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Restaurants & Bars 13

Overdue Paris Report

Bob Wollman | Jan 22, 200401:08 AM

Thanks to all who helped out with my New Year's eatinerary in Paris. I’ve been remiss in filing my thoughts. Forbearance please, I am not a note-taker and most French wine and cheese names stick in my head no longer than the first glass or wedge. So, if you choose to read further, what you’ll find below are memorable (and, alas, some forgettable) dishes, overall impressions, and sense of value/service. We had a great time, lots of great food/drink and, luckily not bad weather. The 30th of December was especially lovely…warm…sunny…just a perfect day. So let’s start there.

Jules Verne
We really hit the jackpot weather-wise (if not 100% chow-wise) as we had booked the Jules Verne for lunch on this smashing day. My appetizer was a duo of tartar – tuna and beef. Very good, and such a lovely contrast of raw meat and fish. I had to send my main course back; it was a duck with mushroom puree. The duck was as tough as any duck (or French teacher, for that matter) that I have ever had. Waiter informed me that he took it to the chef, who said there was nothing wrong with the duck; it was supposed to be that way, since it was “a white duck”. Well then, “Let the chef eat it,” I thought, and tried to say in my dilapidated French. The waiters were really very kind and rapidly replaced the duck with a wonderful veal dish. Three lovely cubes of veal resting on spinach adorned with a simple veal-stock sauce. Really great! My girl friend had a simple filet, good, not great.
Overall impression: Food, some ups and downs; service, very generous. Price, not close to worth it for the food (compared with other meals we had), but you gotta realize just what else you are paying for…there’s just no setting in the world like this!

Our first meal and what a fantastic welcome to Paris. Our arrival (LAX-CDG…first or second Air France flight out of LAX, after the cancelled flights of Christmas ‘03) was of course delayed with all sorts of security issues. We hit town about 3 hours late. Upon check in I immediately asked to concierge to inform Bofinger we’d be about 1.5 hours late for our 8PM reservation…they were 100% accommodating, absolutely no problem! Dinner was wonderful, choucroute for me and a veal chop for my girlfriend. Both were just delicious. I can see her now, happily gnawing on that joint! A yummy Sancerre (wow, I remember something about wine) and great Ile Flotante Almandine made this one of our best meals in Paris. I saw the waiters filleting some seriously great looking (and smelling) grilled sole…oh how I wish I were there right now.

Café Bataclan
A recommendation from Patricia Wells “A Food Lover’s Guide to Paris” was our lunch on Sunday. Really, really yummy non-traditional Croque Monsieurs. Mine was served on a baguette with potatoes and Rebluchon. Cozy, hip setting. Nice walk through the Marais followed.

Guy Savoy’s neighborhood bistro at the Trocodero, whose name escapes me, was our next dinner. It was good, not great, but quite passable. Main problem: the service was as scarce as could be. I poured almost every glass of wine. The décor and cuisine reminded me too much of LA (not that there’s anything wrong with that, just that that it’s where I am from – and was trying to get away from). Dishes were good but not spectacular and they, too, now escape me. The price was reasonable 100 Euro/two. I expected more from an off shoot of such a renowned chef. I suppose if I lived in Paris and missed home (or if I just wanted to practice pouring wine) it would be a nice change of pace.

Lunch on Monday, was one of the 3 gastronomic highlights of our trip: Taillevent. We went with the tasting menu. Actually there were two tasting menus, one for 130 Euro and one for 180 Euro. We did a hybrid (which, like everything else at Taillevent, they were incredibly service-oriented about “Of course, No problem”) preferring most of the choices on the 130 menu but not wanting to miss what proved to be an incredible risotto with frog legs, black truffles and veal stock, that was on the 180 menu. The meal was divine. It’s kind of special – one feels as decadent as a Roman emperor - when lunch lasts fully half of the entire day’s light (Paris’s sunrise-to-sunset hours, this time of year, being so short). Highlights: the aforementioned risotto, chocolate cake w/pistachio sauce, a pineapple sorbet palate cleanser, a lamb loin with gnocchi...and many others that I now forget...but oh that risotto was sublime.
Service was so meticulous and overwhelming it reminded one of Sir John Gielgud’s signature line from Arthur, “Shall I wash your d*#k for you, sir?”

Chez Georges
Unfortunately, a disappointment. Highly recommended by Patricia Wells and reviewed quite well in Zagat. Foodwise it was like a Cheesecake Factory/Disneyland knock-off of a neighborhood bistro: All giant portions of mediocre food dripping with heavy cream- or mayo-laden sauces. Even the highly lauded Frissee Salad w/Egg and Bacon was close to airline quality. Nice Cotes Du Rhone, fun waitstaff, a Parisian ambiance, but the food was really off that night. No Onglet (signature dish, I’ve read). Good salami amuse with first rate Dijon mustard.

Mandarin Opera
At 1:30 AM, following a drinking-binge, while stumbling home we where shocked to find this Chinese place still open. Under these conditions, one can’t be too much of a critic. Comfy Chinese this late at night on an alcohol desecrated stomach, you know it’s gonna be great…in Paris, LA, New York, wherever. I was much too drunk to remember dishes well at all. I just remember loving it. If you are staying near the Opera and need a Chinese fix it’s good, possibly very good (possibly, even up to Monterey Park standards) but I was in no position to make that kind of assessment.

Bistrot du Dome
A busy, energetic fish bistro across the street from, and related to, Le Dome. Girlfriend had a terrific Crab soup. Oysters for me. Main courses were also very fresh and tasty, a lovely sea scallop dish for her and a whole fish for me. All of it was very good, super fresh; service was rushed but friendly; atmo: standard Parisian bistro. Price: fair. A nice change of pace, in the heart of Montparness, I would definitely recommend it.

Au Bon Acceuil
The second, and most surprising, of the gastronomic highlights was this charming place where we spent New Year’s Eve. It was a treat indeed. Fixed price menu…100 Euro (for New Year’s not bad at all). Appetizer: a large fois gras ravioli that tasted like a Peking Duck ravioli, just great. Main course: L’ecole de poulet (my name, not theirs)…an imaginative study of chicken. The chicken was served three ways on one large plate. First, a juicy square of breast meat covered by a crispy skin with a black truffle tucked in between breast and skin. Second, some shredded thigh meat put together with crispy wonton-like things in a light dressing. Third, sorry…I can’t remember but know I loved it. A nice runny cow’s milk cheese ? Compte?. Dessert was not so hot, clearly not up to the quality of everything else, a Clementine Shortcake. A nice idea but poorly executed. I don’t know the name of the chef but he’s got tons of great ideas and lot’s of skill…all apparent even on a prix-fixe New Year’s Eve menu. Service was terrific, after dinner we went out drinking with the chef and waiters at their neighborhood Irish pub...tons of fun!

Le Vaudeville
A beautiful, traditional brasserie, just across from the Bourse was open for dinner on New Year’s Day, so we pounced on it. Two friends joined us. We started with a lovely plate of Oysters. I had a perfect steak tartare. The others had very nice filets. All of the food was fantastic. Le Vaudeville is friendly, fun, and busy…another terrific night. Highly recommended.

Les Fernandises
After tromping through a very cold, wet morning at Pere Lachaise we jumped in a cab and thumbed through Zagat, quickly looking for something warm and toasty not too far. We fell into this dark and cozy slice of Normandy. The place is known for their Camembert, which my girlfriend ordered as an appetizer. They bring over a small carousel upon which sits about 8 wheels of differentially flavored Camemberts (fennel, pepper, some kind of berry, smoked, etc). All delicious. Great bread, too. I started with a deft eggplant puree, which was quite nice. Second, for me two pigeon served atop cabbage…earthy and good. This place has really good, earthy food at bargain prices.

Our final meal, and what a way to go. Obviously this is the 3rd gastronomic highlight of the trip. Arpege is small, quite a bit less formal than Taillevent, but elegant indeed. There has been so much written about this restaurant on these pages and elsewhere that my opinions seem so superfluous. Everything from the bread to the Madelines is precious (especially the check), like art on a plate. The most outstanding, to me, of the legume appetizers was a gratine d’ognion. It was like french onion soup transformed to crème brule of french onion soup. The whole dish is about ½ inch thick, spread over a pizza-sized platter; you crack through the gratined parmaggiano (and another cheese, I think) to a shallow pool of molten onion-lava. I had a spinach w/carrot foam appetizer, which was good but hardly life-transforming (and about 50-60 Euros!). The amuse, a scrambled egg w/maple syrup, was divine -- the whole table french-kissed the shell to absorb every molecule from it. We didn’t have, but where given a peek and smell of, a whole beet cooked in a gaint salt-shell…looked and smelled like a wild ride to ecstasy. The four of us loved our main courses (a Thai style rock lobster, 2 free-range chickens, and a langoustine dish). A magnum of a lovely white Bordeaux matched everything fabulously. Dessert, for me, the famous 12-flavor, stuffed, candied dessert tomato with ice cream was magnificent. Girlfriend loved her souffle. Service was -- as expected -- highly professional. An exorbitant but truly stupendous meal.

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