A Tale of Two Meals...Paris

Two new (to me) restaurants in Paris and its environs are the subject of this posting. I am definitely a city mouse, but I must confess that my trip to the country was eye-opening and one of the best, most creative meals I have had (aside from the now two meals at Jeanne-Aimée) in recent (and possibly long-term) memory.

Merci really and truly to @Phoenikia for the suggestion of Le Doyenné, in Saint Vrain. It is, to be fair, more than a short hop, but less than a long journey, from Paris. Able certainly to manage for an evening, especially a Saturday night that my friends, a couple living in Paris and I (visiting from New York) were well able to devote to this experience. And experience it was. Not like a fellow New Yorker complains that they would rather not see their dinner in situ, as it were, but rather take their word that things are fresh and going to be delicious because of what the chef will do with the product. Let me say at the outset that this was not a place like Blue Hill Stone Farm restaurant outside of NYC, where I will never go (this mostly because of the snobbishness around “sourcing”) that my friend deplores.

But this meal at Le Doyenné, I would say, if you can manage, run, take the train, walk if you have to. Don’t arrive early and walk around the gardens, if this is really counter to any experience you might wish to have, but do arrive early enough to enjoy an aperitif on the glassed in porch (no bugs!) before your dinner in the incredibly dramatic and comfortable dining room. (If you can arrive before dark, I think it only adds to the drama of the room.) And the food. Ooh la la.

We had a little problem ordering wine because it is a surprise menu (and there I was with a French couple who really know something about what they were looking at in the wine list, but nothing about the dinner). What a pickle that could have been! But the sommelier, with no hint of standoffishness or condescension appreciated my friends’ feelings on the matter and helpfully guide us to first a white and then a red that were beyond fantastic, both to our mutual sensibilities as well as to going with the extraordinary food.

And make no mistake about it, the food was both creative and delicious. Not to mention the bread and butter, which we all agreed we could not find an equal to anywhere that we know of in Paris. (Full disclosure: I’m a slave to a good piece of bread. It’s why, really, I spend so much time in Paris.) There simply was not a taste of anything that my friends and I put in our mouths that didn’t have us opening wide our eyes at each other and saying “Wow!” Believe me, that’s the same in French as it is in English. Among the standouts in my mind were a little bowl of raw/seviche shrimp in a little icy soup that was slightly sweet,slightly herby (maybe cilantro/coriander, maybe something else), but just put on the table, almost as an aside. Wow. Also a gazpacho that was served just after the red wine we had chosen as our blind date with the help of Wonder Woman Sommelier that was an almost unbelievable pairing (I, along with my friends I am sure, looked at this and thought, “No way!”) Boy were we wrong.

Tonight, one of my friends from the couple and I, dined at Nicholas Flamel, house of the oldest restaurant in Paris, newly redesigned, new young chef, and a Michelin star. We were excited to go. My friend, as I said a Frenchman, and I were walked past several empty tables for two and an exciting looking open kitchen to an upstairs, airless dining room with no decoration except a couple of ugly, “decorative” mirrors on the walls. I feared, and was soon proven right, that my friend was going to experience dinner with the Americans in Siberia. I almost said we should leave before we started (I do at my age have a sense of such things), but we stayed. Unfortunately, I was right. We were both handed English menus (which we asked to change), and then had the most mediocre meal either of us could remember. We also fought with the sommelier to get the wine we had ordered, rather than the one he happened to have on ice that he insisted my friend (the man at the table, though he was my guest and the reservation was in my name) taste. I also asked for a taste and he obliged, and we both looked at each other with disappointment, and my friend asked that we wait the 6 minutes (maybe 8 minutes?) that the sommelier suggested it would take to ice the wine we had ordered. We turned to each other after the sommelier had left, and although our vocabulary was slightly different, the sentiment was the same. He said the wine was “weak” at the same time I said it was “limp.” And this remained our impression of the entire meal. We both had langoustines to start and then the house specialty “blue lobster.” The wine was good for sure that we got, though for the second time when it was served to my guest, I had to ask for a taste! The desserts fine, but nothing in the “wow” department.

When we got the check, and this was unbelievable to me in a French restaurant, I was paying with my card, and the waiter asked if I wanted to leave a tip. I said I would leave it in cash, but then I inquired whether the service was included, and the waiter said it was not. I thought this unusual, which my French friend agreed, but I put a large amount of cash on the table as the meal wasn’t the server’s fault (nor the sommelier’s ridiculous behavior). However, when I looked at my receipt, it said at the bottom, “service compris.” I asked my dinner companion if this didn’t mean that the service was included, and he agreed this is what it meant. Confused, I showed the waiter the receipt and asked him if he hadn’t just told me that service was not included, and he responded that service was in included but not the “pourboire/tip.”

Now, I consider that I am incredibly generous tipper (maybe to a fault) all over Europe where the service is generally included, and I of course know this, but feel compelled to leave much in the way of extra. But I draw the line at being lied to! Just an awful feeling after a totally unremarkable meal. So, I put together with my friend a smaller, token tip, and we left. But the final kicker was that the dining room downstairs was now completely empty, and it was clear that there was one table still set for a potential arrival, but the others that had been empty when we arrived were still empty, after we had been told that they were completely booked for the evening.

Better, by far, to eat at Le MaZenay right across the street or take yourself into the country to Le Doyenée for a truly unforgettable experience.


The sleight of hand with service compris and pourboire has been going on for quite some times (at least 15 years) sadly…and seems to be gleefully sprung on anyone with an American accent. I agree its crappy.

I think your experience is worth a separate thread, “Nicholas Flamel”, to alert readers of the pitfalls set up by this restaurant.


So happy you had a good experience at Le Doyenné.

Sorry to hear that you had a disappointment tonight.

Sorry to hear about your disastrous experience at Nicolas Flamel. I had a poor (but better than yours) meal there last year and warned about it and also predicted that it nevertheless would get a Michelin star (which it did). Agree that Le MaZenay is the place to go in the area.


Thanks to you all! @pilgrim, I have written under separate heading, and @onzieme, if only I had read (or remembered reading) your warning! I did not discover HO till a few months ago, so perhaps I just never saw it.

Yes, but I clearly asked if service was included (those words) and the waiter said it was not. Different in my opinion from just not mentioning when a customer asks to add a tip to the payment, IMO. I know that I am adding to an already defined service charge when I do so, and I do it gladly for good service. Perhaps other Americans are not aware, and would not be tipping extra if they “knew,” but if one does any research before traveling to France, one will see that this is customary in France, as charging a small cover for bread, etc. is in some other European countries. These charges are customary whether one is French or American, however, so I am fine with it. I am not fine with lying about it!!!

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It’s probably worth writing to Michelin about your experience. My understanding is that they do take notice in deciding whether to continue to award stars.

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You are absolutely right and I’m sorry this happened to you!

As a European myself, though I cannot speak for all of us, I would just flat out refuse to pay the extra tip. If Americans would do the same, maybe this would not happen any more at all?

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I lived in France for 5 years, so fully know that sevice is always compris and yes, it is flat out lying… as soon as the non-native twang is recognized (even in French!) the servers will look you in the eye and swear in French that service is not included. Fortunately it’s largely only in the touristy areas so fairly easily avoided.

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Lots of opportunists in France.

I’ve had a handful of experiences- more with taxi drivers than servers - where they are pulling a fast one on a North American or foreigner. I’ve had it happen in Spain a few times, as well as in Italy and Greece.

What was more memorable in France, was a taxi driver in Nice who insisted I should pay a ridiculous amount for a short drive. I am close to fluent in French. I can talk back in French, and he probably did not expect that. He changed the terms, and refused to back down.

I think there’s a low grade dislike of North Americans in many countries -not by all the people of course- and it sometimes bubbles up through half-truths or complete fibs, to gouge the tourist and traveller.

The server probably presumed you didn’t know the difference between service and pour boire, and didn’t expect to be caught.

I’m sorry, but trying to cheat US tourists out of extra cash for a tip seems to be the norm these days.

I used to do the menu for a very good Alsatian restaurant in Berlin, and took friends of mine there who were visiting. Low and behold, we each get our bills, and theirs literally says on the bottom “service not included.”

When I called the owner out on it he made some lame-ass excuse, but I fucking despise these shady attempts at ripping off the gullible.

Def make a complaint wherever you can.

As a Canadian, when I’ve talked back to a European who is an opportunist, or held my ground, it usually hasn’t gone that well.

In the future, if it happens again, in a place like France or Italy, I’ll ask a local to help straighten things out.

Opportunists come in all nationalities. I doubt it’s specific to “Europeans.”



Opportunism is everywhere.

I’ve had a couple Torontonian taxi drivers try to gouge me, and I’m sure the same guys do it more often to travellers or people without a full command of English or knowledge of the city’s geography.

Montreal taxi drivers like to gouge. An LA taxi driver gouged me in a huge way, driving me around in circles for an hour in the Hollywood Hills, in the early days of the smartphone, when I’d reversed 2 numbers in a home’s street address. We had driven past the correct address 4 times.

I’ve had maybe one shitty experience in the UK over 25 trips, whereas every trip to France, Italy, Spain, I’ve encountered at least 1 if not several scammers.

While I’ve had someone call me an Auslander in Munich when I asked for directions in my shitty German, I can only remember maybe 1 opportunistic driver in my trips to Germany over the last 30 years.

There is more scamming in Mediterranean and/or romance language countries than some other Western European countries, at least in my experience.

There’s definitely some anti-North American / anti-English Language/ anti-Northern European Tourist sentiment behind the gouging one might experience occasionally in Greece.

Might be different for other people.

There is confusion over the subtle difference between “service” and “tip”. Service is included in France and one needs not leave anything extra. Showing appreciation for exceptional treatment is a tip and it totally discretionary. One one star restaurant even printed on its tab, “Tip is not included”, which I found outrageously deceptive. Not sure that it is coincidental that they weren’t open more than a year.


We were ripped off by a cabbie in the 'dam many years ago. I’d visited many times before & sorta knew my way around, but I blame jet-lag and overall exhaustion (this was also in the pre-smartphone/google maps/GPS era) for just grabbing a cab from the train station. It was a 10 min drive due to traffic & cost us 20 € for a trip that would’ve been walkable in far less time than that.

I’d probably be more likely to be ripped off in a country with more of language barrier (tho no other example comes to mind ATM), so this was particularly galling.

Again, people will try to rip you off if that’s their MO. Thankfully, I’ve not experienced this often enough to remember - save for the example above.

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Simply, “service compris” is mandatory in France, whether it is mentioned on the bill (it should) or not.
Whenever such a thing happens, just say: “Le service est toujours compris. C’est la loi.”
Then you tip as you wish, personally I never do. It’s not really a French thing outside of rounding up the sum when you’re happy with the service.

It might be useful to mention that tipping in taxis has also disappeared since the arrival of the Euro. Prices have gone up so dramatically since then that the use of tipping 15% in taxis has entirely disappeared, and no taxi driver will ever remind you of it. To the contrary: if you do round up the sum, even minimally, they’ll thank you warmly, which they never used to do in the good old 15% days.

So, at restaurants or in taxis, tip if you feel the experience has been up to your expectations, not because you feel you have to.