Full disclosure is in order here: at Paris Update, we normally review only restaurants where we eat anonymously and pay full price for our meals, with the occasional rare exception, which I promise to reveal in my review. This is one of those exceptions. I couldn’t resist when I was invited to lunch at La Grande Cascade, located in the Bois de Boulogne, in the middle of a May heatwave,
I was greeted outside Napoleon III’s former hunting lodge by an attentive uniformed waiter who was careful to warn me of every slight deviation in the level of the pavement. He seated me at one of the spacious white-cloth-covered round tables on the terrace. As in many Michelin-starred restaurants of the old-fashioned variety (but not in most one-stars like this one), my handbag was also seated, on a little cushioned stool next to me.
These are the kind of niceties expected by the customers of La Grande Cascade, a restaurant that has been in the same family for three generations. They also prefer such classics of French cuisine as sole and sweetbreads, with a nice millefeuille for dessert, and tend to get upset if their favorites are removed from the menu. While chef Frédéric Robert makes sure that these stalwarts are offered most of the time, he still dares to give them a little twist and makes them with high-quality, seasonal ingredients, which explains why not every favorite dish is on the menu year-round. He has also lightened up traditionally heavy dishes and added more vegetables to meet today’s health and nutrition concerns.
I decided to start with one of the dishes that the restaurant doesn’t dare remove from the menu for fear of inciting vociferous protests from its regulars, even though it is a fairly recent addition to the menu: macaroni and cheese. This is not the simple mac and cheese I loved as a child but a luscious, Frenchified version that was invented at the Grande Cascade itself by then-chef Jean-Louis Nomicos in 1997 and has since been copied by many other restaurants. It consists of long tubes of pasta filled with Parmesan, foie gras, celeriac, truffles and, just to gild the lily, veal jus with more truffles. Needless to say, it was luscious, but rather over the top. A lighter, foie-gras-free version with artichoke, truffles and Parmesan is available on the “garden” menu.
For the main course, I chose a dish less likely to clog the arteries: a generous helping of Atlantic turbot accompanied by cooked and raw green asparagus and topped with a reinvented hollandaise sauce made with lime juice and zest instead of lemon.
The succulent, perfectly cooked fish was prepared and served at the table by our server, adding to the Old World flavor of the restaurant. The serving was generous and the dish as a whole perfect for a warm spring day.
The chocolate ganache dessert with ice cream flavored with fresh herbs was faultless. I was determined to have only a taste, but somehow it disappeared entirely, as if my spoon had a mind of its own.
More sweets were served with the coffee: tiny tarts, one with chocolate cream and the other with custard and strawberries.
La Grande Cascade is the place to go when you want a refined French meal with superior service on a terrace in a beautiful green setting. Visiting parents would probably love it. Even when the weather does not cooperate, you will have the impression that you are outdoors in the large glass dining room with its elaborate metal structure, which was added to the building at the time of the 1900 Exposition Universale.
For those who find the prices too steep (the macaroni and cheese alone is priced at a staggering €88!) but still want to enjoy a (more reasonably priced) summer meal in the Bois de Boulogne, the terrace of the recently renovated sister restaurant, L’Auberge du Bonheur, tucked away behind the Grande Cascade, seats 350. Be forewarned, however: it does not take reservations and fills up quickly when the doors open at noon on Sunday. Best to go on a weekday if possible.Favorite