Tour d'Argent (The Silver Tower) is the oldest restaurant in Paris. It may be the oldest restaurant in the world, though there are many contenders for that position. It definitely beats Procope by a century or more. And they may be wrong anyway.
In 1582, when the Tour d’Argent opened their doors, Pope Gregory XIII announced he would change to a new calendar, henceforth known as the Gregorian calendar. Until that time, most of Europe used the Julian calendar based on a year of 365.25 days. But the Julian was off by eleven minutes, hence Pope G force changed it.
The Gregorian calendar fixed this problem, but in doing so lost 15 days. Two whole weeks went poof! So the Silver Tower may be two weeks older than it claims. Or younger. #nerdcred
1582 was the year that a very young Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. There is no evidence Shakespeare dined at Tour d’Argent–but he could have. He probably visited France, as several of his plays are set in that country, though even that is speculation (based on eight and a half seconds of intense internet research). Of course, at the time, the Tour was probably nothing like it is now. It's hard to know for sure, but the very first mention of the Tour, in the 1860 Baedeker's Guide says the Tour is out of the way and on a mud-covered hill. Not exactly high praise. I imagine for the 278 years leading up to that glamorous description, the Tour was probably more like a roadside tavern.
Tour d'Argent and Vincent Price
The Prices dined there, probably in the late ‘50s, and though they enjoyed it, were impressed by the prices. Impressed enough to mention them in the Treasury. Their lunch was 12 bucks and dinner was 20. In 2017 dollars, that would be a 748% increase to $101 and $170 respectively. Not far off from the actual costs at Tour d’Argent today. You can pick up a prix fixe lunch for about $200 bucks. The evening tasting menu is just over $320 (again, based on shitty research).
The Chef de Cuisine when Price visited was Pierre Descreux and the owner was Monsieur Claude Terrail, the middle pillar of the three Terrail’s who’ve owned the Tower since Andrè purchased it in 1912 from Frédéric Delair. Terrail was a restauranteur with several Parisian locations and other prestigious restaurants and hotels across France. Along with the recipes of Adolphe Digléré, Terrail purchased and persevered one of the most expansive and oldest wine cellars in the world.
A Wine Cellar that's 400 years old
Today, those cellars hold over 320,000 bottles including a Château Citran 1858, which is the oldest in their collection. They also hold an exceedingly rare bottle of Napolean Brandy which once had a twin. However, Pierpont Morgan, an American billionaire, stole one of the bottles. In its place, he left a note of apology and a blank check. Apparently, Terrail returned the check in favor of the renown.
The cellars have been so valued (indeed, the history of French oenophilia resides there, covered in dust and mold) that Claude Terrail built a false wall during World War 2 to hide the best vintages from the Nazis.
The menu Price ganked from the Tour on the day he dined there doesn’t say a word about the wine he chose. But we get an idea of what he ate from the recipes he published:
- Potage tour d’argent
- Croustade de barbue lagrene
- Noisettes de tournelles
- Filets de sole cardinal
- Poularde en papillote
- Caneton tour d’argent
Price mentions white Bordeaux in the recipe for the fish with soufflé sauce and may have enjoyed a glass paired with the dish. If so, it may have been a 1956 White Bordeaux, a vintage famous for its devastating frost which killed many vines. They may have been served a 1955 Chateau d’Yquem white Bordeaux, “Y” (pronounced ‘ygrec,’ which is pronounced ‘llama’).
Caneton Tour d'Argent, or Frederic's Pressed Duck
Pressed Duck is by far the most famous dish at the Tour. They farm their own birds, though my exhaustive internet search and letters to them have not indicated where that farm is at (I want to go). The reports that new Chef de Cuisine Phillipè Laberre removed the famous duck recipe from the menu appear to be false. If you navigate to their current menu, you'll see a listing for Le Caneton Frédéric Declair, which one must order two days prior, for 125 Euros or $147.60 per person.
This recipe is decadent and complex, featuring a sauce made from the duck's blood. Price wrote the following advice in his presentation of this dish in the Treasury:
Thhis recipe calls for a very young duck (8 weeks), fattened the last 15 days. They kill this bird by suffocation (strangling) in order to keep all its blood. (Author's note: This begins to sound as though the Tour d'Argent chef writes my movie scripts!)
The sauce is made of duck stock, Madeira, port, and Cognac, a splash of lemon juice, some duck liver, and all the blood one can crush from the bones and carcass. They simmer the sauce in a chafing dish until it looks like melted chocolate. Then it is beaten for 20 to 25 minutes until it is very thick and finally served with the duck.
Servers make the sauce tableside with pomp and flourish. It's why the dish is a signature. If you are squeamish about the treatment of animals or perhaps get so when complicit in the maceration of their skeleton in an iron rig, then perhaps you might wish to skip this course at the Tour and perhaps not make it at home. If you are not, and if you are a duck freak, then my God, this is a majestic plate.
The Tour held three Michelin stars until 1996, then two until 2006. It now carries a one-star Michelin rating.