Paris!! (September 2018)

We were in Paris for a week to celebrate the Inn at Little Washington’s 40th anniversary (and its 3rd Michelin star). The weather was lovely—sunny and crisp. In total, we ate at 5 restaurants (if you count the Inn) with a total of 12 Michelin stars (yes, we are gluttonous pigs). But it was a glorious gluttony!
We went with two friends of ours from Wichita and stayed at the Shangri-la Paris. The Shangri-la is situated in the 17th arrondissement, looking over the Eiffel Tower, and the building is the former estate of Napoleon’s great-nephew, Roland Bonaparte.

view from our terrace

The Inn had arranged for a couple of additional events for us to attend. The first was a private tour of the Dior archives, which consists of both clothing and documents. It was fascinating to see how the archivists conserved vintage clothing and preserved various documents from the Dior shows and from the designer himself.
In addition, Jamie McCourt, the US ambassador to France, hosted a reception at her residence for the Inn. The ambassadorial residence is a building that was formerly owned by a New Orleans-born woman, the Baroness de Pontalba. (Talleyrand also once lived at that same location). After the death of the Baroness, one of the Rothschilds purchased the estate. The family fled to Switzerland when the Germans invaded. This proved to be a wise decision as the residence then became a club for Goering’s officers during the German occupation.
The residence and the grounds are beautiful, and there is even a Calder located on the grounds (it’s on loan).

The US ambassador’s residence

the Calder!

But the crowning event celebrating the Inn took place at Vaux-le-Vicomte, the former residence of Louis XIV’s finance minister. It is said that Louis XIV modeled Versailles after Vaux-le-Vicomte (with Versailles being a bigger and better model, of course—that’s what happens when you’re an absolute monarch). Vaux-le-Vicomte is a drop dead fairy tale-like gorgeous chateau, complete with moat in front (no sharks) and an 18th century French formal garden in the back.

the gardens at Vaux-le-Vicomte

There were guardsmen, jugglers, musicians, and flamethrowers, all dressed in 17th century period clothing. Patrick O’Connell, the chef and owner of the Inn, was also dressed in period costume.

with Chef Patrick O’Connell

The food was excellent (of course!) and at the end of the evening, there were the most amazing fireworks in the garden, set to music. It was the most elaborate fireworks show I have ever seen.

menu from the 40th anniversary dinner

dining in the Grand Salon

In between all of these events, we played conventional tourists (the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame) as well as unconventional tourists (Musée de Marmottan, Musée de L’Orangerie—both filled with Monet paintings, Musée d’Orsay, and Sainte Chapelle).
We also ate at Shang Palace, Taillevent, Guy Savoy, and L’Arpège. They were all their usual impressive places, but the place that stood out this time was L’Arpège. The chef is a genius with vegetables, which all come from his 10 hectare garden in Normandy.
Speaking personally, I am replete with paté and foie gras and red wine. It was a magnificent trip.

Restaurant review: Taillevent (Paris)

In keeping with our gastronomical march through Paris, we also dined at Taillevent, a 2 star Michelin restaurant. The atmosphere at Taillevent is very different than Guy Savoy. Whereas dining at Guy Savoy is like going to a show, Taillevent is a quieter, more intimate atmosphere. Dining at Taillevent is like dining at a friend’s house (as long as the friend is a superb chef and employed his own waitstaff, of course).

For appetizers, we had crab with remoulade sauce and dill; seasonal vegetables with pure sea salt and olive oil; duck foie gras with verjuice jelly and topped with gold leaf; and black truffle risotto. There wasn’t a clear winner here, although the black truffle risotto eaters were the most vocal in insisting that their appetizers were the best.

For the main course, we had sea bass served with leeks, champagne sauce, and osetra caviar; wild duck with spices and bigarade sauce; black truffle in pastry with périguex sauce; and filet of beef en feuilleté. Again, no clear winner here either, but those who ordered the duck thought their entrée was clearly superior to the others.

And for dessert, the bulk of the table ordered the chocolate soufflé. I was the outlier here and ordered the Saint-Honoré with Tahitian vanilla and salted butter caramel sauce. Your preference here all depends on whether you’re a chocolate dessert person or not.

This was my favorite restaurant in Paris. Where the rest of the family preferred Guy Savoy, I like the quiet intimacy of Taillevent. The food in both restaurants is first-class, and you can’t go wrong with either of them. It all depends on the atmosphere that you prefer (and the price that you’re willing to pay).

Taillevent is located at 15 Rue Lamennais, 75008 Paris (

Restaurant review: Guy Savoy (Paris)

Guy Savoy has been given 3 Michelin stars for its restaurant, and the rating is well-deserved. Starting with its maître d’, Hubert, it is a show from the time you are seated to the time you leave, with the food being the star of the show.

We dined there in late March, as part of our whirlwind spring break visit to Paris. We picked the “Coulours, Textures and Savours” menu (I know—their English is British and has far too many extra “u” letters), which consisted of the following:

Clear Iced Poached Oysters

Blue Lobster cooked in Cold Steam

Potato Caviar served in a Smoked Sabayon Egg

Whole Grilled Sea Bass with Sweet Spices

Duck Foie Gras with Mulled Wine Flavors

Artichoke and Black Truffle Soup served with Layered Brioche with Mushrooms and Truffle Butter

“Surf and Turf” Saddle and Rack of Lamb

Small Sandwich with Celery Ice Cream (this was the palate cleanser)

Matured Cheeses

Pear and Pepper

Chocolate Orb

Jim is the only member of the family who truly appreciates (and eats) a cheese course. The waiter, upon discovering that the remaining four of us were going to pass on the cheese course, insisted in his amused French way that we all try small bites of the most mild cheese the restaurant had. (This scene reminded me more than a bit of the scene form the movie “L.A. Story” where Steve Martin’s character goes to the fancy French restaurant, L’Idiot, and is told what he can and cannot eat (“You shall have the chicken.”)

Not surprisingly, no one finished his/her cheese course other than Jim. The waiter just laughed at us (in a very nice way—there’s nothing snobby about Guy Savoy). That reminded me of a line from the book “Cooked” by Michael Polian, in which he comments that no culture appreciates any other culture’s fermented foods. It’s certainly true when it comes to Asians and cheese!

Notwithstanding the cheese course, Guy Savoy deserves its rating. The food was simply fabulous, the service was impeccable, and the staff was warm and friendly. We highly recommend a visit!

Guy Savoy is located at Monnaie de Paris, 11 quai de Conti 75006 in Paris (

Spring Break 2015 (London & Paris)

Our exchange student from China had never been to Europe, and so we decided to “sacrifice” our spring break and take her to London and Paris.

We started off in London where it was sunny(!) and, if not exactly warm, warmer than in DC. We stayed at the Shangri-la in London, which is located at the Shard and gives you smashing aerial views of London.

daytime view of London from the Shangri-la at the Shard

daytime view of London from the Shangri-la at the Shard

night time view of London from the Shangri-la at the Shard

night time view of London from the Shangri-la at the Shard

We did all of the customary tourist sites (Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Abbey Road, etc.) and a couple off the beaten road (Greenwich, Imperial War Museum). Highlights included a “WhoLock” tour (touring the sites in the Dr. Who series and the BBC Sherlock series) and dinner at Le Gavroche.

no visit to London is complete without a photo with a Beefeater

no visit to London is complete without a photo with a Beefeater or two

Abbey Road!

Abbey Road!

the meridian line at the Greenwich Royal Observatory

the meridian line at the Greenwich Royal Observatory

during the WhoLock tour

during the WhoLock tour

We then took the Chunnel train to Paris. Customary tourist sites included Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower. A little more off the beaten path were the Museé de l’Orangeries (with 8 gigantic Monet paintings mounted in 2 rooms especially constructed for them) and Museé Marmottan, which now has become one of my favorite museums with its fabulous collections of medieval illuminated manuscripts and Monets (the Monet paintings were mostly donated by his son, who was trying to limit the amount of estate tax he had to pay).

my favorite view of Notre Dame--from the back with its flying buttresses

my favorite view of Notre Dame–from the back with its flying buttresses

Sainte-Chapelle (the photo does not do justice to the beauty)

Sainte-Chapelle (the photo does not do justice to the beauty of the stained glass windows)

freezing at the top of the Eiffel Tower

freezing at the top of the Eiffel Tower

view from the Shangri-la Paris

view from the Shangri-la Paris

Dining highlights included Guy Savoy and Taillevent. Dining at Guy Savoy with its maître d’, Hubert, is like a show (where the dinner is the show). Dining at Taillevent is like dining at a friend’s house (assuming the friend is one of the top chefs in the world). I like dining at Taillevent better—it’s less showy and more intimate. Naturally, the rest of the family preferred the show. (More on the fabulously decadent meals later.)

We also did our best to relieve any sovereign debt issues the United Kingdom or France may have had.  Whatever their debt amount was, it is something less now.  🙂

The trip back was uneventful, although, of course, we saw three sets of people we knew, either on our flight or at one of the airports. Fortunately, they were all people we like.  🙂

Our exchange student seemed to really enjoy the trip, which was the whole point. And, of course, so did we!

Guy Savoy (in Paris)

So, we didn’t think our meal at Taillevent could be surpassed or that any restaurant could come close in terms of food and service.  We were wrong.  Guy Savoy was another culinary marvel that we were lucky enough to experience during our stay in Paris.  (The official address is 18 rue Troyon, 75017 Paris; 01-43-80-40-61.)

We started off with artichoke soup (which we later learned was made by one particular chef in the kitchen who has been making artichoke soup at the restaurant for over 15 years).

artichoke soup

The dining consensus was that the overall artichoke soup experience was better at Taillevent (with the ravioli and the truffles), but the soup itself at Guy Savoy was better.  Not that there is much difference between fabulous and wonderful.

Accompanying the meal was a brioche with black truffle butter.  I am not a huge bread fan, but this was definitely worth eating.  Although almost anything with black truffles is definitely worth eating.

brioche with black truffle butter

Most of the table opted for the duck, which is a house specialty.  The duck(s) are brought out before being carved so that you can inspect them.

ducks being prepared

And then they are served in two separate courses.  The first is the classic carved duck breast.  And the second course is the duck leg.

duck breastduck leg

Other entrees included beef two ways (as a short rib and a strip) accompanied by beautifully executed potatoes (in only a small amount of butter, of course).

beef 2 wayspotatoes

And there was a sea bass prepared with Asian spices (such as lemongrass and coriander).  Both were declared excellent.

sea bass with Asian spices

Desserts were a tour de force, as we sampled many different ones.  There was the mille feuille, which was very light and airy.

mille feuille

The gaugette strawberries accompanied with strawberry ice were heavenly and tasted as strawberries should taste.  Along with the main strawberry dessert came two additional tastes of strawberry, one in whipped cream and the other in a light meringue “box.”

gaugette strawberriesstrawberry tidbits

The grapefruit terrine was my favorite.  It was unusual and consisted of different types of grapefruit pulp served in the form of a terrine.  There was none of the bitterness that often comes with grapefruit, and the passionfruit sauce helped counter the acidity of the grapefruit.

grapefruit terrine

For the chocolate lovers, there was a chocolate ball that was accompanied with pineapple ice and a chocolate ganache, as only the French can prepare it.

chocolate ball with pineapple icechocolate ganache

And, finally, there was a chocolate hazelnut torte.

chocolate hazelnut torte

In case we weren’t yet in a sugar coma, there were homemade marshmallows and a tea sorbet to finish off the meal.  The tea sorbet was a perfect palate cleanser to end the meal.  It tasted of the tea itself but without any of the bitter aftertaste tea can sometimes have.

homemade marshmallowstea sorbet

As with our other high end dining experience, the staff—in particular, our waiter, Hubert—were warm and welcoming.  The kids each received a Guy Savoy plate that miraculously made it home intact.  Hubert made sure the kids enjoyed their food and brought out additional tidbits that he thought they might like.

We also received a quick tour of the kitchen.  It was tiny, certainly comparable to New York restaurant kitchens, rather than the comparatively cavernous kitchens in DC restaurants.

Guy Savoy also rates an A++ for the evening.  If we had to parse hairs, however, we would probably say that the food was slightly better at Taillevent and the service was slightly better at Guy Savoy.  But that is only if forced to judge between the two.  You certainly will have a wonderful experience at either restaurant, in terms of both food or service.


Taillevent in Paris

One of the most spectacular meals we have ever had (and we have had a few!) was at Taillevent in Paris (the exact address is 15 rue Lamennais, 75008 Paris; 01-44-95-15-01).   We opted not to do the tasting menu so that we could taste more dishes, and the dishes were universally excellent.

We started off with the amuse-bouche, which were gougères, a Gruyère cheese biscuit.


For appetizers, the choices were split between the artichoke soup with ravioli and an egg on top and the foie gras terrine served with brioche.  (It was lovely being in a country where no one saw anything wrong with producing, cooking, and eating foie gras, but I digress.)

artichoke soupfoie gras

While the foie gras was delicious, the consensus was that the artichoke soup was the winner.

Entrees split between the rack of lamb and scallops served with black truffles.

rack of lambscallops with black truffles

This was an easy choice.  The lamb was excellent, but the scallops (and especially the black truffles) were spectacular.

Desserts were more evenly split.  The selections were chocolate soufflé (topped with edible gold), a chocolate cake (which is too simple a term to describe the loveliness of the dish), a poached apple with apple sorbet, and pineapple cream topped with gold leaf.

chocolate soufflechocolate cake

poached applepineapple cream

No clearcut winner emerged here, especially as there were chocolate lovers and chocolate-tolerators in the bunch.

Dinner concluded with some lovely petit-fours and homemade caramels.

petit fourscaramels

Let me just say that even if you don’t like caramels (and I am not a particular fan), you would sell your soul for these homemade caramels.  They were melt-in-your-mouth amazing.

The other thing that made dining at Taillevent such a wonderful experience was the service.  It is clearly a high-end restaurant, and we were clearly Americans and tourists and with two children (a 13-year old and a 10-year old) in tow.  We could not have been made to feel more welcome.  All of us were treated like a part of the extended family, and the kids were warmly welcomed and made to feel at home.  They were even both served an after-dinner Armagnac.  (Clearly, while the legal drinking age in Paris is officially 18, the law is regarded flexibly.)

The restaurant is definitely an A++ for the quality of food and the service.  It was a memorable meal and evening.

Spring Break in the City of Lights

We left on a Thursday night for Paris after a crazy week where life actually interfered with our carefully balanced routine (more about that in a separate blog).  We stayed at the Shangri-la Hotel, a fairly new hotel where one reviewer commented that it was the one place where you could actually get Asian quality service in Paris.

The Shangri-la is in the 16th arrondissement by the Eiffel Tower.  Our suite had a stunning view of the Tower as well as views of the Dome Church and Montmartre, and we had breakfast on the terrace almost every morning where we stuffed ourselves with croissants and butter and hot chocolate while admiring the view.

the view from the Shangri-la Hotel

You could summarize our stay in Paris by saying that we ate, we shopped, and we museumed.  (I know, it’s not actually a word, but it completed the phrase nicely.)  We started off with lunch our first day at a brasserie called Chez Francis within walking distance of the hotel, and we concluded the day by having a fabulous meal at Shang Palace in the hotel, which is the only Michelin 2 star Chinese restaurant in the city.  The 2 stars are well deserved, as the meal was amazing.  Other memorable meal moments were the brasseries Le Troquet (which was like eating a fabulous meal in a neighbor’s dining room), Le Stella (another excellent brasserie), Le Bistrot de Halles (with some of the best duck comfit we ever had), Julien (excellent French onion soup), and La Closerie des Lilas (overall goodness).  The high end restaurants we ate at and loved were Taillevent and Guy Savoy.  And, of course, Berthillon for ice cream.  More will be written about all of these in my Paris travel tome.

Museums that we recommend include the Musee de Moyen Age also known as Musee de Cluny, a museum with various artifacts from the Middle Ages.  The big attraction there are The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.  Although as our daughter said, the lion is doing just as much work so why does the unicorn get all the attention?  The museum is small but lovely.  In addition to the numerous artifacts from the middle ages, there are also works from the Roman era, mostly statuary and baths.

We also walked through the Pantheon, which doesn’t have the austere simplicity of Rome’s version but does have Foucault’s Pendulum and memorials to many of France’s most revered writers like Rousseau and Voltaire as well as tributes to their fallen military, starting with the French Revolution.  They had a moving tribute to those who died maintaining the honor of France in 1870, and it took me a moment to figure out what conflict that was.  (It was the Franco-Prussian war.)

The Arc de Triomphe is a great place to climb up what is a fairly steep spiral staircase and looked at the gorgeous views of Paris.

view from the Arc de Triomphe

The Musee d’Orsay has a lovely collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.

And, of course, the museum of all museums is the Louvre.  The custodial staff was on strike so the bathrooms, while reasonably clean, were a little short on amenities such as toilet paper.  We had a lovely tour guide that showed us the highlights of the museum (Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, etc.) as well as showing us the evolution of Renaissance paintings through the Italian painters.  We also went through the Egyptian antiquities section, where both kids showed a surprising amount of knowledge and interest.

Another must see site is Versaille, of course.  The building interior has very little appeal other than the Hall of Mirrors.  None of the furnishings or wallpaper or draperies is original, as looters during the French Revolution took away anything of value they could carry.  And Louis XIV himself considered the gardens to be the main attraction at Versailles.  In addition to the formal gardens, which held several ballrooms and other enclosed “rooms” that gave an illusion of privacy for the king, we also visited Le Petit Trianon, which was built by Louis XV for his mistresses.  Louis XVI then gifted it to Marie- Antoinette, and she built The Hamlet on the grounds of Le Petit Trianon.  The Hamlet was fascinating.  If you could build an idealized version of village life, with the illusion of simplicity and privacy but with all the luxuries you could afford, it would look like The Hamlet.  There were rustic looking buildings (from the outside) that were lavishly decorated with marble and gilt on the inside that served as her bedroom, boudoir, etc.  She even hired a farm family to look after livestock and had a garden planted with herbs and vegetables used to feed the family.  It may be the first high-end organically sourced farm in the world.  :).

the Hamlet

The church we most enjoyed visiting was Sainte Chapelle.  I like it better than Notre Dame.  (I know that’s heresy.)  The stained glass windows are breathless, and the entire church is an engineering marvel.  In over seven hundred years, they have never found a crack.  This is unlike Notre Dame where they found cracks before construction was complete, hence, the flying buttresses.

Sainte Chapelle

And, of course, no trip to Paris is complete without going to EuroDisney!  Going there is a bit odd because it is both like and unlike Disneyworld.  It’s almost like visiting your grandparents’ house where things are both familiar and unfamiliar.  EuroDisney consists of the Magic Kingdom in the main park and a subset of Hollywood Studios in the other park (which we did not go to).  The rides that we thought EuroDisney did better than Disneyworld are Peter Pan, It’s a Small World, and Buzz Lightyear.  The rides we liked better at Disneyworld are Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean.  There is no Winnie-the-Pooh or Jungle Cruise.  Big Thunder Mountain was closed, but the guidebooks all say the American version is superior.

There are also some interesting quirks.  Popcorn at EuroDisney is sweet, like kettle corn.  Weiwei and I thought it was inedible, although the other 3 liked it.  Some of the dialogue is in English, other parts in French (Buzz Lightyear is half and half, Star Tours is almost all in French as is Haunted Mansion.). The layout is more spacious than Disneyworld or Disneyland, making the crowds seem much less and some of the rides longer (like Pirates and Small World).  There is more attention to detail at EuroDisney, both in the rides and in the little stores and pseudo-stores and exhibits throughout the park.

We were there for about 11 hours and had a ball.


We were delighted to conclude that none of the stereotypes of snotty Parisians held true, at least during our trip.  Everyone was friendly and welcoming, even though we spoke very little French.  We were the most delighted and surprised at how well the kids got treated in the fancy restaurants.  Instead of being tolerated, which we half-expected, they were welcomed, even feted both times.