1985 NYT review of Taillevent

This review by Patricia Wells appeared the same year Tampopo came out…

But what on earth does one do to get to the top and, more important, what’s the secret to staying there?

Well, first of all, you don’t even allow yourself to admit that you’re the best. And if you’re Jean-Claude Vrinat, the modest, steady, 48-year-old owner of Taillevent, you take a deep, hopeful breath each morning and tell yourself and your staff, ”We can do better.'” …

Most diners are aware that Taillevent’s food and service is special, but few are conscious of what makes it so. Who would know that the exceptional chocolates, made in the upstairs pastry workshop, are prepared fresh each day, a mark of quality that even the finest Paris chocolate shops can’t match? Or who would imagine that, nestled back in a special cupboard in the vaulted wine cellars beneath the streets rests a collection of handmade cigars that are turned each day so they remain at their peak?

If the silverware has a certain shine, it’s because each day the flatware is washed in a special, binlike machine filled with tiny metal pellets that tumble-clean and polish the silver at the same time. Then it is hand- rubbed and dried, and touched only with two fingers, by the edges, so that fingerprints never mar the shine.

The kitchen equipment gets the same fastidious treatment. Each of the dozens of copper pots is retinned four or five times each year, so as not to taint the stocks and fine sauces that are painstakingly strained through a fine mesh sieve before serving.

Taillevent’s reputation for generosity has not been developed by accident. The restaurant remains one of France’s least expensive grand restaurants – one can expect to spend $30 to $40 a person, not including wine – with one of the finest cellars in the world. All this is due to the fact that since 1946, every centime has been reinvested in the cellar or in renovation of the grand 18th-century townhouse, now known as Taillevent, at 15 Rue Lamennais.

”To begin Taillevent today, one would have to be a philanthropist,” says Mr. Vrinat.

How does the young “kaban-mochi” (briefcase-carrying flunky) deploy and interpret the image of Taillevent in Tampopo? Does he do “justice” to its philosophy?


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