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Paris Report – Top stop, Arnaud Nicolas, and still love Lao-Thai

Gman | Feb 9, 201808:59 AM

Back in Paris over the Holidays after two years in exile… work was too overwhelming and problematical to get away last year so we pouted through Noël and plotted our eventual return. As always, thanks Houndies for your insight and generosity. Is it me or has this board become much less active? Is it the newish format that bombards the viewer with ads and distractions? Grateful for those of you who hang in there… Once again had only done an appallingly teensy bit of research before we landed – partially out of overwhelming work and partially out of an increasing faith, now with 14 years of this under our belts, that somehow, we’ll manage to be fed (or feed ourselves) without going too far astray. Also, not much new to report on, as we had a (for us) surprisingly busy social schedule as more fiends were passing through town while we were here, which was delightful, but made for less adventuresome dinning. But a few highlights and digressions….

I have my soft spots for sure, and am prone to return to places I like, but in the interest of at least updating – I included some of them here.

Chez Denise, Rue des Prouvaires, in the 1st. Lunch. Was distressed the last time I was here to find it relatively empty, which had never been the case before, but this time out it was quite full again. It’s a favorite and was happy to drag along some dear pals from home for their first visit which they totally enjoyed. We shared the Rillette de porc to start, and managed (showing great restraint) to only order three plats which were, of course, enough food for eight. Had the Civet de Joue de Bœuf, the Chou Farci and the Hachis Parmentière (a first, and really yummy). They were also extremely kind to check with the chef that everything we ordered contained no celery (quite tricky because of stocks and sauces, but my pal has a fatal allergy to the stuff…) and we were able to nibble sans souci. Shared a Baba au Rhum and 4 coffees, Total was €139, of which €28 was two liters of Brouilly we managed to get through…

Chez Rene, Boulevard Saint-Germain in the 5th. Lunch. Travelling over the Hols as we do it has mostly been impossible to visit this nearby (for us) spot since they were usually closed for congé annuel though we had visited one other time. Call me corny but I have always loved the interior, even if it is a now dated idea of a classic Parisien boite, with brass rails, banquettes and a salon-style wall covering of posters and black and white photos. It’s also lovely how the windows wrap this tree-lined corner and it is very pleasant. The service was impeccable throughout. Attentive without intruding, thoughtful, friendly and professional. Started with an amuse at the table of Cervelas du Canut. Then had lentil salad (pretty close to perfect – ate every bite) and then was thrilled to see the plat du jour was Quenelle Nantua. This is a dish I adore and was very sad not to be able to enjoy it one more time around the corner at Le Moissoniere (now shuttered). It was a popular dish that day, and the dining room was quite full of families and colleagues, seemingly half of them having the signature bœuf bourgignon and the other half the quenelle. Was happy when it was delivered to the table – it looked absolutely correct and appetizing. Breaking into the thing, the texture was perfect. That was as far as it ascended. While it looked perfect and had the right texture, it had very little taste. Indeed, if any fish were involved it might have been that they swam nearby. Could not detect a bit of poisson at all, let alone any crayfish in the sauce . To be fair, Bman had Cote d’Agneau, which he liked and I snagged a bite and they were pretty perfect. €104, including a bottle of Saint Joseph, €41

Arnaud Nicholas, Avenue de la Bourdonnais in the 7th. Dinner. Thanks especially to Ptipois for her strong endorsement of this chef and for posting the article with numerous pictures which were hard to forget once we’d seen them. Wowza. Started with an excellent Rillette de Canard served with perfect pickled radishes. Bman had L’œuf de Poule mollet façon Florentine, chips de Coppa et tuile melba. And then the full on swoon came – La Tourte pour 2 personnes de volaille/vin jaune/foie gras/choux vert. Wow, wow, wow ! “This” I thought to myself… for all I know in my reverie maybe even mumbled out loud, “is why I come to France!” One of the best things I’ve eaten in years. I actually purposefully worked hard to slow down to make the experience last longer. Every bite was a delight. So tender, so onctueuse, fantastic pastry… Finished with the very boozy, excellent Baba au Rhum. Just wow…. €155, including an Oppidum Limoux recommended by the waiter which was quite good with the tourte €54

Les Délices d’Aphrodite, Rue de Candolle in the 5th, part of the Mavrommatis empire. Lunch. Was meeting a pal in the neighborhood and he is very fond of all these Greek restaurants. I had delicious souvlaki, Bman had the keftedes which he quite liked and our pal had a Gratin of Legumes. A very nice cozy room. For the three of us €115, including a bottle Mercouri Avgoustiatis, which tho new to me, was quite good €40

Baratin, rue Jouye-Rouve, in the 20th. Lunch. It had been several years since we visited this spot and I was glad to have a chance to return. It is completely true, as others have said, that it is not exactly the warmest reception or the coziest room, but there is something delightfully straight-forward and refreshing about Raquel Carena’s cooking, and I detected a glimmer in her eye and a smile when she popped out of the kitchen and noticed me happily tucked in to my Poulet fricassée and pomme écrasé. Started with a very nice salad of betterave, laitue et œuf dur and Bman had soupe au légumes which he declared leek-y but delicious. I had the cheese (which for me came out as mimolette, later diners seemed to get Mont d’Or) and Bman enjoyed a delicious mousse au chocolat. Still one of the best bargains around for lunch. €65,80, including two and a half (the bottle was near empty) glasses of Savennières "Le Coteau de l'Ayre" 2014 for €23.

Lao-Thai Restaurant, Rue de Tolbiac in the 13th. Lunch. Our Laotian pal who first brought us here insisted on hosting us again and we cheerfully went along since last time was such an eye-opening feast. Ditto this time. I wish I were better about making notes of what we were having, but we mostly left the ordering to him and we loved nearly everything we had and were fairly busy inhaling it and hearing his always amazing) stories… two framed posters next to our table depicted enlargements of Laotian postage stamps. The artwork on one, it turns out, was made by our pal’s boyhood art teacher, and the artwork on the other, was made by his uncle! We shared eight or nine dishes including three soups. A complete feast for the senses. Complex in flavor, texture and composition. Sausage with lemongrass, lacquered beef (would have been water buffalo back home, he says) chicken larb, red curry soup, papaya salad… will ask him to bring us back here again.

Au Chai de L’Abbaye, rue de Buci in the 6th. Lunch. If I were lucky enough to live down the street from this agreeable place I’m sure I’d eat here three times a week. I’ve always enjoyed everything I’ve had here. Had the Cote de Veau with sauce girolles et gratin dauphinoise. Bman had the Morteau Lentilles. We shared a Cafe Liegois, a scrummy coffee flavored ice cream & cake sort of sundae. €77, including €31 for a small pot of wine and 2 beers.

Chez Omar, Rue de Bretagne in the 3rd. Dinner. I know there is better Morroccan in Paris (I do – I swear !) but I always enjoy myself here. We shared the enormous crudité to start (artichokes, tomatoes, hearts of palm, avocado, hard cooked eggs, tuna, olives) and shared our plats of merguez and brochette d’agneau. As Houndies have rightly said – the soupy veg leaves something to be desired but I fish out the chick peas and enjoy those and skip most of the rest and concentrate on the almost always good meat and mountain of steamed couscous. Lively and bustling as always but barely waited to be seated and still managed to get through 2 bottles of Brouilly. € 101, including the wine at €48.

L’Escale, Rue des Deux Ponts, Ille Saint Louis. Lunch. It is well known on this board that the pickings are slim on the Ille, some might even rightly say nonexistent. Perched as we are at our vacation rental flat in the middle of it, we’ve rolled the dice a few times and usually regret it and have watched the decent places disappear, or worse, fancy up and lose all integrity. For these reasons we’d never set foot in L’Escale, but one afternoon needing to stay close to the flat and being hungry and the lunch hour quickly passing, we popped in to this café/bar-a-vin and were happily surprised. Seemed to me the kind of cafe that used to be easy to find, once mostly filled with regulars. The cranky elderly gentleman next to us clearly has his lunch there every day based on how he barely ordered and newspapers and coffee were delivered without request as was the plat du jour. While we were perched there a steady stream of locals, contractors, swells from the neighborhood and a handful of deliverymen popped in to take lunch, most exchanging familiar and warm greetings with the hostess behind the bar. Started with œuf mayo and then a croque madame which was quartered and served on a large, pretty good salad. Bman had the Plat, which was something completely new to both of us. It was Porc au carotte de l’anis. Neither carrot or fennel were visibly detectable, but had been amalgamated into a somewhat thick sauce that coated the chunks of porc shoulder (I’m guessing). We liked this so much we set about making it once we were home, and I think, succeeded based on review of our photos and taste memories. The Saint Regis on the other end of the Ille used to be like this – decent, reliable inexpensive grub. Then one summer (2011) it was gutted, tarted up and now has a full English playlist and serves frites in faux “New York Times” wrappers and the food is touristy crap. Natch, it’s packed. I’m glad to have finally tried this spot. Didn’t keep the receipt but am sure we were out of there for under €60.

Chez Paul, Rue de Charonne in the 11th. Dinner. Meeting some pals who were staying in the 12th and our mutual friend helped us decide this place would be relatively kid-friendly as our pals have a 6-year old, and indeed they were quite accommodating. Have been here many times and especially when I’m craving Pot au Feu which is an easy thing to do en hiver. The same waitress, Valerie, has been there the entire decade w have been visiting this place and spying our young charge immediately proposed an off-menu steak haché, which was much appreciated by all and was gentil. Started with a few Kirs while we waited for our pals, then had a Salade Chèvre chaud and then had my Feu. Bman started with escargots and followed with the Lapin Farci au Chèvre, which he has had several times, and likes. Several liters of house Cote du Rhône, and we were all as happy as the haché kid. Our share was €92, including €17 for the pichet. It’s a bit of a madhouse which can be either fun or distracting, but there were only one pair of (very) obnoxious Yanks (gluten-free vegetarians – why come here? Oh – and the menu is posted out front…). Didn’t love the last time we had been to this spot (very unfriendly waiter who plunked us in Siberia, on a rug-covered radiator!), so was happy to be restored to my previous fondness by this experience.

Chez Georges, rue du Mail in the 2nd . Lunch. Bman needed a spot to meet an Ex-Pat for a bit of business and very much wanted me to come along. I figured if I have to sit through a business lunch I should be well fed, so I picked this classic bistro. We started with kirs while we waited for his appointment. Happily, I was seated on the banquette and had a good view of the delightful, softly lit room which kept me reasonably occupied while the lunch guest entirely ignored me. He blamed a bum eye, thus needing to pivot entirely to face the husband. Granted, the husband is handsome and charming but I don’t often entirely disappear like this too frequently. I’ve held my own at some fairly grand tables…plus, there’s a lot of me and I’m kinda hard to miss… Alors… Started with the Œuf Mayo and then followed with the incredible Sole Georges swimming in Pouilly crème sauce. Bman had the Cote d’Agneau which he declared not as good as Chez Rene but the massive pile of haricot vert instead of frites were delish. He and Lunch-man started with the Soupe du Jour (châtaigne – very good) and Lunch-man had Blanquette de Veau which if he were one scintilla friendlier I would have asked for a stab – looked quite correct, as they say…We drank a bottle of Givry. I don’t have the deets, it being a business lunch and all, but I do know for the three of us the total was €237.

A la prochaine…. Next up – Burgundy notes… and one Le Perche aside…

Arnaud Nicolas - Restaurant & Boutique,
Lao-Thai Restaurant,
Chez René,
Les Délices d'Aphrodite,
Le Baratin,
Au Chai de l'Abbaye,
Chez Omar,
Chez Paul,
Chez Georges, le Jeu du Mail depuis 1964
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