A quick weekend in Paris involved dinner at two restaurants Id wanted to try for a while; both have already been discussed on the board, but for what theyre worth, here are my two euro-cents.
Le Petit Pontoise
I know, I know. When a place gets a write-up in the NY Times, its pretty much a guarantee that you will, whenever you choose to go there, be surrounded by the gentle honk of North American accents. And really, given that this little restaurant is located right off the Boulevard St-Germain in the heart of Touristville, I shouldnt have been surprised in any case. But my heart did sink a bit when we walked in for our 20h30 reservation to a chorus of American voices.
The restaurant itself, though a tiny, yellow-walled, bare-bones bistro is charming. The food ranges from solid to excellent, and the waitresses exude a surprisingly informal cheer thatn though sincere, felt odd, as I find that Parisian service usually oscillates between the poles of cool professionalism and sardonic martyrdom.
We chose as entrées the cassolette of boudin blanc with broccoli puree and the foie gras maison aux figues; of the two, the boudin was the hands-down winner Ive lived in Belgium for six years and (to indulge in some neighbourly rivalry) generally dont like French boudin blanc, as it tends toward the rubbery. But this tender and succulent, with the broccoli providing a nice touch of vegetal bittersweetness. The foie gras was tasty, but basic a torchon wrapped around fig purée.
Mains were the carré dagneau and (I may mock the idea of a restaurant being written up in the Times, but Im ever so susceptible to what they recommend) the joues de cochon aux épices doux. This little piggy went to market and was purchased, cooked, transubstantiated into a higher realm and served in a cunning cast-iron casserole. D***, it was good! Meltingly tender pork, earthy cèpes, sweet carrots, and grenaille potatoes in an absolutely wonderful sauce/broth. If Id had a straw I remember nothing about Gs lamb, so focused was I on porcine nirvana, but he said it was very good.
Tarte tatin and baba au rhum flambé rounded out the meal both perfectly serviceable, but not particularly stunning.
With an absolutely lovely 2003 Lalande de Pomerol (a Parisian restaurant bargain at 33 ), total damages came to 100 for two. Id go back, and take others with me though Id still secretly wish all the other English-speakers would just GO AWAY.
We hesitated between this place and Stéphane Martin, just a couple of doors away on Rue des Entrepreneurs in the 15th. Flipped a coin, and le Tire-Bouchon won.
When we walked in, I got a very bad feeling the place (another tiny one, with perhaps 30 seats) was largely empty, and its decorated in what I like to call Basic Hotel Dining Room carpet, floral upholstered chairs, white table cloth, mauve wallpaper and inoffensive botanical prints. Id also heard that the woman running the front of the restaurant was disarmingly friendly, but I was NOT at all prepared for effusiveness. I actually wondered for a moment whether Id been teleported into a Midwestern US church supper. Then, when each interaction was terminated with a Mais non, non, cest moi qui vous remercie well, it was just bizarre. The amuses-bouches did nothing to reassure me: endive leaves to dip in a strange and unidentifiable sweet white dressing, toothpick spears of prunes and bacon (once broiled, but without any lingering vestiges of warmth), and gougères that were actually anti-gougères, being cold and leaden. At this point, I think I may have started apologising to G.
But in for a penny, in for a pound, and on we went. Entrées: Terrine de joues de boeuf for G. (cant discount the psychological impact of the previous nights cheeky success) and marbre de foie gras aux litchis et fruit de passion for me. The terrine was unimpressive though G. sheepishly admitted that it struck a Proustian chord for him, reminding him of nothing so much as the Dinty Moore beef stew his mother used to feed him. The marbre de foie gras was a mitigated success: a striking visual checkerboard that layered cubes of foie gras and pressed litchis, napped with a nicely tangy passionfruit sauce. But the fruit was overkill one or the other would have sufficed, but the combination of both, particularly the hyper-tannic sweetness of the litchis, rendered the foie gras itself tasteless.
(One success to note the wine that the maitre d (or maitresse d) recommended performed far beyond expectations in the face of that challenging combination: a 2001 Haut-Medoc from Chateau Reynesse with a lovely vanilla softness did what it could to tame the fruit and coax a bit of flavour from the liver).
Mains: tendron de veau and gratin dauphinois for G. and noisettes de biches with juniper sauce and parsnip purée for me. Okay not stellar except for the parsnip purée, which was almost obscenely good. The biche was slightly overdone, which was a disappointment.
I finished off with a cheese plate: Ste-Maure chèvre, Camembert, Gruyère (or perhaps an unimpressive Beaufort hard to tell), and Reblochon. Only the Reblochon was a standout.
I think we paid about 110 for two, wine included. Would I go back? No probably not. Too many other places in Paris in that price range to try!