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Nov 6, 2011 07:40 AM

Trip report - Les Cocottes, Les Papilles, Chez l'Ami Jean & Spring

To mark the occasion of our 1st wedding anniversary we went to Paris for 2 nights. We got checked in to the hotel and headed out for some lunch. We had visited Les Cocottes on our previous trip three years ago and really enjoyed it so off we went again. It was nice to sit at the counter and reminisce about where we sat the last time and what we had to eat. This time my husband had the special cocotte of pan fried veal liver and caramelised onions. The liver was a little overdone but very tasty nonetheless and I had the country style terrine. We didn’t even need to look at the dessert menu; all I wanted was the Christain Constant signature chocolate tart that I remembered so well from our last trip. And it did not disappoint; a very thin chocolate pastry crust with a thick layer of chocolate ganache and then thinner layer of perfectly shiny dark chocolate ganache. Worth visiting Paris alone for. Delicious!

Wednesday Dinner - Les Papilles
I really wanted to like this restaurant. The concept is simple; the menu changes daily and you just pick a wine from the shelves on the wall and pay a corkage fee. We were seated down the back by the kitchen door and are left for about 15 minutes before the owner came over to explain the menu and how to pick the wines. Great, bring the food on, we are starving and more than a little tired from our very early flight. My husband picked a great St. Joseph from the wall and it was poured. The first course was a large communal bowl of creamy parsnip soup. Our own separate bowls contained parsnip mash, crème fraiche, chives and parsnip crisps. The soup was not hot enough but tasted very good. The communal bowl was huge and we could not stop eating until it was empty, which meant three bowls of soup each. Great start but already feeling a little full. Next up was a chicken breast in a creamy pesto sauce with mangetout and penne pasta (really – did I come all this way to eat pasta?) this could have been a great dish if 1 I wasn’t so full and 2 if the chicken had of been properly cooked and I didn’t have the fear of food poisoning. The chicken breast was served skin on and was cut on the diagonal into two pieces once ‘cooked’. The skin was nearly crispy but this wasn’t followed through properly and was clearly pink inside which the chef should of noticed when cutting before putting in the sauce to serve. I was itching to say something to the staff but alas no opportunity came even when they saw the pink chicken on the plate when clearing they didn’t ask us if it was ok. Yes, I hold my hands up, it was partly my fault, why didn’t I say something? After all I would at home without a second thought. We were full and tired and there just seemed no point. Onwards and upwards, we were then served a very small round of fresh goats cheese with tomato confit and black olive tapenade which was good. Then the final course, a poached pear and chestnut cream with caramel foam and what looked like cocoa covered cornflakes. This wasn’t even worth the calories to eat so I left it. The bill arrived and we were overcharged by €3 for the wine. The food came to €33 per person. Overall, disappointing and wouldn’t recommend.

Thursday morning is known as the morning we spent 2 whole hours queuing to get into the Catacombes. Wow, worse than a Ryanair check in queue but a lot more orderly. From there we went down to Laurent Duchene, we first spotted Laurent on Raymond Blanc’s BBC programme and had to make the trip to visit his patisserie since we were in the area. I had an amazing (mahoosive – sorry couldn’t resist RB!) chocolate and raspberry ganache slice, this clearly isn’t going to describe it very well, but it was layers and layers of chocolate ganache, mousse and sponge and then a crunchy almond base. This overtook the Christain Contant chocolate tart as my favourite chocolate creation in Paris. My husband had the raspberry sponge square of yumminess. We also managed to fit in a couple of macarons, tough job but someones gotta do it. From here we grabbed a Metro over to the Gallaires Lafayette Food Hall and spent a nice afternoon ogling all the shelves. If I lived in Paris, I think I would spend all of my money (and my husbands) here! The place is amazing.

Thursday Dinner – Chez L’Ami Jean
We had reservations for Chez L’Ami Jean for Thursday night. This would be our second trip to CLJ and we were hoping that it would be as good as our first and it was and better. On the night we visited there were a few menu options, a menu for €42, a tasting menu for €55, a large tasting menu for €80 and an a la carte menu. We went for the €55 ‘Petit Voyager’menu and weren’t disappointed. First up, an Italian cheese soup served from a tea pot at the table into bowls that had fine crumbs and chives inside. The next course was panfried quail breasts, perfectly cooked and pink with crispy skin. I think the sauce had a hint of grapefruit. We were told it was served with veal foot but if I hadn’t of been told that I think I would of guessed something different. Fish course up next - fillet of seabass with chestnut sauce, again delicious. Time for the main course, the couple next to us on the table were a couple of course ahead of us, so we thought we were in for braised veal. However we actually got duck breast with the same garnishes as the veal. The duck was excellent, served with crispy potatoes, lentils and a creamy potato puree. And so the time we were waiting for arrived, desserts! Not just any old desserts but the signature CLJ dessert, Stephane Jego’s grandmothers’rice pudding. A huge bowl arrived with a wooden spoon proudly sticking out of it, it was served with a small glass of caramel crème sauce and candied nuts. It was truly amazing, my only regret is I was too full to do it justice. If I had it now I would be a happy person though. We also had two other mini desserts, a fruit soup and chocolate pot which were good but the rice pudding was for me far superior. All in all our CLJ experience was fantasic (again). I couldn’t help to notice how it’s changed a little though. There are more tourists there, no doubt those who have done their research like I had and were sure of a good meal. And the waiter spoke English to us, on our last visit we were only spoken to in French. Not that this is a bad thing just merely an observation. I guess it makes it easier for them to converse in English when they are so busy. And busy that place certainly is and deservedly so. Funnily enough I was on twitter this morning and noticed Rick Stein tweeting about the great meal he had at CLJ last night, the rice pudding even got a mention.

On our walk back to the hotel passing the Eiffel Tower as it twinkled at midnight all we could think of was how the hell are we going to face more food tomorrow.

After our mahoosive (sorry, again!) feast the night before we skipped breakfast and pounded the streets trying to work up an appetite for Spring. Even as I sat down in the restaurant I wondered how I was going to manage another tasting menu but a glass of champagne soon whetted the appetite. Firstly we were brought a few small bowls, tiny sweetened pieces of mackerel, a selection of radishes, sliced cured ham and a big slab of salty butter to go with the bread. At this stage we couldn’t help but note the loud men sitting at the table next to us discussing how many carbs they could take in a day yada yada yada and one was toting a Birkin, it even had pride of place on the seat beside him. Sister was working it. Working the room really, since we all had to listen into their conversation which was a bit of a pain.
Next up fish course, a ceviched piece of john dory on top of thinly sliced mushrooms. The waitress then poured a dark chicken stock on. I thought this dish was only just ok and was probably my least favourite course. The main course was lamb, this was very good. A large piece of lamb cooked perfectly pink, served with a garlicky jus, a small piece of smoked piece of lamb fillet, almond mash and pomegranate seeds. I didn’t think the pomegranate seeds worked at the beginning but then I started to really enjoy them in the dish.
We were offered the cheese course next which was optional at an extra €12 which we accepted. One serving was plenty between us though. We had a range of 5 cheeses I think ranging from a mild fresh goatscheese to fuller flavoured blue cheese. All were excellent.
We then had a poached pear rolled in a crumb (with a little lime zest) served with a honey and fresh cheese soft ice-cream. I didn’t think I would like this but cleaned the plate. Daniel Rose then brought the final dessert and petit fours to our table. A date and chocolate pot that wasn’t my thing at all and then lemon curd tartlets and walnut tartlets.
All in all, we really enjoyed our experience in Spring. The dining room is completely dominated by the open plan kitchen where the (mostly American chefs, I think) work quietly and calmly. The lunch service is good value, together with our 3 glasses of champagnes and a great glass of Bourgogne came to 147 euros. We also dropped over to Spring Boutique and picked up a couple of bottles of the Bourgogne, it was labour of love bringing them back to Dublin via a trip to Edinburgh.

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  1. Thank you for your very enjoyable report.
    2 questions:
    1. Les Papilles wines are tagged with their retail price. Then the restaurant adds a corkage fee. Are you sure you were not charged the corkage fee instead of being overcharged?
    2. A man wearing a Birkin? Really? A guy wearing a Birkin?

    2 Replies
    1. re: Parigi

      1. Yep, definitely overcharged. I remember mentally adding the corkage fee to the bottle cost and it being below 40 euros. When the bill arrived we were charged 43.50.
      2. Yep a man toting a Birkin. Jealous, moi?

      1. re: Cmyappletart

        Thanks for the info on 1. Very regrettable.
        Stil digesting 2. Call me feudal, fossilized, Jurassic. That's just wrong.

    2. nice report. unfortunately, your experience at les papilles parallels mine. i know it is board favorite and for many years it was a favorite of mine as well. after lunch there last april we have removed it from our list altogether. our meal started with a very tasty but a bit too cool soup and went downhill from there. massive portion of over-cooked and very tough duck and nothing special veggies and sauce. service was inattentive for us and even worse for the table next to us.

      the only plus is an excellent selection of reasonably priced wines.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jock

        I just don't know how they can get it so wrong. The kitchen is tiny but most of the elements are probably prepared well in advance, with just assembling and heating to serve. To serve raw chicken is just a cardinal sin. Very disappointing.

      2. A few points. If you eat three bowls of soup from a communal bowl then it isn't surprising you are too full to enjoy the meal. Second, why do you assume soup should be hot? Often soup is better served warm rather than boiling hot as you can actually taste the flavours better at a lower temperature. Paris isn't a museum so what is wrong with pasta - French people like it you know. Undercooked chicken - maybe it wasn't There are lots of ways of cooking chicken that make it perfectly safe and leave it a little pink, again good chicken (which is common in France) is often better not over cooked, as they re lean birds and get stringy if too well done.

        8 Replies
        1. re: PhilD

          I agree about the soup and the chicken. I'm a fan of not too hot, and not too much. Also, regarding the chicken, when the specimen is fresh, a bit of pink, for me, is preferable, especially for a young-ish bird. Also the pasta -- I had the most divine pasta (homemade egg noodles) in a very "French" restaurant in Paris a few years back. Few "Italian" examples have compared.

          1. re: Nancy S.

            Firstly, the point is, who can control themselves with the first course when they are starving? Of course it's my fault for eating 3 bowls of soup, BUT should a restaurant really serve a communal bowl of soup with 6 portions to 2 people as a first course? Cream of parsnip soup, in my opinion, does not taste as good tepid as it does warm or indeed hot.
            Secondly, I have never been served pink chicken in a restaurant or indeed served it myself in my home. I completely disagree that it should be served pink. I do, however, agree that it does become stringy when over cooked, but a properly trained chef should be able to tell how to cook it until it is cooked through and moist (with a crispy skin, if serving the skin on)
            PhilD I find your comment about Paris not being a museum rather amusing which I'm sure it was the way it was intended.

            1. re: Cmyappletart

              I agree with everything you say except this:

              "should a restaurant really serve a communal bowl of soup with 6 portions to 2 people as a first course?"

              Many bistros in France do. It is a gesture of generosity, not a conspiracy to sabotage your appetite. :-)

              1. re: Cmyappletart

                Ref the pink chicken if you check out the USDA food safety site you will see the color if the chicken isn't the best way to tell if it I cooked and pink chicken can be perfectly fine - the key to safety is temperature not color. Note, I didn't say chicken must be served pink but that in France high quality birds need careful cooking, very good free range birds have a lot less fat than lower quality ones and are therefore more sensitive to cooking technique.

                Communal dishes are common in France and I suppose the clue is in the name, they are communal. And thus thy are shared between tables and it isn't expected that you finish the dish - they may well have been surprised you tried.

                1. re: PhilD

                  PhilD I think we may have to agree to disagree. I don't like or want to eat pink chicken but you don't appear to mind it. At least you know that at Les Papilles they cook it the way you like it served.
                  I think I would have been more surprised if they had taken the bowl placed on our table and brought it to another table for the way you explain 'communal' sharing.

                  Parigi, I like the way you explain the generous soup portions, it brought a smile as it did kind of feel like a conspiracy :) I think the bread baskets are another one, the bread is so delicious it's hard to stop eating it because it's there and then they refill the basket. :)

                  1. re: Cmyappletart

                    That conspiracy does exist in other cultures. Well, in one other culture that I know of. In southern China it is a well-known tactic by cheapskates inviting hosting a dimsum lunch. The first thing they order is pork bun, which makes the guests feel full right away, and they will have no appetite for other dishes. :-)
                    Well, this lore is a joke retold ad infinitum. I have never seen it practised in real life. Besides, I love pork bun any way.

                    1. re: Cmyappletart

                      Well I was simply trying to point out that things are different in France - obviously communal dishes are not really for you. Hate to say it but even the uneaten bread put on your table is recycled to the next table.

                      1. re: PhilD

                        We ate several 'communal' dishes" on our trips to France...
                        3 years ago at Chez Josephine Dumonet I ordered a lovely marinated mackerel dish as my starter, and it came in a huge ceramic crock, layered with viniagrette, carrots, celery, onions, spices. I dished some out, and ate my fill, and I am sure that dish was refilled from an even bigger crock and then sent on to the next table that ordered it!
                        Same last year when we went to Le Bistro Paul Bert; the crock of pate de campagne that comes when you sit down clearly has been on someone elses table before you (1/2 gone), and I wouldn't be suprised if the Riz do Lait bowl we couldn't possibly finish from our dessert went back into the communal bowl in back to be served again.
                        I am sure there is some issue with 'double dipping' utensils, but that is probably more an issue from non-parisienne diners mannners as I am sure most self-respecting Frenchmen and well-mannered chowhounds would know to use the provided serving item to place food on their personal dish, and use their personal utensil to bring said delicious food to their mouths:)
                        I love this generous style of service, and wish I could copy it in a restaurant here in Seattle - it would never fly with the health board (tho they all do it with the ketchup bottles!)

            2. You bring up a valuable point here, one that I need to practice more diligently myself.

              When one is served something that is not correct, one should IMMEDIATELY signal a server and bring the problem to the house's attention. In your case, your chicken could have been replaced probably without delay, since I doubt that the entire house was being served raw chicken, and you could have progressed with your meal, albeit slightly stuffed from the soup.

              3 Replies
                1. re: mangeur

                  Only if the chicken was indeed raw - the customer is not always right. I agree with complaining imediately but I wonder how many complaints kitchens get that are incorrect?

                  1. re: PhilD

                    they get a lot of complaints from americans about undercooked food, usually wrongly so.

                    it has always been a problem for me to get things, meat especially, cooked as i like it. I have a problem here in the US too. in the US most everything is overcooked. when ordering steak in the US i tell them to cook mine half as long as they would for very, very very, very rare and it still usually comes medium or worse.

                    in france where they know how to cook meat my problem is convincing them that i am not a typical american.