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Oct 11, 2011 07:31 PM

Paris report - La Bigarrade, Kei, Neva

Arriving in Paris on Friday, we headed to dinner at La Bigarrade. At the time when I reserved it, I had only read positive reports, and we were really looking forward to it. The restaurant does not have a working website, so the only prices I could find were in the current Michelin, which listed menus for lunch at 35 euros and dinner at 45 and 85. Planning to have the 45, we were at bit shocked when we arrived to find out that the only menu now being offered is 85 euros. The wine prices are inflated. We chose one of the lowest priced wines, a red burgundy for 43 euros. It was nothing to write home about. We were the first to arrive at 8:30, and by 9 the place was full. Once the food started to arrive, it would be at least 15 minutes between courses, which would be fine except that each “course” consisted of one or two bites of food. At 10:00, we had a little chat with the waiter and told him we were still very hungry. He explained that the first five courses were the amuse-bouche and the remaining ones would be the main meal. He also offered to give us bread, which is normally served with the cheese course. Perhaps it was a mistake, but we opted to do it their way and wait for that course. We wanted to see if we would at some point end up feeling like we had eaten dinner. At midnight we had finished the cheese “course” and dessert was still being prepared. At this point we were still very hungry, and tired from a day of travelling, so we left without dessert. Based on the food we had already eaten I cannot imagine it would have been anything memorable. I will say that the other diners appeared happy, but I just can’t imagine what all the hype is about, and why the two Michelin stars. What we ate was at best decent, extremely simple preparations, and at worst bizarre flavor combinations where one secondary ingredient completely overpowered the main ingredient. Please note we are very adventurous eaters and love unusual and innovative combinations, but only if they make sense and taste good. You really had to wonder if the chef had tasted the dishes he was preparing. We could have gotten a really great meal at any number of other places, for the same or even much less money, so this was just a horrible disappointment. Afterward I did some more searching on the web and found that others have had similar complaints recently (read this one, I love it: I only wish I had done that research sooner, as this was not only the worst meal I have ever had in Paris, it may well be the worst I have ever had anywhere, especially for this sum of money.

For lunch on Saturday four of us went to Kei, which was highly recommended on Alec Lobrano’s blog. The lunch menu of four courses for 38 euros was wonderful. Beginning with canapés, then an amuse of gazpacho with avocado and tomato, we continued with foie gras with beet juice, apple and girolles. Then came crab in cabbage leaves in a light broth. The main course was a choice of roasted Iberian pork loin with pumpkin puree and bass with a crisp skin and vegetables, then grilled pear with basil ice cream, and mignardises. With a bottle of Cotes du Roussillon 2007, 3 aperitifs and 4 coffees our bill totaled 240 euros, not cheap but a reasonable deal for memorable food. I would expect to see a Michelin star in the future.

Saturday dinner was simpler, but no less delicious, at Neva Cuisine, another Alec Lobrano recommendation, which has also gotten some recognition on CH. Again there were four of us, and after a bit of sausage and cheese on a skewer, we began with shrimp ravioli with beets and the poached egg. For the main course we chose pork loin with barbecue sauce on the side, served with eggplant stuffed with mushrooms and peppers, sweetbreads with mashed potatoes and girolles, and scallops with parsnips and a cream sauce. For dessert, we had the chocolate sphere, figs with sorbet, and marron with mont blanc. The prix fixe is 36 euros, but a few dishes had a small supplement. We had a nice bottle of Cote du Rhone for 24 euros. I disagree with the poster who thought the chef is trying to emulate the high-end restaurants. I think it is simply upscale bistro food, done well but without elaborate presentations, delicious and priced appropriately. The staff and owners could not have been nicer. We loved this place.

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  1. Nice and useful reviews, thanks. And Meg Z's review is well done too, thanks for including it. -- Jake

    1. Thank you for your report. I had previously planned to go to La Bigarrade on my last trip, but decided not to go after hearing similar reactions to yours. I learned on my last trip that the risk is bigger when one has no choice; if the chef has an off day or serves one or two items which you don't like, disappointment is inevitable. And the more cutting edge the cuisine, the higher the likelihood of the chef taking risks. So that, and the fact that la Bigarrade is on the other side of Paris (from my usual perspective at least), made my decision easy.

      So, on my next trip in a couple of weeks, and for a couple of weeks, I have reduced the number of bookings where I have no choice....Wait, that's not really true: L'Astrance, which I love...Saturne, which I like a lot....Passage 53 and L'Agape Substance, which I really want to try....So I guess I have booked 4 no-choice meals for a two week trip; hopefully they will be more enjoyable than your experience at La Bigarrade.

      Thanks also for the link to Meg Zimbeck's review; that was priceless!!

      7 Replies
      1. re: fishskis

        Well, Meg Z's review is well known, I have read it too, though I don't consider it to be true enough. Being to Le Bigarrade 3 times in the last 18 months, and trying 3 different menus I'm still very much confirmed that they're doing a great job.

        I think the problem that some guests are facing are just the false expectations. If anyone expects to have a traditional french meal with appetiser, main dish and dessert, then don't go!!! Le Bigarrade is definitely absolutely wrong and you'll be very disapponted.

        1. re: kobri

          "I think the problem that some guests are facing are just the false expectations. If anyone expects to have a traditional french meal with appetiser, main dish and dessert, then don't go!!! Le Bigarrade is definitely absolutely wrong and you'll be very disapponted."

          This is not the case of Meg, who is an extremely seasoned diner, reviewer and cook.

          1. re: Parigi

            Well, I know that and won't impeach her knowledge. However, she herself admitted that she has heard only good things about the restaurant. Probably she just doesn't like this cooking style, it is special and it is contraversive. And that's the point.

          2. re: kobri

            I did not go there expecting a traditional French meal, and as I stated above, we are adventurous eaters. You are entitled to your opinion. I am just stating what my experience was. Others can make of it as they wish.

            1. re: rrems

              My opinion is also basing on my experience, and I wasn't there just once. But nevertheless, it is obvious that every person has it's own expectation on food, flavour and ingredients combination, and last but not least, the price level. So our opinions on the same issue may be different. I assume that the Michelin tasters had their reasons why they gave La Bigarrade 2 stars.

              1. re: kobri

                Many thanks, Kobri. This is very helpful information. We follow Alec Lobrano's blog, too, and he's never steered us wrong. He wrote a rave review of a new bistro called Le Galopin last week, and we're very much looking forward to trying it.

                1. re: andaba

                  Le Galopin has suddenly become a hot ticket after great reviews by le Fooding, Figaro, etc. So lots of luck in getting a reservation. I tried it (by accident while browsing the very hip Place Ste Marthe to polish my street cred) when it first opened. It is indeed very, very good. And, although the occasional grittiness (i.e. homeless shelter on the corner) might be a little off-putting to the over-50s set, the quartier is a total delight.