Winner is...Comme Ca! (longish)
Birthday dinner - two couples - AOC, Fraiche or Comme Ca? My friend, the birthday boy, chose Comme Ca, I guess because they hadn't been there yet and it's 'hot.' (Thanks to all hounds who offered opinions, esp. Carter.) So I read dozens of posts and reviews on Chowhound and elsewhere and was amazed by the disparity of opinions. Seems to be a love/hate situation, with many red flags from the nay-sayers: long waits, indifferent service, cramped tables, getting hustled out, unbearable noise level, "too much salt," "too much bacon," and - of course - the plastic lawn chairs.
To cut to the chase - we had a fantastic evening and loved the meal. Really enjoyed it. Did it take three and a half hours? Yes, but we didn't mind. Was it noisy? Yes - but fun and lively. Perhaps you have to be in the right mood and we certainly were: with good company and in no hurry.
No doubt Monday night is going to be mellower than a weekend, but an any rate we were seated immediately at a generous table in the upper rear area. The tables down below did seem a bit more cramped but things sure worked out for us. We ordered the filtered water (having done our homework) and ordered some of the special cocktails. It was a while before they showed up but our waitress came to reassure us that they were on the way, and on the whole she was very friendly and helpful. Two of us had the East Side cocktail with gin and cucumber - unique and quite tasty. The other two had the Penicillin - scotch, ginger and honey with a big block of ice in it - excellent. Not cheap at 14 bucks a pop but, hey, we're partying here.
We ate bread and butter until the oysters showed up...a dozen malpeques and a dozen hama hamas with a tangy mignonette. Yummers. We shared four apps: first, the frisee salad with poached egg - super-good - will definitely order again next time. Perfect amount of bacon. Then the beef marrow with oxtail jam - another must have: shades of Blue Ribbon in NYC. Another big hit was the brandade gratinee: a salt cod puree with amazing flavor and texture - we agreed it was the best dish of it's kind we'd ever had. The glazed sweetbreads were not bad - merely very good in a field of greats. Would have liked to try the escargot, onion soup, tarte flambee. Next time.
We split two entrees: the whole roasted chicken (for 2) and the steak frites. The chicken was a decent, solid roast chicken (vacuum bag cooked we were told) - quite tasty but not showy. The steak was really good - rare and tender, with a knob of butter on top - tres francais. The frites didn't seem extraordinary but they sure went fast - with an aioli dip.
Instead of dessert we opted for cheese. We strolled over to the cheese bar to talk to Todd, the fromagier - a very engaging fellow. He made up a platter of 5 cheeses, each with a little accompaniment: fruit preserves, or sweet citrus rind, or little tomatoes. He came to our table and we chatted about cheese and wine - he was funny and very passionate about his field of expertise.
One round of cocktails, three bottles of wine (2 Rhone reds and an Alsatian Riesling with the cheese), 2 dozen oysters, 4 apps and 3 entrees (the chicken was for 2) and it came to about $530. About half of that was wine and drinks. Seemed fair for a great meal and a lovely evening. I believe there was even a celebrity sighting, joy of joys.
I'd say don't go if you're in a rush, or feeling impatient. Or if you're looking for something quiet and intimate. It's a scene. Oh, the plastic chairs didn't seem to bother any of us.
We ate at Comme Ca for the first time last Saturday (03.01.2008). I give it a strong/solid rating. We had a few very minor issues, but nothing in the overall that would truly detract or cause me to avoid going back. Our dinner for two consisted of:
2 Stems Champagne
12 Malpeques Oysters
5 Cheeses (selected by the Fromagier)
We brought a bottle of 2002 Vincent Girardin Corton Burgundy, knowing we’d probably split our mains between a seafood and a meat course. Burgundy seemed to straddle that line well enough for us.
The oysters were superb and some of the best we’ve had since our December trip to Bouchon in Yountville. They were sweet and creamy with a light briny note and a were of fantastic texture and size. The Skate, I felt, shouldn’t have been dredged before being pan seared. I thought the floury crust was too much and I would have loved to have the skate in a more natural form. The steak, a seldom-seen Paleron cut, was great. Chewy, nearly rare, and smothered in Maitre d'Hotel butter. The fries were nice. Not the best I’ve ever had (Jeanty & Bouchon come to mind), but fine and served with a glorious aioli. The cheeses were very good. Only one out of the five landed a little flat. I didn’t like the pairing of the tomato with the goat cheese but overall it was nice. The custard on our Crème Brulee was a little to warm. It was very loose and I prefer a slightly cooler custard under the burnt sugar crust.
Have people complained about the chairs? They were fine for me. The dining room was loud and clanky and we wouldn’t want it any other way in a “bistro” environment.
R. Jason Coulston
Thanks for weighing in - oysters were great, weren't they?
Just to wallow in minutiae (which is what we chowhounds love to do) the steak frites cut was - according to our waitperson - actually a hanger steak, albeit as tender and delicious a one as I've had. The paleron, a French cut from the neck or shoulder and typically stewed or braised, is used for the bourguignon. Which is supposed to be delicious too.
Someone correct me if I'm wrong...
I was told that night it was the Paleron, and they usually only get a 1 or 2 steaks from that muscle, typically, as you mentioned, used primarily for braising. I got home and checked out my Les Halles book and Bourdain does indeed reference the Paleron as being used for steak once in awhile. Bavette is also a standard for steak frites at some bistros. I wonder if they change the cut from time to time? Hanger is one of my favorites and I use it often during the summer for grilling so I'm familiar with the shape, mouthfeel, etc. My steak from Saturday was definitely not hanger. Thinking through it, they must rotate the cut? I'd love to know.
R. Jason Coulston