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Guy Savoy, Paris

Mervyn Rothstein
Posted: January 3, 2007

(continued from page 1)

At Restaurant Guy Savoy, just north of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris's 17th arrondissement, the caviar comes in many colors. The foie gras and black truffles are sliced in abundance, seemingly to the musical accompaniment of a cash register's ka-ching.

Ordering two or three courses à la carte can run $200 to $225 a person, without wine. A six-course tasting menu is about $300 a person, not including wine, coffee or bottled water. A good wine can make the meal easily approach $800 for two -- and a very good wine can increase the tab to close to $1,000. That's a lot to pay for a meal.

And yet Guy Savoy (named for its eponymous chef) has three Michelin stars, the highest rating in the world of food, and a score of 18 out of 20 from the prestigious Gayot guide, whose critic declared that Monsieur Savoy "transforms traditional products into works of art."

So is Guy Savoy worth a visit?

Much has been written lately on whether any meal is worth as much as $1,000, and Restaurant Guy Savoy -- both in Paris and its new Las Vegas outpost -- has been part of the discussion. But these days, you can make that judgment for yourself, as you can visit this grand Parisian palace of haute cuisine without spending a grand, or anything close. The restaurant offers a little-known special, advertised only on its Web site (www.guysavoy.com): a three-course lunch for $130 a person, with a selection of fine wines available from $13 a glass. And afterward, you can top off your meal with an excellent Cuban cigar from the restaurant's cigar trolley.

When you arrive at the restaurant, you will be greeted by a uniformed doorman who has no need to open the door -- it's electronic. The dining area itself is strikingly modern, in grays and brown wood, and illustrates one of Savoy's other passions: the fine arts. The restaurant is a veritable museum, with colorful contemporary abstract paintings on the walls and showcases of African sculptures such as Yoruba statues, Bozo tribal masks and pieces from Bali, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast. These works of art complement the works of art the chef will create for your table.

Savoy has said that a restaurant "is the last civilized place on earth. No one can be indifferent to its calming aspect." Inner calm is what you will probably feel as you sit down, but it will be a calm mixed with anticipation and excitement. For Savoy has also said that "fine cuisine is festive, joyful and poetic." And he is true to his word.

The service at Guy Savoy effortlessly mixes precision with smiles, humor and even a touch of unself-conscious playfulness. The days of hauteur accompanying haute cuisine are long over.

Chef Savoy himself, if he's in Paris, will make several forays into the dining area -- a series of small rooms, four or five tables per room, an arrangement that makes everything seem intimate and personal. Savoy is the quintessence of geniality, greeting each table with a smile and often pausing to discuss a dish or an ingredient with any diner who asks.

Guy Savoy distills the essence of each ingredient, matching it with complementary and sometimes surprising tastes and combinations. If you visit in the fall, for example, you will invariably encounter a ballet of truffles and wild mushrooms.

The wine list is equally enchanting. Among the wines by the glass was a fine 2002 Puligny Montrachet "Vielles Vignes" 2002 from Vincent Girardin (about $13), Domaine Virgile 2003, coteaux du Languedoc (about $18) and Château Bellegrave 2002, Pomerol ($26). Bottle options are encyclopedic, the wine list approximating the size of a Gutenberg Bible.

A three-course meal is really a five-course meal, with two amuses bouches, or bite-size appetizers, offered before the festivities really begin. First up was an amuse bouche of foie gras laced with pepper on minuscule toast points, sort of a triple-decker mini-sandwich, presented on a tiny golden skewer. The foie gras was pure velvet, the pepper a surprising addition that lingered and pleasantly tingled -- and set the stage for the surprises to come.

Patrons can opt for Savoy's signature dish: artichoke and black truffle soup. (Photo by Laurence Mouton)

Among the first courses are a terrine of Bresse chicken breast, duck liver and artichoke, with truffle juice; "colors of caviar"; a light cream of lentils and Dublin bay prawns; and tuna with fresh walnuts and two types of caviar. Or you can opt for Savoy's signature dish: artichoke and black truffle soup, served with a layered brioche with mushrooms and truffle butter. The earthy aroma of the truffles is compelling, the soup the pure essence of artichoke, the brioche melting and flavorful. Gayot records that one diner, the opera singer Barbara Carlotti, described it as evoking "a nymph on the bank of a brook."

Main courses include lightly grilled blue lobster with carrots and star anise; steam-baked Bresse chicken breast and lemongrass; and a roasted leg of suckling lamb with a spinach and mushroom gratin. My wife, Ruth, and I chose a whole roasted young turbot (served for two) in mushroom crumbs, with a sauce made from cooking the fish, accompanied by sautéed wild mushrooms and snow peas. The cooked whole turbot was brought to the table before being served, and on its plate it looked like a work of art. The aroma, the fish -- delicate, tender, moist, flaky -- the autumn mushrooms were indeed, as Gayot says of Savoy's creations, museum-worthy.

As at any Michelin three-star restaurant, the cheese cart resembles a contemporary painting in its colors and shapes, providing the best of what France has to offer. Desserts include apple served five ways: sorbet, diced fresh apple, paper-thin apple chips, apple sautéed with raisins and pine nuts, and a surprising apple gelatin. Naturally, there's a riot of chocolate, in expected and unexpected ways. But our favorite was a sorbet of Earl Grey tea, with crème anglaise and black pepper -- strong, assertive and, yes, surprising.

The espresso was among the best I've had, with a perfect crema. And then came the coda -- the cigars. The trolley's Cuban selections (about $25 each) include El Rey del Mundo, Ramon Allones, Hoyo de Monterrey, Romeo y Julieta and Cohiba. There are also some Dominican cigars.

What better way to end the meal than with another work of art. For me, it's the Cohiba Siglo V, perfectly humidified. The maître d'cigares informed me that Monsieur Savoy also partakes.

So is it worth it? The answer, of course, depends, on how much the best food and wine matter to you. Certainly, for me, the $130-a-person lunch special was a bargain. And from the looks on the faces of the diners at the other tables -- where decanters of red and white wine were flowing freely, and where dish after dish was being marveled at — $1,000 (or more) is not too high a price to pay for Guy Savoy's masterful works of culinary art.

Guy Savoy
18, rue Troyon
75017 Paris
Phone: 01-43-080-40-61
www.guysavoy.com

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