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.
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)
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.
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...)
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.