Seduced by Dining at Drouant
One month ago, Taillevent, the restaurant that held three Michelin stars for 34 years, lost one. It was a monumental occasion that made headlines in Europe and the U.S. It was the longest-running Parisian restaurant to hold three stars. La Tour d’Argent had the position for a total of 51 years until losing one star in 1996, then it fell to one star in 2006. (Oh, but what a wonderful view of Paris from its windows!)
The Michelin Guide created its rating system in the early ’30s and can make or break a restaurant’s reputation in France. Some discerning diners are known to “collect stars,” — tasting one Michelin-starred restaurant after another so they can add stars to their memories like notches on a belt.
There is no question that the sensual pleasures of dining are at the top of my own list, thanks to an upbringing in a city like New Orleans where eating Creole and Cajun cooking is akin to having a party in your mouth…but, collecting stars is not. My goal in satisfying the hunger is to satisfy it as well as one can for as little cost as is necessary. Perhaps if I were “rolling in dough,” that wouldn’t matter…but then again I think it would…because it’s just too easy when money is no object to have the very best. And there’s no challenge in that, nor possibly any real satisfaction. In fact, that’s how the “Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants” began more than 10 years ago!
There are literally thousands of eating establishments in Paris to attract budgets of as little as €5 to €300 per meal. Testing the range of them can be the most exciting adventure, to discover how they compare and what those extra euros actually buy in the overall scheme of dining pleasure.
Just this week, I was invited to discover a restaurant in the world of “haute cuisine” and what I discovered was a veritable well of Paris history, and a real bargain — the new “Drouant.”
In 1880, Charles Drouant, originally from Alsace, opened a “bar-tabac” at the lovely place Gaillon with a concept that was modern for its time. He offered beautiful platters of fresh oysters brought regularly from his brother’s oyster farm in Brittany. They became famous all over Paris within no time at all. The neighborhood was booming then and before long, the bar-tabac became a bistrot attracting such illustrious artists as Renoir, Rodin, and Pissarro. At the beginning of World War I, Drouant prepared to leave the restaurant to one of his four sons, Jean, by sending him to internships in some of the best establishments in England, Germany and America.
As a tribute to Jean’s success as a restaurateur, On the walls of Drouant you will see the name and photos of Edmond de Goncourt, a writer, critic, book publisher and the founder of the Académie Goncourt who held the 72nd meeting of the Goncourt Academy on October 31, 1914 in one of its elegant dining rooms and who regularly dined there.
Up till and through World War II, Jean Drouant followed in his father’s footsteps proudly, as one time President of the Restaurant Owners Association (10 years) and founder the first Hôtelier School in Paris, which still bears his name today. He and his sister’s husband merged Drouant with the Barayat Group that included Fouquet’s, the Pré Catelan, the Casino of Ermenonville, the Café of Paris, the Royal Pavilion and the restaurants Auteuil. For 30 years after, Jean Drouant’s nephew, who bore the same name, managed the restaurant until it was sold to Robert Pascal in 1976, an office clerk who worked there more than 40 years.
For the last 15 years, up until late 2005, the restaurant changed hands to first the Group Cible and then to the Elitair Group (also known as Elior) under the direction of Robert Zolade. All of this leads to Drouant of today, when in November of 2005, chef Antoine Westermann took over its fate. Like Jean Drouant, Antoine Westermann was president of the chamber committee for “Haute Cuisine Française” and sits on the board of CREA (Center of Research and Studies on Nutrition). Also like the Drouant family, is from Alsace, amazingly related to the Drouant family by marriage.
Place Gaillon is an elegant and quiet spot for the restaurant affording views and light from all of its windows. When Westermann took it over, it underwent complete redecoration, in golden tones and simple backdrops, accenting its original art deco theme, but designed to set off the clientele and the cuisine rather than calling attention to the decor. The Ruhlmann staircase is particularly beautiful, leading to the five private dining rooms on the upper level. There is a terrace where one can dine outdoors in warm weather and “Apérospace” bar by Yann Queffélec which attracts a classy crowd seven days a week. At lunch the diners were business people and what appeared to be long-standing regulars, but I saw no one resembling tourists and I heard no English spoken, although I was told that visitors tend to frequent the restaurant in t
he evening after a hard day of sightseeing.
We sat at a well-dressed small round table and were presented with a luncheon menu of €42, but my host, insisted I try the specialty of the house…the “dégustation” tastings of four “entrées” (hors d’oeuvres), a main course with four vegetable side dishes and four desserts! Without wine or coffee, the cost for a complete dégustation is €67.
You might not think that a bargain, when you know you can go to your corner café for a “plat du jour” for €14, but consider the main objective — value. Here’s what I savored:
“Les Classiques” hors d’oeuvres — “Le Poireaux Vinaigrette,” “Le foie gras de canard confit au Porto,” “Le potage ‘Cultivateur,'” “L’oeuf à la coque et ses mouillettes à la truffe.”
“Des coquilles St. Jacques rôties,” served with — “Des blettes et des pignons de pins gratinés,” “Une purée de poireaux aromatisée aux épices et au piment d’Espelette,” “Les différentes croquettes de pommes de terre à la noix de muscade,” “Des navets, de topinambours et des carottes braisées à l’origan frais.”
Half of “Les Chocolats” and half of “Les Fruits” — “Un palet au chocolat et au caramel,” Un sorbet 85% chocolat,” “Une soupe de mangues à l’aloé véra et au citron vert,” “Une salade de pomplemousse au jus de litchi.”
Can you imagine?!
When Antoine Westermann came to the table to personally greet me, I had a mouth full of his delicious food and could barely utter the words, “Tout était très bon” without drooling and spitting morsels of sautéed scallops. I finished every drop and couldn’t eat another bite until the next day. Meanwhile, days later, I’m still fantasizing about the foie gras, the potatoes and the mango soup.
After lunch, we visited the dining rooms on the upper level where they were setting a large round table for 14 diners in the round room in the corner known as the Salon Goncourt. What a beautiful and regal spot in which to entertain the most illustrious guests.
At the end of the hall is a tiny room for two at a small round table — completely private, called the Salon Colette. It reminded me of the scene when Nicky Arnstein (Omar Sharif) seduces Fanny Brice (Barbra Streisand) in “Funny Girl” in that beautiful private dining room and how this is just where a steamy love affair is supposed to take place.
DROUANT by Antoine Westermann
16-18 rue Gaillon, Arrondissement 2
Phone 01.42.65.15.16, Fax 01.49.24.02.15
Web Site: http://www.drouant.com/
Métro Quatre-Septembre, Opéra
€45 3-Course Fixed-Price and €20 Plat du Jour Lunch Menu, €25 4-Entrées, €30 Plats, €12 4-Desserts, €14 4-Fromages
Services: hostess, free valet parking, bar, free wireless
A la prochaine…(and happy dining)…
Editor, Parler Paris
P.S. THE MOST IMPORTANT PART! — I’ve been wining, dining and writing about wining and dining in Paris for more than 10 years, just so you can have the same great experiences that I have at a real bargain! And now’s your chance to have an even bigger bargain. Just for you Parler Paris and French Property Insider readers, the Insider Paris Guides is offering a special discount of up to 25% on the “Insider Paris Guide for Good Value Restaurants” and all the other Insider Paris Guides (all purchasable safely online using a credit card), when you click on this special link: http://www.insiderparisguides.com/ Do it NOW! And save! http://www.insiderparisguides.com/