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La Tour d'Argent is obviously most famous for its 'Caneton Tour d'Argent' or Pressed Duck. I don't know if it's on the '101 foods to try before you die' list but if it's not, it definitely should be. After the duck is roasted, the breasts and legs are removed and then the carcass is placed in a duck press to extract the juices and blood, which are then used to make the sauce that comes with the duck. It's quite rare to find pressed duck on a restaurant menu; in fact very few restaurants actually do own a duck press. Probably only the lobster press is an even rarer kitchen implement. Apart from the duck, the restaurant is also world famous for its vast wine cellar currently holding some 400,000 bottles - the second largest restaurant wine cellar in the world (second only to Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa, which claims to have more than 500,000 bottles) and without a doubt the most famous and historic one by far.
One of La Tour d'Argent's famous duck presses
La Tour d'Argent was founded in 1852 and in 1890 the then owner Frédéric Declair started numbering the ducks that were served to the guests. The millionth duck was sold in 2003. It was Fréderíc Declair who sold the restaurant to André Terrail sr in the early 1900's. Both the restaurant and the famous wine cellars survived two World Wars under André Terrail's stewardship. The impromptu decision to wall up part of the cellars in 1940 prevented the most prestigious and valuable bottles from falling into the hands of the invading Germans. The restaurant staff worked frantically but there was little time and they could only save some 20,000 bottles - but among them were the fabled 1867's. The story is recounted in more detail in Don & Petie Kladstrup's delightful book Wine & War (Broadway Books, 2001). After the second World War, in 1947, André's son Claude took over and it was under this aegis that La Tour d'Argent turned into one of the culinary hotspots in Paris with no less than 3 Michelin stars at its apogee. In 2006 the legendary restauranteur Claude Terrail passed away and his son André, the incumbent owner, succeeded him. The restaurant currently holds 1 Michelin star.
La Tour d'Argent is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday till Saturday. The restaurant offers a 3-course lunch menu for €68, a €170 'Suprise' menu, a 7-course Grande Menu Tour d'Argent for €190 and the a la carte menu. And then there's the wine list which has no fewer than 15,000 entries. Hubby obviously complained vehemently that there was far too little time to give the brick-shaped tome adequate attention, but in close cooperation with the sommelier he settled for Chablis Montée de Tonnerre 1996 from Raveneau and Nuits-Saint-Georges Clos des Porrets Saint-Georges 1990 from Gouges. Later on in the evening they would be followed by Graham's Vintage Port 1983 and Château Doisy-Daène 1990. It is always a great (but woefully rare) joy to drink properly matured wines in a restaurant.
I had dinner at La Tour d'Argent with my husband on Saturday 26 May 2012 and we both ordered dishes from the a la carte menu and since this was my first visit these were all classic La Tour d'Argent dishes. The portions would have agreed very well with Fernand Point, so we decided to share.
First a selection of appetizers: (i) Madeleines with an anchovy filling; very subtle anchovy flavours, delicious (ii) White radish discs with salmon tartare; lovely fresh and tasty salmon (iii) Filo pastry with cheese and mustard, lovely strong mustard flavours (iv) Pressed beef; lovely pure and concentrated beef flavours.
Next up was the amuse bouche, Green asparagus velouté, white aspargus jelly, finely chopped white asparagus, crispy buttered toast and some duck foie gras. Loved the different textures and the flavours of the green and white asparagus. The aspargus and foie gras was a nice flavour combination.
As a first course I had Truffled goose foie gras 'des Trois Empereurs' served with a port and sauternes jelly. A terrine of foie gras is presented at the table and then you are served two large spoonfuls of foie gras (marinated in port wine and spices and then cooked for several hours) with large pieces of Perigord truffle in it. Outstanding foie gras which had the most delicate flavour and smooth texture. I have never eaten a better one. Nice freshness from the jellies which had a fantastic depth of flavour both from the port and sauternes but also from the chicken stock that was used to make these jellies, very refined. The brioche that was served on the side was nice but the texture was a bit dry.
Second course, Pike quenelles 'Andre Terrail', Mornay sauce and mushroom duxelles.Gorgeous quenelles which had a feather-light texture and a lovely intense pike flavour. Delicious mushroom duxelles and the Mornay sauce was an absolute dream. A fantastic combination of flavours but also very good on their own. An indulgent but surprisingly light dish.
Main course was THE DUCK: Duck Tour d'Argent, number 1,110,448 to be precise. All the ducks served at La Tour d'Argent are reared by the Burgaud family in Challans. First up was the duck breast which comes with a foie gras, duck blood, duck consomme, Madeira and black pepper sauce, accompanied by some pommes soufflés. An excellent duck breast cooked medium and a gorgeous rich sauce with bags of flavour and a good strong peppery finish. Lovely fruity notes from the pepper too. A simple but perfect main course; the beauty of this dish in in the eating rather than in the presentation and I fear that it is not terribly photogenic.
Next was the duck leg which is served with a mustard bearnaise sauce and some mixed salad leaves. A delicious duck leg with a fantastic crispy skin. The mustard bearnaise was absolutely divine and had the perfect touch of mustard. Obviously a rich combination but balanced out perfectly by the mixed salad leaves.
After we had partaken of the cheese trolley, we enjoyed another Tour d'Argent classic as our dessert: Crêpes 'Belle Epoque'. Perfect thin pancakes cooked with Mandarine Impériale, orange and Cointreau and then flambéed with Grand Marnier. A great classic and utterly delicious.
Iconic, that's perhaps the best way to describe La Tour d'Argent. Iconic food that has managed to enchant guests for decades, served in an iconic setting and with exquisite wines from an iconic wine cellar. I loved every minute of my visit. Even though 1,110,447 ducks had already perished in order to ravish the palates of the discerning diners at La Tour d'Argent before mine took its rightful place in culinary history, it still exceeded my expectations. The whole ritual surrounding the duck is unforgettable and it is baffling to realise that in modern times they have been selling about 17,000 ducks a year on average.
La Tour d'Argent is as uncontemporary as it can be, but that's what it is and that's what it wants to be. How delightfully old-fashioned, how simply divine. Simple and robust dishes, straightforward even, that are (to be honest) quite expensive for what they are even if the ingredients are among the best and most expensive in France. But if you wish to experience a restaurant where the soul of France reverberates in the kitchens, the dining room and the wine cellar, this is where you might go.