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At Guy Savoy Where "A Meal is a Celebration of Life"

Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer

What makes for a three-star Michelin experience?  Since the award, reportedly, comes from the kitchen, the quality and preparation of the food would have to be exemplary. But the service would be superb as well, the setting inviting. And yet, there would be something more – some ineffable quality that gives truth to the adage “The whole is more than the sum of its parts.”

On a rainy night in October, our taxi stopped on a quiet street around the corner from the Arc de Triomphe. Across the way, a double grated door bearing the modest declaration: “Restaurant Guy Savoy” had been slid apart to reveal glass walls framing a rather inconspicuous entrance. One could easily pass by never and notice it.

A man holding an enormous umbrella rushed out to meet us. Quickly he ushered us into a comfortable lounge where a small welcoming party including a chef in toque blanc (only later did we realize it was Guy Savoy himself!) greeted us with great smiles and cries of “Bon soir, bon soir.” We were divested of our coats, swept into the second of what turned out to be four dining rooms, and comfortably seated at its far end. There we paused for a moment to catch our breath and take in the surroundings.

The space bespoke contemporary, understated luxury. Walls were alternately paneled in a cedar-like wood, evocative of the Four Seasons in New York, or painted a cool beige and accented with vivid abstract paintings and exotic sculptures. Soft light came from recessed fixtures, gray carpeting ran across a planked wooden floor. Every table was filled; the crowd was lively, the mood jovial.

Our contemplation was cut short by the arrival of the maitre d’ proffering glasses of champagne. With warmth, aplomb, and no small amount of patience for an American couple with limited fluency in French, he proceeded to guide us through the menu.

“The foie gras?” he began. Yes, for one. Not the other.

“Then oysters for Monsieur? Followed by scallops, pan fried on a bed of parsley purée -- it is the beginning of the season.”

“Ah, you’ve made a friend.”

A few more questions, and he had a handle on what we were about, our likes, our dislikes, and what it would take to bring us to a state of Guy Savoy bliss.                  

The parade of dishes began with a small serving of heavenly, creamy carrot soup flavored with anise that preceded the first of several foie gras preparations, this one hidden within a delicate pastry of filo dough. And for Monsieur, a frosty glass tray bearing plump oysters resting in their shells on a bed of oyster juice blended with a trace of cream, topped with a slither of sorrel and tiny bits of lemon.

Champagne glasses were whisked away and replaced by a carafe of refreshing, lemony Alsatian Riesling to accompany a second miniature portion of soup: autumnal pumpkin bisque enlivened by the zing of white truffles (also just in season).

Another version of the delectable foie gras now arrived, a raw slice over wild mushrooms with black truffles and sliced leeks sitting on a little strainer. No sooner was it consumed, when a waiter -- coming as if from out of nowhere -- lifted the strainer with a flourish, and voila! another foie gras presentation, gelled this time beneath beef bouillon. Simultaneously, the promised scallops from the waters off Brittany were served. Seared, on a bed of sautéed parsley purée and flavored with parsley juice, they seemed the epitome of delicacies until the next course: tuna, so rare it was nearly raw, accompanied by chopped chives, micro-greens, ginger, and -- unexpectedly but delightfully -- raisins.

The delectable foie gras - click to enlarge
The delectable foie gras
And scallops on parsley purée - click to enlarge
And scallops on parsley purée

Like a perfectly choreographed dance, the Guy Savoy dinner proceeds with precision and not a single missed step. Although unhurried, never, for a moment, does time lag. Each new course is preceded by a change of flatware and glasses accomplished with such alacrity and fluidity, it is barely noticed. Wine and water glasses remain magically filled; no sooner is a crisp wheat roll or wedge of fragrant country bread finished, then another variety appears on a never empty bread dish.

The artichoke is a favorite vegetable of the chef’s and the basis for his signature artichoke soup. Cooked in truffle juice with an abundance of black truffles and grated cheese and accompanied by a flaky brioche with mushrooms and spread with truffled butter, it is incredibly delicious and creamy. Equally incredibly, it is cream-less -- the rich texture comes from the artichoke heart. Although served all year round, what ideal comfort food this flavorful dish proved to be on a damp and chilly autumn night.

A signature Guy Savoy dish: artichoke soup - click to enlarge
A signature Guy Savoy dish: artichoke soup

Wine at Guy Savoy can be ordered by the glass. To accompany our main courses, we had a lovely two-year-old Beaujolais from Morgon Côte du Py that was brimming with the flavors of fruit. It was a good match with the red mullet that came with chives, fried potatoes, sautéed eggplants and baby spinach, and the sautéed sweetbreads that were crisp on the outside but moist and delicate within and admirably paired with turnips and baby leeks, foie gras and truffles.

To select from the ample cheese tray, we sought the advice of our  helpful server who suggested the pungent, creamy epoisses from Burgundy and the excellent munster with apricot marmalade. Mesmerized by the gorgeous, glittery dessert trolley, we tasted caramelized grapes that looked like miniature jelly apples, tiny madeleines, and grapefruit segments coated in orange jelly. But we also succumbed to an unforgettable chocolate cake that came with the deepest, darkest chocolate ice cream.

At the conclusion of this exceptional dinner, we reflected on the ineffable quality that had made the experience so sublime.  Beyond the quality and expert preparations of the food, the élan that marked the service, and the restrained elegance of the surroundings, there was a celebratory atmosphere that was reflected throughout, among diners and staff alike.

Guy Savoy (left) and his kitchen team - click to enlarge
Guy Savoy (left) and his kitchen team

“You can feel Guy Savoy through all the aspects,” says the lovely Carine Guillemot who has been the chef’s assistant for the past four years. “He wants you to be comfortable like you are in your own home. The place was re-decorated a few years ago to make it more intimate.”

“It used to be one main room and now we have four small rooms,” said Berlin-born Hubert Schwermer, one of the four maitre d’s. “But the rooms are not really separated. Mirrors and openings give it a spacious feeling. It’s a flexible arrangement; some of the walls can be moved to make for different sized rooms.

“The décor was done by this famous architect,” he added. “He thought through every element, the level of the lights, the comfortable chairs and the spacing. The Limoges china was designed by an artist. Each plate is different, designed to complement the food.”

Has the food changed along with the décor, we wondered. “The trend is to make dishes lighter and healthier,” Hubert said. “Only one or two dishes have a little bit of cream. But the quality remains at the same high level. Produce is delivered daily by market gardeners, suppliers are farmers or wine growers for generations, breeders, small scale fishermen from Brittany.”

Carine Guillemot assistant to Guy Savoy - click to enlarge
Carine Guillemot assistant to Guy Savoy
Maitre d’ Hubert Schwermer - click to enlarge
Maitre d’ Hubert Schwermer

“Guy is here early every morning before the rest,” Carine interjected. “He must see himself what is happening in the kitchen, the dining room. He shares his expertise and experience with all, and as a result, there is a lot of affection for him on the part of the staff and pride in being part of the team.”

There are four other Guy Savoy properties in Paris: three bistros and one in between a bistro and gastronomic restaurant. A fifth will be opening in August 2005. Only this venture is to be on our side of the Atlantic in the new tower of Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Palace. According to Carine, it will be identical to the one where we had just enjoyed so splendid a repast: the Restaurant Guy Savoy behind an inconspicuous entrance, on a street around the corner from the Arc de Triomphe.  A good excuse to head west and re-experience the pleasures of dining at Guy Savoy where, according to the chef, “A meal is a celebration of life.”

Restaurant Guy Savoy
18 Rue Troyon 75107 Paris

Phone: 33 (0) 1 43 80 40 61

photographs by Harvey Frommer

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.


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