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Jun 14, 2012 08:48 PM

Another return from Paris restaurant report

Just returned from a 3 week France trip with the last 5 nights in Paris.Did at least 6 months or more of research/reviewing etc but ended up going to many of the usual suspect bistro/restaurants mentioned on CH. Avoided Michelin restaurants primarily due to cost and wanted a break this time from more formal, upscale atmosphered places. Also left out many more modern, creative venues...Agape,Saturne, etc. although did do Frenchie.

Lunch: Attempted Les Fines Gueles W/O reservations as we arrived at our hotel around 1:30 and eventually walked on down as planned getting there at 3:00. From sites like Paris by Mouth, and info from CH advisers was under the impression that they were open thru the normal lunch hour into dinner. But no, the kitchen closes at 2:30, reopening at 7:30, at least during the week. I wanted to go specifically to have the steak tartare. Made a reservation for another weekday lunch had the tartare and was blown away at how overhyped it was for me. The color itself was strange, probably the sundried tomato? I found the dish surprisingly bland eventhough made around sundried tomato and parmasean. Didn't really care for the accompaning salad that was overdrenched in white truffle oil.The potatoes were good. Did enjoy the entree of Burrata with hazlenuts as well as there tomato salad.
The atmosphere was terrific. We sat in the main entry room and service was great. It began raining halfway thru our meal which was added to the charm. For what its worth heard no other english speaking people. 2 entrees, 2 plats, 1 dessert, 1 cafe, large bottle of sparkling water, 1 glass of wine and 1 bottle of wine = 105 euro. As dissapointed as I was with the tartare enjoyed the restaurant, natural wine etc and would return.

Black Turtle: We ended up having lunch here on our initilal day. The staff at LFG pointed us across the street at that 3:pm hour. Had there steak tartare which was the best I had in Paris on this trip. It was studded with bits of cornichons and large capers, very good.

Chez L'ami Jean: Tuesday night dinner. 4 of us seatedalong the wall where the tables are literally next to one another. Loved it. Chaos in motion! The staff was spectacular. funny, jovial. They glided with ease pulling out tables for diners getting up to use the WC, smoke, whatever.A great view of Jego and staff working passionately.
The food: We went with the 3 course menu. Not quite sure why so many people say it can be a food overload, yes its rich but didn't find the plates large are overwhelming in size. Perhaps if you select the "feed me menu options" that may be the case. The table of 4 next to us had that, although alot of dishes it didn't appear to be oversized. Although the food was creative, inventive, I was not all that impressed. Again, maybe overhype or too much anticipation. My soup was reminiscent of top ramen in college except it had a little more crisp or cruchiness. My veal cheek dish was spectacular, but another appetizer and the beef dish with morels were both overly salted and seem to consist of overpowering beef bouillion taste. Riz au lait was Incredible with the caramel sauce and toasted almonds.
Another note regarding seating. In my research there was conflicting info regarding seating times etc. We had an 8pm res and didn't get out until 10:30 The people to our left and right were there before we arrived and still thee when we left? Again, no english speakers within earshot. Price: 4 entrees, 4 plats, 1 riz au lait dessert, 2 bottles sparkling water and 3 bottles of wine= 264 euro.

Wednesday lunch: Les Pipos, Had some Chacouterie and Fromage and 2 glasses of wine. Nice ambience, good corner location, friendly staff.
Had no specific lunch plans, walked over to Fish(Bonnasaire?). They were full so went to Bar du Marche on corner, had a Croque Madame and glass of wine. Great people watching spot.
Le Comptoir, planned on going to A;vant Comptoir as it was now 3pm. It was essentially empty. Walked into Le Comptoir, still open and seating people. Sat outside, they were out of the grilled lamb chops so we opted with a Nicoise salad and Croque. Great salad, best Croque I've had. Very nice convival service. Price: In addition to the salad and croque had 4 glasses of wine(2 each0. Hey, we drink a lot of wine, what can I say. Price: 38 euro>>>bargain!

Wednesday dinner: Frenchie Best overalll meal we had in Paris. Very pleasant dining room. We had the 8pm seating, heard nothing but english speaking voices but it was ok as a family of 6 from the States were entertaining enough. 4 boys, ages maybe 16-22. 1 had his face in a book the Entire time, another was texting/gaming the Entire time with his face glued to the phone, a 3rd compalined he didn't like the food and wanted something else. The 4th drank his wine and behaved. The Mother complained continuously about the F*kn taxi getting lost and the Father couldn't eat much because of his allergies. With all this in our ears the food was fabulous, both in presentation and in our tummys. The service a bit harried at times. An outstanding carrot cake dessert. Price: with fois gras supplement, 3 course for 2, with bottled sparkling water, 2 apertifs and a bottle of wine= 152 euro.

Thursday lunch: Au Petit Fer Cheval: Chacouteie and Fromage, glass of wine
L'as Fallafel: Spicy fallafel and merguez sandwich, with beer. Have been here a number of times before but just didn't live up to past. The actual deep fry garbanzos were good but the rest missed something. Maybe, just used to my specific NY and SF fallafel joints. The tiny little merguez were almost inedible.
Cafe des Musees: Pouring rain, no english speakers heard, great service and table looking out at the rain. Good white asperges starter. Had the steak frites. Steak cooked there way, tastless, bland, lacking of salt. (Do I just not get Parisian steaks) Utterly fantastic fries, best of the entire trip. Tasted of potatoe, right crispness and salted to perfection. My wifes farm chicken dish ok. Price: 1 starter, 2 mains, 1 dessert, cafe, sparkling water and a bottle of wine=104 euro

Thursday dinner: A stop at Le Garde Robe for a glass of wine and carpaccio jambon.Nice funky wine from Jura.
Chez Denise: Origianlly had reservations for Fontaine de Mar but cancelled and booked Chez Denise. Have been to both a few times. Started to feel the effects of all the food so went light on app 6 escargot. Main dishes grilled lamb chops. Lamb delicious but overpowered by charcoal crusted exterior. Lucked out as special of the day was the Beouf gros sel. Wow, is that comfort food and enough to food yours and mine's family. Delicious and only served Thurdays. No english speakers in vicinity, great fun service. Loud, crowded and boisterou Huge plates at least the Beef dish with great bone marrow. You pay for what you drink form the liter bottle poured from the tap. A potable Brouily. Of course we drank the liter. Dessert looked good, but we passed. Price: 1 app, 2 mains, bottle of sparkling water ( i know the tap water is fine just like the French Sparkling waters) 1 cafe, and 1 liter of wine= 97 euro. 1 group of english speakers few tables away.

Friday lunch: Les Fines Gueles (discussed earlier)
L'ecume du Honoree: During the 5 day Paris visit ate hear 3 times having Claires, Belons and excuse spelling Gillardes. All delicious and love this casual fish market, eatery. Had six-eight oyster per seating with a glass of Muscadet. They have a set price for 6 claires, bread and butter and glass of Muscadet for 14.5 euro, pretty good deal. Staff was awesome, friendly, sat each time at 2 seater bar stool at entrance. Only negative, the Price, 6 belons, 34 euro and the ones that start with a G 29 euro for 6 of the midsize. $7-8 for an oyster, gets expensive. I'm from Northern California and eat them quite a bit but would be priced out at that rate.

Friday dinner: Paul Bert: Nice classic Bistro, charming. Very friendly and efficient service. Had an ancient tomato starter and asperges app.Both good and light but wish I had ordered the Langostines..oooh looked and smelled good every time they passed by. My wife enjoyed the farm chicken. I had the steak frites. There known for there steak with the creamy, pepper sauce. I had it blu/saignant, again the meet seemed to lack flavor, all you could taste was the sauce which was good but I didn't want to eat it as a soup. The fries were good, not nearly as good as Cafe Musees but better than Chez Denise. For dessert a fabulous soufle. English speaking couple next to us who live in Paris during the summer. Oh and the Ouef dish there known for with the cramy morel sauce was delicious. Price: 1 order from set menu-starter,main dessert and the Ouef special and steak frites, bottled water, 2 glasses of champagne, and bottle of wine=135 euro.

Saturday lunch Crepe at Aligre Market'
Le Baron Rouge: a favorite for years Chacouterie and Froamge plate and 3 glases of wine each.LOVE this place, friendly with the best atmosphere.
La Verre Vole: A disappointment. Fine service an ok natural white wine and great cozy spot. Had a tomato salad=good, a clam appetizer delicious but only 8 tiny clams? We split a very good sausage and mashed potatoe dish. In retrospect, take out the disappointment, just would have gone elsewhere but....Price: 2 apps, 1 starter, bott;e of wine=75 euro. No english speakers heard.

Saturday dinner: Cancelled Les Papilles s our res was for 7 and just felt to rushed, restricted on our last night. Walked across the street from our hotel and enjoyed some fresh fruit from the Aligre Market and a bottle of Sparkling Saumur that we had picked up in the Loire Valley. Perfect early evening, started to lightly rain and we sat in our green chairs with our umbreallas in the Tullaires Garden..
J'Go later that evening ended up here in the 6th. Just sort of walking around and popped in young, loud and fun. Sat outside. Very friendly and great service. Had a fois gras starter and then split the farm chicken. Huge plates very good. Had a few glasses of Cahors

Les Rubis: A 5 minute walk from the hotel, went here several times for a small glass of wine and to meet family. Great atmosphere, wine bar, very local.

Somehow found my way to Genein, Lauderee, Pierre Herme and Hugo & Victor. Liked the slated caramels at Genin. Like the crunchiness of Hugo's Macaroons, also the softness of Hermes.

Loaded up on some fresh moutarde from Maille.

Now I'm hungry!

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  1. Really like your report. Glad to hear that you enjoyed the meal at Frenchie, even with the distractions. Also due to it's popularity on Chowhound and other sites, I am going to go to Chez L'Ami Jean. I hate that it is was underwhelming to you. I am hoping that you just caught it on an off night. Does anyone else know if ordering the 3 course menu is not the way to go? Should I just order from the board individually or order the "feed me" option?
    One thing I find funny is how important it is to some people to be away from tourists despite being one themselves. I guess I can understand because my French is not the best. I usually understand a few words per sentence; enough to get by. I have said in the past that it is nice to not really understand all the conversations going on around you because you are kind of alone with your thoughts (and your companion, if there is one). It is like being secluded while being around people.
    Having said that, if the food and the restaurant itself is enjoyable, I don't understand it getting negative marks because you may hear someone speaking your language. I think it is nice enough being in this incredibly romantic city, no matter if some Americans are within earshot. I'm not trying to imply that is how you are but I noticed it mentioned in every restaurant review and just wanted to make a point.
    Thanks again!

    1. Thanks for your well-written report. I enjoyed reading it. I think food overload is very subjective; I got it at Septime and everything I had read said their food is light, portions small. I thought I might be able to squeeze in a dinner after lunch there but no way. My hat is off to anyone who can have lunch and dinner out in one day. With limited vacation time and very big eyes when it comes to food, I envy you!

      Thanks again.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Leely2

        Naughtyb Not sure why I even mentioned whether we were surrounded by english speakers or not. I occasionally see reports seeming to boast that they were the only english speakers in the restaurant. Was meant to be more anecdotal than anything else. However I think for many there's a certain charm to only hearing french while dining in Paris, unless you happen to like your english speaking table mates.
        Perhaps one thing is that tables are often very close together, especially in Bistros so voices can often be heard much easier than in many restaurants back home. And depending on whose sitting next to you there can be an assault on your ears. Anyway I have no illusions that I was not a tourist was happy to be so and enjoying such a great city.
        The 3 course was just a better option for us given price and the belief going in that the gastronomic menu options might be too much food. As Leely2 said, overload is very subjective. I usually have a huge appetite, fortuantely I'm not overweight sort of the Anthony Boudain thing of how can you eat that much and stay so thin. On this night was just trying to keep things easy as there were 4 of us and I think better to all order from the same menu. I will say that with the bustling atmosphere there menu was one of the more confusing for a non french speaking person. That also made it easier to choose the 3 couse option. Even with the 3 course you still have a couple of choices to make for entree and plat and more for dessert. And overall it was a good experience, just for me the food although quite good with some faults (salty) was not as amazing as I had hoped. I don't think they were off, its just my opinion. Oh and I would go back, no doubt.

        1. re: mick

          I'm glad you didn't take what I was saying negatively. I meant nothing by it in terms of your post. I totally understand where you are coming from. I think some people want Paris to feel like an exotic, far away place but in reality, it is a quick plane trip from the States and is inundated with tourists like themselves.
          Those people come to sites like this, get recommendations from Americans or ex-pats, and are disappointed or somehow surprised when they hear other American accents in the same place! Surprise, there are more than 5 people who scour through this site and others like it. Word gets out about good places to go then others make the trek.
          Glad to hear your further explanation on CLJ. It is a place, like Frenchie, that I've had circled for a few years now.

      2. Restaurants do not salt their steak during ookng in order to keep the meat juicy. Many of s were taught to cook our steak that way at home

        22 Replies
        1. re: Parigi

          I usually ask for a little pot of fleur de sel with my steaks and, despite how expensive it is, often get it. It's probably all in my mind but I think a little sprinkle of fleur de sel makes any meat kinda magical.

          1. re: Parnassien

            naughtyb: just like you I had both CLJ and Frenchie on my list for quite a long time. Glad I went to both. Hope you have memorable experiences.

            Parigi: Here in the US most restaurants salt there steaks prior to cooking.I know I do at home as well. Occasionally with hanger steaks will salt them liberally and keep in refrigerator unwrapped for a couple days. I agree with Parnassien that fleur de sel can be magical, bringing out flavors in food. In the places I visited only CLJ seemed to liberally use salt in there dishes but I felt too much so.Its a fine line but I generally view salt as a friend in cooking.

            1. re: mick

              Actually steak, côtes de boeuf and all pieces of meat in restaurants are salted before cooking, then generally a few grains of salt (fleur de sel or Maldon) are added when serving.

              I am surprised because the recommendation not to salt steak before cooking is more a feature of home cooking, and many people believe that salting beforehand draws the juices out, but actually it doesn't if it is done immediately before cooking. After trying both methods I think presalting creates a sort of crust around the meat and makes it more flavorful. Juicewise, there is no difference.

              Chefs salt everything before searing, browning or grilling. Almost everything: meat, fish, scallops, calf's liver, etc.

              1. re: Ptipois

                Ptipois: That was my understanding as well. I have friends who insists on salting meat only during cooking or after. I wonder if that was an old way of cooking or belief that if you did salt prior to cooking you would draw out or loose the juices of the meat. I personally do not like to salt meat, chicken, fish etc after it has been plated.Will do so if it needs salt but the taste is completely different then if salted prior to cooking. Then again my father would salt everything on his plate before trying anything.

                So after trying several steaks with various cuts in different parts of France, I personally haven't had one that was above good/great or awesome. The two I tried at Cafe des Musees and Paul Bert were just ok/allright/decent, maybe good but thats it. I've had some amazing steaks in Italy, Japan, Argentina and many other countries. Just wondering if its how its cooked, the beef or what that doesn't rock for me. Maybe just some bad luck. I usually have it saignant, occasionally bleu. Most of the time in France I'll just ask the waiter to have the chef do it how he prefers. Makes me want to go back to Paris and just do a beef run. I've done in the past several days of boeuf tartare tasting and am generally beyond satisfied. One of the things I ws soo looking forward to on this trip was the tartare at Les Fines Gueles. All the positive reviews, some saying the best tartare in Paris. Not a big fan of how one can be the best, theres a lot to try that food critics dont even touch, but anyway soo disappointed ny the tartare at LFG.

                1. re: mick

                  There's still a lot to experiment. There's nothing ultimate, beefwise, at Café des Musées or Paul Bert. You haven't gone anywhere so far :-)

                  Just give these a try (asterisks for my top favorites):

                  The Beef and Ballroom Club* (IMO the best beef to be had in Paris currently)
                  Le Relais de Venise*
                  Le Severo
                  Le Bis de Severo
                  La Rôtisserie du Beaujolais
                  Chez l'Ami Jean

                  And there's many, many more that haven't been explored recently.

                  The problem with much French grilling beef is a complex one but one could sum it up along two main axes:

                  - the beef is not marbled enough (national preference for charolais)
                  - the beef is not aged long enough

                  Of course there are exceptions, and you'll find them at great butchers and good restaurants like the ones I've mentioned above.

                  1. re: Ptipois

                    We had a wonderful cote de boeuf for 2 at Chez Robert & Louise 4 years ago, but I think I've read it's pretty touristy now. It was mostly locals when we went but Anthony Bourdain may have ruined it, lol

                    1. re: parisjo

                      It's very touristy but still good. I forgot to mention it on my list but yes, Robert & Louise serves great entrecôte.

                    2. re: Ptipois

                      Totally agree with Ptipois' rec for Beef Club. Was thrilled to find the beef non-charolais and aged. But on a non-food level, the American friends with us complained that Beef Club wasn't "French enough". Indeed the look and feel (but not the very parisien clientèle) is very Anglo-Saxon. We locals love it but it seems visitors might feel a wee bit cheated by the familiar steak house ambiance.

                      And recently acknowledged by le Figaro as one of the hot "microquartiers" for the summer, the area around rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau is attracting swarms of trendy flâneurs/ flâneuses these days. So rezzies a must!

                      1. re: Parnassien

                        The Beef Club is inspired, in a loose way, from a British steakhouse. Hawksmoor comes to mind, with a little Parisian sense of fun thrown in, but that is where the reference stops. There is a lot of clever, modern Frenchness in the way they handle and present things, the composition of the menu for instance.

                        All other considerations aside, the British beef served at the Beef Club is selected by Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec and it is truly amazing. That is what counts. Other dishes are also delicious.

                        Now please do not feel offended at what follows, it is not in the least way directed to you. It is only something I've been pondering over for a while after having read similar reflections from American critics. I think they just missed the point about The Beef Club through a subtle, unwitting sort of colonialism, and here's why.

                        From the moment someone in France decides to start a steakhouse with cocktails, some people will instantly jump to their repertoire of lieux communs and fail to see what's special about the place. They seem to find it inacceptable that the French may come up with a decent steakhouse leaving aside the quaintness that some equate as the national soul.

                        Those who insist on 'old world charm' and, worse, want to find it everywhere for their entertainment can still go to Chez Benoît or the like, or even cuter places. France is "old world" only in the eyes of tourists. It is a modern, living country that creates, imagines, and comes up with the types of restaurant it pleases, when there is a public for that. Thank God they still do not design every new thing for foreign "old world" fantasies or the whole country would be a huge amusement park. Which, in a way, Paris has started to become.

                        1. re: Ptipois

                          Pti, your last paragraph is telling. I reflect on our favorite Paris restaurants and none has an iota of old world charm yet none could be anywhere else. Yes, one could recreate them anywhere but each has a nuance, be it roots in classical style, or product or nuance that grounds it firmly in France.

                          1. re: Ptipois

                            Mme Ptipois, je suis d'accord à 100% ! Seen through the foodie prism, good food is good food. But, unfortunately, almost all foreigners also have their fields of vision narrowed and conditioned by the myth of a timeless Paris. And we locals sometimes have our own sense of what is properly "paname" and what is not. Indeed, some of the clichés that thrill tourists are somewhat embarrassing for us locals. Yet, we can adopt, adapt, and enjoy restaurants inspired by other cultures if that restaurant has the essential parisien fun factor. Although there are echoes of New York or London or Copenhagen in many of the restaurants I enjoy, places like Saturne and Beef Club are still somehow familiarly parisien. Where I probably differ from you is that quartier/ location is just as important for me as the quality of the cuisine. I doubt if even the best of restaurants could cure my instant depression and the where-the-effing-am-I confusion whenever I'm in La Défense or the bull-dozed re-done bits of Mitterand's 13th.

                            1. re: Ptipois

                              I agree with you, and not just for Paris. In many cities the food tourist wants a combination of "place and plate" i.e something evocative of the city and something interesting to eat. Unfortuantly for the visitor to France their sense of place is rooted in history or from the cinema screen. But the real France is no less interesting and no less unique. In fact the French professionalism and approach to service underpins most restaurants and that can only add to the dining scene. England may have invented the afternoon tea but Paris tea saloons have taken it over and made it a better experience.

                              I tend to mix and match when I travel. I will try the authentic and search out great food. But I will also quite happily sit in a beach watching the sunset with some third rate food if the time and place are right.....I think the same is true for visitors to Paris, and they want the old Paris not the real Paris.

                          2. re: Ptipois

                            Ptipois: Good info re: french beef, thanks. Didn't think either Cafe des Musees or Paul Bert were the end all for beef, just had them on my list to go to and heard there steak dishes were good.Appreciate your recs, perhaps should have tried it at CLJ while I was there. Actually wanted to try Le Severo, Christphe and Le Relais de Venise, unfortuantely didn't get the chance this time around.Not sure when I'll be back in Paris exactly, but with thousands of restaurants and new places opening frequently, will have to start research all over again. Look forward to it.

                        2. re: Ptipois

                          Actually, I salt and sometimes do it the day before all meats and poultry. I learned this from the wonderful Zuni Cafe Cookbook. The Zuni chicken is beyond belief.

                          1. re: faijay

                            Ate at Zuni Cafe at Easter, it is a good chicken, but would be improved significantly if the raw ingredient (the chicken) had been better quality like a good French bird. I thought the meat was a bit wooly, without a lot lot of flavour, and almost too pumped up (and Zuni was far better than any other Chicken we ate in the US)" French birds are "slimmer"'' have a meatier texture, have more depth of flavour, and no doubt cost significantly more!

                            1. re: PhilD

                              in the bay area (Zuni's turf) the high quality pastured chickens can go for 2x the price of the bio/organic chickens (unconfined but sheltered and foraging for much less of their diets). the pastured birds aren't the same breed -- much hardier -- their flesh is much denser with of course more intense flavour. so it doesn't sound like Zuni is using the most premium chicken they have access to ; some amerikan consumers would find the pastured birds too chewy/tough, and very few growers raise them to the 5 lb.(dressed) size of the bio/organic sedentary birds.

                              1. re: moto

                                I'll hang with faijay. Rogers instructs the home cook to use no larger than 3 1/2 pound bird, preferably smaller. And suggests that really prime birds may be too lean for her method. So, with a plump organic bird in her size range and following the method she outlines in her book, we consistently turn out luscious, juicy roast chicken that I haven't found equaled in France. I confess that I haven't had the patience to order roast chicken at Zuni because of time constraints. I'm roasting two tomorrow: organic fryers from Bryan's that are salted, herbed and chilling as I write.

                                I have read that some of the premium French birds are not best roasted, for example the Bresse which is better cooked with moisture. All I know that all roast Bresse that I have ordered in France has been stringy and dry, probably the result of improper cooking.

                                1. re: mangeur

                                  Yes, different types of Chicken benefit from different cooking styles and Bresse does not roast well. We eat quite a lot of Chicken in the US and generally found it all had similar attributes: enormous, plump, snowy white breasts. But unfortunately generally lacking in flavour with odd textures. I would have though Zuni's famed Chicken would have been in a very different league, and whilst it was the best e had, I still felt it lacked something. In comparison I have had Chicken dishes in France, smaller birds, better texture and very memorable flavours.

                      2. re: Parnassien

                        Why not carry your own ? Takes up little room and never goes off.

                        1. re: Parnassien

                          Dorie Greenspan carries a small container of fleur de sel with her in case of emergency.

                          1. re: faijay

                            So does Deluccacheesemonger, which, I remember, alarmed Daniel Rose once, LOL.

                            1. re: faijay

                              I'm bringing some with me. Got to be sure!

                        2. We live in France (the south) but visit other parts. We pretty much avoid eating beef in France unless in a stew because generally the meat is tough and flavorless. I believe it is because the cattle are grass-fed and the butchers don't age the beef. If you are American you will be disappointed, no comparison to the beef in the USA, however the veal & pork are very good. Not a bad thing eating less beef so don't mind, but occasionally get a hankering for a good steak or burger.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: fmcandrew

                            If you live in France, then you have time for searching. Look harder. Good beef is out there somewhere.

                            1. re: Ptipois

                              well, it's been 9 years, haven't found it yet, but I remain optimistic lol. I'm open to suggestions?

                          2. Thanks for the food report! I like how you noted if english speakers were heard :-)

                            Am now having second thoughts on Fines Gueules and Verre Vole which were both on my list.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Piccolinaabroad

                              " I like how you noted if english speakers were heard :-)"

                              Including oneself, I suppose?