A rather long report but actually shortened from the version on my Paris Journal:
I decided upon L'Avant Goût as I had noted it for exceptional cuisine. NOVA stated the cuisine was passionate, inventive, and open-minded. Besides, I thought it would be a nice area for wandering around in before dinner as I had not been to the 13e to La Butte-aux-Cailles.
We are the first to arrive. The hostess, possibly proprietor, is a striking woman with red-framed glasses and locks to match. I cannot be sure as I do not wear a watch these days but I do not think we are early for our 730PM reservation yet the front of the house staff is still attending to last minute details before the dinner rush to soon follow.
Carol starts off with a glass of champagne; I decide to pass on an aperitif. I think I eat a lot but I cannot keep up to this friend of mine who is a bit of a metabolic wonder. Take today for example. We had had a three course lunch which meant I was more than fine until dinner but when we passed by Crêpes Suzettes Carol asked if I wouldn't mind to stop for one. Eating is always fine to me but my enjoyment had to come more from watching my friend enjoy her crêpe. Fortunately someone elses enjoyment can sometimes be as pleasurable as our own.
All of the menu items are part of the 3-course menu for 27 euros except the duck with a 4 euro supplement. Carol starts off with the tartare de dorade et macédoine de legumes and I take the salade de caille confite a l'huile d'olive et pommes de terre au romain. Both are outstanding. The Dorade tartare was delicately spiced with cumin, possibly some fennel, then mixed with diced haricots verts, onions, and carrots. This was served with a rocket salad, shallot vinaigrette, and an Italian parsley purée. The quail confite was almost done to perfection if only the skin had been crisped more. Otherwise, the small half quail was flavourful, tender, and surprisingly meaty. It was accompanied by a phyllo-wrapped roll of warm rosemary potatoes, a refreshing interpretation of scalloped potatoes.
At this point we are drinking a perfectly enjoyable 2001 Saint-Cosme Côtes du Rhône which Carol says she has in her cellar but of a better vintage. There are some things in life I know for sure; with Carol I will never drink bad wine. Then we start discussing wines for a dinner I will cook in SF next month; she would like to serve some Corton-Charlemagne. I don't think there are many good reasons to drink Chardonnay but Corton-Charlemagne would be a very good one. I am now thinking that my recent habit of cooking out of jars just won't do for this dinner. Soon enough we're off on a gastronomic discourse that is only interrupted by the arrival of the main course.
My canard "sauvages" rôti crouistillant de pomme de terre et chutney was perfectly executed. The small half duck was served in four pieces with perfectly crisped skin. The starch accompaniment was a whole phyllo potato roll, the same that had been served with the quail. Carol had opted for several entrées instead of a main course so she followed with the quail confite then green salad to finish. In her instance, the quail was much more nicely seared as it should be.
Carol and I share a dessert. Since I am not a chocolate fan apart from dark bitter bar chocolate it was easy to decide after immediately eliminating two of four choices. But I couldnt have made a better selection. The mi-cuit amandes, ragôut de quetsches is one of those desserts that makes one remember the meal; it was that good. This was cake with a molten almond centre served with a nice tart stew of quetsches (a dark-skinned plum but precisely what it is in English I am unsure). The sugared mint was also a nice touch. In a word: WOW.
LAvant Goût is incredible value at 27 euros for 3-courses. Even if you choose a lighter 2-course dinner or several entrées as Carol had done, the à la carte pricing is still very reasonable. Their lunch menu at 12 euros (for 2-courses) sounds like a steal for the level of cooking that is coming out of the kitchen. This is not just an entrecôte slapped on a grill served with frites but a kitchen putting out relatively refined food. A 40-seater is small by restaurant standards so it is also nice to see such a good restaurant absolutely full mid-week as it probably needs to be in order to survive. But obviously they are doing something right; more than six years from when they first opened their doors they are still around and seemingly thriving. I can see and taste the many reasons for their success.
LAvant Goût, 26 rue Bobillot Paris 75013, tel 01.53.80.24.00 Open Tues - Fri.