Cigar Aficionado

Tour d'Argent, Paris

Few places in the world are better for smoking a cigar than the Tour d'Argent restaurant in Paris. It's breathtaking to sit at one of its tables six floors above the Seine and gaze out at the skyline of the city. You'll want to smoke at least a double corona at the end of your meal to prolong the experience as long as you can.

Tour d'Argent is one of five restaurants in Paris with three stars in the Michelin Guide, the gastronomic bible that rates nearly all the great restaurants in France. Tour d'Argent first received the honor in 1923, and things have evolved slowly ever since. The evolution appears to have placed the restaurant in the '70s now in terms of style and cuisine. The starchy food and ambience definitely seem out of place by today's standards. Don't let that turn you off.

A Sunday lunch at Tour d'Argent with the Seine and Notre Dame below and a hearty bottle of '86 red Burgundy from Henri Jayer within an arm's reach can be blissful. The magnificent view of the sun sparkling off dark-gray-slated roofs and the wakes of barges making their way up the Seine is simply captivating.

Service at Tour d'Argent is superior. The army of waiters and sommeliers are omnipresent yet you barely notice them. Your every hope and desire as a customer are fulfilled without any form of intrusion as in so many other top-class restaurants around the world.

The wine service is particularly outstanding. Head sommelier David Ridgway, a Briton whose knowledge of great French wine is unequalled, is a well-established feature of the restaurant and he offers fabulous advice on what to drink from the restaurant's phone-book-sized wine list. He presides over the labyrinth of cellars (ask for a tour after your meal) filled with more than 400,000 bottles. Tour d'Argent received a Wine Spectator Grand Award for its wine list in 1986; it remains one of the greatest in the world. Although the restaurant has hundreds of selections of the finest Bordeaux in a range of vintages, this remains the best place to drink red or white Burgundy. Ask Ridgway for advice.

The food is completely overshadowed by everything else about the restaurant. A good starter is a light puff pastry filled with scallops in a rich cream sauce, followed by a main course of pressed duck. Duck is a specialty of Tour d'Argent and is always good. This is a restaurant where it is advisable to stick with the house specialities, especially those on the simple side. You have a better chance of not being disappointed. Don't expect nouvelle cuisine here. Owner Claude Terrail, whose family has owned the restaurant since 1910, is steadfast in maintaining the quality of the food whether it seems dated or not. He's even been known to fire chefs who try to update the cuisine.

But who cares about the food anyway? The view and the wine are what you came for. Don't forget a cigar. The restaurant's cigar selection is more than ample with a range of sizes and brands including Hoyo Epicure No. 1, Partagas 8-9-8, Hoyo du Gourmet, H. Upmann Petit Corona and Montecristo Nos. 1 and 3 and Joyitas. If you want a big cigar, bring your own, especially if you prefer a Hoyo de Monterrey Double Corona. There were few large stogies available other than Romeo y Julieta Churchill.

Sip a glass of vintage Armagnac (there's a massive selection of Cognacs and Ports) and puff away on a Havana. You could find few better places to spend a relaxing Sunday afternoon.

-- James Suckling

Tour d'Argent
15 quai Tournelle
75005 Paris
Phone: 33-143-54-23-31
Fax: 44-07-12-04
Lunch and dinner:about $120 to $200 per person with wine