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Paris and Lille trip report (with a foray to In de Wulf)

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This trip was over two days and nights, the first night spent in Paris, the following night in Dranouter.

Septime:
Second time eating here, our last meal was dinner, this one was lunch. The food wasn't great, the service was excellent. Good if simple squid a la plancha starter. Good chicken and weak pollock main courses. Very good cheese plate (particularly the Salers) and a weak baba dessert. The pollock was the worst dish, both the fish and its eel sauce lacking flavor. There was some scattershot plating on even the better dishes, with cubes of raw turnip and so on, where the various ingredients didn't come together. We weren't expecting fireworks from the relatively economical lunch menu but still felt it was lacking in refinement. The dinner tasting menu on our previous visit was considerably better, although this time I noticed that the table near us ordering the more expensive lunch tasting menu received largely the same preparations as us, if sometimes using different proteins. Fantastic, well-priced wine list if you like the genre of wines Septime specializes in. Such a handsome restaurant.

La Table d'Aki:
Third time eating here and everything was exceptional, particularly an ethereal cod dish. The saucing was, as always, complex and beautifully complemented each fish. The atmosphere wasn't as good as it has been before and I think can be reliant on how full the restaurant is (it was only half full) and your fellow diners. Funnily enough, we thought that the American couple on one table asking for a wine that was "like a rich California Cabernet" were typical tourists with no idea about the delicacy of the cooking or about variety in wines, but then the French table next to us asked for a full-bodied red as well. (The only difference was how loudly and in what language they asked.) The bad thing about La Table d'Aki is the wine list, which is too amateur for the cooking and doesn't list the name of the producer for some of the 10 or so wines. Does anyone know if you can bring your own wine here for a corkage fee?

In de Wulf:
This was our big splurge. I won't go into too much detail but thought I'd briefly describe the experience as the cost dictated the kind of restaurants we ate at in Paris and our going to Alex Croquet in Lille. The tasting menu had some excellent dishes but overall was slightly disappointing given our high expectations. I think we might have been unlucky because the "main" course in particular, a five-week aged duck, was simply not to our taste. We had expected the cooking to be more Michel Bras but it seemed more Mugaritz, with some dishes that pushed the limits of palatability. The breakfast, however, was wonderful, more of the incredible bread from the night before, and the dining room and bedroom were very pleasant.

Alex Croquet in Lille:
Had high hopes for the pastries and breads here but wasn't amazed. The breads (Pain Zébulon and Pain Paulette) were certainly good but not in the same league as the bread at In de Wulf. A chocolate eclair was dreadful: soggy pastry, cloying filling, a far cry from Jacques Genin. The "pudding" (similar to a bread-and-butter pudding, with candied fruits) and kouign-amann were good but we wouldn't rush to schlep them and the breads to the train station and onto London again.

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  1. My last experience at Septime (dinner in July -- my 5th) was disappointing, compared to the prior 4. The plat -- duck was over cooked and tough.

    I've been to Table d'Aki twice. The first a month or so after it opened. The second a few months later. I thought the fish was expertly sourced and prepared but that the sauces were one-dimensional -- either butter based or soy based. I was also hoping for a more interesting dessert each time. Both were simple and small, albeit tasty. I also wish the lighting was not so harsh and more flattering.

    I'm sad you didn't enjoy In de Wulf. Our 5th dinner there in July was the best yet. Although, given Kobe's foraging style, I think it's best to eat there in the summer, when the local vegetables are amazing.

    I find Lille disappointing.

    1. Thank you much, especially for your thoughts on In de Wulf, a definite tease in my planning at this point. As always, it's more the letdown then the hit to the pocketbook that worries me. And, realistically, a tasting menu as long as IdW has to have some misses among the hits. (And I've heard the beds are hard. Your take on lodging?)

      5 Replies
      1. re: mangeur

        The rooms at In de Wulf are great. And, breakfast is especially great. It's truly my favorite restaurant with rooms. This, combined with De Jonkman is a winning Belgian holiday.

        1. re: Nancy S.

          Thanks for this. I trust you more than my curmudgeon hard bed reporter. ;)

          1. re: mangeur

            We make an annual pilgrimage each summer. I'm looking forward to my return in 2014.

        2. re: mangeur

          mangeur, I agree that you'd expect some misses but sadly the misses were all among the larger meat courses (with the exception of an excellent crispy trotter) and desserts. As this represented the final third of our tasting menu, it left a slightly bad taste.

          My New Year's resolution is to stop eating long tasting menus. Our two most enjoyable recent fine dining experiences were at Yoann Conte and Michel Bras, ordering à la carte even though both restaurants offer tasting menus.

          The bed in our fancier room at In de Wulf was comfortable, and we were particularly impressed by the huge wooden bathtub with high sides like a wine barrel. Would love one of those at home.

          Nancy S., perhaps you should retry La Table d'Aki's sauces -- the meat sauce they serve with John Dory is very impressive. Dessert is indeed an afterthought but we don't mind at the prices charged.

          1. re: johannabanana

            I will re-try Table d'Aki -- it's down the street, actually, so I'd love to love it.

        3. Croquet disappointing, damn. It was on the list for this Spring. IWTFDFKA, l will travel far distances for kouign amann

          18 Replies
          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

            IWTFDFKA,
            Whoa

            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

              It would be a bit silly to hope for a good kouign-amann in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

              1. re: Ptipois

                Souphie says it is the best there is. We were going to go there for it.

                1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                  Non-Breton boulangers interpret kouign-amann rather that they really make it. So the result may be excellent but it is never the real thing. It takes a certain "tour de main" to get it right and so far I have never seen that outside of modest boulangeries in Brittany.

                  Ansel never got it right. Conticini never got it right. Now Croquet is a genius but I doubt he could get it right, unless he manages to obtain a result that is identical to what you buy from modest boulangeries in Brittany.

                  1. re: Ptipois

                    What's your opinion on Larnicol ?

                    I know you like their macarons, but do you find the kouignettes close to the real deal ? (I must confess, although I've been to Brittany a few times, I never had a kouign amann there...)

                    1. re: Rio Yeti

                      Slightly off question, but I was only in Larnicol's rue de la Harpe venue and couldn't handle the self-service displays from which customers were taking (and returning) product for themselves. I walked out without a purchase rather than buy something already pawed over by previous shoppers. Just my fetish...

                      1. re: mangeur

                        It was probably me, l often lick them to see if the glaze set correctly.
                        BTW it did not set correctly, not a fan of Larnicol.

                        Ones l currently like:
                        La Flute Gana
                        Cyril Lignac
                        Ble Sucre
                        Grenier du Pain- my Fav

                        Other than the last do not think the others are from Bretagne.

                        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                          We really liked Grenier du Pain's.

                          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                            Perhaps, but as traditional kouign-amann is concerned, Larnicol produces the textbook version. Not necessarily the one you like best.

                          2. re: mangeur

                            At Larnicol, the normal-sized kouign-amanns are a must-buy (not so much the kouignettes - too dry). Then the excellent macarons, which are not self-service. That is generally what I get there. Their choclolate "plaques" are also very decent.

                            1. re: Ptipois

                              That's good to note. I was, truthfully, freaked out by the hands in and on behavior of tourists at the pastry and chocolate bins.

                              1. re: mangeur

                                Most of what is worth buying at Larnicol is either not self-service or under plastic.

                          3. re: Rio Yeti

                            I hadn't read your question before sending my last post, but here it is in a nutshell:

                            The kouignettes are OK, but they're rather dry and do not have the combination of crispiness and rich softness that is the true character of a kouign-amann. Besides, as they are almost entirely caramelized brittle, they are more sugary than normal kouign-amann. So I would consider them interesting per se as a distinct pastry item, but I would not include them in the kouign-amann category.

                            The "classic" (normal-sized) kouign-amann at Larnicol is a thing of beauty, it is generally out there somewhere on a shelf and is far less successful than the kouignettes, but believe me, that is authentic kouign-amann and probably the only version of it that you may find in Paris (aside from the ones in plastic wrap and aluminum moulds, imported from Douarnenez, that you can sometimes buy at épiceries fines).

                            Most other "kouign-amanns" in Paris and elsewhere outside of Brittany are merely a play on some features of a classic, but they never equate the real thing.

                            1. re: Ptipois

                              Thank you very much.

                              Next time I'll try the real kouign amann then.

                              I have enjoyed the kouignettes in the past, but I see what you mean about the dryness and sugar, so I'm really curious to try the big one.

                              1. re: Rio Yeti

                                I must add that the Larnicol kouign-amann is a true kouign-amann, not an adaptation "ad usum delphini" for Parisians, and that therefore it is very, very rich. Even a small specimen lasts forever at my home, for it gets eaten one square inch at a time.

                                1. re: Ptipois

                                  Hehe ok duly noted.

                                  My only esperience with kouign-amann, besides a few kouignettes, was from a pretty good boulangerie on rue de la République, but even though I had never tasted the real thing, I could tell that the light puff pastry, and the caramel disk on top were probably not really traditional.

                                  1. re: Rio Yeti

                                    Just "light puff pastry" betrays the fake. Mind you, the fake might be very good.

                                    1. re: Ptipois

                                      As in I like dogs and I like cats, but they are not the same animals.

                  2. To answer my own question, Gastromondiale reports that you can bring your own wine to la Table d'Aki for a 35 euro corkage.