Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Breakfast at Le First, Westin, Paris

I've only been to Paris twice, both times within the past year.  The first time, I stayed at The W Hotel Opera, where, besides the jam, the breakfast really failed to impress (although the hotel itself was great).  So on my second visit I decided to try another Starwood property, this time, the Westin.

Breakfast is buffet style at Le First, the restaurant on the ground floor.  It was one of the best breakfast buffets I have ever encountered, on nearly every dimension: extensive options, always fully stocked, friendly and attentive staff, and of course, tasty food.

As I said, options are extensive.  If you want to be healthy and have some hot porridge, yogurt, and fruit, you certainly can.  If you want to go French and have a baguette with butter or cheese, or crepes and ratatouille, you can.  If you are feeling Asian inspired, and want miso soup and teriyaki salmon, also an option.  If you prefer things simple, and opt for toast, bagels, and cereal they have that too.  Generic American breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage?  Sure.  But if you want to be, uh, Julie, there is hot danish bread pudding, cheesecake (!), and absolutely stunning pastries.

After all, you aren't in Paris at a breakfast buffet too many days a year ... right?  Go big or go home?  Which, uh, I did, for a full 4 glorious days.  I highly recommend this buffet, if you can't tell.

Setting

The Westin Paris is an impressive place.  It was built in the 1800s, as the premier luxury hotel in all of France.  It is a full block large and quite a maze.  It was used as a military hospital at one point, and became a Westin in 2005.  It is the definition of elegant.
Restaurant at the end of the hall ...
To reach the restaurant, you walk down a long marble hallway, shiny and glistening.
Standard Seating.
The interior is quite regal - dark tones, lots of deep purple and gold, curtains everywhere.
Comfortable Seating.
Elegant doesn't normally equal comfortable, but, here it does.  The seats are all padded and it was very easy to stuff myself, and then just settle into these seats in blissful food coma, happy to not move besides lifting my coffee cup.

Tables were set with paper napkins, but they were purple too.  Silverware, mugs for coffee, and sugar/sweetener completed the place settings.

Food & Drinks

I had the buffet, usually 39€ each, but was the option I selected for my Platinum benefit, so, included in my stay.

Drinks

Once seated, literally immediately, I was always offered coffee or tea.  I went with coffee, and it was ... ok.  Fairly harsh.  Coffee was refilled regularly by a server who roved around the room.

Every day, I tried the regular coffee, and every day it was really acidic.  Is this just Parisian coffee?
Decaf Coffee, Hot Water.
After awhile I switched to decaf, which I needed to order from a server.  "Decaf espresso?", he asked.  "Uh ... Americano?" I offered.  He brought me a decaf espresso, and my own pot of hot water to mix in as I pleased.  Perfect!

I tried the decaf another day, and again, it was better than the regular.  Such a rare thing, not that it was amazing, but it was perfectly drinkable.
Juices, Water.
On the side was a self-serve cold drink station, with still water, sparkling water, grapefruit and orange juice in dispensers, and other juices, even coconut water, in a bowl on the side.
Tea Station (Jing tea)
Next was a tea station, with fancy Jing teas, but only 3 varieties.  They had a bunch of herbs to mix in on the side.

Hot Foods

Hot foods ranged from American to Asian to French, all served buffet-style.  You could also order made-to-order eggs, but no one tells you this and there is absolutely no indication it is an option.  Not that I care, as I'm not into eggs, but worth noting if you are.
Hot Buffet Line.
The main hot buffet contained all the items you'd expect.
Scrambled Eggs, Bacon.
Standard scrambled eggs and bacon.
Ratatouille, Sausage.
Sausages to complete the "American" style offerings.

Next was veggies, in the form of ratatouille.  Now we were getting more French.
Potatoes, Mushrooms, Beans.
The potato option was roasted potatoes.  More veggies included sautéed mushrooms and flat broad beans.

The mushrooms were unfortunately cold the day I tried them, but, I really liked having assorted wild mushrooms, well seasoned, and something savory with my sweets fest.
Vanilla Crepes, Baked Beans.
Baked beans completed the "European" style options, and some vanilla crepes bring us back to the French influence.  No pancakes, french toast, or waffles for hot carbs.

The crepes were ... ok.  Buffet crepes.  Thin style, crispy, a bit cold.  Not worth it given the other options.

The one thing I missed was some kind of whipped cream, er, chantilly, to put on the crepes (or other breakfast carbs).  I guess maple syrup and the fruits work for this, and it isn't like I needed more butter and cream, really ...
Rice and Oatmeal.
On the other side is an oatmeal station, in a beautiful copper pot held over of a flame.  Mix-ins like chopped pecans and cinnamon were on the side.

I tried the oatmeal, and it was really just a pot of soupy mush.  Even with mix-ins, it failed to impress.

A rice cooker started the Asian hot foods area.
Asian Veggies, Chicken, Glazed Salmon, Miso Soup.
The Asian station is rounded out by miso soup (with add-ins in little bowls in front), plus glazed salmon, chicken, and stir fried veggies with noodles in chafing dishes.

Cold Foods

Moving along to the cold items, things got far more interesting.
Cereal.
Ok, well, cereal isn't interesting, but, was there as an option for those who want their simple cereal breakfast.  Corn flakes, cocoa crispies, corn pops, wheat flakes.
Fruit, Yogurt, CHEESECAKE, Condiments, Milks.
To go with the cereal, or perhaps just to drink, was a large selection of milks, including skim, soy, and even almond milk.  This was a big step up from everywhere in Portugal (where I was prior to Paris) where only one kind of milk was offered.  They were all labelled too.

Next to this was the butter selection, fancy individual wrapped butters, with or without salt.  There were four types of jam in pots (raspberry, strawberry, apricot, and orange).  A pot of peanut butter.  Individual jars of honey, maple syrup, and even chocolate hazelnut spread.

Then came yogurt, fancy glass jars of yogurt (plain or fruit), plus one big bowl of plain yogurt.  Fruit toppings, like stewed prunes, oranges, grapefruit segments, melon, pineapple, and mango.

I tried the plain yogurt, it was fine, but nothing very special.  I topped it with jams and mango.  The jams were not anything particularly interesting, good quality, with real fruit, not just Smuckers, but not my mom's homemade jam.  The mango wasn't actually ripe fresh mango, instead it was somewhat stewed or poached I think.

And then ... CHEESECAKE.  Yes, CHEESECAKE.  For breakfast.  Oh be still my heart.

The cheesecake was fantastic.  A thick, buttery, sweet, graham cracker crust.  Super, super creamy, lemony cheesecake.  At first, I found it too lemony, as I don't really like lemon desserts.  The first day, I ate the crust alongside my coffee life a biscuit, and really enjoyed it.  Later ... I came back to the lemon flavored creamy cheesecake, and ate it more like a pudding or yogurt, and really liked it.  It is amusing, but, once I stopped thinking of it as cheesecake, I liked it.  I'm glad I discovered this on my first day.

I had a small slice of cheesecake every morning.  I never liked it as a complete package, but, whenever I ate the crust off first, with coffee, and then the creamy lemony pudding, I actually liked it.  It varied in quality though, some days the crust was soggy, and other days the cheesecake was weeping.  I think it must have been frozen, and just how well it was unfrozen varied.  Still, it was tasty, no matter.
French Cheeses, Charcuterie, Smoked Salmon, Salad, Hardboiled Eggs. 
The final cold items station had makings for salad (lettuce, carrots, cherry tomatoes, radishes), two types of olives and onions, cucumbers in yogurt, and hard boiled eggs, three (!) different types of smoked salmon (although no capers, lemons, etc), sliced ham, turkey, and chicken, and a stunning french cheese platter with dried fruits.

The cheese platter was clearly a showcase for the restaurant, with hard cheeses and soft cheeses, including a ridiculously gooey super stinky triple cream with a washed rind.  This was replenished constantly.  I didn't find myself gravitating towards the cheeses though, they were just never what I wanted at breakfast.

One morning, about 2 weeks into my trip, when my body was clearly craving something besides sweets and carbs, I actually made a salad.  For breakfast.  Which is ridiculous for many reasons, I never make salads, and I certainly don't eat them for breakfast.  But, I needed veggies.

The gem lettuce was fairly fresh and crisp, and the radishes crunchy and refreshing.  Only balsamic and olive oil were available for dressing though, so, that wasn't quite what I wanted.

Bakery

And now, getting to the good stuff.  The baked goods.  Sure, breakfast buffets don't normally have very good baked goods, but, well, we were in France.  I had hopes, although not necessarily expectations, since the breakfast pastries at the W in Paris were so poor.

That was not the case here.  They did a fantastic job with the house made items.
Gluten-free Corner.
To start, on the side was a cute little gluten-free corner, with separate cereal and bread.
Vegetable Quiche.
Next came quiche, presented on a marble slab.

I tried a small piece on the final day.  It had spears of asparagus in it, but was still quiche, not an item I really like.  The puff pastry crust was decent.
Breads ...
And then ... getting into the good stuff.  Sliced bread and loaves to slice, croissants, pain a raisin, chocolate swirls, apple turnovers, mini baguettes ...

I adored the fact that they kept the croissants under a heat lamp.

A toaster was available on the side as well.
More baked goods ...
Continuing along were the baked goods for the Americans: bagels and english muffins, pre-sliced and ready for toasting.

There was also some kind of pound cake that I never tried.

And then, the good stuff.  On the far right, were some croissant-like buns, labeled "puff pastry brioche".  They were almost like kouign-amann, just, not quite as buttery and caramelized on the outside.  Ojan took one look and asked if they were kouign-amann.  

These were clearly made in house, separate from the rest of the croissants, danishes, and whatnot.  They were perfectly flaky and buttery.  The outside was a bit caramelized and crispy.  I did find them a *little* bit dry, but slathering one in some chocolate hazelnut spread quickly fixed that.  I grabbed one most days, always thinking it was so close to great.  Really buttery, flaky pastry, but, just a bit too dry.

On any other buffet, the croissant buns would have been the best item.  I'd gladly eat a mound of them.  But, I actually liked the cheesecake more.  And one more item that was to come ...

Oh, there were also donuts, always welcome in a buffet, glazed and coated with assorted toppings: chocolate glazed with nuts, vanilla and caramel, sugar, vanilla and candies ... 
Vanilla Glaze Sprinkle Topped Donut.
The donuts looked very familiar, and I realized that they were exactly the same as the ones I raved about from the Sheraton Cascais.  Clearly, Starwood uses a consistent supplier for some of the baked goods.

While the donuts were a highlight in Portugal, there were so many other amazing things in Paris, that it took until the final day of my visit to finally try one, which, uh, I grabbed on my way out the door because I couldn't resist.  I selected the one that wasn't on offer in Cascais: a vanilla glaze with colorful round sprinkles.

It was basically exactly the same as Cascais - a soft, sweet dough, not fried, and actually pretty good.  This one was not filled.  I really liked the sweet vanilla glaze and crunchy toppings.  I gladly would have eaten more of these, but, there were too many other amazing things.

Like what came next.
Hot Croissant/Danish Bread Pudding.
And then there was this.  Yes, croissant bread pudding.  Also kept hot under a heat lamp.

I love bread pudding.  I love it for breakfast or for dessert.  I love it sweet or savory.  It is one of my favorite dishes, particularly when hot, particularly when topped with whipped cream or ice cream.

But this was breakfast, and although I did want whipped cream to go alongside, I think I'm glad they didn't provide it, given just how heavy the rest of my "breakfast" was.  Did I really need whipped cream on my mound of custardy bread pudding when I also had a slice of cheesecake on the side?  Yeah, I didn't think so.

That all said, I'm *very* picky about the style of bread pudding that I like.  I don't like it dense and homogenous.  I like to find individual chunks of the bread used.  Bonus points for using brioche, croissants, danishes, and the like.

It was labelled "housemade pudding", and I was thrilled to discover that it was made from croissants and danishes, perhaps actually the croissant buns that I enjoyed?  It was very close to my ideal style, super moist and custardy inside, a bit crispy on top.

The base flavor seemed to just be vanilla/cinnamon, which was fine for breakfast.  In the mix were some currants.  Not what I'd pick (nuts are always better in my mind), but, still, this was fine.  I ended up adding pecan bits from the oatmeal station to get my fix.

I really loved the bread pudding.  Custardy, moist, crispy, decadent danish bread pudding.  For breakfast.  I liked it even more when I drizzled some maple syrup over it, but to be honest, that wasn't necessary.

I had this every morning.  I went back for seconds every time.  I knew it was horrible nutritionally.  And yes, I had a big serving of bread pudding, AND a brioche croissant bun, AND a small slice of cheesecake.  For "breakfast".  Every day.  It was worth it.  I promise I ate salad and fruit for lunch.
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