Paris Restaurants: Le Laurent
41, avenue Gabriel, in the 8th Arrondissement. 01 42 25 00 39.
Lunch, Mon–Fri at 12:30 p.m.; dinner, Mon–Sat, at 7:30 p.m.
Today the Champs Elysées seems to be nothing more than international chain stores and crowds of tourists, but at the far end of the most famous avenue in the world, there are charming 19th-century gardens with a puppet theater and three mythic Paris restaurants, one of which a friend and I were recently invited to discover: the Michelin one-star Laurent, run by the chef Alain Pégouret.
Le Laurent has been serving meals to the rich and famous for more than 150 years, and stepping off the sidewalk is like taking a step back in time. The door is opened for you, and you are warmly welcomed by the maître d’ as a cloak lady takes your coat. You are invited into a salon for a drink, and it is here, from a comfortable sofa, that you review the menu and place your order before being escorted to your table.
My friend is Swiss, and she felt like she was home in the heart-wrenchingly old-fashioned dining room, with its peach-colored walls and 19th-century art. All this old-world formality strikes a curious contrast with the remarkably modern cuisine.
Knowing that the chef was from Cannes, we ignored the meat dishes and headed out to sea. I started with the lobster salad, learning that it is a signature dish that’s been prepared table-side for guests like Nicolas Sarkozy since the 1970s, which does not sound modern, but it was served on a contemporary bed of greens and herbs that burst with flavor at every bite.
For the main course, I was served perfectly seared sea scallops with a pumpkin purée and chestnuts, while Miss Swiss had the cod, which she declared to be the best cod she has ever had in her life.
Skipping dessert was out of the question. We settled on the orange soufflé and a chocolate bridge with the chef’s famous “minute” vanilla ice cream. But first came a plate of palmiers, and after dessert we were offered a tray of petit fours to accompany our tea.
We had a wonderful evening, and I’d like to come back in the summer when you can dine under a parasol in the restaurant’s private gardens—the chestnut tress in full bloom and magic on your plate, feeling kissed by Paris.
In a nutshell: Superb cuisine with formal, unstuffy service. All this manpower comes with a price, and most of the other diners were on an expense account. A great place for a decadent lunch or a romantic dinner on a summer night.
Price check: Menu pavillon, 90 euros; menu gastronomique, 175 euros.
If you like le Laurent, you’ll also enjoy Drouant. Read the review.
16–18, place Gaillon, in the 2nd Arrondissement.
Lunch and dinner daily. 01 42 65 15 16.
Editor’s note: For a gourmet walking tour, check out our DIY downloadable Paris tours.