Report: Regalade, Chez Les Anges, Chez L'Ami Jean
Just back from a brief stay in paris at the end of a longer 2 week trip through normandie and brittany and wanted to report on our paris meals, which we chosen by price (35E prix fixe for dinner) and central location.
Regalade St. Honore: hands down one of the best restaurants we'd ever been to for that price. in fact, it was one of the best and most enjoyable restaurant meals we'd ever had in our lives. the service and food were fantastic. the chef meticulously oversees every dish that leaves the kitchen and you can watch him preening each dish. the wait staff works hard and tirelessly to make you comfortable. the pace of the meal was perfect. great, reasonably priced wine list. best steak i've ever eaten in my whole life (and we often eat at nyc's best steakhouses). nice room. great vibe. just a handful of tourists. complex, subtle, well crafted dishes. this is a serious place where people come to enjoy really great food that the staff is preparing with great attention and careful concern. there is no feeling of being rushed or dismissed or taken advantage of. this is a serious, great tasting, fun, fantastic-value meal. we wish we'd eaten there every night. if this place were in nyc, it'd cost 3 times the price and reservations would be impossible to get. food A++, service A.
Chez Les Anges: this was one of the oddest and most troubling meals we'd ever had in our lives. the food was quite good, and some dishes were even great. but the service was the worst service we'd ever experienced in our lives. it was like nobody on staff was trained or cared or knew what they were doing. we waited 30 minutes to have our order taken, bread was thrown onto the table by a harried waiter throughout the night, dishes came out at an inscrutable pace, no one ever asked us how the food was, no one explained what the dishes were (and we'd ordered the tasting menu for 40 E which didn't list the dishes on the menu- in fact, at one point, after an appetizer of white asparagus, we were served a fish dish and when we asked our server what it was, she ran into the kitchen to ask and returned to tell us it was asparagus), the five course tasting menu took 2 1/2 hours to be served, flagging down waiters was just about impossible, and generally no one seemed to care about our experience. in fact, no one even thanked us for dining there at the end of the meal. the owner (the husband), mostly acted like a leering, lecherous, drunken buffoon the whole time. and every other table had the same experience. most of the crowd seemed to be local parisiens and their disappointment and frustration was palpable. there were numerous complaints in the dining room by customers who waited 30 plus minutes between courses or who had to get up and take their money to the owner just in order to expedite the check. in fact, some of the wait staff surreptitiously consoled us for the screwed up service, but at no point did the owner/maitre d' ever step in to help his harried and confused wait staff. instead, he just drank the night away, leering and leching at every woman in the joint. at one point, we thought that our sweating, confused, bumbling, harried and panicked waiter would actually have a heart attack as he ran around throwing bread slices onto the diners' tables.
strangely, though, most of the food was fantastic, carefully prepared and really tasty. but never in our lives had we felt less cared for or less well attended in a restaurant. we'd heard that the husband and wife owners really took care of their customers, but nothing could have been farther from the truth. we left feeling that the restaurant just didn't care about it's diners at all, even if the food was good. for us, the only thing that could have explained such a fiasco was if the entire wait staff had been fired 15 minutes before dinner and that a new staff had been plucked off the street at the last moment and not given any training whatsoever. but that clearly wasn't the case, as one of the waiters told us he'd been there for over 2 years, so we were left assuming that the owners just don't care about the customers at all. A-/B+ for food, F--- for service.
Chez L'Ami Jean: the one meal in france that we really regretted having. as regards the general prix fixe menu here, this place is basically a tourist trap. the food isn't carefully or thoughtfully prepared, not a lot of thought goes into the menu, the dishes aren't at all innovative or tasty, the service is somewhat harried and condescending, the clientele is about 90% tourists, the management clearly knows that few customers will ever be repeat customers and so the service and food is lazy and inattentively presented. we weren't all all bothered by the cramped seating or rushed vibe (dinner took less than 90 minutes, eventhough we sat down at 10 pm). but it really felt like we were being condescended to as a herd of tourists who couldn't tell good food from bad. there was no sense of gratitude or thanks or concern by the staff for our experience, no one ever asked us if we liked our food. in fact, it reminded me of a cheap and touristy steak/frites place i'd been to in paris 25 years earlier as a student who didn't know anything about food.
just as we were leaving, however, a party of 4 locals came in and ordered specials and a la carte items. as we watched their meal unfold, we were struck that they were actually eating in a different restaurant. the staff became smiling, engaged, animated and helpful. dishes were explained. the chef came out to show them the meat and fish that he would cook for them. clearly, there was a restaurant within a restaurant here, but as tourists on the prix fixe we'd been condemned to a cattle car assembly line of factory food production and service. i'd not recommend this prix fixe experience to anyone who really knows or enjoys good food, as only the more ignorant or innocent tourists seemed to really be enjoying themselves at dinner. clearly, the management at chez l'ami jean knows that they have a cash cow here and they are providing a product designed to please just enough to keep customers from flaming this place on the internet. obviously, if it was much worse, people would stop coming, but it's just good enough to keep the tourists coming. we wished we'd eaten at a bustling bistro half a block closer to the seine that we'd seen on the walk over to clj where the room was packed with happy, hungry locals having a great time for the same 35E prix fixe. avoid at all costs. food c, service c-.
Your report reads like a novel, with such a zigzaggy plot !
The Chez Les Anges experience is especially tragic-comic. I had a similar experience at the très regretté Velly. The future-ex-owner became very drunk and sat at our table and started drinking our wine! From our glasses! Then he went into the kitchen and made such an earth-shattering ruckus that we could not talk. For a long time it was my fave 'hood bistro. Sad.
I also had another similar problem at, of all places Ze Kitchen Galerie. We had the dégustation dinner menu. Several times waiters would put a dish down and scurry away trying not to be caught having to explain it. Inexcusable.
Am sorry my fave bistro Chez l'Ami Jean did not deliver here. Does sound as though you had dined in another resto or sth, as the experience sounds so different from mine habitually. Again, inexcusable all the same.
"Am sorry my fave bistro Chez l'Ami Jean did not deliver here. Does sound as though you had dined in another resto or sth, as the experience sounds so different from mine habitually."
It is this kind of repeat patronage that I spoke of. When one develops a relationship with the house, be it person to person or simply familiarity with the carte and the chef's fortes, one is in truth visiting a different restaurant from the casual, first and possibly only time diner. There are a handful of places in Paris where we are immediately brought an aperitif and plate of ham or such, and many more where we sit next to someone else who is so comped. That is the nature of fidelity. And that is a universal potential pitfall of locals' recommendations.
Well said. Prix-fixe menus are usually marginally profitable and basically cover the overhead; thus the need for multiple turns. Supplement pricing allows higher quality dishes, but may add significantly to the final tab. Locals who order off the Carte are highly valued, perhaps more so in Paris than any other place I know. In general, the restaurant business sucks; we only focus on the survivors here. CD's would be a superior investment; I know this from years of personal experience. Having said all that, we can't let it go, can we.
"...there was a restaurant within a restaurant here..."
This is not unique to L'AJ or to Paris. Repeat clients are regularly offered off menu or limited supply products and in addition have enough experience with a kitchen to know what sleepers to order. The inexpensive fixed price menu has traditionally been sculpted around the least costly ingredients and technique and has never, in any house, been proposed as the epitome of a kitchen's specialties much less capability. We have been spoiled in Paris and in France by the emergence of bistrots run by chefs trained in three star kitchens who have by and large offered great value with well sourced and prepared fixed price meals. But even in these, there are normally a la carte dishes that shine well above the fixed price components. (One of my more memorable meals featured a perfectly roasted pigeon that commanded a 15€ supplement to the fixed price menu.) If you will read back through the many posts about L'AJ you will find many references to veal and game that are a la carte only. And if I remember correctly in decades past, the prix fixe was formally known as the "tourist menu", i.e., an inexpensive meal that would not be out of reach for the average tourist. The problem, as you point out, is that reviews seldom point out this dichotomy of quality.
Another problem is that popularity is a heavy burden for a restaurant. When every table is booked for several sittings with people pouring in the door, many with little understanding of the strengths and focus of a kitchen and only the knowledge that this is a "don't miss",
many will indeed miss what is potentially available. Each table presents a different set of experiences and expectations, but all expect to be blown away because the place is so popular. Every so often after an experience not dissimilar to what you describe, my husband will ask, "Why are we here? Who did you read? How many did you read? Did you read between the lines?" And I shrug. "No, I guess I didn't."