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Oct 1, 2012 02:03 AM

Paris report: Chez Casimir, Pottoka, Dans les Landes, Les Fines Gueules

A weekend in Paris where the weather was so magnificent I was almost tempted to cancel all reservations and just camp out in the Jardin du Luxembourg with cheese, charcuterie and a baguette...

Chez Casimir
Early Friday night dinner here just after arriving on the Thalys. Very much appreciated being asked immediately upon being seated if we'd like them to bring out something for our three-year-old quickly so we could peruse the menu and eat in peace. Thereupon promptly appeared a plate of beef cheeks, potato purée and green beans (because "even with stubborn young ones, les legumes vertes, il faut quand même essayer"); sadly, Rhys rejected said haricots out of hand.

G. started with a cold mackerel salad, and I with a foie gras flan and a tombée of épinards. Neither was particularly successful: The mackerel itself, a kind of escabeche preparation, was nicely tangy but the salad overdressed; and the iron bite of the spinach obliterated a flan that was too timid to begin with. For mains, G. had a pork loin with gratin d'épinards and I had the brandade with a small salad. The loin was nicely cooked but lacking in much flavour; the brandade was serviceable (and mammoth).

The cheese tray was definitely the meal's highlight; combining both quantity and quality. A beautifully aged Camembert really stood out, but everything we tried was very good. Brain spasm - can't remember what G. had for dessert; I had a sorbet of fromage blanc (all sorbets should be made from fromage blanc, as far as I'm concerned) with a compote of cassis. The compote was uneatably, mouth-puckeringly, sour (and I love sour things).

With quite good bread, bottled water and a pichet of drinkable but undistinguished Cahors: 100€. Would I go again? I don't think so.

Saturday lunch. There were some very obvious neighbourhood regulars in the crowd, which ranged from elderly gents to three-generational families to couples dressed in colour-coordinated fashion. We got the high table in the corner so that Rhys could look out. Again, totally impressed by server's immediate offer to provide something for Rhys; we decided on a half-filet of beef and frites; when he asked Rhys if he liked frites and got an emphatic "OUI!" in response, he laughed and said he'd make sure to bring out an extra-big portion. Said frites were probably the best I've ever had; and even though R. prefers his meat on the well-done end of the spectrum, the filet was still super flavourful.

The 35€ 3-course menu looks to be an excellent bargain (and would have to be one of Paris' great mid-week lunch bargains, as it's even cheaper during the week), but we were too tempted by some of the specials on offer and went à la carte. Started with a planche of Iberian charcuterie (lomo, chorizo, pata negra ham, excellent butter and an earthenware jar of picked peppers and cornichons). Then on to G's "crousti-fondant" pork belly, which was exactly what it said on the box - a massive hunk of pork with a delectably crunchy exterior shielding spoon-tender strands of meat. I adored my roast dove with lardo di Colonnata, foie gras and celery root purée. The dove was perfectly rosé and the purée was dreamily unctuous...I'd have bathed in it if I could. Only minor quibble: the sauce, a velvety jus, was maybe a touch too heavily seasoned.

The brioche perdue caught my eye, especially since it came with glace a la vanille which I figured could go to Rhys. When I said as much to the server, he shook his head and said, "Mais non - monsieur a été si sage, il mérite sa propre glace! Je m'en occupe." So the brioche came with not one but two bowls of ice cream. :o) The brioche itself was more of a bread pudding than a "dry" preparation - a ramekin of silky, custardy chunks of brioche napped in a (thankfully) almost bitter caramel sauce.

With excellent bread, bottled water and a half bottle of very, very good Ribera del Duero (Pina Fideles 2010): 150€. Would we go again? Oh, YES.

Dans les Landes
Early dinner here after walking across town via the Lux Gardens playground and sailboat fountain (with le tout Paris sunbathing). Went for panis avec chorizo and romarin, the polenta with smoked duck, salade de sucrines and, in a fit of insanity, the pinces de crabes façon thaï. And...meh. I really did like the panis, a fried beignet à base de chickpea flour. But the deep-fried polenta was just smoke and grease without any real corn taste. The salad brightened up the otherwise dark-brown palette :o) but was waaaaaaay overdressed. And the I said, fit of insanity. Don't get Thai-inflected dishes in a SW French restaurant. Just don't. Sweet, sweet sauce, and the crab had been languishing in a freezer for a good part of its life.

Parigi and Delucacheesemonger had recommended the milassou for dessert. Google had pointed me toward a "gateau à base de potimarron," so I was quite excited. And then quite disappointed by the (deep-fried!) beignets à base de mais that appeared. Sickly sweet, with a tinge water, maybe? Not sure. Just not to my taste.

With excellent bread, bottled water, a pichet of sprightly, fruity VDP Gascogne and an Armagnac: 73€. Would we go again? I don't think so. Well, let me rephrase - if I were in the area already with a bunch of friends and jonesing for fried things, I might. I'm glad we tried it, but I wouldn't go out of my way again.
(And we totally wimped out on the plan to cruise by Candelaria for tacos afterward.)

Les Fines Gueules
Just before going here with friends for Sunday lunch, I totally spooked myself by reading recent negative reviews about the place, so arrived with serious qualms. Immediate disappointment: I'd booked a table on the terrace, but apparently one cannot sit on the terrace when one is a party of five -- even if the fifth is a very small human being -- for fear of patrouilles of fine-assessing authorities. Ooooookay. So we ended up in the little back room downstairs (which at least was not an "American ghetto" as characterized on another review site). Ah well.

Food and wine definitely made up for the location, though. Started with a really lovely vin de Savoie-Ayze, "naturellement pétillant," to accompany a shared platter of charcuterie and velouté of petits pois. Had never had this wine before, and it was excellent -- good acidity but with the supple mouthfeel of one of your toastier Champagnes. Both the charcuterie and the soup were very good as well. Mains included escalope de veau (Desnoyer) with a massive heap of sautéed wild mushrooms, two well-crusted, perfectly cooked pavés de boeuf with Robuchonesque potato purée and a filet de bar with an array of seasonal veggies. All were very, very good -- especially the veal. We split the difference wine-wise and went with a Cotes de Brouilly vieilles vignes; drawing a blank on the producer, but it was everything you want in a Brouilly - food-friendly, approachable, eminently drinkable. Ended up by splitting a couple of cheese plates - the cheeses themselves were nothing special (two chevres, Fourme d'Ambert and Cantal), but the server went three-for-three with her last recommendation, a superb Santenay blanc, 2008 St Jean de Narosse from Domaine Contat-Grangé.

Only quibble apart from the seating: it's the only place that couldn't even be bothered to ask if le petit would like something to eat. Boooooo.

With (again!) excellent bread and bottled water: 265€ for 4. Would I go again? Yes - with one less person. :o)

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  1. Thanks for the extensive report. Sorry about the milassou, maybe l should revisit.

    1. Thank you for informative and witty report.
      I am disappointed too !

      Actually I did remember having that underwhelming crab there once. I blamed myself. Every time I get a socalled "Thai" something in any French resto in Paris, it's not Thai and it's not good. French restaurateurs think adding ginger and sugar makes everything Thai.
      Another weak point in Dans Les Landes is the veg. It usually has one veg dish and one salad. We lucked out on the salads so far but indeed they tend to be boldly seasoned.
      Did you not have the duck heart, the marinated quail, the cipirones? i always order those, and the panisse.

      Oh, and on what day of the week did you go? A gf who also likes Dans Les Landes very much went twice on the weekend and came away not satisfied either. We suspected the B team was in charge of Sundays and Mondays. We went back together and had a very good meal, very different from what she had on the weekend, according to her.
      Dunno if all these factors counted, or that the resto has had a structural downward change. I hope not the latter… I mean, the milassou as described by you is just not recognizable !

      3 Replies
      1. re: Parigi

        The duck hearts were not available! The mind boggles at what turn of events could result in severing a duck-heart supply chain. I *did* try to order them per your rec (even though my partner looked at me in abject horror), but: "Non, nous n'en avons pas ce soir."

        Roast dove aside :o) I'm not a huge fan of little birdy things, so didn't even remark the quail on the ardoise. I *did* see the sabots of chipirones going by and regretted not ordering them -- but by then we were dealing with our own onslaught of fried thingies.

        This was on a Saturday evening...but early...

        Was Google right on the milassou? Is it supposed to be a cake? If one had placed the polenta croustillant and the milassou next to one another, the only distinguishing feature would have been that the exterior of the polenta was slightly more crumbly in texture...

        1. re: Kelly

          Millassou is a custard based on ultrafine cornmeal, milk, eggs and orange flower water, left to set, then deep-fried and eaten with jam. There is no trace or potimarron in it, unless, of course you want to make millassou au potimarron.

          Julien Duboué's traditional version used to be his grandmother's recipe. Every time I have had it at Dans les Landes, it was perfectly delicious. It is probably my favorite dessert in Paris.

          I am now googling the name away and sure enough I always get the classic stuff — cornmeal, eggs, milk, butter... Did you search english-language recipes by any chance?

          1. re: Ptipois

            sounds tasty -- and very similar to our Indian Pudding!

      2. Kelly:
        I applaud your willingness to take on the prevailing wisdom/winds/trends on CH and actually say you wouldn't return to Chez C and Dans Les Landes as well as that you would go back to Pottoka and Les Fines Gueules, which have taken some bashes on CH and elsewhere on the net.
        Chez C has been on my "list" even since the arrival of the new chef but based on your meal, I think it's now in the category my buddy the RFC calls "Not Urgent."

        1 Reply
        1. re: John Talbott

          I also applaud this kind of update.
          John, I see no prevailing winds, no orthodoxy, no right wing left wing or right wing wrong wing, :-). Just sharing of experience, which I always appreicated.