It’s no secret—I love Paris. And really, who doesn’t? Over the years, I’ve visited perhaps seven times: as a child, with my parents, as a student, for work, and a few years ago, with my husband when I was pregnant with my son. We knew, however, that our first visit there with our now three year old would be somewhat different; we’d probably end up connoisseurs of Paris playgrounds in lieu of Rodin sculptures and French wine.
Then again, perhaps it wasn’t a binary choice. We decided to seek out at least one splurge meal with our son. Though he’s just three years old, he loves good food—possibly even more than we do. Tall order? Not for Four Seasons Hotel George V Paris.
Now, many foodies (especially childless ones) would probably cringe at the thought of bringing a young child to a fine dining restaurant, especially a two-Michelin star one such as Le Cinq. I would have to agree with them if we were talking about dinner (which is a longer affair), as it would interfere with bedtime and likely produce a cranky kid. And there’s no question it also depends on the kind of kid you have. If I had a child that didn’t like to eat much, I probably wouldn’t have tried this.
It also means making sure you’re prepared to keep your child happy, occupied and quiet (or at least no louder than normal adult conversation). Perhaps the final objection of some is, “But what’s the point? Kids don’t care about fancy food.” Well, I agree that many kids don’t, and most kids won’t try the more exotic things served; but a fine meal is an entire experience and can indeed be savored—even by young diners. My son still equates the state of California with the delicious cheese gougeres he ate in an upscale San Francisco bakery. He loves to serve us new “dishes” he’s made in his play kitchen, based on his memories of certain restaurants.
A couple weeks prior to our visit, I e-mailed via the Four Seasons Paris website, using my rusty high school French. And within the day, I received a very courteous confirmation, in French. I’ve had the experience of trying to use a foreign language and being snubbed by receiving all responses in English, so I was already pleased to receive a reply in the same language of my original request; and that the reservation process was so easy.
The day finally came for our decadent lunch.
In the morning, we took our son back to the Jardin du Luxembourg playground, which has to be one of the best playgrounds for kids in Paris. We caught a taxi to Four Seasons. We were welcomed by the doormen, then made our way to a restroom off the lobby, where we changed into nicer attire. Our son was initially reluctant to change out of his T-shirt, but brightened considerably on the promise of a great lunch.
We walked across the lobby and through La Galerie to Le Cinq. I had made the reservation for two, since I knew our son would be mostly sharing with us. Fortunately, the hostess who welcomed us was not at all fazed by the sight of a three year old looking up at her and wondering if he was in the right place. She smiled and showed us to an elegant banquette. Within seconds, a bilingual French-English coloring book and colored pencils in a unique triangular box appeared for our son, which he happily busied himself with while my husband and I perused the menu.
We opted for the 85 Euro lunch prix fixe, which offered three choices each for appetizer, two choices for the main and three choices for dessert. We ordered a ham-and-cheese sandwich for our son, and a chocolate soufflé as a special treat for all of us, dessert lovers as we are.
Even before our appetizers, we were served a complimentary course with a scallop, octopus and melon mousse atop fresh seafood. There was clearly a seafood theme permeating the menu—even from the seaweed-infused butter. Of course everything was pristinely fresh. Our son happily dug into the soft bread, and would have filled up entirely on that alone if we’d let him.
My husband had ordered the Coeur de saumon extra-frais marine a la pomme verte/wasabi creme de cresson a la confiture d’algues which came in two parts: the first was beautiful pieces of extra-fresh salmon, lightly marinated in green apple on a plate.
The second was a creamy watercress-wasabi soup with green algae and a bit more salmon. The soup was incredibly refreshing, with just a light kick from the wasabi, and the salmon and algae complemented well.
For my appetizer, I chose Mariniere de fins coquillages et langoustines, fettucinis aux algues de reviere, ecume iodee. Since my French is serviceable, but not great, I’d no idea what ecume was. It turned out to be foam, which, like molecular gastronomy, I prefer to avoid. But the rest of this dish was so delicious, I didn’t care. It was a luscious tangle of fresh langoustines and cockles with algae fettucini. I’ve never had seaweed and algae in so many courses in a non-Japanese restaurant (and they must be keeping a chef busy full-time with all these seaweed and algae preparations) but this was my second-favorite course of the meal, it was so good.
While we had toyed with the idea of each ordering a different main course, for the sake of variety, we both really wanted the Basque pork. So we ended up just getting that. Unlike in some pinnacles of fine dining, the portion was generous—for once, my six-foot-five-inch dining companion would not be snacking on something right after lunch. We split a glass of Cotes du Rhone that was well paired with the pork. I can’t say I love most French wines, and especially not on their own, since they tend to be more tannic and less fruit-driven than, say, a robust Zinfandel or Malbec. But the one we drank was a good food wine, and nicely balanced the richness of the pork.
Our son, meanwhile, was very happy with his ham-and-cheese sandwich.
After he’d eaten most of his meal, we could tell he was starting to get bored and antsy. We brought out our secret weapon: a portable DVD player turned very low, so that only our son could hear it. He probably thought he’d hit the jackpot, since we allowed him to watch several episodes of “Thomas the Train” back-to-back, whereas at home (where we don’t even have a TV), we carefully limit him to 30 minutes max per day of watching “Thomas the Train,” “Blue’s Clues” or “Sesame Street.”
This being Le Cinq, we were treated to a palate-cleansing pre-dessert of chilled sheep’s milk yogurt (almost like ice cream, it was so rich), brightened with a splash of olive oil. It may sound like an unlikely pre-dessert course, but it was so good in its pure, refreshing flavor and simplicity that it was my favorite part of the meal. I can’t ever recall a palate cleanser being such a highlight. Our son loved this as well, unsurprisingly given how much he enjoys yogurt and Brebis (sheep’s milk cheese)—he could probably have eaten his own portion of this.
For dessert, we were first brought our pre-fixe desserts: the Citron confit givre aux eclats de key lime pie for my husband and Instant Framboises/guanaja papillotte chocolatee a la tapenade for me. Unfortunately, my husband and three year old made such quick work of the creamy lemony-lime sorbet that I didn’t even manage to get a picture of it. It may as well have been called “Gone in 30 seconds.” They then turned hungrily to eye my dessert, a gorgeous, fresh raspberry cake gilded with gold leaf and accompanied by guanaja-chocolate phyllo pastries.
Fortunately, just as I was resigning myself to relinquishing some of my dessert, our chocolate soufflé arrived and attention turned to it. How they get it to look so perfect and stay puffed for as long as it did, I’ve no idea. Mine fall pretty quickly after removing them from the oven. The rich chocolate used in the soufflé really did not need further adornment, but we made good use of the accompanying chocolate sauce anyway. Silence at the table, as we savored one of the best Paris desserts. As you can see, even with this, I didn’t manage to get a picture until after the kid got a bite!
Since we had definitely exhausted our little guy (this was a three-hour lunch), we had to depart soon after dessert. To my regret, we didn’t get to try the beautiful mignardises and chocolates that customarily end the meal, and that were arranged so exquisitely at the front of the dining room. Next time.
Read more about Paris in Four Seasons Magazine.
Hilary Stockton lives with her husband and three year old son in New York City. She is an airline miles and rewards points expert. Hilary is founder of Travel Sort, which offers personalized travel tips, frequent flyer and family travel advice, and members-only exclusive hotel deals. TravelSort’s advice has been featured in The New York Times, the Huffington Post, MSNBC, Fox News, USA Today and The Economist.
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