I was complaining to my companion about not going to France this year, something I’ve done very year for at least the past 40 years. And she said “Let’s go to Melisse for dinner and see if that eases your pain.” So, I lined up two friends and off we went.
And it did ease my pain! I felt like I was back in Paris! Of course, in France a Michelin star restaurant would not be likely to have outside seating. But the Grand Cascade in the Bois de Boulogne Park is an exception and as far as I know it’s the only restaurant with outside seating in Paris that has three stars. And it’s my favorite restaurant in Paris so that too made me feel like I was back in Paris. I loved the outdoor seating because it was quiet.
The next feature that caught my attention was the service. It was perfect.
We were brought fresh plates and silverware for each of our six courses.
Don’t you hate it when the waiter takes your soiled silverware off your plate and puts it on the table for you to use with the next course?
And then there’s the food. We started with beef tartar, which I usually skip, but this one was better than those I’ve had in the past—sunflower seeds gave it a slightly crunchy mixed and there was just the right amount of spice to complement the raw beef.
Next was the star dish, white asparagus in a delicious sauce, somewhere between butter and hollandaise, with chopped morel mushrooms in the sauce. I would have preferred couple of whole morels in the sauce, but maybe that’s too greedy.
Sweetbreads and clams with fava beans and mushrooms was done just right, and not something you find on menus around town. A new and different dish like that is one of the aspects that set off this restaurant.
Everyone raves about the lobster bolognese in reviews pre-pandemic, and it lived up to its reputation for us. I guess it’s the brown butter truffle sauce that makes it so delicious.
The duck breast was less exciting. There was nothing wrong with it, but I’ve had better and thought it lacked any exciting nuance. We had this dish at El Encanto in Santa Barbara last month and it had more flavor there. Chef Bruno from Paris is the new chef there and the food there is quite good. But not as good as Melisse.
The next dish was clearly one of the stars: the Dover Sole preparation was vastly superior to this wonderful dish which I order all the time. But this preparation enhanced the flavor of the fish, which was cooked to perfection and crusted on one side. This was probably the best preparation of this favorite of mine I’ve ever had.
Finally, although we were pretty full even though we shared all the dishes four ways (we ordered double orders of some of the dishes) we had to try a beef dish and ordered a non-memorable plate with several cubes of beef in a sauce. It was good but not as exciting as some of the other dishes.
We only ordered dessert to round out this review, so we ordered two. The strawberry something was not that special, but the dark chocolate sphere with hazelnuts was superb.
Now comes the best part of the restaurant from my point of view: the wine list.
I’m so tired of redacted wine lists all over Los Angeles where your only choices are to pay 5 times the retail value of some cheap Malbec, or pay $250-$350 for a decent wine. Here was a real sommelier with an extensive list of reasonably priced wines. I found an excellent 2012 Vacqueyras from the Rhone valley (Syrah and Grenache) for $60 which was almost as good as the 2012 pinot noir that I brought. And while the corkage fee is $50, it’s waived if you buy a bottle.
Slightly dazed from the extraordinary quality of the food and drink, I staggered back to the car, was driven home by our friends, and climbed into bed with memories of the dinner floating in my mind.
Merv Hecht, like many Harvard Law School graduates, went into the wine business after law. In 1988, he began writing restaurant reviews and books. His latest book is “The Instant Wine Connoisseur, 3d edition” is available on Amazon. He currently works for several companies that source and distribute food and wine products internationally. Please send your comments to: email@example.com.