Between September-December 2014, we anonymously tested all nine of the Paris restaurants that hold three Michelin stars, along with seven others that are considered to be shining examples of haute cuisine.
In discussing the three-star restaurant L’Ambroisie, which ranks among the most expensive in the world, people often bring up a quote by chef Bernard Pacaud. “Someone’s first meal here is never their best,” he once said. “It takes at least two or three meals for us to learn the customer and for the customer to learn us.”
This was true for food blogger Adam Goldberg, who wrote a scathing report of his first meal at L’Ambroisie. After returning more than twenty times, however, he declared “I am now certain that this is the finest French restaurant in the world.”
Haute cuisine is not exclusively about what’s on the plate. Elaborately choreographed service, the spectacular number of dishes, the depth of a wine cellar and sumptuous surroundings – these are arguably the elements that separate restaurants with two and three Michelin stars from their starless competitors.
If we look exclusively at the food, however, ignoring the chandelier that twinkles overhead and the plush pedestal propping up our handbags, there is still much to celebrate in haute cuisine.
More than 100 years ago, a tire company named Michelin began telling people about their best options for eating while motoring around the country. Travelers wanted to know what was worth a detour or a special journey, and that’s still the case today. The question I’m most frequently asked by our readers is where to go for a special blow-out meal. You want to celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, a victory. You want to seal a deal, whether business or pleasure. You’re willing to drop some cash, but you don’t want to feel like a fool.
Until now, I’ve had a hard time answering this question. I know well the landscape of the city’s classic bistros, modern French restaurants, and food-loving wine bars, but this class of two- and three-star tables is a different terrain entirely. There’s an obvious barrier to understanding these restaurants: the staggering, outrageous, almost immoral price of a meal. Prior to this project, in which I anonymously tested every three-star restaurant in Paris over a period of twelve weeks, I had only visited a handful.