PARIS -- This has not been an easy year for France’s top restaurants. There’s the economic crisis, the suicide of Bernard Loiseau of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, and the recent retirement of Champagne’s Gerard Boyer of Les Crayeres in Reims, reportedly linked to Loiseau’s death.
So it was a pleasure to put a positive spin on it all with the recent celebration of Paris’s Taillevent’s 30 years of three Michelin stars, the guide’s top rating that is currently shared by only 25 restaurants in France, 15 of them in the provinces, 10 in Paris.
In 1946, Andre Vrinat opened the first Taillevent in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, receiving his first Michelin star in 1948. In 1950, the restaurant moved to its current quarters --- an elegant and classic hotel particulier --- and by 1956 was awarded a second Michelin star. Andre Vrinat’s son and current owner – Jean Claude—joined the restaurant in 1962 and by 1973 the restaurant had gained the Michelin three-star rating. That same year, three other restaurants shared the honor. Chefs at two of them – Alain Chapel of La Mère Charles in Mionnay, and Jacques Pic of Pic in Valance --- have since passed away, and Claude Peyrot of Le Vivarois in Paris closed his restaurant several years ago.
Since 2002 the kitchen at Taillevent has been in hands of Alain Soliveres, who seems to be leading the restaurant down a positive path. Taillevent will be ever respectful of classic cuisine but both Vrinat and Soliveres realize that classic need not mean worn or outdated. The celebration meal, and careful choice of wines, showed just what Taillevent can be and can mean some 30 years later.
A starter of chilled tomato gaspacho, studded with capers and celery and embellished with a scoop of mustard ice cream set the stage for things to come. Bright, pretty, and full-flavored, the appetizer shouted modern and elegant all at the same time.
The first course viennoise de sole aux ecrevisses was a wink at two of the most classic ingredients of French cuisine. Perfect rectangles of moist and delicate sole were escorted by the mellowest of crayfish, almost sauceless and pure. Coincidentally, the waiters poured the 1999 vintage of Domaine Henri Gouge’s Nuits Saint-Georges Les Perrières from glistening carafes, the same wine I sampled on my very first visit to Taillevent in 1979. The golden, rich, and complex wine married perfectly with the sole, with neither overwhelming the other.
As another nod to modernity, the 40-year-old Solivérès – born in the south of France -- offer an earthy bowl full of epeautre du pay de Sault en risotto, or spelt from the region of Mont Ventoux in northern Provence, cooked like a risotto in plenty of rich stock. Tiny bits of arugula were intertwined with the grains, and all was topped by a generous portion of the tiniest of girolles, or baby chanterelle mushrooms. Here, a modern French wine – from young cult winemaker Laurent Vaillé at the Domaine de La Grange des Pères in the Languedoc --- brought the pleasures of the dish full circle. The poor man’s wheat, as épeautre is known, cried out for the crispness of and coolness of this solid white, a Roussanne-based wine dripping with comforting flavors of honey and butter.
For his classic touch, Solivérès looked back to Taillevent himself, 14th century chef to French royalty who was the first to codify French cuisine in the form of a manuscript published in 1373, le Viandier. Soliveres offered his rendition of Taillevent’s roast pork, with a succulent roasted suckling pig, anointed with such rustic ingredients as chestnuts, and lentils, as well as grapes and pears. Spicy, ginger and cinnamon-flecked meatballs – or caillettes -- were made of pork liver, hearts, brains and tongue and wrapped in delicate caul fat.
To accompany this creation, Jean-Claude Vrinat hesitated between his father’s favorite wine – the Bordeaux La Mission Haut Brion and a Burgundian Volnay Marquis d’Angerville. His father’s love won out, and this full, rich red at its height of maturity blended seamlessly with the complex pork offering.
A pure passion fruit soufflé – served simply and elegantly in the fruit’s shiny purple shell – closed the meal, with sips of 1925 Bas Armagnac to send diners on their way.
15, rue Lamennais
Telephone 01 44 95 15 01
Fax : 01 42 25 95 18
email : firstname.lastname@example.org
web : www.taillevent.com
Closed August, Sunday, Monday, and holidays. All major credit cards. A la care, 110 to 140 euros, including service but not wine.