Chez l’Ami Jean & Youpi et Voila [Paris Part 2]
The second part of our eight days eating in Paris and our first major disapointment, here are my thoughts ad impressions:
* Le Denier Metro (€38 for two – no wine) - is often recommended as a classic bistro and it lives up to its name. Not worth a special trip but if in the area it delivers some excellent basic traditional food – the duck confit was especially good (and calorific).
* Chez l’Ami Jean (€395 for four), it’s an old favourite (going back to 2005) but one that really has not aged well. This is our first visit since the new menu and I am afraid it will be our last. It’s pretty much 100% English speakers at dinner with the FOH team not really bothering with French (maybe its different at lunchtime). The greeting is quite aggressive / brusque which is sad given what it used to be. The wine list is now far shorter or at least shorter for Pays Basque wines and it is bloody expensive. It’s the first list to make me search for value all the others have been very reasonable on this trip.
The menu has two sections a €75 set meal and an ALC section (no others were offered – we had a 9:00pm table). The pate and bread arrive and are as good as usual – my expectations are high. But it soon becomes clear that all is not well with the food: the menu ranges from Jego’s solid takes on classics through to his new “fine dining” plates. We have a plate of mixed mushrooms which are devoid of flavour; a modern courgette flower dish plated on a big white tray which has lots of modern gastro touches (and the plate is too big for the table). The basket of charcuterie however is still good.
Mains, consist of a very average grouse with little gamey flavour: a red mullet (that looked and tasted to me like cod - or at least the bits that were cooked did); but at least the long cooked beef cheeks were good.
We wanted cheese next but were aggressively sold the rice pudding and had to argue not to have it - weird. The cheese was OK, and we relented and had the rice pudding – we didn’t think we were allowed to leave unless we did – and it’s not as good as it was!
So €400 for a less than enjoyable meal - there is definitely far better value to be had in Paris. Jego is a very talented chef but he is straddling two styles and for me it doesn’t seem to work – I believe he needs to focus on the old style CLJ dishes or move to a new place and focus on his new style dishes (or even better have two restaurants). It’s a little sad to see an old favourite become such a tourist driven restaurant catering to those in search of the “best” rice pudding.
* Youpi et Voila (€236 for four) is out in the 10eme so had a few beers enjoying the warm weather with the crowds by Canal St Martin – very much Paris of the moment. The welcome at Youpi is great, it’s a small simple restaurant cooking modern Parisian food, it’s a set menu at €38 a head and we start with some duck tartare with mushroom on toast, a new dish for me but good. Then some very soft burrata in a tomato water with herbs; this is amazing, the tomato waters intensity working perfectly with the cheese. This is followed by some simply grilled squid and white beans and ham, again interesting and very good. Next seared veal on a deconstructed ratatouille which is lovely but we are starting to struggle with the portion sizes! Dessert is a plate of raspberries and figs brought together by an interesting saffron ice-cream. The service is warm and friendly and felt very genuine, including some good recommendations for some bio wines. All-in-all a perfect meal and such a contrast to the day before.
I am glad you like Youpi et Voilà !, they do a wonderful job keeping the prices as low as possible, wishing to make restaurant cooking available to everyone, and they need support. Lovely people too. Patrice Gelbart is such a humble and honest person that his talent as a chef has often been overlooked.
I had a mixed experience at lunch last week. The food was very much on the plus side of the ledger - the memorable dishes were a magnificent half-duck, wild, presented with its leg, breast, liver and head, somehow salted, cured or just subject to an extended hanging for an especially deep gamey flavour; a simple but deeply savoury wild mushroom sauté; a zippy salmon starter (barely-cooked 'aller-retour', with crunchy green chillies and a tangy dressing); a dessert comprising a crumbly warm biscuit decked with stewed mirabelles and ice-cream, with more mirabelles on the side, grilled. The least good dish was a slow-cooked beef one, and even this would have made me happy at a meal with fewer fireworks.
On the negative side though, there was sloppy service and the price/ quality ratio wasn't so great (145 euro for 2 including some forgettable wine by the glass). The service issue came down to a single obnoxious waiter who's been there awhile and whom I remember from an earlier visit. But he was a real problem because the restaurant presents a lot of menu options - a no-choice menu at 35 euro, a limited-choice menu at 42, the game specials on a hand-written list, some meat-oriented classics on a printed list inside a wooden folder, and then, after we finalised our order, a handsome cut of raw tuna was brought out because 'it just arrived and chef thought you might prefer it instead'. All this needs explanation and interaction, which we got only grudgingly and which was not forthcoming at all for the non-French speaking diners. As for price/ quality, it would be easy to spend 100 euros per person eating a la carte here, even at lunch time, and at that price, the chaotic room with its cramped seating is a bit of a turn-off.
The negatives are at odds with the kitchen's generosity and obvious desire to please, and it would be nice if they get fixed - Phil's idea of 2 separate restaurants might work. However, I don't perceive any recent deterioration - my last visits have been fairly similar. I go back for the food and the rest is manage-able at a mid-week lunch. But perhaps I may need to be more careful about recommending this restaurant to a casual visitor..
"But he was a real problem because the restaurant presents a lot of menu options - a no-choice menu at 35 euro, a limited-choice menu at 42, the game specials on a hand-written list, some meat-oriented classics on a printed list inside a wooden folder, and then, after we finalised our order, a handsome cut of raw tuna was brought out because 'it just arrived and chef thought you might prefer it instead'."
What—you got VIP treatment and you complained????
" All this needs explanation and interaction..."
Not at L'Ami Jean.
Pti - at this price point the VIP treatment makes sense - as whilst that may hold true for regulars most other diners won't get it.
But I still think Shaktl2's point holds true. Its got really expensive for what it is. If you are lucky and order well (which shouldn't be the challenge it was for us) then the food can be really great, but its cramped, our service was not great. And maybe in the past it was acceptable not to interact with the customers as it was cheap and fast paced, but they have changed the format so no longer cheap and no longer turning the tables as much, so interaction is expected. And I would certainly hope you get lots off it if you go for the $75 menu!
The space issue is also compounded by the way he new modern dishes are served, some on plastic trays, or big square white glass plates, or a series of large silver oval bowls. None of which really fit on the tiny rustic tables.
He should definitely take a leaf out of Constant or Camdeborde's books and either open separate restaurants or segregate the menu so some nights its the modern cutting edge food and other nights he goes traditional.....that may help the service model and balance the price point.
The waiter was only bringing you something extra from the kitchen. He had been told by the chef to do so. He did not produce the tuna and that was not his idea. That was the chef's idea and a special treat for you.
So, please, could you tell me in what way that waiter fell short of the kitchen's efforts?
What kind of interaction and explanation did that mean? Get tuna, say thanks, eat tuna.
Unfortunately, it was not 'get food, eat food'. It was more like 'get food, plus a side of smarmimess, eat food'. No thanks rendered for the smarm, obviously. Some specifics :
His shtick included many variants of this exchange :
Me : May I have the salmon and the beef ?
Him : No you may not. [Pause] Ha. Joking.
It was unfunny in French and downright hostile in English, particularly when he omitted his second sentence. The Japanese ladies next to us looked like they had been punched in the face, even though they did eventually get their request fulfilled.
'Explanation and interaction needed'
Him : You can have tuna for 2 courses - raw for first course and then a grilled pavé for second course.
Us : Great. We'll have the raw tuna but stick with our original mains.
Him : No, that will be a different tuna. THIS tuna is only available as a main course.
Us : But the carte doesn't have any tuna starter ? We'd have ordered it if it was.
Him : No, it's not on the carte. [walks off without further explanation]
Me : I'll have the mirabelles please.
Him : No, you can only have dessert of the day with your business menu [35 euro].
Me : But I've had the lunch menu [42 euro] - doesn't it come with a choice of dessert ?
Him : You did ? Oh ok then.
And a bit later, on arrival of the bill
Me : Excuse me, is this bill right ? We had one dessert as part of the lunch menu - why is there a separate charge for an a la carte dessert ?
New waiter presenting the bill : Let me check.
Him (shouting across the room) : Yes, of course madame had the lunch menu.
The thing is that the room was not over-worked that afternoon - the restaurant was not full and there were 3 waiters plus a lady behind the bar for its smallish space. There was no special reason for bad humour or muddle. I could also see that the non-French speakers got even rougher treatment from my waiter - notwithstanding the fact that his English at least was good. And to say again, objectively, this is not the service expectation of a 50 - 100 euro meal.
Some time ago, Pti, you wrote an excellent piece on the classic bistrot waiter and the kind of (sophisticated) tongue-in-cheek jocularity and faux briskness that characterizes the waiter/diner relationship in places like LAJ and Paul Bert.
It needs repeating every so often, or better, to be pinned.
"The thing is that the room was not over-worked that afternoon - the restaurant was not full..."
Our dinner was also not full with a few open tables, CLJ used to be packed at both lunch and dinner. There was a bustling energy, with people propping up the bar and congregating outside waiting for their turn at the table. It definately wasn't like that when we went there, and I put that down to the first week after the holidays (although all the other places we went to were full and alive with energy) but now another report of it be less than busy.
Is something amiss?
'Classic bistrot waiter'
Indeed. This character is fine in his classic bistrot where a diner orders from a short tight menu of restricted choices. But not when the kitchen is a far more sophisticated operation fielding more complex options.
'Less than busy'
I was told 'austerity is in' by another waiter at a popular corporate lunch-room when we were talking about how things were going. Presumably it bites harder at the govt offices around l'Ami Jean ?
Yes. Which is why a change in restaurant formats as per Phil's idea seems more plausible than a change in personnel.