I feel remiss in not charting new territory, but what can I say? We had fond memories of previous meals at Pottoka and CAJ and the frigid weather called for rich, gamy lunches. Which we got. We also got some really nasty dishes.
This is a virtual report; I sent G. there as he was in Paris for a night before we arrived, and I was curious enough to make him a guinea pig. He enjoyed the amuse-bouche (cream of spinach soup) and starter (salad of endive and Roquefort - "It's all there - bitter, sweet, sharp. I could eat the whole thing. Oh wait, I did."). And then was pleased and disappointed in equal measure by the demi-portion of boeuf bourguignon ("The sauce has bags of flavour - sweet onions, earthy mushrooms, smoky bacon. But the beef is oddly dry and bland. And the glass of Haut-Medoc does nothing for it."). He ended with the Grand Marnier souffle ("Impressive. Light and sweet, but with the heat of the liqueur and the acid of the oranges. Glad I tried it.") Overall, as will come as no surprise, the atmosphere is ur-Paris; it's a great place to take someone who's never been to France but is probably best avoided by those who have and who are averse to spending 100 euros for the above meal, which didn't rise above serviceable.
Right around the corner from our hotel. I was intrigued by the "you can get anything by the glass" approach, and indeed, they have a nicely curated wine list. I will be forever in their debt for introducing me to a Saumur from Romain Guiberteau, and a Montlouis demi-sec from Jacky Blot, one of my favourite Loire growers, was just the thing for my terrine of foie gras with quince (which was itself delicious). But the rest of the meal - meh. G's carrot veloute was decent but uninspired; I can't even remember what he had for a main, and my filet de bar, kind of a riff on bouillabaisse, was marred by flaccid skin, anemic rouille and under-cooked potatoes.
Chez l'Ami Jean
Not the unadulterated success of our first visit, but you can't step in the same river twice, right? Started with scallops and savoy cabbage for me and maquereau a la vapeur with foie gras for G. I almost burst into tears at my first bite, which was well-nigh inedibly salty. Thankfully, it was just a stray flurry of salt; the rest was perfect. Three immense, barely cooked scallops sat there and said, "Yep, it's all about sourcing." Sauteed chiffonade of cabbage provided an earthy, buttery counterpoint to the scallops' sweetness, and all was bathed in a jus of veal stock, lemon and piment d'espelette. G enjoyed his mackerel - again, great product - but I was less convinced by the pairing with foie gras, and I'm not a huge fan of steamed fish to begin with. Mains were gigot d'agneau and root vegetables for me, and the pigeon pot-au-feu for G. When the server asked how we wanted them cooked and we said comme le chef le veut, he said, "Well, if you order things saignant, you'll get them vivant. I prefer my pigeon and lamb rose, but here, I'd go with a point in order to get them that way." :o) Good advice for the pigeon, but the lamb was just a touch overcooked. The pot-au-feu was EXTRAORDINARY. Meaty, gamy, a broth to die for, and vegetables that made one hear choruses of cherubim. My lamb was good, but not quite at the level of the pigeon; the same root vegetables made an appearance (hurrah!) and the Jego touch of inspiration was a garnish I couldn't identify - almost like cookie crumbles or crumbs of barely cooked pate sable. I asked the server, who said he'd ask, but then we both forgot about it. In any event, a delicious counterpoint to the rich lamb. R., aka Mr. Picky, ate half my lamb.
Still love, love, love the convivial atmosphere. Wish we'd been a few tables down to get in on the action of a genial diner pouring tastes of Cote-Rotie for the tables next to him. :o) And yes, someday we WILL go there for dinner, sans enfant, and go completely nuts.
Sunday lunch, and we were really looking forward to it, having had only a Verot-charcuterie-and-Quatrehomme-fromage picnic in the hotel for dinner after lunch at CAJ, and no breakfast. The same cordial welcome, the same instant willingness to prepare something for R (who was SEVERELY disappointed that there were no frites on offer, and turned up his nose at the really rather lovely plate of truffled orzo "risotto" the chef sent out for him. He liked truffles when he was 2, but now at almost 4, finds them yucky. Oh well. G and I liked it!). But for me, at least, it was downhill from there. G enjoyed his starter of cochonnailles (half a dozen kinds of saucisson; surprised and saddened not to see any terrine or boudin on offer) and his main of gigot d'agneau with Tarbais beans and truffle vinaigrette. I tasted it and just couldn't see the point of the truffle. I started with the veloute of topinambours, which arrived as a beautifully arranged bowl with an unidentifiable mound of chopped stuff topped with a sable biscuit topped with a quenelle of heavily truffled creme fraiche, with a pitcher of soup to pour in. Following instructions to try to get a bit of everything on the spoon, I dug in. And then stopped, confused. It just didn't work. I still have no idea what the chopped stuff was, though I'm thinking it was more topinambour; it was just cold and unpleasant. The sable biscuit was completely out of place, and the truffled cream was so cold, and there was so much of it, that it completely overwhelmed the soup. Because the bowl was so shallow, it cooled in seconds and I was left with a chilled morass of yuckiness. I am still puzzled by it. But not as puzzled as I am by my main of volaille jaune with a lemon "lacquer" and puree of carrots and coriander. The chicken arrived in two guises: first, a cylinder of breast that had obviously been prepared in a ballotine style, pounded thin and then rolled into a tight cylinder in plastic wrapped, poached and sauteed. But ballotines are usually stuffed with something; this wasn't, so the approach seemed pointless. Second, a little brik pastry cigar of the thigh meat. And both were....well, texturally speaking, they *were* moist (although moist is not a big selling point with brik pastry...). But I almost spat out my first bite. And my second. The menu had said lemon lacquer; it should have said "overwhelmed, completely and totally overwhelmed, by essence of lemon-scented room freshener." It was seriously dreadful. I was hoping for redemption from the puree, but it tasted more of sugar than of carrots.
Did I say anything? No. Was that cowardly? Maybe. But it wasn't as if there was an element I could point to and say, yo, in an otherwise good dish, this is just not working; please fix it (as I would have done had the scallops at CAJ been uniformly salty). It was that the entire concept behind the two dishes seemed completely wrong-headed.
I'd like to think I'd give them another chance because our first visit there was so fantastic. I really want to write this off as an anomaly, or maybe there was a new chef in the kitchen. In any event, it made me really sad.
Luckily, I was able to cheer myself up with a new Le Creuset cocotte from the soldes at Galeries Lafayette. :o)
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