In the popular film Something’s Gotta Give starring Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, Keaton categorically declares that the Paris bistrot Le Grand Colbert has the “best roast chicken in the universe.” That got me thinking recently about Paris restaurants and French culinary classics–who has the best île flottante (floating island)? who has the best mousse au chocolat? the best soupe à l’oignon (French onion soup)? the best boeuf bourguignon? the best cassoulet? the best steak-frites? and then a really good one because they’re hard to make–the best soufflés?

Well, you can find soufflés on the menu of many a nice restaurant in Pah-ree. But to go to the French source, one must pay a visit to the soufflé heaven of the universe–the Paris restaurant Le Soufflé. In business since 1961, it has inspired diners for decades and also has sparked imitation restaurants the world over.

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I recently lunched again at Le Soufflé and was absolutely ravie  (delighted) at what a delicious, civilized, and thoroughly French experience it was.

Le Soufflé is supremely located a stone’s throw from the Louvre, the Tuileries gardens, the Place de la Madeleine and the Place Vendôme. You walk up to the facade painted in a lovely French blue lacquer accented with small fluted awnings. As soon as you enter the hushed and casually elegant atmosphere, the very professional staff welcomes you and whisks you to your reserved table.

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The word soufflé comes from the French verb “souffler,” meaning “to blow” or “to puff.” This gourmet treat gets its ‘lift’ from beaten egg whites. As Julia Child notes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, “the glory and lightness of French soufflés are largely a matter of how voluminously stiff the egg whites have been beaten and how nicely they have been incorporated into the soufflé base.” Without getting too technical, it is clear the chefs at Le Soufflé have mastered the ‘art of the puff’ and turn out divine soufflés time after time.

While the menu does have regular dishes–the French onion soup is quite nice, the restaurant’s signature lunch experience is a savory soufflé  followed by a sweet soufflé. On this particular day, I chose the classic ham and cheese soufflé and my dining companions ordered a variety of other savory soufflés. You could tell the kitchen had the rolling stream of soufflé orders under control as our golden, puffed delights arrived at the table about 20 minutes later.

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I couldn’t wait to take that first dive with a spoon into this steaming hot soufflé. The sides of the towering egg edifice then started to come down making it easier and easier to eat as I went along. The ham, cheese and eggs are a natural combination–think the classic taste of quiche lorraine in soufflé form!

Of course you have to order your dessert soufflé at the start of the meal to allow for real-time preparation. So all while I was enjoying the ham and cheese version, my chocolate soufflé was in progress. But prior to enjoying dessert, our table decided to share a bountiful salade verte (green salad). It was the perfect palate cleanser before our glorious dessert finish to the Le Soufflé meal. (The secret to very French salads is great greens and a great viniagrette–check out the photos from the recent French Affaires Vinaigrette workshop below.)

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Once we had finished our savory dishes, our table’s array of dessert  soufflés arrived in their full blown glory. The winner was the chocolate version served with liquid chocolate sauce which is poured into the center. Does it get any better than this?

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Our lunch was a thoroughly French and a thoroughly fulfilling dining experience. The next time you are in Paris, reserve a table at Le Soufflé and wait for the soufflé experts of the universe to make their magic. You won’t be disappointed.

Le Soufflé is located at 36, rue du Mont Thabor in the 1st arrondissement. (Don’t let the restaurant’s pretty basic web site fool you–the establishment is the epitomy of French understated elegance and charm.)

French Take-Out™ ~ La France à emporter

You may have noticed the classic porcelain ramekins that hold the savory and sweet soufflés above. They are made by Apilco, the well-known French porcelain manufacturer, and their straight sides make for successful soufflés time after time. Williams-Sonoma in the U.S. carries a nice variety of Apilco porcelain ramekins for American chefs. Click here to see their selection.