Though they have a large a la carte lunch menu, the best deal is the 13.50 euro lunch 'formule.' One appetizer, one entree, a glass of wine, and a coffee. The food, of course, is of the finest bistronomic pedigree. Even weekday lunch reservations are tough to get.
The chef, Philippe Delacourcelle, is known around Paris as the 'spice-man', or something like that. Though he's fond of his spice cabinet, he uses it in very restrained manners, which is very French. Though I do love spices myself, fine cuisine is based on the subtlety of flavors, which can be lost in aggressive spicing.
My meal was actually quite sublime. The first course was a little cast-iron pot filled with different cauliflower preparations (raw, roasted, pureed), gently scented with garam masala. It was very reminiscent of a dish I had at Ubuntu in Napa, except that one was spiced with vadouvan. This version somehow managed to bring out the full spectrum of cauliflower flavors. Outstanding.
My second course, though a little less flawless, was still excellent. A small piece of sea bass had been baked slowly, and served with tomato preserves, turmeric, cumin and fondant potatoes. The portion was small, but at 13.50 euros, I wasn't complaining. Again, the spicing was present but not overwhelming, giving the dish a somewhat exotic scent without masking the quality of the ingredients.
Maybe lunch is the key to a great food culture. Most French people, regardless of their profession, still take the time to enjoy lunch. Many places of work provide lunch vouchers, which can be redeemed at many if not most restaurants. They drink wine, eat well and slowly, and then go back to work. In the US, going 'out' for lunch usually involves either a business lunch or a fast option. However, lunch can be a great way for finer restaurants to break even, or even make money. With a restricted menu and simpler dishes, chefs can have the cooks, who would have been there prepping anyway, work on the line at the same time. If this simple economic difference can make or break a great restaurant, our lunching habits may be the key to explaining the difference between our food culture and Europe's.
In any case, I'd love to go back and try Le Pre Verre's dinner menu.
Le Pre Verre
8, rue Thenard