Recent Paris Restaurant Notes
I returned from my first trip to Paris last Monday. Over all, I'd say the food experience was good, but there were certainly a couple of duds. Any prices quoted are in Euro.
The first night, Sunday, the Mr. and I went to Le Comptoir for dinner. They don't accept reservations for lunch every day and for lunch & dinner on weekends. We walked up about 6:30pm and had no trouble getting a table. However, by 8pm there were a few people hanging around the entrance waiting for a table. As for the meal, it didn't live up to the hype in my opinion. We both ordered just the plat du jour and a pitcher of red wine (which came from a box, BTW). The plat consisted of mashed potatoes, beef steak and a small endive salad. The mashed potatoes were tasty but nothing really to rave about. The beef steak was a bit too done for my taste. I asked for rare but it was closer to medium/well done. The salad I could have done without. Not bad food, not a bad price but not great either. $38 for 2.
The next night was Cafe Moderne for dinner. Ah, the first great meal! We both ordered the 3 course menu. Ravioli Escargots, roast pork tenderloin and a molten chocolate dessert for me; Foie gras au figues, roast veal and creme brulee for the Mr. Everything was prepared and served perfectly. The foie gras with figs was sublime and the best we tasted our entire trip. The ravioli was in a light cream sauce that was very tasty. We drank a bottle of red wine, a Cotes du Rousillon, suggested by the waiter that paired perfectly. I can get the exact name/producer to anyone who's interested. I highly recommend this place. $38 each for the menu, $28 for the wine.
Another memorable meal was had at Les Papilles. We arrived a bit before our 8pm reservations but they were happy to seat us. Only one menu: Pumpkin soup to start, roast chicken with pasta in creme sauce, fromage d'Ambert with prunes in a red wine sauce, a tart of custard & creme fraiche with apples on the bottom. They let you choose your wine from the shelves, with assistance if you ask. Hands down, it was the best meal I had in Paris. The first two courses were brought out family-style, the soup in a terrine and the chicken in a pot. Everything was absolutely to die for. Trust me when I say my notes will not do it justice. Just go! $28 (a bargain!) each for the menu.
Wednesday lunch was at Le Baratin. 3-course menu, $15 each. We both opted for a seafood terrine, boiled chicken with rice & mushrooms and a cheese course at the end. The fook was just OK. The chicken dish was really just boiled chicken on a bed of white rice with some cheap mushrooms thrown in. I suppose it could be considered "comfort food" by US standards. We had nothing downright terrible, but I won't be dining here again. There are just too many other good restaurants to discover.
The next 2 nights were spent in the Champagne region. I must recommend La Grillade in Epernay. We had the most marvelous dinner there, rivaling our experience at Les Papilles a couple of nights prior. Upon arrival and chef/owner (can't remember a name at the moment) gives a personal greeting, shaking hands and offering to hang up our coats. This personal touch was evident through the entire meal with everyone who assisted us, of which there were a few. Really nice service for the class of restaurant. I ordered the 3-course menu of potato/mushroom/onion soufflet, sliced duck breast with roast vegetables and coffee ice cream for dessert. The soufflet was absolutely to die for! Perfectly done, with caramelized onions on the bottom. So, too, with the duck breast. I'm not sure if the coffee ice cream was made on-site but it too was exceptional. This place is a must-visit if I (when) I ever return. $29 for the menu.
Back in Paris, we hadn't made reservations anywhere so we set about looking for a place for dinner. Le Petit Martin is what we found, located on Le Petit Champs. There was no set menu, so we ordered a la carte. Charcuterie for 2 to begin then roast goat and molten chocolate for my plat and dessert. We drank a bottle of Gigondas with the meal that was great but unfortunately I didn't make note of it. Quite good food, with a personal touch as well. One of the two owners took a great amount of time to explain each offering on the menu as well as chat a bit. Turns out the place has only been open a couple of months. He said business hadn't been that great as they're not doing any advertising - only word of mouth. You couldn't tell it by that night. A little while after we arrived the place was completely full. I didn't make note of prices this time either but I remember the charcuterie for 2 was about $14 and the rest in line with that. A good find.
I am so sorry to hear you were disappointed by Le Comptoir du Relais. I was very surprised by your comment about wine from the box so I thought I would check it out. So we dropped in for a late Sunday lunch.
I thought you may have gone to the wrong restaurant as "Le Comptoir.." is in the name of quite a few Parisian restaurants - however the plat de jour today was Onglet du Boeuf with puree potato and salad, so it sounds like you had the right one.
I tried two of the house reds a Saumer (€3 a glass) and a Bordeaux (€6) - the other red by the glass is a Latour so I assumed this was bottled. Both of the glasses I had were served from a bottle, I could see them poured at the bar. For the price both were very drinkable, and at €15 for a litre carafe of the Saumer it must be one of the restaurant wine bargains in Paris.
It is very hyped and so I suppose this can lead to disappointment. My understanding of the ethos of Yves Camdeborde is that he tries to deliver classic French food at a very accessible price point (hence the €3 a glass house wine). It isn't a starred Michelin restaurant nor do I think it has aspirations to be one.
I also suspect that because Le Comptoir is actually two really two very different restaurant experiences this can also lead to expectations not being met. Most of the hype is about the Bistro service and so if you expect this from the Brasserie you can be disappointed. It is not a bad Brasserie, but the Brasserie does not compare to the Bistro.
This week we also ate at the Bistro on Wednesday and had lunch at the Brasserie on Friday (we live close by). The Bistro is a set menu 6 courses for €45. Half the seats are removed and the tables are enlarged, there is a high quality linen tablecloths and good glassware, and there is only one service a night so you are not rushed. We had cod, potato and leek soup; foie grass terrine with artichokes; roast pork with potatoes and thyme, cream and parmesan infusion, a selection of cheese from a choice of approx. 15, and fresh strawberries in sangria. Two glasses of excellent Chablis and a good bottle of Morgon - the full wine list seems to be only available during Bistro service. It was a great meal and good value.
In contrast the Brasserie has a very different menu, limited wine list and more basic table settings and they turn the tables 3 or 4 times in the evenings. The menu will usually have a few of the Bistro classics but in the main it is much more simple fare. Usually good cooking and good value. My rolled lamb confit was sublime on Friday.
I think we have eaten in the Bistro four times over the last year, and the Brasserie ten or twelve times. Every meal was good. Maybe they had an off night.
We had the right Le Comptoir. The wine we ordered was just a carafe of red wine, so I wasn't entirely surprised to see it coming from a box as we peeked over the bar from our bar-side table. It's probably true that the weekday and weekend experiences differ greatly. However, if I was a restauranteur (sp?) I would probably use the no-reservation seatings to make a good showing so that these people want to make reservations for the future. Kind give them a taste of what they might expect during a "real" dinner. Although by the sounds of things Yves is doing just fine. And that's why I'm not in the restaurant business. :-)
Glad you klike Les Papilles as much as we did. We posted it with the recommendation it was the best meal we had in Paris with the caveat you have to accept the prix fixe offered. Other wonderful lunch we had was at Le Point Bar in the 2nd which is owned by Madame Bardet, the daughter of the Michelin starred eponymous restaurant chef, Jean Bardet in Tours. Very reasonable lunch but reservations are necessary