Nico (San Francisco, CA)

Nico
3228 Sacramento Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
Dining date: 12/26/14

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Nico opened in late 2013 quietly garnering a following as a sort of neighborhood restaurant nestled between Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights. SF Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer has been a fan since the restaurant opened; on Christmas Eve, he wrote a review calling it a “destination restaurant” and gave an impressive three-and-a-half stars (out of four). While looking for post-Christmas meals, my dad snagged a last minute reservation here for the family to try.

While Nico is tasting menu-only, it’s priced very reasonably especially for San Francisco standards. $45 buys three courses while $55 buys 5 courses with an optional wine pairing for $45. In a city where it seems fine dining restaurants continue to push the envelope with quickly-increasing prices, it was nice to find something a little more value-conscious here. We opted for the 5-course menu.

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Monsieur Benjamin (San Francisco, CA)

Monsieur Benjamin
451 Gough St
San Francisco, CA 94102
Dining date: 11/29/14

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Corey Lee, best known for being ex-chef de cuisine of The French Laundry and for three-star Benu, opened Monsieur Benjamin over the summer. It’s a departure from his fine dining experience towards something more casual – a somewhat modernized French bistro. Given Lee’s pedigree, I was eager to give the place a try during Thanksgiving weekend.

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The menu is extensive with a raw bar, a couple dozen small plates/appetizers and another dozen large plates/mains. My parents and I each ordered a small plate and ambitiously shared four mains.

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L’Astrance (Paris, France)

L’Astrance
4 rue Beethoven
75016 Paris, France
Dining date: 10/28/14

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After lunch at l’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, our last meal in Paris was dinner here at l’Astrance. A Michelin three star and currently #38 on the world’s best restaurant list, it was our toughest reservation too as the popular restaurant has 25 tables and is open only four days a week. Luckily, we scored a table through our hotel concierge.

Pascal Barbot trained under Alain Passard at l’Arpege and brings many of the same principles, using high quality seasonal ingredients and simple preparations to allow the ingredients to shine. Barbot does incorporate more meat into his dishes, though. Having spent a bit of time cooking in Asia, there are hints of Asian techniques and flavors throughout. There is no menu; the restaurant creates a surprise tasting each night (€210).

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L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (Paris, France)

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
5 rue de Montalembert
75007 Paris, France
Dining date: 10/28/14

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This Paris Saint-Germain location was the first of Joel Robuchon’s l’Atelier concepts, which is now a worldwide chain. Holding two Michelin stars and ranked #31 in the latest world’s best restaurant list (and as high as #12 in 2012), it’s oft-regarded as the best of Robuchon’s l’Atelier restaurants.

In my first trip to Europe seven years ago, this restaurant was easily the best (and by far most expensive) meal I had. It’s still one of the more memorable dining experiences I’ve had and I wanted to return once more to see if the restaurant was as good as I remembered. There are no lunch specials at this location, just a la carte and a €179 discovery tasting menu. A la carte starters and mains price in the €40-€80 range each so I figured the 10-course tasting menu was the way to go.

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L’Arpège (Paris, France)

L’Arpège
84 rue de Varenne
75007 Paris, France
Dining date: 10/27/14

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L’Arpege has been high on my list of restaurants to try for some time. When I first traveled to Paris seven years ago, I remember walking around the corner from the Rodin Museum just to see the restaurant from the outside. Having just graduated from college, I sorely lacked the funds to consider dining here and wondered if I ever would. On this next trip, this was my most anticipated meal in Paris.

L’Arpege has been around for almost 30 years and has become one of the most notable dining establishments in the city. Cheffed by Alain Passard, it’s a Michelin three star (and has been since 1996) and is currently ranked the #25 best restaurant in the world (the highest ranked Parisian establishment). Passard is known for being a visionary and pioneer particularly as it relates to vegetables. The restaurant maintains its own organic gardens to supply its produce and even removed meat from its menu for a period of time. Today, meat is back on the menu but the focus is still clearly on vegetables at l’Arpege.

As with many Michelin starred restaurants in Paris, it can get expensive. Very expensive. The restaurant’s current tasting menu runs at €370 with a vegetable tasting at €290. However, lunchtime brings one more option – a €140 lunch tasting. A relative bargain, we came for lunch and opted for this choice.

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Le Chateaubriand (Paris, France)

Le Chateaubriand
129 ave Parmentier
75011 Paris, France
Dining date: 10/25/14

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Le Chateaubriand was our first dinner in Paris. While the restaurant doesn’t have a Michelin star, it is ranked #27 on the latest World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (ranking as high as #9 in 2011). Reviews appeared to be pretty mixed with some loving it and some hating it; I was intrigued to find out what the restaurant had to offer.

Le Chateaubriand is an example of Paris’ bistronomy movement, serving fine dining-inspired cuisine in a much more relaxed, casual atmosphere. Its tasting menu, at 65 euros, is significantly less than most Michelin starred restaurants in the city, especially for dinner. Two seatings are available; the first one is by reservation two weeks in advance and the second is walk-in only. Unfortunately, we failed at getting a reservation and opted for the walk-in route. We ended up waiting approximately two hours after getting there at 8:30. The neighboring wine shop had plenty of business from us and other diners-in-waiting.

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