Short weekend report
My wife's birthday meal and oh what a disappointment. One of the starkest gaps I can recall between a mouth-watering menu and the execution on the plate. Starter of snail croquettes lacked discernible flavour and the garlic sauce didn't even taste of garlic. Under-seasoned certainly. Sea Bass Ceviche was bizarre. Grapefruit jelly was nice but couldn't disguise the inadequacy of the marinade which lacked all the flavours you've come to associate with ceviche. The fish was pleasant enough but this was not ceviche either in the peruvian sense or in the way I've ever eaten it elsewhere and was hugely disappointing. Mushrooms were much better, a lovely ingredient simply prepared.
My wife had a demi lamb, hugely generous portion for E16 with two cutlets cooked, perhaps, a touch longer than they should have been, and some good vegetables alongside them.
I had the sweetbreads with potato and mushroom. Never in my life have I been so aware of the need for contrasting textures in food. The sweetbreads were nice but weren't very crisp and the whole dish faltered awfully. The addition of crunchy carrots from my wife's plate helped hugely but this was the worst dish of sweetbreads I've ever had.
Cheese plate was lovely.
Nice atmosphere and very friendly staff, but despite that the service was pretty awful, drinks ordered which never came, butter never came with bread even once requested, asked for the wine list back when we ran out, never came.
Semilla is decent value for Paris and a nice space but I left with an uninspired shrug, I couldn't recommend it.
Chez L'Ami Jean
It doesn't really matter how late you come to the party if it's as good as this. The carte blanche menu on a Saturday night, seated right outside the kitchen watching Monsieur Jego at the pass and his voice ricocheting around my right ear drum.
The French couple next to us, and their later replacements from the US, looked extraordinarily glum. This is not the restaurant to be fussy I think. Half-cooked salmon? Pheasant instead of lamb? tick and off we went with the best pate we've eaten followed by a tour de force of formidable cooking that instantly placed about 15 two and three star meals in the shade.
The parmesan cappucino started, followed by scallops with a fois gras terrine and bacon with microherbs that looked all the world like an aesthetic garnish but which enhanced and flavoured every mouthful. Innovative plating continued with the quail and orzo rice and squid ink, wild salmon with the night's cleverest tick of squid noodles in a deep mushroom broth and chanterelles was exquisite as was the pheasant and mashed potato. Cheeses and dessert trio followed before the Riz au Lait.
Service was generous, friendly, jovial (and rushed) and as it was well past midnight the chef himself was very kind to us as we left. I don't know whether it was the reservation in French or sheer luck but we were relieved beyond measure not to be on the communal anglophone table.
But this is extraordinary cooking, in the most wonderful setting and once we'd embraced the evening it turned into arguably the best restaurant night of our lives.
A few other small notes
Thanks to Jock for this recommendation, filled in perfectly as a lunch spot on our shopping route around the marais. Pate, smoked salmon and their cheese-laden croquants were all excellent and very good value fare.
Cafe de Flore
A lovely little institution which I'm sure residents raise their eyes about. Ludicrously over-priced but exactly the sort of place you want to go when your feet first touch the ground in Paris. Sandwiches and tomatoes with vinaigrette hit the spot.
Nice looking breakfast spot on Bonaparte in Saint Germain. Lovely pastries and orange juice, awful coffee.
Nice report, with conclusions that I totally share. Semilla nice but hollow (sloppy cooking, more appearance than substance), Café de Flore a lovely place - don't look for food there but the place is great -, Bonaparte also a nice spot but coffee sucks, Tartine a great overlooked little place.
I was actually expecting more Anglophones in the room when we went. I had heard references to the shared table being all English and Americans and certainly it was the night we went while for most of the evening we were the only English-speakers on the L-shaped set of four tables for 16 people that ring the pass. But that is not, of course, a very scientific sample.
MIT: We always have your table. In fact I always have your seat. I always ask for that table, and I always get that seat, to sacrifice my ear-drum. The chair might as well have my name carved on it, but I'll gladly share with you. :)
It seems lunch in general has much fewer English-speakers, but it is not a point that I notice very much. I have lived in a few continents. If I were to consider everybody from the countries where I have lived as an eye- and ear-sore, most Paris restaurants would be hell for me.
I do agree - in fact the complete reverse can be true. In Spain we have been the only Anglophones in many restaurants and the chef will circle the restaurant backslapping the rest of the clientele while you share a few polite sentences for two mins (the limit of my Spanish) and they move on.
Now I'm no fan of chefs circling restaurants basking in the acclaim (at the Waterside Inn Alain Roux came out to meet us at almost the exact moment I was being served an abomination of a souffle) but it can still be slightly chastening, and must be worse if you speak nothing of the language.
Not to add to the adulation but for us our wonderful night at CLJ was that mythical Paris moment and I've no wish to scratch the surface and dispel the notion!
MT - we usually have very similar opinions on restaurants so opposite opinions of Semilla and CLJ are odd (and I feel guilty for your wife's b.day fail).
But, restaurants have good days and bad days, and as Soup says on another thread about CLJ the experience can depend on the frame of mind you are in.
I had a recent birthday at a renowned restaurant in HK which was less than stellar which I put down to my mood on the day. It was definitely not helped by waves of waiters delivering the bread and multiple amuse bouche in quick succession - just after after I had fought off the champagne carte, was still battling with a large wine menu and food menu, and had yet to order a drink!
You're absolutely right Phil - and I wouldn't go around dismissing Semilla at all as it is so well recommended and this is demonstrably a one-night report from a tourist.
Our tastes usually do coincide, and you have intuited that our frame of mind as we walked in was not the best from 15 mins struggling through thunderous rain. I have though, run the meal through in my head and am pretty certain that objectively it was an off night esp the sweetbreads but perhaps we may have been more forgiving a different evening.
(and please don't feel guilty at all - I told her at the start of the weekend that her birthday meal was the one she enjoyed the most - so the history books will show that we ate at CLJ for her 29th!)