Seductress on the Seine

continued (page 2 of 2)

On subsequent trips to Paris, I overcompensated for my former fear of the haute cuisine experience by dining at many of the city’s three-star restaurants. I went to stalwart Taillevent and to Pierre Gagnaire, where the traditional haute cuisine collided with the wildly experimental sensibility of the eponymous chef. I believed I’d found my culinary grail when I visited Alain Ducasse’s restaurant shortly after he opened in the space formerly occupied by Joël Robuchon. Ducasse marshaled technical virtuosity in the service of a kind of sublime simplicity. The roasted Bresse chicken was one of the great dishes of my life. Of course, it was studded with black truffles beneath the skin and enhanced with a splash of sublime suprême de volaille cream sauce. I also discovered classics like Allard and L’Ami Louis, as well as the new generation of no-star gems like La Régalade and L’Os à Moelle, some of them opened by two- and three-star chefs who wanted to let their hair down.

Every time I returned to Paris, I seemed to fall in love, quite literally. I dated two Parisians in the latter part of the ’90s, which required ever more frequent visits. The second woman spent her days toiling in the fashion world and preferred simple pleasures in her leisure hours. Under her influence, I rediscovered the virtues of a baguette and a wedge of cheese en plein air, an experience that, however fraught with cliché, is somehow infinitely more romantic in Paris, in the Jardin du Luxembourg, for instance—and not just because the bread is so good and the girl so stylish, though these count for a great deal.

Some cities might be spoiled by the memories of previous love affairs, but Paris is too sophisticated to hold your past against you. When, two years ago, I was looking for the perfect place to propose to my now wife, I thought immediately of Paris. We had visited together the previous fall, staying at the Ritz, dining at Ducasse and Le Violon d’Ingres. We’d had a tour of Versailles and checked out the brand-new Musée du Quai Branly, the latest addition to Paris’s rich cultural heritage. Much as I love New York City, which is where the two of us first met and fell in love, I felt compelled to bring her to Paris to propose. I claimed I had work there and asked if she would join me.

My favorite three-star restaurant, Alain Ducasse, now located in the Plaza Athénée hotel, seemed like the obvious setting. The ring arrived tucked into puff pastry. After I had my answer, my fiancée and I ate, among many other dishes, the Bresse chicken with suprême de volaille sauce, and it had never tasted better, nor had Paris ever looked more beautiful than it did that June night from the window of our room, the Eiffel Tower hovering against the night sky across the Seine.

Subscribe to Gourmet