REVIEW

La Tour d'Argent

The venerable La Tour d'Argent holds a number of distinctions, any one of which would merit a special visit; cumulatively, they make it one of the most special restaurants in the world.  It is the oldest restaurant in Paris, founded in 1582.  It has, in our experience, the best service of any restaurant in the world.  It has the most distinguished wine list of any restaurant in the world, boasting 450,000 bottles, many from now impossible to find vintages.  It has one of the best views of any restaurant in the world — it takes in a panoramic sweep of Paris, with Notre Dame's illuminated façade sparkling in the Seine directly in front of you.  From the moment a tails-clad, white-gloved footman opens the front door for you, the sense of history is palpable:  the walls of the ground floor are blanketed in photos of famous, royal and historic patrons.  There is a glass-covered table at which Tsar Alexander II, the King of Prussia and Otto von Bismarck dined; Henri IV purportedly frequented the restaurant. 

It should by now be apparent that La Tour d'Argent is a highly traditional restaurant (only the menu of the head of the table will contain prices), one more interested in preserving its Old World character than in rapidly adapting to latest fads and trends.  This is as it should be, but it also comes at a cost:  in recent years, La Tour d'Argent's reputation has been eclipsed by newer, more modish restaurants, and the restaurant has gradually forfeited Michelin stars, dropping to two in 1996 and to one in 2006.  And, indeed, there are restaurants in Paris that serve better food.  But holistically it is hard to match the unforgettable experience of dining at La Tour d'Argent. 

La Tour d'Argent is renowned for its duck, specifically its caneton au sang (pressed duck), which is served in two courses and consists of various parts of the bird served in a sauce made of its blood and bone marrow, which are extracted by way of a press.  Purportedly, duck was introduced as a specialty at La Tour d'Argent by Lecoq, a former Imperial Chef, who presided over the restaurant in the waning days of Napoleon III.  Beginning in 1890, Frédéric Delair (owner at that time) began a custom of issuing certificates to diners who purchased the pressed duck, with duck #328 going to Edward VII in 1890 (Duck #185,397:  HM the Queen and Prince Phillip, May 1948).  Today, diners still receive a postcard when they order the pressed duck with the bird's number, now over 1.2 million. 

The modern La Tour d'Argent is really a legacy of Claude Terrail.  His father André purchased the restaurant in 1911 and the always dapper Claude ran the establishment from 1947 until his death in 1996 when his son, also André, took the reigns.  During World War II, Claude risked his life to build a false wall in the back of the cellar to hide the 20,000 finest wines from the German High Command, who promptly came to confiscate them.  France's greatest wines and restaurants are part of the patrimony of France, and the indelible stamp that Claude Terrail made on La Tour d'Argent is very much part of that. 

David Ridgway, one of the finest sommeliers in Paris and, by definition, the world, has presided over La Tour d'Argent's 400-page wine list for three decades now.  His personal preference is for Burgundy and the Rhône Valley, but of course Bordeaux is more than amply represented.  You could easily get lost in the dark labyrinthine cellar that is accessible by elevator beneath the restaurant and whose value was estimated in 2009 at 25 million euros.  Although the restaurant is expensive, and has many expensive and old bottles (e.g., 1945 Romanée-Conti; 1845 Château Léoville Barton), Ridgway can find something exquisite for all tastes and budgets.  Patience is a virtue:  Ridgway buys nearly all his wines young, and steers diners away until they are mature. 

The current head chef, Laurent Delarbre, was previously head chef at Café de la Paix.  The menu retains its focus on duck for the main courses, but offers several exquisite starters, including an imperial caviar dish with blinis and a goose foie gras "des Trois Empereurs" served with salted butter brioche.  The food is less precious and more straightforward than at many haute cuisine restaurants in Paris these days. 

The interior is sumptuously decorated in grand style, with luxurious tablecloths and softly lit candelabras on each table.  But the real highlight is the view, which is magical as the sun sets over Paris and the city of lights begins to unfurl its charms.  No restaurant except perhaps Maxim's so splendidly embodies the romance of Paris.

PHOTOGRAPHS

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INFORMATION

5th Arrondissement
15-17, quai de la Tournelle
+33 (0)1 43 54 23 31
Tue-Sat, noon–1:00 pm, 7pm-9pm
    Laurent Delarbre, Chef
    Guillaume Caron, Head Pastry Chef
    David Ridgway, Chief Sommelier
    André Terrail, Owner

    TAGS

    • Paris
    • French
    • Best Decor
    • Best Service
    • Best View
    • Best Wine Lists
    • Historic
    • Private Dining Room Salons Particuliers: 45 seated
    • Tasting Menu 7 Course Grand Menu Tour d'Argent: 200€ Menu Découverte: 180€

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