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May 20, 2012 05:44 AM

Trip Report, May 10 - 17 (Fish, Le Villaret, Chez Casimir, A La Biche au Bois, Other)

With encouragement and help with information from this board, DH and I left our 6eme rut and stayed in the 11eme this trip, just north of Bastille, and we're happy with that decision. Our hotel, the simple but clean and comfortable Best Western Marais Bastille was a true bargain and included a generous breakfast in our rate.

The multiple-location Chez Clement provided dinner on day of arrival. Nothing fancy, but suited our purposes nicely. Good emphasis on fresh veggies, too.

Next dinner was A La Biche au Bois, which we really enjoyed. Steak and lamb chops served with big bowl of frites, all fine, but the stars of the meal were the terrine and cheeses, including a blue that I really enjoyed, Bleu des Causses, from Cave de Peyrelade. Much milder than Roquefort. And, as has been reported by many, a reasonable price on wines. Some Americans, including two dining alone, but the table of 6 next to us were French. Friendly service, congenial atmosphere.

Lunch at Le Nemrod, a great cafe near Bon Marche. Recommended here, and I agree. Croque Madame on Poilane and a nice Brouilly. Nice atmosphere, friendly service.

Next dinner at Le Villaret. Voted best meal of trip. Market based menu. We did not go for the 50-euro tasting menu, and simply ordered starters and mains. The stars of the meal were DH's whole sole from Brittany, that the chef gets directly from Brittany, not through distributors. A real beauty, and quite large. 500 grams for 38 euro. Served with simple lemony butter on side, and cooked to perfection.

I admit I am a fan of sweetbreads, and rarely have them. Le Villaret offered lamb sweetbreads, which I'd never had, so I opted for them, served as a delicious ragout with slices of grilled baby artichokes, slightly charred.
There was one table of Brits and a table of Spaniards near us, but no other American tourists. We'll be back.

Sunday lunch. We'd read about the wonderful "buffet" at Chez Casimir, near Gard du Nord. This was the biggest disappointment of the trip. I couldn't believe it was the same place so many raved about. Awful. Simply awful. The table of traditional crudites (celeriac remoulade, etc) was fine.
But the plunked-on-table-courses were almost inedible. Lukewarm "mushroom soup" that was gray, thin and tasteless. One drumstick. A dessert table of airy desserts tasting only of sugar, akin to what a bad Coach airline dessert might be. No cheese table, only mozzarella and brie on the crudites table. "Water?" "You want water?" "Get it off the bar." Service? None. They obviously are not preserving whatever reputation they had. 26 euro per person, plus wine.

Next dinner: Mansouria. Merguez and goat cheese pastry appy's, followed by chicken tagine for me, meatball couscous for DH. I think the tagine is the better choice, though the couscous portion is enormous. I expected both dishes to be more heavily seasoned, and was surprised by how bland they were. The tiny dish of lethal harissa that is offered is the answer, and it was interesting to observe the different "harissa-adding" techniques employed by customers around us. One added it directly to the couscous grains and mixed it in before adding meat, etc. One added it to the sauce from the veggies and poured it over the couscous. No Americans at our dinner, only French observed. With beer, check was 80 euro.

Next dinner, Fish, in the 6eme. We'd had great meals here on earlier trips, and I'd read some people say it had slipped. I agree. We opted for the 3 course, 35 euro menu, as Fish offers some wonderful cheeses from Marie Quatrhome (sp?). As morilles were in season and I had been searching for them at restos, I opted for the hefty 20-euro up-charge for the "risotto with morilles made with chicken stock and parmesan." This was not as described. I think it was plain rice, not arborio, floating in stock, without benefit of parmesan. A risotto, it was not. But the morilles, ah, the morilles. A generous portion of whole, fresh morilles. Anticipating a delightful cheese course,
DH had the Coulommier, I opted for the Comte, both served with different dried fruit sauces. This was another downer. The cheeses were ice cold, and slim slices. Where had the soft, ripe St Marcellin of my past gone? With all of the reviews that Fish has received over the years, it sits squarely on the heavily touristed trail now. I think the owners may only be present at lunch.

Last dinner: Cafe d L' Industrie (recco'd by hotel). Very close to hotel. Standard bistro fare, but a genuine bargain. Special of the day at 9 euro was, on our night, veal osso buco, and a nice size chunk at that. DH had entrecote, which was also fine. For those not familiar, this place is big. So big, in fact, it occupies several buildings. But has the atmosphere of a cozy hangout type of place (think oriental rugs on floor.) We are decades older than the average customer. They let us in anyway. Recco for very low key meal. An easy walk from Bastille metro.

We booked too late for L'Ami Louis. Will have to do better next trip.

I do not presume that our comments or choice of restos are earth shaking, but Parigi told me, "don't be a jerk-- post a report." So there it is.

Shopping was a joy, as usual. I'm unpacking olive oil from Moulin Cornille Maussane, teas, mustards, lavender honey, honey vinegar, Banyol vinegar, escargot in cans, chicken fond, tarbais beans, lentils du puy, Bordier butter, 36-mo Comte; peppercorns and vanilla beans from Bruno, who has been hospitalized with pneumonia recently; big green pistachios from Detou; lots of doilies/dentilles; new house number, Rhodia pads, raffia ribbon and canning labels from BHV; washcloth mitts; pencils and erasers from museums (which I collect); lots of toiletries/parapharmacy; a lovely 4-part teacup set from Village St Paul; fuschia suede loafers; YSL lipstick #19, fuschia. Oh, and herbs, lots of herbs, including the divine supermarket Fine Herbs that make even an egg white omelette so tasty. Recycled coasters from Gumbs; a lovely serving set from UP; olive wood cheese knife from Simon; some supplies for my annual July 14 fete, including a mask of Francois Hollande and Eiffel Tower cookie cutter. I don't go for fashion. I grocery shop.

Thanks to everyone on Chowhound for letting me stalk the Board and offering kind suggestions and information, especially Parigi, who put me on to the brocante on rue Bretagne. If only we'd had a car with us! So many great furniture pieces to be had. But at least I bought my aged Comte there at Jouannault. Thanks, again!

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  1. Thanks so much for your great report. You're not a jerk.
    You shopping list is dizzying. Would have done the original Zelda proud. What is UP?

    Sorriest for your Chez Casimir experience. On Saturdays and Sundays it serves a buffet, not the regular meal, which I have not tried. Well you're our guinea pigs (and thus earned your non-jerk status for life).
    Ceci dit, the last real dinner we had there was good but not as great as for example the time we went with Deluccacheesemonger and another hound.Hope this is not a trend…

    14 Replies
    1. re: Parigi

      Had dinner there last week and thought was good as always.

      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

        If either of you gets to go for Sat or Sun lunch, I'd love to know your comments. As I said, the crudites table was fine, including a fine guacamole. "Served courses" not so much. First, a single slice of smoked salmon, on a wilted leaf set on a slice of bread. With something unidentifiable and tasteless that might have been an attempt at tarama; then the aforementioned gray mushroom soup which might have been pureed raw champignons in water, lukewarm; one drumstick (au vin? couldn't tell). Best dessert was whole clementine orange. Prior reviews mentioned such good stuff, including oysters, shellfish, etc. Not on my day. Maybe weekend lunch is chef's time off.

        1. re: ScottnZelda

          Where are these reviews? On this board, I see one lukewarm rec for the buffet, and a lot of glowing recs with a caveat about a lack of experience at the buffet.

          Glad to hear DCM had a good dinner there - I plan to go for my first night in Paris!

          1. re: saticoy

            Saticoy, I've seen lots of reviews on Trip Advisor (and have just added mine); Eat Shop Paris; a fairly recent 2011? mag article (Travel and Leisure? Bon App?) that I just tossed out. I think if you search this Board, you may find others. Anyway, reccos from several sources, including brunch/lunch.

            1. re: ScottnZelda

              Thanks - I searched pretty deeply on this board, that is why I was surprised.

          2. re: ScottnZelda

            "If either of you gets to go for Sat or Sun lunch, I'd love to know your comments."
            I'm not either or both and this is 2+ years later but three of us ate the French table d'hote not American brunch there one Sunday last year when the Pointe du Grouin was closed for a special function and found it above average.

        2. re: Parigi

          Parigi, UP is Utility and Practical, aka UP. We stumbled upon it when leaving rue Bretagne. I believe it's either on Froissart or Pont aux Choux as you head towards St Sebastian/Froissart Metro. Stylish table ware and other items for the home.

          And thanks for your nice comments on report.

          1. re: ScottnZelda

            Great report, but superb shopping trophies. I unload my stash onto the dining room table where I leave it for a week so I can admire it and rekindle the memory of each purchase. But your loot makes mine look like a toddler's trick-or-treat. Good job!

            1. re: mangeur

              Mangeur, thanks on both counts. Most goodies sat on my kitchen island for a day until I could put them away, so I had the sweet memories, too. I'd love to know what your favorite items are!

              1. re: ScottnZelda

                Thanks for a great post which included the good, the bad, and the beautiful! What brocante is on Rue Bretagne? And the basement of the BHV iw wonderful. Sounds like a great trip.

                1. re: t14072

                  t14072, I don't know any details about the Brocante which occured over the weekend of May 11-13, but Parigi told me about it, so we went. I'm still kicking myself for not buying the set of mid-century tumblers with a black and gold argyll pattern. My gin and tonics won't be the same without them. And you're so right about BHV. I worked my way through basement , ground floor and part of (second) floor, where their wonderful paper products/stationery are, then ran out of gas and time. It was a great trip, and I accomplished most of my shopping list.

                  1. re: ScottnZelda

                    I am impressed with what came home with you. (Read: boggled!) Do you want to share how you got all this stuff home? Luggage allowance? Overweights? Tips?

                    1. re: mangeur

                      LOL! Thanks! We cashed in points and flew with Air France in Premium Voyager (fancy Coach.) AF allows each pax 2 large suitcases in this special fare type, about 45 lbs each, plus one carry-on. So,eastbound, we used 1 large and 1 carryon/person and packed 2 nylon Sportsac duffel bags in our luggage. We only used one Sportsac on the return, for a total of 3 big bags, total weight --well under our allotment. And remember, we were only packing clothes for a one-week visit to Paris (though I always overpack.) But we could have brought back at least 50 lbs more. A real advantage of Premium Voyager! ( In the former glory days of two big bags per person as the norm, we always tucked the Sportsac in for shopping.) I took some bubble wrap, lots of ziplocks, a plastic shoe box and a small freezer gel (for the cheese and butter.) Some of the other things I bought were dried chanterelles and dried shallots (very lightweight), a bottle of Guerlain scent, peppermill for my special stuff from Bruno, porcelain butter dish, lots of paper napkins (Metro map, etc for Bastille day fete) crystal plastic picks--nice for martinis and a pretty bottle of Cassis. I normally also buy a liquid laundry gel, Genie, that comes in a fat tube (any supermarket) for hand washing. It smells wonderful, and I've used it for years. I still have some and will buy this winter in Fr. West Indies. Designer handbags are no longer on my shopping list, so I shop for other things that make me smile or are useful in the pantry.

                      1. re: ScottnZelda

                        Bruno? I will have to look for the pistachios when I am at Detou.

        3. "Bruno, who has been hospitalized with pneumonia recently" --

          And when we were there last, the shop was closed. He's a nice fellow, and we hope he's OK. Can anyone here say, is he open now? We hope to stock up in a few weeks . . . . -- Jake

          12 Replies
          1. re: Jake Dear

            The shop was entirely closed the end of July. Could be vacation or just taking advantage of vacation. Early this year, Bruno broke his leg and was having "medical complications" according to his friend whom we found by chance in the shop. The friend indicated that Bruno was having a rough time and that the shop was essentially and indefinitely closed until he recovers.

            FWIW, our son liked the Thés Donovan from Bruno. I called Thés Donovan's office in Paris and was directed to Cafés San Jose on rue de Petit Champs, a block east of Passage Choiesul. This is a comprehensive coffee seller, excellent shop attendant. Will continue to check out Bruno but return here until he resurfaces.

            1. re: mangeur

              Thank you for the update, mangeur. Again we wish the best for him. And now we need a new place to get Kari Grosse.

              1. re: Jake Dear

                That's a tough one. You might try the Breizh Café épicerie.

                1. re: mangeur

                  They won't have it. I know what they sell and this is not one of their items.
                  It has to be sourced from Brittany if Bruno's is closed.
                  It may also be ordered online; I can do that for you and give it to you when you're back in France.

                  1. re: Ptipois

                    Hi Ptipois, Mo says she will take you up on that! We know that the Kerri Grosse comes from Auray. But she also says that what she misses most from l'epicerie de Bruno is his "Tandoori masala." We figure there must be other places in Paris where we can get a similar thing?

                    1. re: Jake Dear

                      Kari Gosse actually comes from Lorient, but that doesn't make any difference, I'll order it anyway.

                      Of course there are other places in Paris for tandoori masala; better go straight to the real McCoy and seek that in the Indian/Srilankan markets in La Chapelle/Gare du Nord. I'll take care of that for you.

                      1. re: Ptipois

                        Hi Ptipois, Very good; and maybe we can visit those sources -- Mo would love to do that I'm sure. (And our two particular containers of Keri Gosse (yikes, I now realize that I've been adding an "r"!) that we got from Bruno shows an Aurey address, the producer being "E. Pouezat." We were told it came from a drugstore there. We also understand it is (mostly?) made by drugstores in Lorient?) -- Jake

                        1. re: Jake Dear

                          I always heard the original pharmacy was in Lorient but maybe it is in Auray now. Both in the same corner of Brittany anyway.

                          (Continuing the exchange on Kari orders by email before I have to open a shop.)

                          1. re: Ptipois

                            We have found it available in most Morbihan drugstores where we have inquired. I bought the last in Pont Aven in a very modern shop, the last place I would have expected to find it.

                            1. re: Ptipois

                              Get me some too, as long as you are opening a store, l will be in Paris in a week or so

              2. re: Jake Dear


                The website is saying the shop will be open only on fridays and saturdays from 12:00 to 18h30 until the end of september, and that after that the shop should be open "normally". It also says that the website is up and running in case you want to order online.

              3. Thank you so much for reporting back. Very valuable info. Updates like yours keep this board going. Merci encore. :)

                2 Replies
                1. re: Parigi

                  (pssst... the original report is from 2012) ;)

                  1. re: Rio Yeti

                    Hey, I'm still around! I saw this pop up as recent thread. Thanks to all of you for updates on Bruno and to pilinut who is another shopper!
                    We're renting an apt in Paris next June to take nephew and his kids/wife, so will be checking back for reccos then. Meanwhile, this winter we're off to S. America and Antarctica. Chile "merquen" anyone?

                2. Masterful shopping! I agree--handbags are so last decade (for me at least). Bordier butter is a more enjoyable souvenir. Thanks, too, for the packing reminder. I need to add the gel ice packs to my insulated bag.

                  (And thank you for the restaurant report, too. I like Chez Clement. Not Guide Michelin material, but they used to do good pork ribs and cold seafood platters, all the more appreciated when other restaurants were closed for their mid-afternoon break.)

                  1. Taku Sekine, the former chef at Fish, has opened a new place at the café at Le Bon Marché. The former sous chef is now at Racine's, a new place in NYC. It doesn't surprise me that Fish has slipped, but it does make me sad.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: radiogrl1

                      I would say it probably goes back to when Hayden and Matt left to set up Albion a few years ago. I understood that there were plans to reformat fish a bit now that Semilla is up and running. I thought the plan was to take fish a little more formal and differentiate from the casual Semilla - not sure if they have done that yet. I know the kitchen has been enlarged and rebuilt.