Paris Report: Some great & vy gd meals; Itinéraires a bust (long)
My wife and I were in Paris fr. Dec. 9–14, 2009, and had the following restaurant & food experiences:
l’Avant Comptoir — Lovely Wed. lunch standing at the counter. Sauteed chicken hearts w/ garlic were fantastic; several different croquettes all good; tiny taste of sauteed foie gras very nice; a “risotto” of tiny pasta pleasant. Wines by the glass all excellent. (6th: 9 carrefour de l’Odéon, 08-26-10-10-87, open 12h-23h, no reservations)
Les Fines Gueles — Vy gd Wed. dinner. Shared entreé of veal carpaccio with excellent olive oil and parmesan. Brochette of scallops on bed of peas with beurre blanc and a thick noisette sause on the side was tasty and interesting combination of flavors/textures. Steak tartare (served with good small potatos and green salad) was excellent, and unusual: bite-size pieces of vy tender, lean, limousin beef, nice oil, strongly flavored basil, and parmesan; very creamy, without the usual contrasting tang (fr. mustard, etc.). Lovely wine list. Very comfortable space; servers were patient with my broken French; we seemed to be only English speaking guests, and felt very welcome. (1st: 43 rue Croix des Petits Champs; open 7 days/wk, 12h-14h30 & 19h30-23h00)
Itinéraires — Big disappointment, Thurs. dinner. Food and service both poor. So-so entreés. My carpaccio’d scallops were overwhelmed by far too much lime juice and raw grated broccoli & cauliflower; could barely taste the small St. Jacques. My wife’s potato soup was really a poached egg with mushroom slices too large for the spoon and one big hunk of cured ham that, while delicious, needed to be cut with a knife and overwhelmed the tiny bit of luke warm potage. The plats were worse. My wife’s seafood sauté over black rice was marred by shrimp that had clearly been frozen, thawed, and then re-frozen; they had that foul mealy texture that comes from refreezing. My cod was so overcooked it was almost rubbery. As for service, when we arrived they had no record of the reservation we had made a month before. They seated us, but not graciously and only after instructing us that we would have to eat very fast. Though let us order dessert, but brought the wrong one (the gateau glacé instead of the gateau chocolat). After we pointed that out, two different servers came by to interrogate us and insist that we must have ordered the glacé. When we finally got the chocolate cake it was rather tasteless. (5th: 5 rue de Pontoise, 01 46 33 60 11, closed Sun & Mon)
l’Ecume — excellent Fri. lunch. Best oysters we’ve every had, nice Sancerre and Muscadet by the glass, Poilane bread, and a large raw St. Jacques (scallop) sliced thin, with roe sack attached, for dessert. Soundtrack of seagulls added to ambiance of sea-side oyster shack. (1st: 6 Rue du Marché St.-Honoré, 11h30-22h00, closed Sun & Mon)
Hidden Kitchen — wonderful Fri. evening. English-speaking supper club in private home. 10 course tasting menu was great start to finish, and paired with delicious wines. Each course a small, delightful few bites; at end one is pleasantly full but not overly so. Highlights included: sunchoke soup w brown butter pear jam and sunchoke chips; sauteed sea bass elevated above a thin new england style fish chowder, on a slice of potato; veal and juniper meatball w homemade white truffle linguini. Though setting is elegant, atmosphere is very relaxed and welcoming. (1st: check www.hkmenus.com for info, upcoming schedule; reservations required; address revealed week before).
Les Coquottes — Vy nice Sat. dinner, excellent food and service. Entreés: Great soup special, a velouteé of cepes mushrooms and langoustines. Vy gd salad of baby arugulla with a poached egg and some awesome lardons. Plats: Potatos stuffed with pied du cochon (meet of pig’s feet) and side salad was delicious; though very rich, not too heavy. Special of roasted chicken with fricasee of turnips and fennel over rice was delicious (though the chicken was a bit dry, perhaps because this was the very last serving). Bottle of a Coteaux d’Aix en Provence was excellent, and paired nicely. The chocolate tart for dessert was awesome: creamy, dense texture, only slightly sweet. Though place was packed at 19h45, we only had to wait about 30 mins to be seated. Pacing of dinner was perfect; not at all rushed despite the crowd, which seemed to be mostly Parisians with a few international visitors. (7th: 135 rue Saint-Dominique, 12h–14h30 & 19h15 – 22h30, closed Sun, no reservations)
Mi-va-mi — Great falafel in the Marais for Sun. lunch. Each serving is constructed in an excellent, fluffy but chewy pita; then a schmear of hummus on one side; then layers of shredded, lightly dressed/pickled red cabbage, shredded cucumber, & diced tomato; then awesome roasted, slightly carmelized eggplant; then the excellent falafel itself (crisp outside, fluffy inside, not at all greasy, with hints of parsley & mint); then repeat all the layers a second time; then top with a bit of tahini and some spicy/sweet harissa pepper sauce. At the takout window, handed over in a wrapper with a fork and napkins. Also seating inside. Line much shorter than L’As du Falafel across the street. (4th: 23 rue des Rosiers, closed Friday pm and Saturday)
Les Fables de la Fontaine — Excellent Sun. dinner, at small (28 seats?) seafood restaurant. Entreés: Truly wonderful carpaccio of scallops, served with a hint of olive oil, the slightest crunch of salt, and slices of foie gras, black truffle, and creamy, soft parmesan; decadent yet light. Tartare of sea bass, vy gd, with awesome parmesan toast. Plats: We split the sole meuniere for two; classic, perfectly prepared. Served with great artichoke side: a mash of artichoke hearts was topped with artichoke stems wrapped with the thinnest, most delicate bacon. Great bottle of Nuits-St. George blanche. Service perfect; very welcoming of English speakers. A splurge, but for us worth it. (7th: 131 rue Saint-Dominique, 01 44 18 37 55, open 7 days/wk 19h15-23h)
Restaurant Japonaise Saporo — nice Mon. lunch of wakame ramen and miso ramen; both had lovely broth, each very different, and noodles with good texture. (1st: 276 rue Saint-Honor).
Au Bascou — very good Mon. dinner at Basque restaurant. Entreés both delicious: Slices of Basque cured jambon & sm salad w/ tangy dressing. Small red peppers stuffed with crab concoction, and small salad w/ smoother dressing. Came with great bread: crackly crust, soft chewy inside, whole wheat, just a hint of sour tang. Plats were even better: Special of monkfish served with a creamy curried sauce with fresh cilantro, and chopped snow peas with diced carrot and celery. Axoa of veal was a stew of incredibly tender, melt-in-your mouth veal slow cooked with sweet red Basque peppers, and served with excellent potatos. Had bottle of a very nice Irouleguy red from the Basque region; started quite tart, and opened to be more fruity and full; paired very well with all course. Completely full on a Monday, and with good reason. We were only English speakers there, and felt very welcome. Service was great, and very comfortable. (3rd: 38 rue Reaumur, 01 42 72 69 25, 20h00 – 22h30; closed Sat & Sun)
Finally, a few food shops we’d race back to:
Boulangerie Kayser — Yes, the otherworldly baguette is stupendous. So was the curried nut bread. (5th: 8 & 14 rue Monge, and other locations)
Gilles Verot — for excellent charcuterie. The award-winning head cheese really is great. For a whole-body take on a tête de frommage, try the Couchon de Tête aux Pied (pig from head too foot); like a very course paté, this is wrapped in aspic, and contains layers of morsels from different scrap spots on the animal, with a nice bit of boudin noir (blood pudding) in the middle; very tasty, with an awesome range of textures, from creamy-smoth to firm to downright chewy. Have it alone, or on any great Parisian bread. (6th: 3 rue Notre-Dame des Champs, Tues-Sat, 8h30-20h)
Barthelemy – for great cheese. Small shop, jammed with goodies and customers. We opted for a classic Camembert, and a blue cheese from the Juras that our server was very excited about, and with good reason. (7th: 51 rue de Grenelle, Tu-Sat 8h-13h & 16h-19h15).