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L'Astier and Le Villaret in the Paris 11th

Last week, I went to L'Astier and Le Villaret in the 11th, both near Oberkampf.

L'Astier was a huge disappointment. We arrived 10 minutes early, which earned us curses from the maitre d'hotel (an ominous note, if ever there were one). As apparent punishment for our sin, we were seated in the upstairs Anglophone ghetto, next to a group of drunken English football hooligans.

I don't want to judge the restaurant too harshly for the behavior of the other patrons (unimaginably bad -- just for starters, my date was hit in the face by an errant Camembert when a food fight broke out over the cheese plate), but the service was universally awful, and the food was almost without exception lousy (fish was overcooked, my rabbit terrine was dry and bland, only a roast pork dish was tasty although not memorable).

Even Astier's renowned cheese plate (written up in all the guides) was a dissapointment -- not only did the waiter refuse to clean it up after the drunken English effectively destroyed it (he acted insulted at the mere suggestion), but the cheeses themselves were bland and seemed like they'd been purchased at a supermarket. Given that the market on Richard-Lenoir, just a block away, has terrific cheeses at low cost, you have to wonder how hard it must be to make up a decent plateau des fromages. Needless to say, we will not be going back.

Le Villaret the next night was by comparison next to miraculous. Just a couple blocks away from L'Astier, Le Villaret gave us a truly remarkable six course tasting menu at 50 euros. We could have gotten away with a considerably cheaper meal had we eaten a la carte, and the wine selection is simultaneously superior to and much cheaper than the offerings at L'Astier.

There were many highlights of the meal, which included a velvety cauliflower soup (sounds uninteresting but oh soooo good, on a cold damp March night), a smoked-roasted Breton Seabass (Bar), and veal liver of such an exquisite buttery richness and texture that it seemed much more like foie gras than anything else. The service was good-humored but professional.

It was one of the best meals I've ever had in Paris, and I will DEFINITELY be going back. By all accounts the menu changes constantly, so I'll be looking forward to their other options. But run, do not walk to this place while it is still underrated by Michelin and Gault-Millau. When ratings rise (as they almost certainly will), expect prices to follow.

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  1. One of our favourite restaurants in Paris was called Le Villaret, owned by Etienne Villaret and was located near the Pantheon on rue St Genevieve du Mont. It has long since disappeared - do you think your Le Villaret could be the same owner?

    Even if it isn''t the same, thanks for the tip. It sounds like it is worth checking this out - we love taster menus. :o)

    1. I had the same experience at Astier, upstairs and rude abrupt service. Have you gone to P'tit Troquet on Exposition? Great little place, 30 Euro prix fix and welcoming service.

      1 Reply
      1. re: kjordan

        Management might not be to blame for the behaviour of the lager louts, but it is blameful in sitting you next to such animals and not moving you. As for cursing you for arriving ten minutes early...

        Rue de l'Exposition is in the 7th, the other side of Paris.

      2. On my first trip to Paris, we stayed in the 11th and ate at Astier twice. We loved it. (that was 1998). We went back in 2004 and were immensely disappointed. It really did not seem like that charming and delicious bistro it once had been.

        1. Went to l'Astier a few days ago and everything was really good (not life-changing), and mostly the staff was very friendly and charming and welcoming. It is not worth a trip but it is a very nice bistrot. I would recommend it for a non-fancy birthday celebration for example, where it is all about being together and having good food, but not focusing on the food or the restaurant. I must say that I see it as textbook bistrot -- not a bistronomique like La Régalade or Chez l'Ami Jean, but a genuine bistrot.

          In that same category, with better food and more obnoxious service, I would put le Paul-Bert (some pics here: http://picasaweb.google.fr/jultort/Le...)

          2 Replies
          1. re: souphie

            Because of a couple of disappointing experiences, I have not been back to L"Astier in a few years. Since I usually stay near that neighborhood, good to know that it has improved. I've heard that it changed management recently.

            1. re: souphie

              I affiliate myself with Soup here; I go rarely to l'Astier but always exit pleased; vs/cf Villaret, where my precious Colette forbids us to enter. Paul Bert and l'Ecallier de.... also fine.

              I must conclude after reading this thread that we all will just have to agree to disagree.

              But, local note; there's a cool Belgian frites place nearby - I think at 101 rue Oberkampf (like there used to be 50 years ago poking out of every corner in Paris) where when you get 'em hot, they're great until the goose fat hardens.

              1. Politico glad you enjoyed the food i used to cook there :) as a former employee of Le Villaret, i'm quite happy to read such nice comments. If you visit them again, go for the foie gras soup with oysters a real happiness, or a "cote de boeuf" for 2 but blue or rare, cause beware one thing the Chef Olivier Gaslain can't stand is if you ask some welldone meat even sometimes medium rare is too much for him and he'll come to remind you that its written on the menu :). Also try his baba au rhum with confied ananas and ginger, or a rhubarb strawberry soup. Was a real pleasure to work there, if you have any questions about the restaurant i'll be around.

                1. Just an update on Astier. Ate there last night, and three years after the OP's post, things were rigorously the same (bad food, overrated cheese platter - nothing stood out and the fourme d'Ambert was a sorry, rubbery thing laced with leathery blue streaks). So the place could be praised for its consistency. The plates, tablecloths and napkins were by far the nicest things. The wine list takes the cake as the worst classification method in Paris, in the cutesy/silly category ("vins de méditation" - about fifty of them, "vins de soif", etc.) Yeah, sure, go there and try to meditate.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Ptipois

                    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing what I hadn't the guts to post. I am interested to find a local's response the same as ours: "things were rigorously the same (bad food, overrated cheese platter - nothing stood out and the fourme d'Ambert was a sorry, rubbery thing laced with leathery blue streaks)". I couldn't phrase it better. There weren't 5 minutes in the evening I could call "fun", and fewer "delicious".

                    1. re: mangeur

                      I think it is useful to let your guts talk when necessary, especially about an icon or destination bistrot. Could save bad experiences to a potential good number of people. I haven't mentioned the hurried, steaming waiter barking in our ears "ÇA A ÉTÉ ?" every time he came over to pick up a plate, actually we would have answered "Non, ça a pas été" but we were not sure what would have happened if we had. Perhaps a waiter explosion or something.

                    2. re: Ptipois

                      Had exactly the same reaction at l'Astier. Still have a napkin that someone got me for a present as l will never go back to the restaurant. My thoughts were listed on an earlier post when l was there in 2008.