Even your tried and true favorites can sometimes let you down. Comments from a recent trip:
I had an appetizer of welks, which I've never had before. After tugging the biggest one out of its shell and chomping down on it, it had a very musky taste. Odd, but I soldieredon to find that none of the others on the plate had that same taste. Result: really bad nausea the next day. Food poisoning perhaps?
The rest of the meal was terrific: best was the salmon and fennel millefeuille in a cream sauce. One bad welk will not keep me away, I love this place.
Tip: My French friend who was raised eating welks in Normandy advised the next day, never eat the large ones, only the tiny ones, they are sweeter and cleaner.
The following afternoon was my only chance to eat here, by the Cligancourt flea markets. It is well worth the trip. The proprietor is garrulous and from the hale fellow well met school of life. He made this single diner feel very comfortable and welcome. There were other single diners in the place as well, they appeared to be merchants from the market. One had his well behaved dog under his chair, who would jump out and put his paws on the table waiting for a scrap every time a new plate arrived. He must have been a gourmet breed.
Unfortunately I had a dodgey stomach from the night before, so I was chary about eating too much. It was difficult to resist the brandade and brioche toast that the owner placed in front of me "to help the decisions". I opted for the "menu for busy people", two dishes and a glass of wine and a promise to get you out in 45 minutes. The entree and wine arrived within a minute of ordering. The salad was a lively melange of citrus fruit, fennel, greens and sauteed chicken livers, absolute delicious. The main dish was roasted veal, which I found very difficult to eat due to the amount of salt in the sauce and the fact that at this point the wine instigated a revolt from the welks from the night before. I forced myself to eat the veal so as not to be remembered as a guest who did not like the food. But I was sweating and dizzy and had to ask for the check and make a dash to the restroom to put cold water on my face.
That to one side, this place is a real keeper from what I saw being delivered to other tables. Most dramatic is this huge beehive of butter which the patron plops on the table for larger parties, with a loaf of bread. He stands there with his hands on his hips waiting till customers taste the butter and grin at its flavor. Portions are substantial here, and the variety on the menu is very nice. The room is bright and very comfortable and hushed. I will definitely go back and plan to linger over a meal.
After trying for two years to eat here, we arrived with great delight at 9:25 for our 9:30 table to find out that the restaurant had us on the book for 9:00 and had given our table away. When we apologized for the confusion the hostess began a great ballet of dramatic gestures and cries to the heavens about how she was so overbooked how could she possibly make it through the night, what could she possibly do, why does this always happen to her and on and on. I explained that the gentleman who took our reservation said it was not necessary to confirm on the day of since we had given him our phone number at our apartment. I asked if the hostess had perhaps called while we were en route? Call? Call? I have people waiting and I have so much to do and so many to feed how could I be expected to call, and where am I going to put all these people? Well, we were the only ones waiting and there were two empty tables so I gathered that the performance was to teach us a lesson so I suggested it was perhaps better we go and try again some other time. On the street trying to figure out where to eat it occurred to me that I could not imagine a restaurant in New York that would turn away guests when there was an empty table and confustion over the reservation.
BUT the food coming out of the kitchen looked KILLER!
Lesson learned: call and confirm even when they tell you not to call and confirm.
We ended up going to a place a friend suggested years ago:
GASPARD DE LA NUIT
Very cozy and plush feeling room. Average food at inflated prices. For instance, warm goat cheese and mixed greens 11 Euros, escargot w/ lyonnaise sausage in mustard creme sauce 16 Euros, duck breast with wine reduction and hazelnuts 23 Euros, hohum brulee for dessert. Smoky atmosphere. Close to 200Euros w/ great wine, but disappointing. But I was still grumpy about not being in L'Avant Gout.
A perennial favorite came up with one of those unsuccessful dishes a chef plays around with at 2 in the morning and then tosses it in the bin when no one is around to see the mistake. This was a John Dory filet "aux epices". Basically this was a cooked to dry piece of fish in a crust that was like Chinese orange beef. It overpowered the fish and was cloying and tasted way too much like cloves. Oh well, after the great number of times I've eaten here they are allowed a clunker. Nice bottle of Sancerre made the evening fine anyway.
CHEZ LES FRERES GAUDET
We read the reviews, we marvelled, we invited 3 friends to be our guests, we called, we chatted, we reserved, we drove, we could not find the restaurant. We walked. We could not find it. We asked old ladies on the street. We asked at the hotel on the corner. We fanned out and asked at the Pizza Hut. We asked people in the vestibule of their building. Five of us could not find the restaurant. And it is not a long street. We found another restaurant next door. After seeing us walk by several times a man came out and asked if we had a reservation for dinner at 8? Yes, we are looking for Freres Gaudet. Then the response: oh, they closed, they used to be here, some of us used to work for them, we took over the place, come in and eat anyway. We did. It was okay, nothing special, nothing bad. Neighborhoody. Bechamel in too many of the dishes, they all began to seem similar. And nothing got rid of the bitter taste in my mouth that they pretended to be a different restaurant when I called their number! If you really want their name, I'll post it, otherwise what goes around comes around...
AND SOME DELIGHTS
LE TIRE BOUCHON
I can't post about Paris without mentioning that I again had another relaxing and wonderful menu gourmande at Le Tire Bouchon in the 15th. The most delicious and most inventive thing I tasted all week was the entree of fois gras and banana and black szechuan pepper. Sounds disgusting? It was novel and absolutely astonishing. The banana made the fois gras seem sweeter, the fois gras made the banana seem earthier, the pepper was in a bayonet cracker and it was a sharp contrast to prevent the soft texture and sweetness to become complacent on the palatte. Bravo.
Do not underestimate how nice a meal put together by walking down this street can be. A HUGE poulet fermier roti from Dorius (15 Euros) w/ a bottle of jus to make gravy could serve four easily. Some cheese from the vendor next door. A few doors to the right there's a lady that sells Auvergne items, and in the window you see the most delicious potatoes in cream and cheese -- very thinly sliced, they melt in your mouth. And next to them the best lentil salad I've had, garlicky and with big chunks of carrot and lyonnais sausage tucked in there. All this food is fine at room temperature. So what if the hotel room smells the next morning?
The entrecote is great but the poivre sauce w/ cream and mustard in it is to die, that is if you aren't dead after tasting the sublime pommes sautee. Nice carte of beaujolais wines. Lots of fat guys with red noses and cheeks, laughing and carrying on and making this a real local hangout. Don't light a match near the baba au rhum or the whole place goes up. You leave here with your blood pressure and cholesterol count and blood alchohol levels in peril! Enjoy!