of foie gras in there. The little salad also was flavorful.
Nancy ordered the fried whiting Colbert stye, a last-minute change from the roasted chicken breast with white asparagus.
I was amused to see fried whiting on the menu. Fried whiting is a staple in meat and threes, particularly black-owned meat and three places. It is usually full of bones and eaten with liberal lashings of Texas Pete. It is not a subtle dish.
Welcome to France. To make whiting Colbert style, you slit the back of the fish from head to tail, dip the fish in egg, roll in breadcrumbs, and deep-fry it. You then debone the fish, stuff it with herbed butter, pour melted butter on the fish, and then put it in the oven for a few minutes to reheat it through.
As I was deciding what to order, I overheard another diner tell his companion, “The best thing here is the Iberian Pluma.” So I ordered it.
I had been dithering among the sea bass, the veal cheek, and the vol au vent, and in retrospect I wish I’d ordered the vol au vent, if only because I’ve never had it. But the overheard endorsement amplified the siren song of pork shoulder (actually butt, but this is a fancy restaurant), and I ordered the Iberian Pluma. It was quite good, a very good piece of pork on a bed of perfect spinach, topped with a plume of fried onion strings, and accompanied by a smear of beautiful, buttery root vegetables. I had it with a glass of just-right 2016 Crozes-Hermitage, rather than the Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Nancy had the apricot pan cotta for dessert: a layer of gelatin custard, a layer of apricots, a cracker, and a scoop of tarragon ice cream.
Nancy, the world’s foremost expert on custards, would have liked a bit more emphasis on the custard and less on the apricot, but that’s a quibble. She liked it and I can tell you that the tarragon ice cream was absolutely wonderful. This is a great dessert. I would have been jealous had I not ordered the Grand Marnier soufflé, as did Debbie. It was larger than it looks here. (Big plate.)
The soufflé was melt-in-your-mouth light and airy, with a bit of vanilla underlying the orange flavor of the liqueur. If I could count on getting soufflés like this, I would order them all the time. Having had a couple of glasses of wine already, I went for the under 10€ 2011 Vouvray Brut, which was just the ticket.
What a perfect ending to an excellent meal. The food was very good and the service and setting were faultless. Les 110 de Taillevent is, as Debbie warned, a bit pricey — we averaged 75€ with Nancy drinking no wine at all and with me, of course, avoiding the top two price levels. If, as I, you are largely ignorant of French wines, les 110 de Taillevent steers you away from the shoals and, all in all, makes for an excellent and memorable meal. And I’ll be on the lookout for the wines I had, to try them again.
There’s another Les 110 de Taillevent in London, in Marylebone a few blocks north and west of Oxford Circus. The menu is very different, with many UK-oriented dishes to go along with the French, and with wines from outside France, but the structure is the same: four wines paired with each dish. Give it a try and let me know what you think.