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Paris report - L'Avant Gout

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Paris report - L'Avant Gout

Bill Strzempek | Nov 21, 2005 01:50 PM

L’AVANT GOUT
26, rue Bobillot, 13e
Metro Place d’Italie
01 53 80 24 00

After years of trying, after having read the multitudes praise l’Avant Gout on this board and in
worldwide media, I finally scored a table. A more positive attitude on my part and more anticipation would not have been possible. But in all honesty I wasn’t bowled over by the dining experience here. The problem wasn’t with the food -- which was in some instances inspired, in some instances under-portioned, in all instances well prepared -- my problem was with the assembly-line, distant service that made the room, despite its sunny yellow walls, seem joyless. The staff had none of the attitude one likes to encounter in welcoming restaurants, wherein providing service to the dining public is actually considered a privilege. Here it was as if serving the dining public was a penance.

For example. We arrived on time only to stand around with another couple to watch the scowling and muttering hostess run about like a poulet-sans-tête. She had all the hallmarks of a waitress “in the weeds.” And yet there were only two people seated in the dining room. When we were seated, our two parties were seated literally within three inches of the prior couple, and the next party who arrived was shoved in next to all of us, in assembly line fashion. Four couples elbow to elbow in a tiny corner while the rest of the dining room, with plenty of two-tops, remained a no man’s zone. The seating was being arranged to accommodate the staff’s comfort, not with consideration to the diners’ comfort, space and privacy. During the meal, plates were put on the table without a word and taken away in similar fashion. Interaction with the guests and staff was minimal. There was no interest in making new-found friends of these paying guests.

On the other hand: the food.

A starter of grilled fois gras, served with a small glass of mango mousse and a drizzle of lime sauce brought all attention to the plate. This was truly exciting food. Would I be caviling to say that the size of the large white plate made the fois gras seem a little isolated, like we felt isolated in the corner of the barren room? Another starter also tasted stupendous: wild mushroom ravioli in a veloute sauce of girolles. A tiny portion, but the tender pasta contained expansive mushroom flavor that made the palette hum.

Our mains did match the level of the entrees. There was a standard-issue cuis de canard with fois gras and a cod with red pepper tapenade. The fish was tepid when it arrived at the table, which diminished its attractiveness. The tapenade was chopped roasted red peppers, olive oil, some herbs. Neither dish had tricks up its sleeve, which was a letdown given the starters.

But stop the presses, one dessert was absolutely incredible. It was a roquefort and fig “tart”. Sweet, salty, creamy, chewy, buttery – can’t decide between a cheese course or dessert? This offered both. It was not a true tart, wine-poached figs and the cheese were layered in a loaf pan on a crust. When sliced, the alternating white and red stripes were beautiful to look at and wonderful to eat. A truly inspired creation, absolutely a prizewinner “dessert”.

Total for this meal -- with two apperatives, a 56 Euro bottle of unexceptional Chailles, fizzy water, armagnac, coffee, was a stiff 155Euros. For that I’d like a little coddling and appreciation of my presence. Because of its somewhat severe atmosphere due to impersonal service, l’Avant Gout is no longer a destination restaurant for me, it's B-Listed. And having that reaction was a huge surprise for me.

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