(I'm finally posting these 11/04 notes:)
We got a reservation for the same night, which was a Monday bank holiday in November. Perhaps that explained why there were empty tables. Yves Camdeborde is gone and Bruno Doucet commands now, and he has retained the old menu favorites and touches, including the great terrines heavily placed on your table as you discuss the menu. And the same service staff still is there, which was reassuring, if one ignored how malcontent they all seemed that night. Maybe it was working on a holiday, maybe it was waiting on so many foreigners, all I know is that the last time we were here, months before Camdebordes departure, there were the seeds of grumpiness in the room, but now that feeling was in full weed and you noticed it as soon as you walked in the door. After ten minutes sitting there we empathized with the servers because we felt the same way.
We were seated next to a table of loud obnoxious New Yorkers, one of whom cawwed on her cellphone at length describing her elaborate search around Paris for a shower curtain. The others boorishly talked about how much money they made at Morgan Stanley that year. At the other occupied tables sat a Japanese family, a British couple, some more Americans who seemed a little frightened of what they were eating and a large party in the center who were Portuguese, Italian (and maybe Greek?), a sort of United Nations of patrons. Not a French speaker in the place it seemed, except for us, and the wait staff had clearly had their fill of it, rolling their eyes elaborately and shouting to make themselves understood to those who did not speak French.
I asked if there was a special apperitive tonight and was brushed off by a new server. So I instead asked one of the veteran servers for the specials card from the wait station and she smiled tensely as I ordered my usual here, a delicious glass of Rivesaltes, a muscadet with a mind-spinning rose/orange nose and flavor. The loud New Yakkers continued on and then an angry chorus arose at the center table as the staff arrived with many plates of food which the patrons all denied they had ordered. Menus were brought out. Lots of pointing and more argument ensued. The lead server finally shouted out the names of the food as she slammed each plate down on the table, walked away, and left them to figure out who would eat what.
After this drama, our entrees arrived. Mine was the Camdeborde classic of boudin noir and pomme macaire, a sort of sheperds pie of yellow mashed potatoes and crumbled blood sausage. It was soothing as opposed to being hearty, which is what I was expecting from the boudin noir. It tasted as if the flavor had been drained off with the grease. Our other starter was a spinach salad with roasted chicken livers, which were nicely crusted with salt and which went nicely with the
48Euro 2002 Cornas from Jean Luc Colombo, a robust wine that paired nicely through the rest of the dishes.
It was hard to be enthusiastic about the food, and we were dismayed. But was the food or ambience to blame? The spirit in the room was so different from years ago when it was for the most part French locals drawn by the great cuisine. Had success killed the joy that used to be in this room? Or was the food the same and it was our anti-American snobbism turning our dinner sour? But to the ultimate point, had nostalgia colored our opinions so much that La Regalade would no longer be a must visit? Why bother to return if this is how it was to be? After all, we journeyed to Paris hoping to get away from New York, not to endure so rude a version of it at the next table.
The windbags were putting on their coats when our main dishes arrived, and the mood shifted, aided in no small part by the two specials we ordered: noisettes de gigue with chanterelles, and roast pork belly in wine sauce. Both were served with the house mashed potatoes mixed with coarse mustard, comfort food which lowered our hackles. The venison was full flavored and in a peppery sauce that also had a taste of fennel underneath. The venison would have been better if it had been either cooked rarer or that the slices were a bit plumper. But that sauce had to be wiped up with the bread if I was to sleep that night.
The roast pork belly had a 13Euro supplement on it and it was so magnificent -- oh my, what more can one say after the chef has taken an ungainly cut of fat and pork and over hours, aided by liberal seasoning of garlic, herbs, salt, pepper, made it into something both succulent and crackling in the same forkful? And just when the flavors might edge towards being too strong, the wine sauce calmed them down again and married the entire bowl into the best single dish we had over twelve days of eating.
And then it was nearly topped by the dessert that our waitress enthusiastically suggested: roasted pineapples with vanilla sauce and peppermint ice cream. Wow, what a kick both zingy and sweet to bring us back to our senses that La Regalade is still an address to keep in our notebooks. Some of the food is still incredibly good (if no longer cheap -- our bill was US$190).
Content, we looked around. The waitresses were joking with each other quietly while polishing wine glasses. The room was hushed and relaxed. We were nibbling warm madeleines. We'll be back.