Lazare annex

First Look: Lazare

Why I Went: Lazare was the biggest opening of the rentrée 2013 – a splashy restaurant from a three-star chef inside the Gare Saint-Lazare. Eric Fréchon, who has been branching out from his home base of L’Epicure (formerly Le Bristol) ever since he opened Le Mini Palais in 2010, was purportedly serving Normandy-inflected comfort food to travelers en route to that region or arriving from the other side of Paris. Reviews had been ecstatic, praising the menu as “glorieusement française,” (Gaudry), noting the “friendly, professional service” (Moore) and celebrating the casual openness of the place (Rubin).

Lazare dining room

My Experience: In nine years of dining in Paris and writing about its restaurants, this was the worst service I have ever experienced. It was shockingly, almost comically bad. So terrible, in fact, that I have decided to overcome my reluctance to ever report on the service shortcomings of a restaurant. The tendency among readers (including me) is to assume that anyone offended by service doesn’t know how to behave. So let me be clear: I booked for dinner two weeks in advance and called to confirm my reservation on the day of our dinner. I was wearing a dress, my guest was wearing a suit. We speak French and know what to expect from French-style service. The restaurant had been open for more than a month.

Lazare - decorative dishware

The beautiful main dining room at Lazare

When I arrived at Lazare, I was immediately struck by the high-ceilinged dining room from Karine Lewkowicz with its soft lighting and built-in shelves of decorative dishware. This appreciation made what followed all the more depressing: we were seated in a dark annex at a tiny café table looking out into the night-time corridor (weary commuters, drunks) of the subway station. Because I spend hours every day in the Métro and don’t wish to dine there, I gently asked our hostess if we might be seated in the main room which had at least ten open tables. She told me curtly that they were all booked. I asked if they were booked by people who had specifically reserved the main room and she said no. I pressed on, still smiling, and asked if we couldn’t take one of those open tables since we, too, had reserved, and were actually here in the restaurant, and were very interested in sitting there. She took a step back and gave me an exaggerated up-and-down look, performing her role of bitchy gatekeeper to perfection. “Wait here,” she sighed, and so we sat. After twenty minutes spent in the dark corner without anyone returning to offer news or take a drink order, I returned to the hostess station. “Oui madame, I have not forgotten about you,” she said, and literally waved her hand to dismiss me. After another 20 minutes (40 minutes in total) she returned and begrudgingly offered a table in the main dining room.

Lazare annex

The annex, with child-sized tables bathed in neon light

As ridiculous as this opening act had been, all was forgiven when we were seated at a big boy table in the main room. Menus arrived immediately and we were prepared to have a great time. We selected our dishes and waited for another twenty minutes, trying in the meantime to flag someone down for a wine list. “J’arrive! J’arrive!” When our server Sébastien did arrive, he took our order but sighed dramatically when we asked for the wine list. Slapped it on the table. I quickly chose a bottle and he returned twenty minutes later to say they didn’t have it. I asked if I could see the list again. Instead, to save time, he told me the name of a bottle that I should order. “Chardonnay,” he added (gee, thanks). I asked if I could please see the list. He stood bouncing up and down at my side and tapping his foot while I took twenty seconds to select another bottle of white. It arrived shortly after, unchilled. He poured two warm glasses and put the bottle in an ice bucket, not commenting or apologizing in any way. At this point, we had been inside Lazare for almost an hour and half and the first drop to pass our lips was warm Pouilly Fumé.

Again, please let me assure you, I am not an asshole. I have seen diners behave atrociously in restaurants and have giggled when their servers have responded with disdain. That’s not what was happening at Lazare. What was happening is that they did not deem us to be important. Lazare is not an open and friendly haven for travelers or gastronomes. It is a club masquerading as a restaurant, employing the sort of velvet rope snobbery that one expects to find at Le Montana or a Costes establishment. Certain tables at Lazare, those helmed by 60 year-old PDGs and their 22 year-old Louboutin hooved escorts, received lavish attention. We and the elderly couple who were penned in to our right (we actually had to stand and move in order for them to be served), were consistently degraded.

Lazare - filets de sole Dieppoise, sauté d'épinards à cru

Filets de sole Dieppoise, sauté d’épinards à cru

So what about the food? Apart from some minor notes (the céleri rémoulade lacked any bite), I was absolutely delighted. The filets de sole Dieppoise was one of the best things I’ve eaten all year. The bitterness of the spinach married beautifully with the sweetness of cream and tiny shrimp and I didn’t want the dish to end. Amid all of the naked naturaliste cooking of the moment, I’m thrilled to find this quality of traditional French cooking on any menu. For dessert, the sautéed mirabelles with verveine were both seasonal and original.

Lazare - Poêlée de mirabelles à la verveine

Dessert: poêlée de mirabelles à la verveine (mirabelles with verbeena)

The evening as a whole, however, was shameful. There is nothing Eric Fréchon’s kitchen could have produced which could have salvaged the experience. In the weeks that followed our night at Lazare, I’ve heard similar reports about the service (particularly the dark-haired hostess) from other friends, all of whom know how to behave in restaurants. I have no doubt that if I had booked under my own name, reserved through their press office, or told them I write for the Wall Street Journal, my experience would have been different. And that’s precisely why we pay for every meal and dine inconspicuously – so that we know how the average diner might be treated. At Lazare, we are treated like dirt.

Would I Go Back? Obviously, no. If I want traditional French cooking in a polished setting, I’ll go to Terroir Parisien, which is opening a second annex at the Palais Brongniart next week.

A Few More Details: There is no formule at Lazare and lunch and dinner are priced equally. Entrées range from 7€ (soup) to 26€ (pot-au-feu de foie gras aux lentilles). Mains range from 16€ (moules de bouchot) to 39€ (entrecôte de veau). A different plat du jour is offered every day for 16€ and was sold out on the night of our visit (foie de veau rôti au vieux vinaigre). Our dinner for two, including a starter, main and dessert for each person, plus a bottle of Perrier and a 42€ bottle Pouilly Fumé came to 146€.

For breakfast most drinks are priced at 6€ and a croissant or pain chocolat is 3.50€.

On Sunday, Lazare offers a “Déjeuner de Grand-Mère” for 38€ where you’ll be welcomed “comme chez mamie.” The success of this may require putting someone else at the door and giving their usual bitch-face hostess the day off.

For additional details, including address & hours see our guide page to Lazare restaurant.

A Few More Photos:

Lazare - céleri rémoulade à la pomme verte

Céleri rémoulade à la pomme verte

Lazare - Salade de haricots verts, artichauts à l'huile de noisette

Salade de haricots verts, artichauts à l’huile de noisette

Lazare - Cabillaud rôti, suace vierge, salade de tétragone mi-cuite

Cabillaud rôti, sauce vierge, salade de tétragone mi-cuite

Lazare - Paris-Deauville

Dessert: the Paris-Deauville

 

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22 thoughts on “First Look: Lazare”

  1. “take you up on your recommendation of Terroir Parisien.”
    You might want to refresh your take on the TP by checking out other sites.
    I love it, and indeed am going to the Rive Droite one next week, but there are always negative reviews/reports on almost every place in Paris except the “PC” darlings well known to all.
    As I believe Margaret Pilgrim, upthread or elsewhere said, joints have their off days.
    One can be Christian, and forgive, or like me, cross them off the list. There’s too much exciting happening here to try to remount a tired pony.

  2. Thanks for the in depth and honest review Meg, I was disgusted when I read the elderly couple had to get up and move just to be acknowledged. I will pass on this place and take you up on your recommendation of Terroir Parisien.

  3. Hi Meg,
    Thanks for this review, I thought my “standards” or expectations were to high from Eric Fréchon’s new restaurant!
    Service is just awful, non attentive to guests, and so looong: 2 hours and a half for a 2-course lunch is more than I can bear. Especially when I have to go back to work.
    Next time go and try the Terminus Café which is the restaurant of the hotel just in front of Lazare: no star Chief but a great experience in a friendly atmosphere together with spectacular dishes.

  4. I had a very similar experience – atrocious service and I so wanted to like the place!!! It’s been so long since I’ve had such appalling service I was really pretty shocked.

  5. Great article, Meg – very fair and balanced and needed to be said! I had a great experience there, but maybe it was bitch-face’s day off…

  6. We had dinner there a couple if nights ago and I am so surprised by the previous posts. We had wonderful service. Our server graciously translated the entire menu for us and was very helpful with recommendations. Our food was excellent. We had the haricots verts salad and the amazing scallop clafoutis to start. For our entrees we had the mussels, the beef tartare, the lamb and the sublime cod. The food was excellent. For dessert we ordered the crepe with apple and the Paris-deauville. Our server suggested we get the chocolate pie but we were so full from dinner we could only manage two desserts. He brought us the chocolate pie as his gift and it was delicious.
    I hope you will give it another try and will have a wonderful experience as we did.

  7. As a Frenchman with an American stepfather and lots of American friends living in an outside of the US I loved your review.

    Being in France, the so called “food paradise” of the world should NEVER, EVER refrain the waiters and waitresses from being POLITE and HELPFUL.

    In fact you are overextending yourself by dressing specifically for the event and trying to speak french and be nice, you are the CUSTOMER, you are there to spend your MONEY and if they are not happy with that it’s their choice as shop owners but it’s your choice as customer to go and spend your money elsewhere.

    I am not ashamed anymore by french rudeness towards tourists whether in restraurants or shops but I think that tourists should let the unpleasant hosts know exactly that they don’t like it.

    And frankly can you imagine the scene if you stand up in the restaurant, tell that brunette hostess what you think of her and then 3 other people stand up and say the same thing ? Waow, that would be an evening to remember :)

    Bottom line is : Don’t be polite at people who are not polite at you, have the same behaviour to them then they have to you, just for the record, did you leave any tip ? I would leave a 20 cent coin just to make a point :)

  8. Thank you so very much for this review. Since I have never known you to say a bitter much less false word about a kitchen or dining room, we will learn at your expense. You did indeed take one for the team.

  9. I love this sense of it’s somehow okay to be treated that way if you were “merely a tourist” … but I also can’t help wonder why someone would have you sit for 1.5 hours without eating or drinking anything: that’s 1.5 hours of zero revenue for the table, at what appears to be a bustling train station location. You had a 3 hour meal where two 1.5 hour meals would have fit perfectly. Not only does M. Fréchon have an attitude problem in the guise of his workers, but the on-site manager has a counting problem. Perhaps rather than storming out of a place like that you should linger, enjoying being ignored, and take the opportunity to make future plans to far off lands with your dining companion. Table square footage is your only currency in the land of service compris. Also, I’ve encountered good-food-and-poor-service before, but I always go back again: the service can get fixed (or frankly, ignored), whereas bad food never can.

  10. Another few words for Connie:

    Pantruche:
    Reservations at 7 PM are unusual in Paris; as a rule, it is called the “tourists’ hour”. That’s why there was no one there yet. It is likely that they had most of their reservations set between 8 PM and whatever time the kitchen closes. So you were not necessarily treated poorly, maybe the dining room was indeed fully booked.
    Le Comptoir du Relais: no idea why they gave the table to that person, but it is possible that they had kept it for him before you arrived. That happens.
    Alsace Deli:
    That also happens all the time, at the market, in shops… Standing in line in Paris is a sport. And I am not even mentioning the taxi lines. And that is a problem for both Parisians and visitors. People trying to cut you, or simply the shopkeeper not keeping track of who’s next (it is not always easy for them to do so, so they ask “who’s next?”), is extremely common, which is why Parisians are used to stepping up and claiming it gently when it comes. That is certainly more efficient than walking away insulting people who probably did not mean any harm. Even more efficient, say: “Excusez-moi, mais c’est mon tour”, as all of us Parisians have to say every once in a while. Nobody would have bitten your head off. From your tone and your description, you’re appearing as more than a little passive-aggressive.

    Parisians can be brisk but I sincerely do not think they are among the worst hosts.

  11. Hi Cat – there were no other incidents after we received the warm wine, but we had endured an hour and a half of insult before the redemption of good food. The manager did come by at one point to offer a cursory check-in, but I was too disheartened by that point to engage with him. It’s hard to answer your question of why this happened or if they thought I was a tourist. I was accompanied by a Frenchman, speaking French throughout the night, ordering wine according to producers I regognized, etc… not that any of this should be a requirement for basic minimum service.

  12. Wow! That is quite an experience. As Phyllis wrote, I do hope your review gets back to M. Fréchon and that he rethinks his team at Lazare. Did the service improve at all once you were served? Any parting words from your waiter or the hostess? Do you think this treatment was based solely on your accent? I.e., they perhaps thought you were tourists passing through and therefore not worthy of any time investment (hate to say this happens too frequently in Paris). I must say that the food looks delicious but based on your experience, I won’t be in any rush to go and try it.

  13. Thanks for the article Meg and loving your writing! :)

    I tried Lazare with a friend for a drink at the bar one evening around 5:30pm and thought the restaurant team was a bit of a disaster. It’s okay to be in the opening stage; it’s another thing to have such an attitude, but hey!, this is Paris!

    @ Connie, if I may: hate to say that I’ve seen my fair share of people rudeness in the food industry in America, Germany, the UK and many other countries… Have to admit the French (especially in Paris) are on the top of the list sometimes but I sometimes like waiters with an attitude better than unprofessional hypocrits (as in smiling) such as scores of people who are waiting on clients in the US.

  14. Bonjour
    It’s so refreshing to hear someone finally WRITE about the “non-customer service and poor rude service” that is occurring daily in Paris. Here’s my 2 bits on the restaurants we have rec’d this type of treatment also.
    Pantrouche in Montmartre…made reservations for 7 pm for 3 people. Arrived on time, no one else was there yet…they put us in the back corner right beside the toilet.
    I asked for another seat and they said they are all booked full.
    I reckon that they were treating us poorly ’cause
    -they think we are ONE time tourists who will not be coming back again…wrong…we live in the neighbourhood
    -we are not French, we are Asian Canadians who do speak enough French to order in a restaurant
    -we are dining with a very well behaved 4 yr. old daughter

    Le Relais du Comptoir
    Walked in around 1 pm on a weekday…there was 1 table outside right by the door…yet the server would not give it to me…back rather to an old French man instead who can 10 mins. later…when I saw this I walked away promptly. Obviously they “prefer” certain types of clients more than others.

    Alsace deli at the corner of Rue des Voluntaires and Rue de Vaugirard
    rudeness at it’s best
    i was patiently waiting in line behind a French woman, she paid and I expected the old lady server to serve me next…but instead she went directly to another French woman behind me. I promptly walked out and said very loudly “pas de service ici” and she heard me.

    Paris has many wonderful cultural aspects but the rudeness of people especially in the food industry is really in-excusable.

  15. You would think that a restaurant that has a chef of that calibre and where dinner for two costs about 150€, and where in this day and age EVERYTHING gets recorded and shared and forwarded on the Internet, that this restaurant would be making more of an effort to provide courteous, respectful service to every patron. You’re one blogger who is well connected to many other bloggers. This is the new “word of mouth”. How foolish of them, indeed.

    And now we all know and can spread the word: Don’t waste your time or your money at Lazare. Shame on them.

  16. A great, fair and useful review. I am a one-time visitor to Paris who hopes someday to return. This sort of information must be fairly presented as you did here because it would have broken my heart to have such an awful experience [as another "nobody"] for one of my precious and limited Parisian meals…despite the great food.

    When I went to Taillevent [single diner, reserved long ahead, modest French skills, dressed up, nice manners] last spring I was treated like an ambassador who had been dining there my whole life. At Lazare I would have been treated as a beggar at the ball. No thanks.

  17. Bravo for sharing this Meg. Bad service can sometimes be chalked up to an off night but there is no excuse ever for treating customers with such disdain, which it sounds like both the waiter and host did. I think Mr Fréchon deserves to know and hope that he reads this because I have also heard bad reports about the service at Lazare. When I went our server was a bit overwhelmed but still pleasant.

    We all know that there are some customers who will never be pleased, but having dined with you many times, I know you are not one and are probably one of the easiest going customers a restaurant could have.

    Service can make or ruin your evening and anyone who works in the restaurant business should be there to make sure people have a memorable night for all the right reasons. Sadly, it seems like Mr Fréchon needs to rethink his hiring and training for front of the house staff.

  18. i was recommended this website by a friend and reading this i article i can see why he gave the recommendation. Its seems to be the best way to dissect the french food scene – please keep up with that, since that has been an, all though rewarding at times, impossible job!

  19. I had a similar experience, but I was so disgusted that I left instead of sitting and waiting in the “annex”. Glad to read that I was not the only one who came in anonymously, acted and dressed properly, spoke French, and was dismissed as if I was a clochard. I would not go back either, even if I have a train at Gare St. Lazare.

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