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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

“Top of the world, Ma!” - Bests 2011

In fact, before that gas tank explodes in White Heat, James Cagney actually yells, “Made it, Ma. Top of the world!” But let's not nitpick. It's that time again, actually, it's 10 days past that time again, to name my top five restaurants of the year, in this case 2011. Hard to believe, but Paris Restaurants and Beyond is now entering its fourth year, with somewhere around 80 or so restaurants reviewed, so I first have to give myself an award for keeping with it. Congratulations, me. It would be nice to hear from more readers, especially with your own recommendations, but I know, you are shy and I don't want to press you. I'm happy you come to this site and welcome your contributions.

As mentioned in previous PR and B 'best of' installments, I have no claim to suggest that any restaurants named here are in fact the 'best' restaurants, which would be a ridiculous claim to verify anyway - only that my best meals outside my own kitchen were found in the venues listed. 'Best' for me includes originality from the chef, fresh and inventive ingredients, and an overall enjoyable and memorable experience, the latter of which includes conviviality, atmosphere, and service from staff and fellow diners. Without further ado, here are my top five for 2011 (full reviews and addresses by clicking the relevant links in the 'restaurants reviewed to date' list to the right):

1. Le Gaigne - two really terrific dinners at Le Gaigne in 2011. I don't know why we don't hear or read more about this little gem situated between Beaubourg and the Marais, but the menus degustation for the two visits were inventive and completely satisfying. You've read my reviews, now check out another from the One Spoonful at a Time blog. Le Gaigne is tiny, but chef/owner Mickael Gaignon performs some grand magic in his kitchen.

2. La Gazzetta - regular readers of this blog should not be surprised by this choice, as I have been praising the restaurant since 2010.

3. Chateaubriand - I wouldn't go so far as to agree that this is the best restaurant in Paris, as has been claimed, but it's damn good. Multi-dishes pass before you in a blur, creative and hip, but alas, some of those dishes are just too tiny for their own good. And they are good.

4. Septime - This new addition to my 'go to' Paris restaurant list, along with Chatomat, were the most promising restaurants I dined at in 2011. Not great, but enough to suggest that they may soon be. I really enjoyed my dinner, particularly at Septime, last Fall, but it's hard to jump to conclusions after just one visit. I'm really looking forward to the next time.

5. Chatomat - see no. 4 above, and it's true, I did call this one 'great' in my review. In retrospective, let me just amend that by saying 'we'll see.'

Co., my dining cohort, is pretty much in agreement with these choices, although she'd probably nudge Septime or Chatomat from their mutual slots to include La Table D'Eugene, one of her personal favorites.

Best tapas - Aux Deux Amis - chaotic and crazy in the early evening. That herring ended up on the floor, but too much fun to care. And even the simple tapas were fresh and memorable.

Best oyster restaurant - Le Pleine Mer
. 'Restaurant' may be stretching it, but there's no denying this is one of the top, if not the top 'o the world, places to eat oysters in Paris, especially if you are seeking authenticity down by the seashore in the heart of Paris.

Best online shopping for Mexican condiments
- Dos Mexicanas, hands down. Based in Villepinte (France metropolitan). Sauces, hot peppers, chipotle, you name it. Great selection, reasonable prices, and I've already received orders within one or two days of ordering online.

Best movie about food: El Bulli - Cooking In Progress. This documentary about Ferran Adrià's majestic, but alas now closed, greatest restaurant in the world is mesmerizing from the opening shot of Adrià tasting a flourescent lollipop, to the final close-ups of the 38 dishes served during a typical meal. The film covers the six months the El Bulli team spent in their experimental labs in Barcelona, and follows the evolution of the new menu items for the restaurant's upcoming season in Roses, Spain. At one point during the experimental phase, Adrià tells his chefs, 'Don't worry about the quality of the taste, it must be magical!'

Disappointments of the Year
- there were a number of these, although if you're not expecting much (see Millesimes 62, La Cerisaie, and Tintilou), it would be unfair to classify a venue as disappointing. But when Frenchie and JaJa get so many rave reviews (albeit 'rave' is an exaggeration for JaJa), disappointment definitely does apply. People talk about Frenchie like it's the bees-knees, so maybe I hit a bad night, but I was distinctly underwhelmed. And as for Jaja, fuggedaboutit.

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