Restaurants & Bars

eating Paris - -long

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Restaurants & Bars 1

eating Paris - -long

magnolia | Mar 25, 2001 05:38 AM

Here's my 'diary'. Almost all places were chosen as a result of posts or links to Chowhound, so a big thank you to everyone who made suggestions!
Reservations are a must for all of these restaurants.

March 16

We got off the Eurostar, left our bags in the lockers and headed straight to Chez Catherine (65 Rue de Provence, 9th, within 20 minutes walk of Gare du Nord, phone 0145267288) which was named ‘bistro of the year’ for 2000 by M. Pudlowski (author of the ‘le Pudlo’ restaurant guides). We were seated along a banquette – I was facing the classic copper bar, which has a large Manet bar-maid picture hanging over it – the quintessential bistro picture. We discovered they were celebrating Truffle Season. We didn’t opt for the all truffle menu, however, we shared an appetizer of vegetable ravoili with truffle cream sauce, which had generously thick truffle shavings over it. I’d never had truffles – only truffle oil – and although I thought they were wonderful, I can see that having a whole meal centered on truffles would probably have been a bit too much of a good thing. For my main course, I opted for the very dietetic (NOT) foie gras de canard au pommes which was sensational – thick slices of foie, just crispy on the outside and melting on the inside, with an apple sauce. But it was not the classic apple sauce – like kind that accompanies pork chops - more of a syrup with apples in it – but not sweet. My beau had canard croisé (wild father, domestic mother – or vice versa) cooked pink as requested with spiced pears which was also fantastic. Then since we weren’t overly stuffed, we shared a banana mousse with cinnamon. All was washed down by a Côtes de Brouilly, and a Côtes du Bourg. The place almost full except for one table for two, in the window just next to us – we couldn’t understand why they didn’t seat us there in the first place. Mme. Guerraz (the eponymous Catherine) came out to greet her guests – a nice gesture which was to be repeated twice more during our trip). Damage:

Then we took a walk uphill to a chocolate shop I’d read about called ‘Etoile d’Or’ (30 rue Fontaine, also in the 9th 0148745953). I’ve decided that I want to make it my life’s mission to visit every chocolate shop in Paris. Luckily this is a mission impossible. Etoile d’Or is on a block with lots of music shops. The place has all its original shop fittings, and smells wonderful. The larger than life owner, who sported Heidi-esque braids and a school uniform with pleated Tartan skirt and matching tie, pointed out all the guide books in which she was mentioned (I’m sure I read about the shop in one myself but can’t recall which) and then told us how she was the sole representative of the best chocolate makers around France. ‘They don’t need me. I must go down on my knees for them.’ Ahem. She has chocolates truffles filled with garam masala, red pepper, lavender…I could go on and on. She also sells big bars of cooking chocolate in all flavors, and while we were there, someone came in and requested ‘the bitterest chocolate you have’. She proceeded to give them a bar which she said ‘had not one grain of sugar in it. It will make your whole face cave in’. The customer seemed happy with this, and I was just getting a kick out of this woman who is so obviously crazy about her job. I feel I exercised extremely strong willpower, leaving with only a small mixed bag, and now that I’m sitting here watching the England v. Finland game…I bitterly regret it.

That night we had dinner at a friend’s, and when we left his house we found ourselves smack in the middle of Paris Roller, a huge group blade rally with literally thousands of bladers who circumnavigate the city every Friday night, with police escorts in cars, on bikes – and on blades. Maybe next time.

March 17

Saturday night, we had dinner at Fish - La Boissonerie {69 r. de Seine, 6th 0143543469 (which I’d booked on the strength of Melanie Wong’s write-up)} which was very lively and friendly to non-French speakers, as the owner is English and most of the staff speak English. It’s not related to Fish! in London. I had sea bass with pesto and roasted potatoes, which was a beautiful, huge specimen with the pesto tucked in where the bones used to be. My beau had grilled tuna with aubergine ‘millefeuille’ (that’s eggplant layered with potato slices). The people who opted for non-fish dishes seemed to have left theirs. What can you do? The bass and tune were perfect, and the wine list was reasonably-priced with a few gems including the one we had, which was a 1998 Condrieu, by Yves Cuilleron. The menu had listed a 1997 but they were obviously sold out. They did not point this out to us. (In fact this is the third time this has happened within the past few months – the other times were at he Brackenbury and the Salt House - where the wine that has come out of the cellar is not from the same year as that which is listed on the menu, and the waiter has never said anything. Fortunately it has always worked in our favor. I like both Brackenbury and Salt House very much so I’m not sure how to take this bait & switch into consideration…) For dessert, we shared a disc of warm ricotta with nuts and apple and cinnamon puree. The bill: £24 ($35?) apiece for six people. That was for two starters, six main courses, two desserts, a bottle of wine, five coffees and a bottle of water… Not bad, eh??? 1160FF

Then we proceeded to the event for which we had gone to Paris in the first place…an all-night advertising film festival, which started at midnight and ended at 8AM the next morning. It was held at the Grand Rex, a huge old cinema with comfy leather seats. So comfy that in spite of the very loud excitement – whistles, and everyone chanting ‘les lapins’ when they thought something was boring (anyone out there care to clarify? I’ve asked three French friends and they haven’t got a clue) I admit to falling asleep a few times and when the clock hit 5h30 AM, we decided to call it a night (a day?) But I’ve been wanting to do this for years so I’m glad I went.

March 17

As you can imagine, Sunday morning was a wash. But we did make it to lunch at 2PM at the tiny Cave à l’Os à Möelle, (address) which deliberately looks like an old farm kitchen, with three beaten up wooden trestle tables and a stove in the corner that would not meet any US fire regulations if you know what I mean. Lunch is ‘all you can eat’. And we did. The appetizers are placed on your table – terrines of pork pâté and boudin noir (blood pudding) and gherkins, and a jar of rillettes ( chicken or some other fowl I believe) and a plate of cold whelks and oysters. The main courses and desserts are buffet-style. There was a fish stew; slices of tender beef in a wine sauce; and a side dish of vegetables, coarsely chopped and cooked until soft in a vegetable stock – but not exactly a soup. For dessert there was spice cake (pain d’epices); prunes in syrup; rice pudding; and fresh yoghurt in little glass jars. There was also a variety of cheeses in an octagonal ‘trick box’ with little drawers and doors all over. All of this was presided over by the chef/owner/cashier/waiter/ sommelier, a veritable one-man show. There is a large selection of wines which diners take right off the shelf. We had a Domaine de la Vieille Julienne ’98 (£7.50 - amazing). We didn’t see the check but I think it was pretty gentle.

March 19

The next day was Arpège day. I’d never been to a Michelin restaurant (the closest comparable experience I’ve had was lunch at l’Ambroisie 15 years ago but I don’t think it had any stars then?) so a lot of my observations may be old news to some ‘hounds…I also had forgotten all about the recent attention paid to l'Arpège due to Chef Passard’s ‘going veggie’. Nor did I really note the absence of red meat on the menu – I chalked it up to a predilection for lighter fare at lunchtime. There were definitely several fish and shellfish dishes, and at least one poultry dish – of quail or pigeon if I recall correctly.

It’s a smallish restaurant, very elegant and modern in muted shades. The Lalique dishes, designed specifically for Passard, matched Lalique panels on the wall which I thought was a wonderful touch. The silverware was…silver. And there’s a picture of the chef’s mother on the wall next to the doors to the kitchen. I know this because we were seated right under it…i.e. next to the kitchen. At first I felt I should be upset about this, but honestly, I really didn’t mind. In fact it was the only table for two anyway, and we got to see all the dishes and wines as they emerged from the kitchen. It was also a really good place for me to get an education about the workings of a fine restaurant kitchen – the employee hierarchy; who does what; how they bring all the dishes to a ‘workstation’ in the middle of the restaurant -- rather than straight from the kitchen to your table, in order to make sure everything is as it should be before serving you; and how they avoid crashing into each other as they run in and out of the two sets of double doors between kitchen and restaurant – which I assume are there to ensure diners never see into the kitchen or hear what’s going on in there. The staff to diner ratio was pretty high. There were three ‘menus’: an à la carte menu and two tasting menus, one with about six courses and one with nine. I had no sense of how much food there would be and I really didn’t want to be stuffed. Also, the two tasting menus had some common, and some different dishes between them. So I thought I would have the smaller one and my beau would have the larger one, and we’d share. The waiter really encouraged (urged?) us to have the same menu and we figured, what the hell, decided to go along with his suggestion. I now assume this was for timing reasons, because each course was served with a flourish by two waiters. I can see how serving more courses to one person would have been awkward, and would have lessened the drama of the presentation. The next challenge was the wine list – or book, I should say. And even though my beau is somewhat of an expert he deferred to the sommelier, as he wanted to see what wine would be recommended that would go with everything on the menu – quite a challenge.

So…here’s the line-up:

1) a tiny (petit four size) tarte au fleur d’oranger, a bottle-cap sized piece of pastry with a puff of cream or fluffy cheese perfumed with orange essence

2) a soft boiled egg yolk with arugula & parmesan, served in the shell with only a spoon sized hole in the top. We grilled the waiter on how the chef managed to separate the egg and cook the whole thing in the shell right side up so the stuff didn’t fall out? Anyway, he wasn’t talking but this was fantastic

3) two sea urchin shells, with sea urchin ‘meat’, egg, & hollandaise ‘cappuccino’. Yum.

4) Three ravioli filled with ginger, lemongrass and possibly spring onion, in a broth made of same; a bit bland

5) Root vegetables (potato, carrot, cabbage – maybe that’s not a root vegetable, leeks, beets) served with couscous and harissa and puddles of essence of beet, carrot and leek. I thought this was very beautiful but definitely an example of where the restaurant may have tried too hard to be ‘nouveau’ about vegetables.

6) three asparagus spears in a buttery sauce. I am a huge asparagus fan, but I don’t think it’s in season anywhere in the world right now, or maybe it was overcooked (which I just don’t want to believe). Anyway they were so stringy that we only succeeded in eating the tips. This dish was just unnecessary.

7) mousse of garlic with caviar and cappuccino of leek which was fantastic

8) The piece de resistance: very generous portions of perfectly cooked homard (lobster) in an orange sauce that I am guessing was butter and paprika but it was not too fiery

9) Dessert – made at table side (I think for the drama of it): a whole roasted tomato stuffed with candied fruit and spices, and possibly nuts, and a sauce of orange juice and a dollop of crème fraiche. I loved the idea of having tomato for dessert, and the presentation of it was wonderful but my date was disappointed. I believe this is a Chef Passard special
10) Six round, millimeter- thick pools of solid chocolate, mocha, coffee-flavored candy served on a linen napkin and looking like a watercolor palette

Wine was a 1999 Chateau Malherbe (£50) from Provence, a white wine served in a carafe but which my date thought should have been kept in a cooler during the meal, though I didn’t detect any fault with it! The meal was £ and the Chef came out and shook hands with all the guests before sitting down for lunch with some journalists (note to self: pitch a story that involves interviewing a great chef during the workday, as soon as possible).

We were totally shocked when we realized that we’d been there for 3 & ½ hours, which flew by. I’m not kidding.

I found the experience very special and was blissfully happy, though my date was not totally, unequivocally satisfied. Picky, picky, picky. However, rather than returning next time (though I understand they change the menu often) I think I’m going to have to go to a different restaurant in order to compare!

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