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Running Paris report...

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pistachio peas Jun 14, 2013 03:52 PM

Because I have received such great advice from Parnassien, Nancy S. and others, and because I am here for one month and can't imagine writing one long post after all of that, I'm going to do a running report here in this thread. Join me if you like! I will probably leave out ancillary culinary experiences, like random sandwich purchases or cafes, but if I do find something under-reported, I'll add it here.

Let's start with tonight. Our first proper restaurant meal on our third full day here. My boyfriend and I had just hauled ourselves back to the 11th after going to see a film at the big cineplex in Les Halles. Ugh. I did not want to go there but we were running an errand near Champs Elysées prior to that and this location was the closest. Getting home on the métro was...a pain in the ass. Anyway, we were tired, I was grumpy. It was 9:30pm and we were like WHERE SHOULD WE GO?!?! We made a list of four places (all on Oberkampf) that ranged from acceptable to good (in that order: L'estaminet, Chez Justine, Aux Deux Amis, Ober-Salé) and decided to walk by and see where we could eat. The first we passed was Aux Deux Amis, where the crowd was literally spilling out the door. We kept going. When we got to the address of Ober-Salé, we were confused because we saw a Sicilian bistro. But we looked a little further and there it was, unassuming, empty tables, and completely charming in exactly the way we hoped. Our meal was VERY good and it was made all the better by the extremely hospitable, charming, knowledgeable, and friendly waiter. (He literally pulled out a copy of Escoffier to answer one of my questions.) We both had the 3 course prix fixe (at 33 euros). My boyfriend had a red wine from the Loire valley (Mabileau?) and I had two different wines, on the waiter's suggestion: first, Crozes Hermitage from 2011, then a Beaujolais that I can't remember. My boyfriend had an asparagus appetizer with a chicken samosa (strange), then for his main he had roasted cod with zucchini "spaghetti" and sesame seeds. I had homemade ravioli that was stuffed with a salted cod brandade, followed by braised beef shoulder with red wine and carrots. We both had cheese (which was too much), followed by a Bas-Armagnac for me and a Cognac for him. Oh, and the amuse-bouche was a cup of mushroom cream.

It was SO GREAT. We ended the night chatting with the waiter and the chef/cook(?) and the waiter's girlfriend, who had shown up. We will definitely be returning here, as they have an excellent fixed lunch. And I found out about this through Chowhound. THANK YOU!

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  1. Parnassien RE: pistachio peas Jun 15, 2013 12:19 AM

    Lovely report so far. I'm delighted that you found Ober-Salé... it's a perfect welcome-to-the-neighbourhood sort of place.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Parnassien
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      pistachio peas RE: Parnassien Jun 16, 2013 02:34 AM

      Thank you! Really starting to feel at home.

    2. ChefJune RE: pistachio peas Jun 17, 2013 09:29 AM

      I love when that happens! We had a similar experience when we walked in at Aux Tonneaux des Halles. Kind of a serendipity.

      1. John Talbott RE: pistachio peas Jun 17, 2013 10:38 AM

        This is so interesting because when it came on the scene and I went in 2008 it was almost silently received by the big boys despite the cv of the chef. Glad to see it's still doing well.

        3 Replies
        1. re: John Talbott
          Parnassien RE: John Talbott Jun 17, 2013 01:03 PM

          Ober-Salé a very good example of the many under-the-radar parisien restaurants that deliver memorable meals. It won't appeal to the very earnest foodies who, no matter what the price, demand almost inhuman perfection but for those searching for a place that represents the heart and soul of our restaurant scene it's a delightful discovery. Just a Bristol-trained hard-working chef-owner, marvelous waiter, great food, a non-designy décor, warmth, comfort, and joy. No thinking required, just enjoyment. Just Paris. And, ahem, GREAT value!

          In walking distance for the OP and very similar in tone and spirit (but without O-Salé's adorable waiter), Le Taxi Jaune on the rue Chapon in the 3rd. Chez Nénesse on the rue Saintonge also used to be such a place when the original owners/ chef were at the helm but has not fared so well under the new team... let's hope it recovers... anybody been there lately?

          1. re: Parnassien
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            pistachio peas RE: Parnassien Jun 18, 2013 01:16 PM

            Thank you for the additional suggestion, Parnassien. I've added it to our list.

            I haven't had any spectacular meals since last posting. An omelette nature at a nearby cafe/brasserie/bistrot (would love to discuss the differences between these sometime) was pretty satisfying on a hungover morning.

            On Sunday, we went to the Marché Bastille, where we bought a roasted chicken and some potatoes, strawberries, apricots, and some marinated octopus salad for home. We our chicken and potatoes with a salad I had made at home to the little park at Square du Temple. It was jam packed and so nice to see so many people enjoying the day. The roasted chicken was quite good (but the breast meat was unfortunately so dry at one point I had to motion for my bf to pass me water). I'm not sure if it was THE chicken that David Lebovitz talks about on his blog.

            On another DL recommendation, we walked over to Au Levain du Marais yesterday for some croissants. They were good but not great. No problem - just means more sampling to do! We also picked up two plain financiers that made a great little snack after a sandwich I made from our remaining chicken.

            A note about baguettes. I know this will sound crazy to some but right now I'm not in a panic to go across town to get THE BEST baguette. I know what a good one should taste like and I can identify what has been good and what has been produced "industrially." For example, I had Kayser's last time I was in town and liked it, but one of the things I like so much about Paris is that you don't need to seek out the cult baguette when the "best of the ordinary" can often be quite glorious.

            Today we grabbed a quick bite at Urfa Dürüm because we happened to be in the area to catch a film. We both had a lamb sandwich that was truly fantastic. The meat was perfect and the bread. Ahhhhh the bread. It reminded me of sangak - one of the most sublime breads you can get in Iran. But the sandwich itself was pretty small. We were both hungry after.

            1. re: pistachio peas
              Parnassien RE: pistachio peas Jun 18, 2013 04:59 PM

              Oups, sorry about the dry chicken breast. :) Just for comparison, try a rôtie something or other from one of the boucheries on the rue Oberkampf or rue Bretagne. Trial and error is one of the most fun things about living in Paris

              I think the boulangeries on the rue Oberkampf are quite fine for your daily bread. For croissants, freshness is the key so travelling to get them is a bit counter-productive. If it's not too much of a walk, 134RTL on the rue de Turenne @ rue Charlot (across from Jacques Genin) in the 3rd is worth considering. And the boulangerie stand at the Marché Popincourt on Tue and Fri. If you have a sweet tooth, certainly the very expensive (and now limited choice) Jacques Genin, Fougasse on the rue Bretagne... or mmmm-mmm eclairs Popelini on rue Debelleyme @ rue Bretagne... and, on Sunday mornings only inside the Marché des Enfants Rouges, La Petite Fabrique with some savoury take-home items as well (and the vendeuse is a total delight if not too busy).

              The crowd factor is unavoidable at weekends. For romantic picnics, mid-week is best. In your neighbourhood, the charming Square Gardette might also be a possibility... just a few grassy patches and maybe still subject to the old "pelouse interdite" regs... but lots of benches.

        2. p
          pistachio peas RE: pistachio peas Jul 2, 2013 05:22 AM

          I fear I have already forgotten some details but here are the meals I've eaten so far. Many, MANY thanks to all of you.

          Le Scheffer (16th, near métro Trocadéro): This was not my choice, so I was nervous going in. We were invited here by my former professor and her family. They live in the neighbourhood and needed to get their kids to bed, so we found ourselves there at 7:30pm. The food was fine. I had a very good duck confit with roasted potatoes, and profiterole for dessert (portion was gluttonously large - I shared a bit with friends but "managed" to finish the rest myself). Another notable dish was a braised lamb (I think it was leg) with white beans. I didn't take care of wine ordering, so unfortunately I can't remember what we had. This is a perfectly fine traditional neighbourhood bistro. It's not a destination, but if you're in the area, I think it'll be decent (if you order the right thing). People with children might be interested in knowing they were quite kind about splitting the entrecote with fries in two for the kids. Also worth noting that most of the main dishes were around 14-16 euros (for example my duck was 16), which is ridiculously reasonable. Pleasant, professional service. And of course, gorgeous views of the Eiffel Tower after, and if you walk around the area you also will get a decent glimpse of "how the other half lives."

          Aux Deux Amis (11th, on rue Oberkampf; nearest métro would be Oberkampf, Parmentier, many others)
          I really wanted to love this place. As it stands, it's a great place to be if you want a bit of the Oberkampf scene. They have great wine. The food is by no means bad but it is not worth a trek across town. We ate: sashimi (maigre); puce pieds with sea asparagus; wild tuna maki. The waiter gave us "un petit cadeau" of a homemade pasta (manicotti-esque) stuffed with plurottes and a white sauce. Very rich. For dessert, a very sad plate of a few pieces of melon drizzled with the scantest touch of a barely perceptible honey. We drank a wonderful bottle of 2011 Vinsobres 'La Papesse', Domaine Gramenon, which we absolutely loved. The waiter was charming (see: un petit cadeau) and very fun. In fact, our fellow diners (all locals) all struck up conversation with us. Total for two people, including wine, was 77 euros.

          Le Baron Rouge (in the 12th, nearest metro Ledru-Rollin)
          Met a friend and her young daughter here on a Sunday for wine, wine, and more wine. And a mixed charcuterie/cheese plate. It was fine except we got way too much terrine and not enough of anything else. The service was great - the waiter often came over with bread. No oysters unfortunately. 50 euros for the 4 of us makes for a nice, cheap snack-y lunch. A great place to go for a "taste of the quartier."

          Septime (in the 11th on rue de Charonne)
          Needless to say, you need a reservation here. I made one for lunch a few weeks in advance. Well, this was a perfectly delightful couple of hours. Started with a glass each of Domaine Jousset Montlouis Bubulle (from the Loire valley). We each had the 3 course formule. I have to say, if you are two people, willing to let each other taste and/or share, and if you are on a budget, it's worth your while to get the 3 set courses for 33 euros rather the 5 course "surprise" formule for 55. I observed that everyone around us who got the 5 courses simply got one each of all the dishes. There were indeed no true "surprises." We felt we chose wisely and did not miss out. To start, I had a sashimi of a white fish (can't remember what it was) in a "soup" of cold "pea water." It had fresh almonds, cherries, and mint. It was substantial, cooling, and inventive all at once. I could have eaten a larger portion of it as a main. My boyfriend had a perfectly soft boiled egg on top of a salad with some wonderful ingredients that gave a crunch (my memory is failing me - apologies). This was easily the best dish of our entire meal. For my main I had two perfectly cooked pieces of chicken with sea asparagus, what looked like snow peas, some perfectly blanched pieces of broccoli stalk, and a few dots of an anchovy-based sauce. Again, my boyfriend won the ordering contest with his divine, perfectly cooked flounder, roasted fennel and carrot, and an herb we could not identify. He liked my dish better than his - the lunatic! But I hope this confirms my suggestion to share, share, share. For dessert one of us had the cheese plate. It had a few pieces of Comté and some soft cheese with a very sharp peppercorn rind. The latter cheese was quite boring and this was a big disappointment after the thoughtful cheese plates we've had at other places, such as Ober-Salé. We also shared strawberries, served with homemade toasted muesli and the most wonderful ice cream. Followed with two cappuccinos. Total 107 euros to eat at one of the "best restaurants in the world." I hope I won't get attacked for saying this: the meal was very good, the service was fine, the atmosphere lovely, the price right, etc. but for me there was something missing. Dare I say the food lacked some spirit, some warmth, a touch of excitement? I'd love thoughts on this.

          Bistrot Paul Bert (11th, near métro Ledru-Rollin)
          If you search this board and the other usual places, you will read that this place is hit or miss. I suppose I went on a hit night because everything about this experience was just fantastic. We decided to take my bf's mother here for her first night in town, rather than to Le 6 Paul Bert, which we had originally planned. He thought she'd do better with something more traditional and since it's his mother, I deferred. The room was lovely (we were on the side without the bar) and our waiter was so charming, he blushed every time I commented on the food. We started with some champagne (Henri Abelé). I don't know a lot about wine but I really loved this. I had a giant plate of langoustines to myself to start and well, I cleaned my plate. My bf had a cold salad of haricots verts that was perfect. His mom had white asparagus with vinaigrette and hard boiled eggs. She thought the asparagus was too tough, I thought it was perfectly cooked. For the mains: for some reason the only thing that appealed to me on the menu was the entrecôte de boeuf with fries and béarnaise. My steak was a perfect medium-rare. My boyfriend had sole meunière that came with a side of boiled new potatoes. His mom had the best dish, blanquette de veau. It came with a completely unnecessary side of pretty sad rice, but I'm Iranian so my expectations for rice are perhaps unreasonably high. The basket of mixed bread they served was so excellent that had I ordered the blanquette de veau, I would have sopped it all up with that. They had an especially good pain au maïs et piment d'espellete. Since it's not the season for Paris-Brest (will I EVER get to try one?!), we ordered the soufflé grand marnier, strawberries with ice cream (it seemed to have fromage frais in it. do we still call that ice cream?), and a completely forgettable crème caramel. The soufflé is still haunting me, in the best way. I loved everything about this experience and I am still in shock, SHOCK, that the 3 course meal was 34 euros. Oh, we had a bottle of very mediocre Cotes du Rhône. The waiter was not great about recommending wine and I was tired of translating for everyone so I didn't get too adventurous sadly. Anyway, I'd love to be a regular here, especially if the portions were a little smaller.

          West Country Girl (in the 11th, nearest métro stops are Parmentier or Rue Saint-Maur)
          I met a couple friends here for lunch. No oysters, so we had a planche of saucisson with some nice pickles and onions. I got a very simple galette with cheese because I was still very full. The best galette at the table was easily the one with emmenthal, Montbeliard sausage, and a perfectly cooked egg. We had a great bottle of cider from Brittany. We shared a salted caramel crepe for dessert and had espressos. We each paid 14 euros. I don't usually care much for crepes (other than as something you make at home, especially for children who want a "treat" supper) but these galettes really wowed me and I will be going back.

          Ober-Salé - we had planned to send his mom here with her partner, but since his flight was delayed I called ahead and made the reservation for 3 and we returned to our old stomping ground. Another very memorable evening. I've already written a lengthy review above, so I will just point out some new items on the menu that we tried: the amuse-bouche was a fantastic cucumber velouté, which was just what we needed after a long day. Then, a gazpacho with finely diced raw haddock. This was perfect in every way - the kind of dish that you wish could be a menu staple. Another starter was the wonderful beef carpaccio with sea asparagus. My boyfriend's mom had a superb duck leg with zucchini "spaghetti." It had a non-browned sauce over it that reminded me of a blanquette. I didn't expect it to be good and it really was. I had cod with sea asparagus and it was perfect because I was still recovering from the extravaganza at BPB the night before. Desserts: pot de creme de vanille. Excellent. A chocolate mousse with whipped cream. And a decent apple crumble "dans le facon tatin." We had some champagne to start and we shared a bottle of wine from Les Fusionels. It was a Faugères called Le Rève. It might be my favourite wine from the trip so far. Another night of wonderful service, ending with coffee and cognac (pas pour moi).

          Le Baratin (in the 20th, nearest metro is Pyrenées)
          I first visited Le Baratin in the summer of 2011. Now that I've been back, I think I can safely say that while I enjoy the space very much, I won't make an effort to come back here until that blissful day when I can call myself a local, i.e., for future visits as a tourist, I think I've had enough of Le Baratin and want to save room for other places. Having said that, I certainly wouldn't resist very much if someone wanted to go there with me, and that is because it really is a lovely place. Our dinner was almost ruined by a small Japanese film crew in one corner of the restaurant who had bright lights and cameras on a few dishes that a TV host was eating and discussing. Luckily, they quickly left. I started with the calmar poêle, which tasted grilled to me, but what do I know? It was great, if not a little boring. My friend, however, had the most superb starter of a mixed salad of fava beans, snow peas, and cherries. My boyfriend had a plate of braised artichokes that were just as good as they were in 2011. A standout was my main: braised beef cheeks with roasted vegetables. I had remembered that my fellow diners had ordered this back in 2011 and I went for it this time, with great success. My boyfriend's leg of lamb was pretty bland in comparison. For dessert we had a very bland cherry clafouti, which was a cut rectangular piece (surprising). And we also shared a good crème brûlée. We drank a Côtes du Rhône that I can't remember. Best of all was the fun I had "catching up" with the wonderful waiter, Jerome. Lovely, cheeky man. We had a blast.

          Jeanne B (in the 18th, nearest métro is probably Blanche)
          Following the recommendation of Parnassien and John Talbott, I made a reservation here following a walking tour of Montmartre. I am going to go ahead and say it was not completely the fault of the restaurant that we didn't have a wonderful time here. Remember the ugly American? Yeah. Enough said. Also, it was a super hot day this past Sunday. They are very nice and gave us a good table but boy could they have used a fan in the restaurant. It was insufferably hot (and I'm not the kind of person who needs or even likes A/C). I ordered the gazpacho starter simply for this reason. It was fine but I think the one at Ober-Salé with the diced haddock had spoiled me a bit. Then I had the roasted chicken "pattes noires" with the decadent potatoes dauphinoise. Absolutely nothing to complain about. Very well executed, solid food. I loved that almost all the mains came with a little green salad. I could have jumped into the salad. Our waiter was fumbling and a little green but he kept the water coming, which was great. The two men at the table got the gigot d'agneau that also comes with the dauphinoise. Madame had the "croq'homard," which I thought was a bit excessive but everyone else loved. I just don't need any cheese with my lobster. But at 23 euros for the two course formula, no one was complaining. I did think their wine list left a lot to be desired, even for a noob like me.

          On Sunday morning/afternoon, before heading up to Montmartre, we had a very long luxurious picnic at Buttes Chaumont. I had gone to the Bastille market myself in the morning and picked up everything we needed, along with a bar of whole hazelnut chocolate that I had picked up at Blé Sucré.

          Today my boyfriend and I had lunch at home with fixings from the fantastic Marché Popincourt, which is my new favourite place. I took my time, talked to the vendors, and just felt so...comfortable and very stimulated by all the great food.

          Chez l'ami jean for lunch later this week.

          Sorry this was so long!!!!

          7 Replies
          1. re: pistachio peas
            Parigi RE: pistachio peas Jul 2, 2013 05:49 AM

            Don't be sorry. I wish it were longer. Great report. All your likes and dislikes are well explained. The kind of review that has great credibility.

            1. re: Parigi
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              pistachio peas RE: Parigi Jul 3, 2013 01:57 AM

              Thank you, Parigi!

            2. re: pistachio peas
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              VaPaula RE: pistachio peas Jul 2, 2013 05:51 AM

              Don't apologize, what a great report! I love details. And I've been curious about where you decided to take the "loud" American. Other than sweating bullets throughout his meal, did he like it?

              I personally feel there is a distinct difference between a visitor and a tourist. Not that there's anything wrong with either of them, but you ain't a tourist. ;-)

              1. re: VaPaula
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                pistachio peas RE: VaPaula Jul 3, 2013 01:58 AM

                Thanks for your kind words! I think he did like his meal at Jeanne B, yes. Of course, I'm a little nervous about the lunch at Chez L'Ami Jean, but I think it should be ok...I'll be sure to report back. :)

              2. re: pistachio peas
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                Nancy S. RE: pistachio peas Jul 2, 2013 06:38 AM

                I agree completely with your reviews of Septime and West Country Girl, although I've been to both only for dinner, but many times each. I'll continue to return as well. I guess the issue with Septime is that expectations might be slightly inflated, and the opposite for WCG, but knowing them, I think the price/quality ratio of each is quite good.

                1. re: pistachio peas
                  Parnassien RE: pistachio peas Jul 2, 2013 03:59 PM

                  Lovely and quite charming report.

                  And yes, where to eat in heat waves is very problematic. The usual long and narrow restaurant footprint makes for bad ventilation and sauna-like conditions when the temperatures rise. A tip: Don't get fixed on a restaurant as a destination in summer. If it seems likely that there will be a heatwave, I always make reservations at 2 different restaurants in the same quartier on the same day/ night: One that I really want to go to for the food and another that I know has a terrace or GOOD air-conditioning even if the food might not be as good. As soon as I know for sure what the weather will be, I cancel one or other of the reservations. For checking whether a restaurant has air-conditioning or a terrace, the "infos pratiques" section of the individual restaurant listing of Cityvox.fr is usually good but not always comprehensive.

                  And let's form an I-love-Popincourt club. The Sunday Marché Bastille gets all the attention here on Chowhound but Popincourt is where the human-ness is.

                  1. re: Parnassien
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                    pistachio peas RE: Parnassien Jul 3, 2013 02:01 AM

                    Thank you, Parnassien! Knowing which restaurants have A/C or a terrace, well, that's exactly the kind of knowledge I need to build if I'm going to try to make visiting Paris a more frequent thing...

                    Okay, so our Popincourt club has two members so far! I can only visit one more time before I leave, sadly. But perhaps I can try to go there to pick up lunch for our train ride to Amsterdam on Tuesday...Already sad thinking about leaving.

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