Three weeks ago we returned for dinner to Le Petit Verdot, rue du Cherche-Midi – to “our” small fourtop next to the tiny zinc bar. We’re a bit reluctant to write again about it, and we don't necessarily expect others to have the same reaction or sympa experience, because these things can be quite personal. But again it was just what we wanted.
There is some complexity to the dishes, but you do not get the impression of trying too hard or being too cute, or precious. It is a place that exudes a quiet confidence in its plates and in itself, and does not try or want to be hip or edgy. The very small downstairs room (we've never dined upstairs) is dark and cozy, just a bit worn, and appears quite mysterious from outside during off hours (more about that later). Part of our feel for the place is attributable to Hide -- the gracious, sometimes gregarious, and ultimately generous host who gives a quick Japanese bow, displaying a twinkle in the eyes and exuding an aura of devilment (more about that later as well).
As on prior visits, the downstairs room -- there are at most 14 chairs -- was a mix of locals (one, we think we've seen there before, alone and with four books, including Pludo), and a table or two of Japanese-speaking diners who always seem to order well, talk quietly, and have a good time.
The amuse was a small piece of good beef, not exactly inspiring. But from there it picked up. As usual at dinner, it's a la carte -- no formula -- and so you pay quite high prices with no discount, but as a conciliation of sorts there are a few more choices than in other similar small kitchens.
Our two entrées, from the five offered on the blackboard, were: Cubed carpaccio of merlu with crab and avocado (great texture); white asparagus with greens and raw wild smoked salmon (more interesting than it sounds). All perfectly seasoned.
The two plats, from choices of two fish or four meats on the blackboard, were the stars: Ris de veau, presented as a pan fried tube, along with fresh morels in a light cream sauce; and boned pigeon with foie gras rolled in a cabbage leaf -- a dish we recalled from visits almost two years ago.
Shared dessert, from five choices on the separate blackboard, was the compote of pear with riz au lait and caramel ice cream.
The two savory courses were accompanied by a nice 2006 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru (for some reason -- maybe the name is operating subliminally -- we revert to Bordeaux in this place). And as usual, with l'addition came glasses of golden Gros Manseng Molleux from the Gers.
Of our eight Paris dinners in April (Porte 12, Table d'Aki, L'Assiette, Roseval, Galopin, Table d'Eugene, Pages), this was my wife's favorite -- and for me it was in the top two in overall enjoyment. It certainly remains our favorite Japanese-chef French dining in the last eight months (including last September at H. Kitchen, Le Kigawa, and Moustsche).
Speaking with Hide out on the sidewalk after dinner, we kidded him about the look of his place from the street, and pointed out that nothing is posted. I asked, aren't you required to show your prices? He laughed and avoided the question, but said that from his perspective it's not needed -- he does not expect walk-ins: "If they are coming here they know what to expect." He acknowledged that others have been confused when walking by during non-serving hours -- you can't be sure what the storefront might be, or indeed whether it’s an ongoing or defunct establishment. He pointed out that his "Le Petit Verdot" sign does not say "restaurant" (maybe the storefront is a small cave specializing in the obscure Bordeaux blending grape?); he has no handle or even a pull on his door; and ambiguity is enhanced because it's a bit difficult to figure out which of the three wood and glass panels is the door. He gave his devilish smile and bowed as we said our bon soirs, and that we will be back.
PS, for reservations, on our first visit we made arrangements directly with him by email; most recently, he's on La Fourchette/ The Fork.com, but using that, which we did this last time, in typical Hide style, you don't get an immediate confirmation -- instead you get an automated response notice saying that the "request" will be submitted and you will hear later if it can be honored, which it was a few days later. -- Jake