Paris report: Candelaria, Le Mary Celeste, Le Troquet, Compagnie de Bretagne, Les Fines Gueules, L'Antre Amis, Café du Dôme
After a week in the Loire, we headed to Paris for three days earlier this week, braving the canicular temperatures (which made we wonder why we hadn’t just stayed in the Loire (as in literally, immersed to our necks). We had some really good food, though, which made the constant threat of heat exhaustion totally worth it.
Abandoning other family members to the tender mercies of a hop-on-hop-off tourist bus, my partner and I dragged his 23-year-old daughter and our four-year-old son on a one-two hipster punch (the fact that I denote them as hipster means these places probably aren’t anymore).
Starting at Candelaria, we sweltered through tacos and tostados with poulet aux épinards. I love, love, love Mexican street food, so I suffered a bit from visual/gustatory disconnect. It looked right, but tasted different (not bad, though). It’s good to know I’ve got occasional access for a fresh corn tortilla fix. Loved the salsas on the table: peanut-based (oddly like Thai fusion, but just yummy) and veracruzana (a touch sweet from the addition of citrus, but nicely balanced). The guacamole needed more oomph—more lime, cumin, jalapeno, something.
Cocktails in the deliciously air-conditioned speakeasy were fantastic – vodka/grapefruit/champagne, tequila/lime/cilantro/jalapeno/cucumber, gin/Campari/vermouth/triple sec. I poked my nose in to ask if we could come in with a four-year-old, who would be silent as the grave thanks to my iPhone, and they said no worries, it’s a quiet time, come on in and would he like some juice or a soft drink?
Le Mary Celeste
If Le Mary Celeste were my local, I’d never get anything done. I'd have a liver like a canard gavé and I'd be as big as a house.
Again, I love the fact that they didn’t bat an eye at the four-year-old bellying up to the bar. The guy who ushered us in regretted that they had no child-friendly munchies but pointed out the Proxi market down the street in case we wanted to pop over and get him some crisps. The bartender was delightful and talented (and handsome and charming, which pleased my partner’s daughter to no end).
We went nuts on the small plates. Pickled aubergine packed a serious chili/sour punch, and my aubergine-hating partner was instantly converted to fandom. The devilled eggs, with soy-poached eggs, puffed black rice, ginger and coriander were so good we immediately ordered more. Braised pork with Chinese barbecue sauce in crepes needed a touch of acid to lift it, but the meat was succulent and the crepes tender. Walnuts added a great bitter note to roasted broccoli. And the endive with tamarind and mint made me laugh out loud, it was so good (and yes, we ordered seconds). The only misstep: tuna tartare with tomato vinaigrette was sloppy and tasted only of tomato.
Excellent cocktails, too: two of us had the Yolo, with prosecco, matcha, sake and peach purée maison, and the other had two gin and tonics, first with Botanist and then with Death’s Door gin. We don’t see either of them in Brussels, so that was nice (though I remain a devout Martin Miller fan).
I asked the bartender before we left whether the bottle of Poutin up on the shelf was a gin, as I’d never heard of it. He clarified that it was a strong Irish liquor (at which point it all clicked: poteen!) and offered us all tastes for the road. Well, all of us except the young’un.
We ate dinner here on a sweltering Saturday night – one of two occupied tables in a room without a breath of air. Ooof. It was decent food, but certainly not worth traveling for (luckily, our hotel was only a ten-minute stroll).
We all took the three course prix fixe at 32 euros. Starters included a veritable vat of gazpacho; a cannelloni of beets, salmon and crab;sautéed chipirons and a basket of Louis Ospital charcuterie. All workmanlike, none exceptional. Mains ranged from duck breast with potato purée to quasi de veau with summer vegetables and dorade with ratatouille. Ditto on the workmanlike/unexceptional profile. Desserts: lemon tart, apple crumble and brebis de Pyrenées with confiture de cerises noires. The brebis was lovely.
We drank a reasonably priced Irouleguy and a Colombard/Petit Ugni (both under 25 euros). Service was largely indifferent. And sweaty. But then, so were we.
Compagnie de Bretagne
People’s stomachs were on overload after 8 days of power eating (wimps), so I opted for something light on Monday night, within easy striking distance for our friends who were out doing the tourist thing all day. And…meh. I would not go back.
The food ranged from uninspiring to serviceable (we had, among us, a galette complete; a galette au chèvre frais, smoked red peppers and mache; carré d’agneau smoked over thyme with spinach gratin and potato purée; and côtes de porc with chestnut honey and more of that potato purée.
We drank an excellent premier cru Chablis (Domaine de la Chablisienne Fourchaume, 44 euros) and a very nice Finistère cider. But the service was totally indifferent—we had to ask three times for water, and they claimed they had no ice buckets available to keep the Chablis chilled. The only excuse for that? All the kitchen staff suffering second-degree burns at the same time. Honestly.
Les Fines Gueules
This is a completely vicarious and uninformative update – I sent friends there for lunch as they were spending the morning in the Louvre, and I’d enjoyed my meal there back in September. It was apparently good, and service was apparently cordial and welcoming.
At 34 euros (two euros above Le Troquet’s prix fixe price point), this lunch was in another realm altogether. Two choices each for starter, main and dessert, with a couple of off-the-menu options shared by the server. Tasty but not precious amuse-bouche of wee croquet-monsieur batons, with chive blossoms adding a lovely allium touch.
Starters included marinated salmon with lightly pickled vegetables and an herb sorbet or a gazpacho with diced serrano ham, chèvre frais, Joel Thibault peas and pea shoots. Both were fresh, vibrant, awesome. Mains included a ginger-and-sesame-crusted dorade with red pepper sorbet (okay, I wasn’t thrilled to see savory sorbets twice, but hey, it was a heat wave) and melted leeks and a choice of either Corrèzes veal or Iberian pork with eggplant (puree and sauteed-wafer-thin) and kumquat compote. I found the dorade a trifle fishy, but both meats were amazing. Perfectly cooked and flavourful, and the eggplant/kumquat combo was fantastic. For dessert, we moved on to a perfectly, and I mean perfectly, aged Brie de Meaux aux fruits secs from Marie Quatrehomme, a tartelette au citron de Menton et espumas aux fruits de la passion and an assiette de fruits rouges that was heavy on gariguette strawberries.
Addled by the heat, I ordered a coupe upon arrival (Cold ! Fizzy! Refreshing!) without even looking at the price. I’ve never paid 18 euros for a glass of Champagne, but the utter deliciousness of the Moet et Chandon 2002 softened the blow. And I was exceedingly happy with the bottle of Riesling I ordered: Grand Cru Osterberg 2010 Domaine Agapé (53 euros). I will say that their carte de vins is thin on the reasonably-priced end…
Service was cordial and friendly; they didn’t bat an eye at us going next door to buy tranches de jambon and babybel for the small one.
The only drawback to the place that I could see? The fact that we had to make that foray because their only nod in our son’s direction was “maybe he’d like just a plat instead of the whole menu?” It’s the first restaurant I’ve been to in Paris post-Rhys that made absolutely no gesture toward a “child’s plate.” Every place we’ve been (okay, except Le Mary Celeste, but I expected that) has instantly offered something whipped up by the kitchen – pâtes au beurre, un petit steak, risotto, daube de boeuf, etc.
But I’d still go back in a heartbeat.
Café du Dôme
I KNOW. But I was facing open rebellion by tired family members who did not want to walk one more step down rue Saint-Dominique in quest of something I’d actually consider eating in the Eiffel Tower area. Ugh. Steak frites, moules frites, spaghetti bolo, salade nicoise, burger. Bog standard at best. Service nasty and terrible (I know! Let’s wait until we’re serving the entire table before bothering to mention that one person’s order is not available). Stay away at all costs.
Absolutely delightful report... and I love how you include the entire experience rather than a narrow focus on the food.
Totally share your delight in le Mary Celeste. The Haut Marais is one of my favourite hangout quartiers and, despite all the othe fab options in this area and the nearby Oberkampf, I find myself returning again and again to Le Mary Celeste. (But must remind myself to have my liver function tested at next medical check-up)
Sorry about sauna Le Troquet. Usually not a bad place but heatwaves can turn the best of restaurants into dismal experiences. And now for one of my oft-repeated rants (directed more at others who may follow in your footsteps). There are restaurants for winter and restaurants for summer (except for the wintry parts of our summers). The typical long and narrow footprint turns all too many Parisien restaurants into sweatboxes during heatwaves... the quality of the cuisine and service suffers (if it's almost unbearable in the salle, just imagine the kitchen) and the enjoyment of the sweaty diner is suffocated by the heat and discomfort. Visitors should, I think, always build in a little flexibility in planning where to eat and always have alternative restaurants with terraces or (less common and less identifiable) a/c in case temperatures rise. I tend to look at the "infos pratiques" section of the restaurant listing in Cityvox.com to see if this or that resto has a/c and always inquire to make sure when I telephone to book. I do, however, much prefer getting a table on the terrace since this is really a part of the summer-in-Paris experience. Unfortunately, the terrace is also where smokers congregate... not really a big problem for us non-smoking Parisiens but a fatal one for many North Americans strangely and almost hysterically intolerant of ciggie smoke/ smell.
I just wanna make sure that Chowhounders understand that your tourist-trap Café le Dôme is on the ave de la Bourdonnais in the 7th and is not the more famous and much better (but overpriced) Café du Dôme in Montparnasse. And an aside to others: Anybody caught exhausted in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, etc should really catch a taxi to go elsewhere for their food... restaurant roulette in tourist zones is always AYOR.
La Compagnie de Bretagne. Your description is perfect. And it was fab when it first opened, but now just downright boring.Maybe this is the inevitable fate of upmarket crêpe places.
I've had 3 or 4 multi-generation meals at l'Antre Amis (another one of my favourites) and feeding the kids never seemed much of a problem. Let's hope that your experience was a simple aberration. But French kids are exposed to adult food quite early and, except for babies and toddlers, do not usually demand something more kid-like in a restaurant. Since l'Antre Amis is not on the usual tourist circuit, maybe they are not as experienced as others in dealing with the eating preferences of non-French kids. (Desperately grabbing for excuses here to explain l'Antre Amis' nonchalance).
Thanks, Parnassien. Good tip on using Cityvox; I should have thought of that. Although after the spring/summer we've had to date in northern Europe, I think I was subconsciously expecting the heat to break at any moment, replaced by rain, sleet and snow.
The worst part about eating at Café le Dôme? Knowing I was within striking distance of Chez Lucie, l'Affriolé, even any of the Constant places. The second worst part? The people I was with didn't mind the food. :o(
As you say, I'm taking l'Antre Amis as an aberration. I *am* gutted that my kid has developed a beige palate (I'm considering making him wear a sign that says "I ate foie gras as a toddler, I swear"). But over the probably 50 or 60 meals we've had in Paris with him, in restaurants both on and (way off) the beaten path, this is the only time nothing's been offered. And usually, it's offered as soon as we sit down -- the wisdom of chefs and servers who know that maman and papa will enjoy perusing the food and wine offerings more if the wee one is chowing down.
As disappointed as I was in Pottoka during our last visit there, they got super high marks for kid friendliness -- addressing our son directly to ask what he might like, and concocting seriously good food for him.