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Mao & Vivin in Paris(4): Pho and Taillevent

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Mao & Vivin in Paris(4): Pho and Taillevent

Mao | Feb 25, 2002 12:20 PM

There is only so much Haute Cuisine a soul can take without pining for something more peasanty and honest. After Ducasse, I quite frankly got a decent craving for Pho of all strange things. I needed a brutally honest build-your-own type meal. So I headed alone to a place I had been once before on Avenue de Choisy called Le Kok. I can’t honestly make any proclamations about it being the best Pho joint in Paris, but it is pretty damn good. At the time and place it was the perfect anecdote and medicine for the high end. I ordered a beef based Pho that came with tripe, and other variegated pieces of cow flesh, some of which were fatty and others were more muscled. The superb bowl of broth came with enormous lemon grass leaves, basil, sprouty proteins, fresh cut red chili peppers, lemon, cured sweet onions, and hoison sauce. Add all of the above to the soup and noodle bowl as well as a healthy dose of hot chile sauce, stanky fish sauce and a dollop of sugar. Toss and spoon like a giddy 5 year old and try not to make a mess. Now consume a dish with 4 textures and 6 tastes all of which are completely distinct. I have to admit that at their best Vietnamese noodles are orchestral—every part of the tongue and nose gets touched, visited and caressed until writhing—salty, hot, sweet, lemongrass, basil, fat, meats, crunch and soft noodles. But you get to conduct the orchestral flavors instead of the chef. Sometimes its important to be in control of the flavor orchestra. As a beer Qingdao does not have many virtues, but it is the best anecdote for Pho. Finish meal, go buy fresh lychee nuts in Chinese market and you have dessert. A superb meal for a whopping 10 euros.

After Ducasse the three of us headed to Taillevent. This was the least impressive meal of the trip, even less so than the Pho. Big name, but OK, so what? The restaurant’s greatest feature was surely its art collection, a good $25mm worth of Miro, Braque and other early modernist painters adorned the great walls of the place. The notion of a museum is itself a fairly apt metaphor for the meal we experienced. The place feels more like an institution or an establishment, a standard bearer for a style of eating and meal that no longer exists in the exact same form. Something has moved on, but not here.

I started with some duck foie gras, marmalade of some sort and toast. Very competent and delicious, but hardly interesting. I could have gone to Petrossian buy the same quality stuff and get some British marmelade and could have created the same dish. I can’t remember what Vivin and his wife had for appetizers.

For main courses, I had some veal that included the chops, some sausage and some kidney. MEAT! The sausage was divine, but the kidneys flat and the actual “chop” had been victimized by some kind of salting spill/error and were barely edible. Vivin had a Salmon in vinegrette that he couldn’t finish because the sauce was too potently vinegary. We also had two half bottles of forgettable wine and dessert.

Service, I will say, was extremely gracious, but unlike Ducasse, where you felt like you had been suspended in time in some kind of gilded culinary dream, it was simply distantly polite. Given the choice I would not go back. Been there, done that.

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