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Thanks, as always, to the Houndies for all your wisdom and insight which enriches and enlivens every trip we make. This was our 14th year of spending the holidays in France.
Brief Preamble: I found myself thinking this time around about the illusive quality of consistency. We’re only here once a year, and often revisit favorite spots. Like those visiting Godchildren we only see once a year, the differences are SO noticeable, while wondering if for the family that see them daily it may be harder to discern the changes. Or maybe you all just get the data sooner than we do. Every year, lately especially, we feel like we watch favorite dishes go south and or shrink. Increasingly, I have a deep appreciation for the places that continue to deliver the same caliber of meal over time…
What are the places that, against the tides of time and finances miraculously stay good from visit to visit? Am I looking for the Cluny Unicorn?
Somewhat for these reasons, I find each year shifting over, slowly, to more home cooking. If we’re in our preferred flat, we have a decent kitchen and an acceptable batterie de cuisine so it’s a viable option. Also, because we straddle two holidays, when choices are few and gouging likely it is further motivation. But truthfully, the more we come to know the products and produce available here it seems a great waste not to take time to play in that sandbox.
Most meals below are for 2 with coffees, and we usually drink tap water and like not to be charged for it.
CHEZ RENE, in the 5th. Dinner.
Our first night back in Paris and we’re meeting friends at the flat on the Ile and needed a place nearby as they needed an early night since they (like seemingly everyone else) were leaving Paris the next day in the powerful combined effects of Gilet Jaune and Faire le Pont upcoming Noël. The pals initially thought they wouldn’t be able to stay for dinner so I cancelled my reservation for four and made it later for two. After a bit of wine and merriment at the flat they decided they could stay for supper so we trotted off, me completely relying on the fact that one of our pals was Parisian, glamorous and charming and I figured she could do the negotiating. It was no problem and we were quickly seated. Our Parisian pal had been before, but not in a long time and seemed to really enjoy the place, and they, her. Entrées were Poireau Vinaigrette, Salade de Lentilles, and Cèleri Rémoulade. I followed with Pot au Feu which was a (I think weekly) special that night others had Duck Confit, a Gratin des Blettes and a sautéed filet de bar. We shared an Ile Flottant and a Mousse au Chocolat and a bottle of Brouilly, I think. Nothing here is revelatory but several dishes are very. . . proper. €198 for the four of us.
Later that night my friend discovered she was missing her wallet and was afraid she may have left it in the restaurant. I stopped by the next afternoon and the Maitre’d was very sympathetic, had not found it, but assured me if it showed up he would contact me as he had my details from the reservation. Was happy to find out later that it was discovered in the back of an Uber and was on its way back to its owner. The next time I passed the restaurant I popped in and thanked the Maitre’d for his help and told him the happy ending. A few years ago, these were the same pals that were with us when I was miraculously reunited with my missing phone on the Ile de la Grande Jatte that had dropped out of our car when we set off for a jolly dinner. We seem to have a proclivity for loss, adventures, and happy endings.
BAEITA, in the 5th. Lunch.
Had read the NYTimes piece, (I know. . . groan. . .) and then was glad to see it mentioned in a CH thread about women-owned/chef’d places, so I reserved. Then later I found the estimable M. Talbott’s second (!) entry on the place on his website, written after the CH thread above where he had a decidedly different experience from his fist time out and would not go back. Yikes. Perhaps because of his experience they seemed to be making more of an effort to clarify the deal with the weekday lunch special of an entrée and plat for €29. From the way it is posted several places it would be easy to miss that this is specifically ONLY for the menu du jour.
Looking back at the Times piece I have to say we had a very different experience: we did not in the least bit find the young staff to be “friendly,” or find that the cheery cartoon logo of the team on the wall dispelled “any pretentious airs.” In fact, in 14 years of annual trips to Paris, this was up there with the least friendly experiences we’ve ever had.
Yes, I realize I’m probably a somewhat overly-smiley, friendly American. But my French is pretty decent (complemented no less than three times on this trip by French people I met), I speak in restaurant-appropriate low registers, and I’m generally a very enthusiastic customer. We show up on time. I’m far from the size of an average French person in every way, but is that reason to treat us so coolly? It was so disconcerting at first that once we were seated my husband said to me “something very bad must have just happened in here . . .” The whole room seemed so… sour.
As we have often encountered this time of year around the holidays, there were a few large groups (6-8) having what appeared to be a holiday office lunch. Not all that jolly, these folks though, and much darting out for smokes and cellphone use.
Like all other guests we were given the amuse de maison, a light, fluffy, small, pissaladière and a small bowl of bouillon, which, we were instructed, somewhat gravely, was to be consumed after the pissaladière. Okay . . . Didn’t much see the point of the latter, but I liked the taste of both.
I opted for the menu du jour (€29), which that day was an entrée of Hareng, pomme de terre a l’huile and crème ciboulette. The plat was Cabillaud roti, déclination de fenouil, condiment citron. This last bit, I suppose, was the foam that covered the dish.
Side note on foam: now years in on this trend, I’m afraid I still don’t feel like it enhanced a single thing I’ve ever eaten. I hate how it obscures everything and I don’t like the mouthfeel. Maybe this was the source of the frosty reception? They could just tell! ‘This guy does not get foam!!!’
Back to the food: Both of my dishes were good, the cod, very good, if foamy. The haring had some nice pickled carrots and onions with it that balanced the fish and potatoes and oil and chive cream nicely. Bob had Suprême de volaille jaune fumé, choux farcis, tartine d’abatis, jus corsé au Pedro Jiménez. Funny, the French menu skips mention on the broccoli, which was in the form of two smears of buttery purée that flanked the chicken. Everything on the dish was pretty tasty and well prepared, and the choux farci seemed to have been made with one of those adorable baby cabbages that I’ve noticed for the first time at the markets this year.
We had a nice bottle of Sancerre which I would have enjoyed more if they left it with us. I don’t mind you taking away my bottle if you keep an eye on my glass. We were the table closest to the kitchen so they passed us frequently and still left our glasses empty for too long. Finally, Bob got up and went over and got the bottle as we were nearing the end of our meal and both had empty glasses. Mademoiselle was not having it; she rushed over with her most admonishing face and poured the rest of the bottle into our glasses.
Couldn’t tell you about dessert. Would, in most instances, have wanted to see what the chef was capable of, but after all the attitude, honestly, we couldn’t wait to get out of there and go back to the flat, a few steps away, and have a coffee and some Punitions (kinda fitting, no?) we had picked up at Poilâne that morning. €96, €38 of which was the Sancerre.
METROPOLITAIN, in the 4th. Dinner.
Had been once before a few years ago and enjoyed it so was glad to go back. It is not the coziest room in town, but the bright lighting from our last visit seemed slightly improved and softened. We both started with the Œuf mollet, fricassé de champignons de saison, émulsion lard paysan which also had a few nicely browned croutons. My plat was St jacques, topinambour, truffe d'automn which was very good. Bob had Pigeon en trois façon; embeurrée de choux aux agrumes. He followed with a dessert of Pomme Boskoop Confit on a large sable with some caramel beurre sale sauce. I opted for cheese which was a very satisfyingly funky brie and a strong Corsican bleu. €133, €35 for the Petite Chablis.
CHEZ OMAR, in the 3rd. Lunch.
Was in the neighborhood for our annual visit to Merci (and trying to out-run the Gilet Jaunes) so we stopped here for lunch. Shared brochettes agneau and merguez and started with salade crudités which used to be hard for both of us to get through. Sad to see the lovely tuna and œuf dur be downgraded to red and yellow peppers. The way it goes, I suppose… €77, €24 for a pichet of Cote du Rhône.
KITCHEN TER(RE) in the 5th. Dinner.
Have not been to any of his other restaurants but always read about them with interest. Having now been to the third (which I guess is the pun in the title?) will try them, for sure. This was one of the highlights of the trip. We both started with a bowl of black rice, caramelized Morteau with smoked ginger Thai broth. Such a beautiful and surprising balance of flavors and textures. Thought about going back just to get this again. Next had Dentelle pasta made in Cucugnan from hard wheat using ancient methods tossed with seared scallops, limequat, and yuzu-kosho juice. Would happily have this again as well. Bob had a shell-shaped pasta from the same source that was on the menu with beef but was substituted with porc that night and served with broccoli rabe, onions and I’m sure a multi-cultural sauce and seasoning. For dessert he had a gianduja chocolat confection with coffee and miso and I had a glace de caramel beurre salé , truth be told, I don’t remember all that well. It had been a LONG day, at that point, of trying, unsuccessfully, to dodge the Gilet Jaune. All was peaceful (in our neck of the woods they were mostly middle aged, slightly jolly folk), just annoying. We ended up holed up in a café with some wine when they suddenly, in front of us as we attempted to board, took the busses out of service on Blvd Richard Lenoire. We finally snagged a cab and were home in a trice. More wine with our feet up, and then a nice Morgon here at the restaurant… so it had been a long, wine-y day… €150, €50 for the Morgon and I’ll join the list of complainers about paying €3 for a carafe of ‘filtered’ water.
DINNER AT THE FLAT on the Ile Saint-Louis
It being a Sunday and the options being limited and our fridge relatively full (with goodies we brought with us from a week in Brittany), we decided to make dinner at home. Went to the Marché Bastille that morning and in addition to items we would need for our Noël feast we picked up some fresh tagliatelle and ravioli from the Italian Traiteur and some parmesan. The week before when we were in a gite in Brittany we had dined one night on a rotisserie chicken. I knew we’d be cooking for friends for Christmas and figured I could use the stock so I froze all the leftovers and they easily made the trip to Paris. To get a jump on Christmas dinner, this night we made the stock and used some in the Sunday supper too. Had also picked up some irresistible sausage from a Produit Régionaux boutique near Cancale. We slowly sautéed the sausage with some diced onions and mushrooms, tossed it and the pasta, creme fraiche and some of the stock, some sautéed spinache and parmesan and we were happy campers.
BOUILLION PIGALLE in the 9th. Lunch.
Had been curious to try this place after reading about it in several places, including CH. Indeed, the retro pricing is the star here, tho much of the food was . . . okay. Had the €1.90 œuf mayo. They sure were not large eggs, and maybe not even medium, BUT they were well cooked (no ring) and the mayo was fine, though I doubt house-made. Bob had the Bouillions Bœuf which was tepid and thin, even for a bouillion… our friend liked his soupe a l’Oignon much. He had the Bouchée a la Reine au ris de veau which had very little evidence of ris de veau – I may have snagged the only morsel in my taste, we later realized. No chicken or mushrooms in there either, just a good handful of mâche (?). Served on what seemed more like a split croissant, than a vol au vent. Bob had Poulet Frites with a sauce poulette that he liked very much. I had the Pot au Feu which at €12.80 was copious and good though on later inspection of the receipt I find we were charged €9.80 for Foie de Veau which mysteriously is absent from their menu. We did seem to have the weakest waiter in the bunch. People next to us were seated after we were and had food delivered before our order was finally taken… Profiteroles were fine, chocolate sauce likely from the same source as the mayo above, and a pomme rôtie was also fine. Had 100 cl of Cote du Rhône for €13.20 and we were out of there for €63.80 for the three of us.
LA BOURSE ET LA VIE in the 2nd Lunch.
Was surprised to find how teeny this place was. We were offered the small table opposite the ‘bar/host station’ or in the unadorned banquette back room (seats 8 ?) with a peek-a-boo window into the kitchen. Opted for out front. Chose the Déjeuner de la Bourse menu of Steak Frites. They dropped off some Cervelle de Canut which was good, though the dried out brown bread seemed stale. Next they deposited Poireaux vinaigrette, noisettes du Piémont between us on the table. We thought maybe this was another sort of amuse, and after a few minutes alone with it and no plates, we started digging in. Only later did I realize this was probably delivered by mistake. I’m glad it was. It was hands down the best Leeks Vinaigrette I’ve ever had. Perfectly, sublimely cooked. Out came a smallish plate (probably good, as the table was so teeny) of perfect frites and then our steaks. Again, I thought this was the best sauce au poivre I’d ever had: so buttery and delicious. Steak, very flavorful and perfectly cooked. I had one gnarly vein of gristle, but Bob did not and we both enjoyed it very much. Small salad of Coeur de laitue, vinaigrette aux anchois, which was delicate and a nice contrast to the rich sauce. Also included was a Sorbet citron & thym, huile d’olive & chocolat. Sorbet was fine. The dish was heavily showered with fresh thyme and coco nibs, and honestly, tasted rather like eating a Christmas Tree. After the first spoon Bob said to me “Please never do this.” All in all, I think a very good meal for €34 each, even if the menu online said €33. Enjoyed a lovely bottle of Saint-Joseph from Joseph Vernay (Terre d’Encre) for €64.
AU CHAI DE L’ABBAYE in the 6th. Lunch.
Have often thought this would be my canteen if I lived nearby. Lively and fun spirit, mostly French folks, attractive room. I had the Cote de Veau (encore) with gratin dauphinoise. Cote was pretty good but the little vessel of sauce this time around had the distinct aroma of Maggi powdered stock instead of actual jus and mushrooms. Bob had the Chou Farci. Apropos of my headnote, it does seem to have shrunk a bit in size and now had odd hashmarks all around where, I suppose. It had been held together by some kind of mesh bag, which it did not seem to need before. Allors. €64 with a €26 carafe of Brouilly.
LAO SIAM in the 19th. Lunch.
Our Chinese/Laotian/Vietnamese friend that introduced us to Lao Thai in the 13th suggested we try this place in Belleville which he had not visited in a while and where he used to know the owner. We were also meeting up with some new friends so it seemed a feast of different dishes would be fun. Apparently, the place was handed down to the son, who was not around this day and it seemed others were running it. Our pal noted that the menu used to carry the “Baguette d’Or” honorific but now only has the “Baguette d’Argent.” He also had a hard time finding Laotian items on the menu, noting that many places succumb to dumbing down the spice and giving the tourists and locals what they want (spring rolls! Pad Thai!). Conversing with the waiter in Laotian and French he managed to order a number of traditional dishes, Tom Yam Poulet, Salade douce (which was either papaya or banana flowers, I think), saucisses Lao, Tigre qui Pleure, Ailes Poulet ail, Bœuf séché (noting the absence of the water buffalo descriptor), among several others. I’m far from an expert, but it was interesting having so many of the same dishes we had enjoyed before and, together, the three of us concluded Lao Thai was far superior. €158, for six of us with a €20 bottle of Saumur Champigny.
LA BRASSERIE DE L’ISLE SAINT LOUIS in the 4th. Dinner
I know I’m a sentimental, aging nibbler, but I adore the look and feel of this place and know well the shortcomings (most of the menu..). But my loyalty has been rewarded with acquiring a helpful strategy—if you don’t feel like the Choucroute Garnie (pretty reliable) go for an Omelette Mixte! Though this time out Bob seemed satisfied with his entrecôte frites. I just dread the day when we walk past it and it has become a Starbucks or a Sephora… so faithfully we go! €95.20 with €30 for a bottle of Brouilly and €7 for a Ricard.
CAFE DES MUSEES in the 3rd. Lunch.
Oy. WHAT were we thinking going to the Marais on a Sunday ? Yipes. Oh, now I remember… we really wanted to see Lafayette Anticipations and the Simon Fujiwara show… But seriously – what a mob scene. Is this because they closed the streets or why they HAD to close the streets ? Gave up hope of getting in anywhere and called an old neighborhood standby we have often visited. From the look of things I’d say it’s in new hands… again, and it seems to get weaker with each transition. Some website named them Best Bœuf Bourguignon in Paris and it was mentioned on the menu and the ardoise. I think not. Bobby ordered it. Seemed to me it had more vinegar than wine. My entrecôte was large, though about 50% of it was inedible (bone, gristle). I think next time We’ll get out of Dodge…. €87, with a €35 Bourgogne Rouge.
LE PETITE CELESTIN, in the 4th. Dinner.
Had been a few year’s ago and enjoyed it so we were happy to return. Cozy place, in every way. Bob started with Velouté de potimarron et copeaux de parmesan and I had Fricassée de girolles ail et persil, œuf poché, jus de viande et copeaux de parmesan. We were seated where the chef could see us, and seeing Bob clean his bowl of soup with such gusto and good bread, came over and poured a second helping from a pitcher which was friendly and generous. Bob had a second entrée for his plat: Fond d'artichaut, œuf poché, crème de pleurotes which he enjoyed very much and stuck to my eat-as-many-saint jacques-as-possible plan (Bob’s allergic so I never make them at home) and had the Saint Jacques de Bretagne, purée de potimarron et copeaux de parmesan which was quite good even though the parmesan was more tranche than copeaux…. Had asked for a bottle of Brouilly which they were out of so the waiter suggested a Chénas which we enjoyed very much. €113, €42 for wine.
LE RELAIS DE L’ENTRECOTE in the 6th, near St. Germain des Pres. Lunch
Have never been disappointed at any of these three (two in the 6th, one in the 8th) Parisian outposts. Got there early-ish as they take no reservations and the line was indeed down the block when we left. Crowded, boisterous, surprisingly good-spirited given the crowds, efficient, and we always clean our plates. Twice. For the few who may not know the drill here: all they serve is entrecote in the « sauce fameuse » with frites in two go-rounds, the bœuf kept warm over candles, and then round two served with fresh frites. Starts with a frisee and walnut salad. We shared profiteroles. €84 with €19 for a bottle of the House Tarn.
CINQ MARS in the 7th. Lunch.
This was once again a high point for us. Have enjoyed everything I’ve ever had here and this visit was no exception. The dishes we had were so simple and yet so well executed. Can’t resist the Œuf Mayo here and it remains the best I’ve had. Perfectly damp yolks, really delicately dressed greens and very good mayo. Bob went with the Formule dejeurner (€21) which that day was Soupe Lentille that he liked very much and then Saucisse de « Chez Conquet » et purée maison which he liked so much he declared it the best thing he’d had on this trip, and I was lucky to get my customary bite-swap. I had a terrific sautéed cabillaud that was so flavorful also served with the purée maison. Couldn’t entirely tell what was mixed in with the capers on top (sorrel ?) but the overall effect was delicious. Over coffee I thanked the waiter and told him that this was or fourth or fifth time here and sincerely, everything is always so good. He smiled, was clearly pleased, and said it is because the chef cooks with passion. You can keep your tweezer food and your foams: this food makes us happy. A very nice bottle of Saumur Champigny from Bruno Dubois rounded out the meal. Lost our receipt but I think we were out of there for €82, with €40 of that wine.
Up next, Brittany and Normandy notes. Thanks again, Hounds.