More than any other grand Parisian chef, Alain Dutournier is a man with firm roots in the countryside. A native of France's fertile Southwest, Dutournier brings the best ingredients of the region to the tables of Carré des Feuillants, a sophisticated and elegantly relaxed Michelin two-star restaurant right off Paris's fashionable Place Vendome.
Amid an airy entry with its high atrium and flanked by separate dining rooms decorated with bare wood floors, Venetian glass chandeliers, and trompe l'oeil wood-paneled walls, Dutournier turns out an ever-changing menu designed to challenge his creativity and show to the best and most modern advantages the foods of his home region: rich foie gras, well-aged beef that's grilled just right, farm-raised chicken, pigeon, rabbit and lamb, not to mention pork raised in the old-fashioned way. Each dish is married with farm ingredients he loves, such as fresh fava beans, tiny baby purple artichokes known as poivrades, wild mushrooms that include first-of-the-season wild cèpes (boletus), and prized orange girolles or chanterelles.
Dutournier's food simply bursts with enthusiasm and a love of full-flavored fare. His incredible barigoule de poivrades et petit gris, a superbly fragrant dish full of happy flavors, earthy aromas and soothing aftertaste, blends artichokes, snails and a hint of basil, making a dish that is both inventive and satisfying. His duck, roasted to perfection and served with barely a teardrop of fat, is accompanied by a perfect marriage of golden turnips and bright green, briny olives.
Each day at lunch, Dutournier offers a 250-franc ($52) tasting menu, and at lunch and dinner, there's a 550-franc ($115) six-course menu. Diners ordering the six-course menu have the option (for an additional 150 francs or $31) of sampling four different wines with the meal, selected to best accompany Dutournier's fare. À la carte prices range from about 120 francs ($25) to 260 francs ($55) for main courses.
Lesser-known wines from France's Southwest, such as Irouléguy and Madiran, are always available, and each menu includes a selection of bouteilles du moment from various regions of France, generally priced from 200 to 400 francs ($42 to $80). A small international selection of wines is also available by the glass, with prices from 40 to 60 francs ($8 to $13). Not to mention an ever-changing wine list that includes hundreds of bottles from all over France, as well as California, Australia, Italy, Spain and Chile.
Cigars are definitely part of Dutournier's commitment to gastronomy. The first Monday of every month, Carré des Feuillants is also the headquarters of CACH (Club des Amateurs des Cigars de Havane or the Havana Lovers Cigar Club), a group of 30 to 40 cigar lovers, a membership that includes the French female fashion designer, Sonia Rykiel.
Dutournier is an avid fan of everything that's bold in flavor, including spicy food, bullfighting, racy wines and cigars.
Dutournier's cigar selection is limited by government import regulations, which strictly controls which cigars can be brought into the country. But the list includes some two dozen offerings, including a range of Hoyo de Monterrey, Punch, Davidoff and Montecristo.
"The best cigars are like the best wines, able to offer subtlety, aroma, taste and pleasure. Good wines and good cigars are handmade, no two are alike, and they have the marvelous ability to improve with time," Dutournier says, adding that he loves nothing better than a choice cigar and a bottle of good beer--Czechoslovakian Pilsner is his favorite. But he also loves a smoke after a fine meal accompanied by a well-aged Sauternes, eau-de-vie or Cognac.
Come to Carré des Feuillants with a sense of adventure, allow Dutournier's knowledgeable staff to select your wine, and you're sure to leave with a satisfied soul.
-- Patricia Wells
Patricia Wells, an American journalist who lives in Paris, is currently updating the third edition of The Food Lover's Guide to Paris.