Ralph Lauren’s eponymous new restaurant Ralph’s created a lot of buzz in Paris, long before it ever opened. It was everywhere in the French press, tweeted about on Twitter, fuelled by the New York Times report that Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group had been brought in for consulting, and that the French kitchen team, including a chef from the Bristol, had spent a week in New York learning to make American classics like burgers and fried chicken. They wrote that Michael Romano, the chef, partner and chief of culinary development for Union Square Hospitality, was brought to Paris to work with the French chefs right up to the opening. For once, Paris would have a real American restaurant, and not just the cheap Disneyseque imitations that serve lousy to mediocre American fare.
Naturally, with all this talk, I called for a reservation the day it opened. The woman I encountered on the phone had that snotty disposition that I have come to know too well in Paris and I was already put off, thinking that they may import the beef from the good old USA but should think about importing American-style service. The pre-opening press blitz had paid off, the first table available was in about 2 weeks, and this was only opening day.
Unfortunately, the weather was cold and rainy the night of our reservation and we were seated in the bar rather than the beautiful courtyard which is sure to become a coveted spot once the warm weather finally kicks in. No matter, because the dining room and bar area are stunning, with dark wood, rich leather banquettes and chairs, and elegant white clothed tables. Once seated you get the feeling you’ve been transported to some exclusive New England hunting club.
The menu is old-school American, with dishes like shrimp cocktail, New England clam chowder, crab cakes, fried chicken, meat loaf, steaks, turkey, veggie and tuna burgers, and of course a cheeseburger. The Black Angus beef is imported from Lauren’s own ranch in Colorado and is grass-fed and hormone free. A tad bit old fashioned perhaps, but it all sounded great to three expat Americans.
I decided on the New England clam chowder, which was very good, with potatoes, bacon and a generous portion of plump clams. Friends tried the crab cakes (deemed a bit spicy) and the sweet pea soup which was not only beautiful but delicious.
The burger, at 27 €, was a bit of a disappointment but perhaps my expectations were too high. It was perfectly good, with heirloom tomatoes, lettuce, real bacon, cheddar cheese, and a very good bun. But it not nearly as juicy as I had hoped (which is always the problem in France) and the fries were average at best. I’ll pay 27 € for a burger, but at double the price of most burgers in town, I want amazing French fries and these were not.
My friends both enjoyed their meatloaf and fried chicken but were under whelmed by the sides of mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach which needed salt.
We were stuffed when it came time for dessert and could only manage to share what turned out to be a very good carrot cake.
Contrary to my original experience on the phone, the staff that night were friendly and professional and our waiter Julien was particularly adorable.
All in all this was an enjoyable, albeit expensive, experience. I think, however, if Mr. Lauren wants to fulfil his promise of creating the best American restaurant in Paris a bit of work has to be done, starting with those fries. Sure the setting is beautiful and I’m sure the see-and-be-seen crowd will be quite happy with the food but if he wants an excellent American restaurant, and it seems that he does with the all the behind the scenes work he’s put in, then they need to bring the level of the food up a notch. And if were up to me, they’d add an amazing Caesar salad to the menu too.
173 Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris, 6th Arrondissement
+33 1 44 77 76 00
And if you are in the mood for American cuisine in Paris, and don’t want to shell out the big bucks you’ll need to spend at Ralph’s, here are a few more addresses:
Definitely one of the best burgers in Paris and their eggs Benedict isn’t bad either.
4 rue Princesse, 6th
A bit more upscale than Coffee Parisian, with good burgers, wings, quesadillas, and other American fare. Very friendly service and big screen TVs make it an ideal for sports lovers.
30 rue Pierre-Lescot, Paris 1st.
Located in the north of Paris, not far from Barbes, this very hip, three-story, defunct print shop turned American themed restaurant makes pretty decent burgers.
100 rue Myrha, 18th
Closed Monday, Tuesdays and Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.
Short for “have a nice day” this newly opened American-style diner serves burgers, club sandwiches, Caesar salads and American-style breakfast.
39, rue de Richelieu, 1st
Closed Sunday and Monday nights, with continuous service.
This is one I have yet to try. The menu lists several different burgers, a pastrami sandwich with mayo! (beurk), another strange combination called a spinach Caesar salad, and a few requisite American desserts. I would give it a try for its terrace alone, which over looks the lovely Marché Saint Honoré in the 1st.
Another new comer I have yet to try, that looks quite cute. So far it has had just ho-hum reviews.
74 Rue de la Folie-Méricourt
Breakfast in America
A pretty authentic looking 50′s style American diner with two locations. The first, which is located in the 5th, opened in 2003, the second opened three years later in the Marais. I have been to both locations at least once, but unfortunately never went back because I wasn’t that impressed.
17 rue des écoles, 5th; 4 rue Malher, 4th.
Open daily from 8h30-23h with non-stop service.
Ralph’s in the Press
Table Hopping: Ralph’s in Paris, Alexandre Lobrano for New York Times Magazine