Last week, I went to L'Astier and Le Villaret in the 11th, both near Oberkampf.
L'Astier was a huge disappointment. We arrived 10 minutes early, which earned us curses from the maitre d'hotel (an ominous note, if ever there were one). As apparent punishment for our sin, we were seated in the upstairs Anglophone ghetto, next to a group of drunken English football hooligans.
I don't want to judge the restaurant too harshly for the behavior of the other patrons (unimaginably bad -- just for starters, my date was hit in the face by an errant Camembert when a food fight broke out over the cheese plate), but the service was universally awful, and the food was almost without exception lousy (fish was overcooked, my rabbit terrine was dry and bland, only a roast pork dish was tasty although not memorable).
Even Astier's renowned cheese plate (written up in all the guides) was a dissapointment -- not only did the waiter refuse to clean it up after the drunken English effectively destroyed it (he acted insulted at the mere suggestion), but the cheeses themselves were bland and seemed like they'd been purchased at a supermarket. Given that the market on Richard-Lenoir, just a block away, has terrific cheeses at low cost, you have to wonder how hard it must be to make up a decent plateau des fromages. Needless to say, we will not be going back.
Le Villaret the next night was by comparison next to miraculous. Just a couple blocks away from L'Astier, Le Villaret gave us a truly remarkable six course tasting menu at 50 euros. We could have gotten away with a considerably cheaper meal had we eaten a la carte, and the wine selection is simultaneously superior to and much cheaper than the offerings at L'Astier.
There were many highlights of the meal, which included a velvety cauliflower soup (sounds uninteresting but oh soooo good, on a cold damp March night), a smoked-roasted Breton Seabass (Bar), and veal liver of such an exquisite buttery richness and texture that it seemed much more like foie gras than anything else. The service was good-humored but professional.
It was one of the best meals I've ever had in Paris, and I will DEFINITELY be going back. By all accounts the menu changes constantly, so I'll be looking forward to their other options. But run, do not walk to this place while it is still underrated by Michelin and Gault-Millau. When ratings rise (as they almost certainly will), expect prices to follow.
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