Is there anything better than Paris on a gorgeous spring day (or two or three of them)? I think not--no matter how markedly mediocre most of our meals were this weekend.
I'm not going to enter the hipster/SoPi fray :o). I'm just going to say that if rue des Martyrs were my local hunting/gathering 'hood, I'd be a happy camper. The highlights of our weekend came in wax-paper wrappings rather than on restaurant tables:
LA CHAMBRE AUX CONFITURES
I come here every chance I can; I'm a sucker for their framboises au Champagne, abricot-gingembre and fraises savoureuses.
Love their "baguette renaissance" and their bugnes; R. enjoyed their pain au chocolat, but said he preferred the one from Landemaine down the street. Not sure how trustworthy a 5-year-old is (especially one with a largely beige palate), but I DID love Landemaine's tartelette aux pommes).
First time here (I tend to be a Dubois/Quatrehomme/Barthélemy girl). LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE. Spent ages talking with the shop guy, who just moved back to France after a year in Vancouver and is splitting his time between Beillevaire posts in Nantes and Paris. He pointed me toward a...a...words fail to describe the deliciousness of the St-Felicien. Perfectly, perfectly à point. And that's not mentioning the fantastic Cantal, the succulent Gruyère d'alpage, the sharp and lovely Clacbitou and the Brie--which, since we were alone in the shop, he demanded that I squoosh to get a sense of how deliciously ripe it was.
On to the restaurants:
LE BON GEORGES
108 € for two
I had high hopes for this little restaurant after JT gave it a 7.2 in February 2014: “Right now this stands Number 3 on my Great Hits List for 2014.” Upon walking in, I was immediately predisposed to like the place: light, airy, cool blond stone, a mix of high and low tables and a very cordial welcome (we kept remarking on our server’s cheeriness throughout the meal).
We got off to a good start with a couple of lovely glasses of white—a Maconnais and a vin de pays de Midi-Pyrénées. Things kept on rolling with the starters: I enjoyed my tarte tatin of shallots (excellent short crust with whole caramelized shallots) but really loved G’s roasted white asparagus with a lovely lemony mousseline and shards of jambon cru.
Mains: I feel remiss in not sampling the Polmard-provisioned beef, but I was in a fishy kind of mood. My sole meunière was very good, but the celery-root purée that accompanied it was mind-bendingly awesome. I think there may have been a tiny touch of vanilla bean in it. Zowie. G. had a bit of a let-down with his poitrine de porc and frites; they were serviceable but not much more than that; the sauce on the porc was overwhelmingly thyme-y.
The bread—a rustic, hefty sourdough with a crust that was a bit “torréfiée”—was awesome. The coffee, however, was foul.
AU PETIT SUD-OUEST
115 € for two
I knew G. would appreciate some cassoulet after what I predicted to be a several-hour wait at the Eiffel tower (our five-year-old is a big fan and insists on going every time we’re in town), and I’d heard that this was a reliable outpost for hearty south-west cuisine. Given its location, I was prepared for Tourist Central, which it was. I could forgive them that—not that it’s their fault—but I can’t forgive the mediocrity of the dishes.
My starter of terrine de foie mi-cuit was bland; I resent being given pain au levain for foie gras (I think the sourness of the bread detracts from the flavour of the foie); I didn’t get the point of the pile of undressed, limp salad leaves on the plate; and I was surprised that they didn’t bother proposing a glass of Jurançon to drink with it. Ho hum. G’s salade verte was…a salade verte. (What was he thinking? Oh yes, saving room for cassoulet.)
Mains: My cuisse de canard confit was soggy-skinned and fairly tasteless; G’s cassoulet was an abomination. A pot of Campbell’s Bean with Bacon soup would have held its own in a head-to-head competition. Stay away.
146 € for four
We’d planned on wandering around Montmartre on a lovely spring Saturday, so it made sense to aim for what I’d read on JT’s blog to be ” eats, good product, reasonably priced and great wines.” The gorgeousness of the day actually worked against us, as we were seated at a large table next to the front window. By the end of the meal, we all felt like ants under a magnifying glass. I ended up sending my son under the table with the iPad so that he wouldn’t get sunburned. :o)
The place was heaving, but the noise level wasn’t actually too bad. And it certainly has a nice vibe, with a deli-esque counter, blue walls and a cheerful medley of mix-and-match cutlery on the tables. We all opted for the two-course menu at (I think) 23 €.
Starters were steamed artichoke with a lemony dipping sauce; country pâté with confit d’oignons; carrot and cumin soup; carpaccio of vegetables. I only tasted the last two: the soup was utterly tasteless, and the carpaccio was really kind of bland, saved only by a smear of vibrant beet purée. All the veg were raw or steamed; they could have benefited from a Mediterranean turn in a grill pan. Mains: a serviceable gigot d’agneau with quite decent potato gratin; a salade de saison au poulet (I don’t know what I was thinking, but I got what I deserved), and…I’m drawing a blank on the other two. Memorable they were not. We drank a bottle of Loire valley red, which was served appropriately (and welcomely) chilled.
Would I go back? It was serviceable (which may be the best to hope for in this area), but I think I’d be inclined to try Bistro Poulbot, and certainly La Rallonge (which admittedly sounds as if it would be far less kid-tolerant) before giving up and fleeing back to the 9th or 10th.
LA TABLE DES ANGES
270 € for four (plus a kid's plate)
I’d proposed it to friends because it’s right around the corner from their new flat, and because I’d been seduced by Alexander Lobrano’s generous May 2013 review. And…my reputation as a reliable recommender of restaurants may just be in ruins. I should have been warned by the English menu in the window. Like a pretty face, a friendly welcome only goes so far, and it was all downhill after that. (I will say that the friendly welcome was doubly appreciated because we were there with a 5-year-old AND a 9-month-old!)
The 5-year-old was immediately served a nice piece of bavette and purée; the sad thing is that we’d all have been better off ordering the child’s plate. For starters, two of us went for the bisque de langoustines (grainy and chalky, with an overwhelming pili-pili garnish); one took the assiette de pata negra (no discernible evidence that the feet's original owners had ever been near a tasty acorn-laden forest grove); and one got…I don’t even remember.
Onward to the mains: magret de canard (tough, but serviceable); skrei à la plancha (noteworthy more for its heft—I’ve never seen a portion of fish so large—than its savour); the quenelle de brochet maison (another freakishly large serving, residing in a cocotte with undercooked carrots and turnips rather than on a bed of lovely sauce nantua, for which I cannot quite forgive them); and joues de boeuf cooked in Cahors. I’ve NEVER seen G. not clean his plate; he’s someone for whom food can be a lovely gustatory experience but when it’s not, he has no problem settling for mere caloric intake. So I wasn’t surprised when, later that night, he said it was among the worst dishes he’s ever had: overcooked, tough and tasteless. A bottle of Bourgueil and a glass of Montlouis did little to wash down the ignominy. Never, never, never again.
40 € for two
I seriously owed G. after the previous night's beef-cheek debacle, so I caved on my plan to try Blue Valentine. We stopped in for tacos, expecting to crowd around the table in the kitchen, only to find out that they now have a Sunday brunch in the "speakeasy." Much more pleasant for hanging out, with the added bonus of cocktails; G. opted for a beer, but I tried their Pimm’s special, which, with the inclusion of ginger beer, was very nice indeed. We ordered guacamole, frijoles negros, spicy pork tostadas and huevos rancheros, all of which were satisfying and appropriately tongue-burning. I still think they could do a better job on their tortillas, which verge toward leaden, but still…it’s streets beyond what we get in Brussels.