Paris


Bar Le Passage, 39 Rue Boissy d’Anglas (Place de la Madeleine), 75008 Paris, France, 01 42 65 56 66

I’ll admit that Taillevent is a very hard act to follow. Apparently, Alain Senderen, one of the other highly rated chefs in Paris, doesn’t it feel the necessity of trying. A day or so after the blissful lunch at Taillevent, I decided to try the slightly down-market, upstairs luncheon spot above his esteemed eponymous restaurant. The entrance to Bar Le Passage is a few feet inside the rounded portal in the photo above.

After lunch, I wondered whether Le Passage was where Senderen trained chefs and servers for service in the restaurant below. Or maybe he just doesn’t care all that much about the food and the service above. He figures people who come there are eating his name more than his food.

I had two dishes for lunch. The first was a round, flat-topped mound of minced veal and crayfish tartare, mixed with a light and creamy mustard dressing, that sat next to a gummy wad of cellophane rice noodles dressed with lemon zest and chives. The second dish arrived in a shallow bowl. At first glance, it looked the bowl held nothing but cream froth. When the foam subsided, I saw millions of vanilla seeds in cream settling over a square thin sheet of pasta enveloping and tucked under large chunks of lobster and chiffonade of spinach. The pure flavors of cream, vanilla, lobster, and spinach didn’t exactly sound majestic chords of flavor but they communicated with each other in an interesting conversation.

A hostess seated me in a lilac-hued room whose walls were decorated with stencilled tree branches. From the ceiling hung clear plastic squares with trees (if I remember correctly) etched on them. The decor was what you might expect in an Ikea cafeteria — modern and cheap. The service was indifferent. I saw another room where lunch parties were seated.

Nothing I ate made me curious to experience the cooking below, although the dishes on the lunch menu are the same as in the restaurant, as far as I could tell. The servers did not make me want to put myself in their care again. Alain Senderen does not seem to care what is happening above his shop.

Bistro Poulbot, 39, rue Lamark, 01 46 06 86 00 (a short walk from the Lamark-Caullaincourt métro stop).

Although I see no point in ever again renting a flat in Montmartre (too far from the center, too hilly, too uninteresting once you’ve seen the birthplace of modernism), I found a good place to eat. Bistro Poulbot is the laboratory of a chef named Véronique Melloul. She runs a very efficient operation. Food arrives promptly. The plates are decorous. The male server is correct, attentive, and friendly with a hint of aloofness, like a benign ghost hovering over you. To judge by the number of locals walking by who stopped to read the menu outside during the day, it’s probably new in the neighborhood. But it’s already popular. Reserve ahead. Although popular, no one hurried me, eating by myself and taking up a table for two.

My first course, bouchons rattes de l’escargot et pommes de terre, arrived in a round earthenware dish with twelve holes for snails. It looked like a traditional dish of escargot with parsley, garlic and olive oil. And it was, only the chef added one little cube of potato to each hole. The flavors were the same, but I felt like I’d eaten a slightly more substantial dish than escargots usually are. A sly way of stretching a traditional dish.

Next, the server put in front of me a plate of fondant de joue de boeuf. I saw a dark, round pan-fried patty, about an inch and a half high, with a hard, crusty surface. When I pierced the surface of the patty, I feared for a moment that it would explode. Hot juice oozed out, a harbinger of the succulent and tender shredded beef cheeks inside. Next to it sat a Chinese soup spoon with pomegranite sauce. On the other side lay four baby carrots and four baby asparagus alongside a braised shallot. The bittersweetness of the pomegranite blended well with the juicy fatness of the meat juice.

For dessert, I ate crumble de pain, fruits d’hiver, crème anglaise, noisettes, that is to say, a winter fruit crumble. Poached pear, dried apricots and cherries, and crushed hazelnuts, topped with bread crumbs, went smoothly with the dollop of whipped cream and the very thin puddle of crème anglaise. A little more cream would have made it a voluptous dessert.

Bistro Poulbot looks and feels like a traditional bistro. Dark wood wainscotting and chairs, etched frosted glass at the entry way, and a floor of small black and white tiles. Twenty-five seats make it a cozy place. So, if you’re in the neighborhood, it’s worth a visit.

Taillevent, 15 rue Lamonnais, email: resa@taillevent.com, 01 44 95 15 01

It made no difference to my two friends and me that we walked into Taillevent’s main dining room in the immediate wake of Jacques Chirac, the former president of the French Republic. Ted (very natty in his tie and jacket), Joby (elegant as usual), and I were terrified that this famously expensive, highly acclaimed restaurant would let us down. Powerful people like Chirac probably take restaurants like Taillevent for granted. In the two weeks prior to our date with gastronomic destiny, the three of us had eaten some pretty good meals in unpretentious restaurants that we could claim were the real deal. Was our lunch at one of the top restaurants of the world going to seem stuck-up? Or would it replicate the blissful feeling we’d all experienced at the French Laundry?

I’m happy to report that our lunch was worth every penny (95 euros, 4 courses, and four glasses of wine selected to complement each course). To start with the superficial, the decor was very different from what I expected. Think of a club room, only lighten the wood panelling to maple. Modern upholstery, sleek lines created by crisp white tablecloths. We shared the dining room with apparently very wealthy business and political men with a business woman here and there.

We sat down prepared to act fiscally responsible and go straight to the fixed lunch menu. But the à la carte menu and the tasting menu sorely tested us.

The à la carte list was short:

  • Noix de coquilles Saint-Jacques et olives de Lucques en salade d’hiver (Scallops Saint-Jacques and Luccan olives in a winter salad) – 64 euros.
  • Mousseline de pomme ratte, oeuf de poule et truffe noire (a mousse of fingerling potato with egg and black truffle) – 110 euros.
  • Epeautre du Pays de Sault en risotto à la truffe noire (spelt risotto with black truffles)- 120 euros.
  • Homard et châtaignes cuisinés en cocotte lutée (pastry-covered lobster and chestnut bisque — I think) — 120 euros.
  • Soufflé au chocolat (self-evident) – 30 euros.

Right. Then we looked at the tasting menu.

For 190 euros (or about $260), we could have the tasting menu:

  • Rémoulade de tourteau à l’aneth, sauce fleurette citronnée (remoulade of dill oil with a lemony hollandaise sauce)
  • Langoustine croustillante, marmelade d’agrumes et thé vert (fried crayfish with green tea and citrus marmelade).
  • Epeautre du Pays de Sault en risotto, cuisses de grenouilles dorées (spelt risotto with grilled frogs’ legs).
  • Rouget barbet poêlé, artichauts poivrade en barigoule (braised mullet fish, artichokes in a sauce made of mushrooms and crushed peppercorns.
  • Canard de Challans rôti aux épices, fruits et légumes caramelisés (Roasted duck with caramelized spices, fruit and vegetables).
  • Ossau Iraty, confiture de cerises noires (cheese with a black cherry paste)
  • Gourmandise à l’ananas, mousse à la Pina Colada (a tasty morsel of banana and Pina Colada mousse).
  • Palet au chocolat, parfumé au Rooibo (little chocolates flavored with Rooibo).

Nope. Fiscal responsibility lazily reared its sage head.

Here’s what we ate:

The amuse bouche, something in form between a mousse and a foam, was made of  fish stock (but not shellfish stock) and had a tiny little dab of lemon sorbet on top.

Ted had Langoustines et avocat en tartare: minced crayfish formed in a circle mold sitting on a thin, bright green avocado sauce. The bite Ted gave me had a burst of salmon roe. Doesn’t sound extraordinary, but it was delicious. Ted drank a glass of white wine, a fruity Reuilly.

Joby and I had ravioli de foie gras de canard: four little ravioli, filled with liquid foie gras that exploded in our mouths. They were barely immersed in a rich veal broth and sprinkled with grated black truffle. We drank a crisp, slightly sweet sauvignon blanc.

Joby’s main course was hands down the best. But when they put her plate in front of her, she was a little disappointed and we were for her. It didn’t look like much. Centered on the white china plate was a round and decoratively topped puff pastry that looked like a small circus tent. Then, one of our servers (we had two or three) ladled a sauce around one side of it that looked as thick and dark as chocolate. Inside the pastry contained shredded duck and duck liver. The sauce was Rouennaise, which means it was made with a red Bordeaux wine and pureed duck liver. I must confess once I had a bite I nearly shoved her off the banquette and took control of her plate. But I restrained myself. She drank a glass of very good Crozes Hermitage, which I also envied.

But I had a slice of exquisitely flavored veal on roasted baby root vegetables in a wine reduction. Ted had the same. We drank a pinot noir from Burgundy.

When we reached the cheese course, they brought us a plate with one large prune braised in Banyuls, the sweet wine from southwestern France (to die for), and a mousse made of one of my favorite blue cheeses, Fourme d’Ambert.

For dessert, we all had the same thing: a passion fruit cut in half, scooped out completely, and filled with batter made with the pulp that became a passion fruit soufflé. They looked like light brown toadstools. Along side was passion fruit sorbet.

We languidly reviewed the meal over a concluding coffee. What impressed us most was how friendly and welcoming the staff was. Chirac received no better service than we did. No snobbery, no looking down on us as Americans or even as tourists. The service was superb.

This lunch entered my Pantheon of top five lifetime meals. Maybe even top three, French Laundry, La Mirande in Avignon (under a previous chef than the current one, and Taillevent.

We left Taillevent on such a high that, slightly giddy, we wandered down the Champs-Élysées, around the Madeleine, strolled into a private art gallery with an impressive collection of 19th c. stuff (Renoir, Redon, Cassatt, Corot, Bonnard) and floated towards the metro. The sky, cloudy in spots, bright in others, created the kind of light people notice is particular to Paris. The city looked so beautiful. We kissed cheeks, waved, and descended slowly underground.

L’Ardoise, 28 rue Mont Thabor, e-mail : jaypierre@hotmail.fr
Reservations:+ 33 1 42 96 28 18

My friend Joby called to say that she and Ted had eaten at a small restaurant that no guide she looked through had thus far noticed. What made the lack of ratings even stranger was its location. It’s about a block from the Place de la Concorde metro stop, one parallel street north of the rue de Rivoli. How closer to the epicenter of Paris tourism can you get? She hoped I would go with them when they ate there again.

We arranged to meet there for dinner in mid-week. In semi-darkness, the outside of Ardoise was so innocuous and bland that I walked by it twice. The interior was no more encouraging. The colors of the walls and decoration fell somewhere on the color spectrum between beige and brown. The ambiance teetered on the edge between dowdy and kitsch. I noticed a staircase by the front door that led to an underground dining room. The narrow street level dining room could seat about 15 diners.

The woman serving us stood a tall chalkboard up on the unused chair at our table. We were impressed by the number of dishes offered. Ted and Joby were further impressed that they saw few repeats from the menu the week before. They offered a set menu of 3 courses for 34 euros, which we all thought was a pretty good deal.

Two of us ordered the same first course. On a round plate covered with a butter-yellow lemon sauce sat a rectangular pastry packet filled with a flavorful mince of escargots, poitrine fumée (bacon but better than bacon), and mushrooms. The homemade dough was a compromise between puff pastry and phyllo as it is made in home (not the commercial paper thin kind we associate with baklava). Alongside it was a small salad of bitter greens.

The other first course on the table arrived in an inflated aluminum balloon. When pierced, it released a cloud of aroma foretelling the presence inside of a pile of mussels and langoustines in a buttery broth.

For the main course, I had roast pidgeon, cut into four pieces, braised in a red wine reduction, and small potatoes. The pidgeon’s flesh was rosy, just as I like it. A little under seasoned but delicious.

The most interesting — and replicable at home — combination of flavors on the table were seared scallops sharing space on a scallop shell with a large spoonful of buttery pureed celeriac. We agreed that dish represented best the inspired fantasy of the chef.

Ted had a very tender piece of filet of beef with pommes Anna.

Of the three desserts we ordered, two were the usual pots de crème in various flavors. The winner was Ted’s chestnut soufflé, a truly seasonal dessert.

While we ate, we concentrated on and talked about the food. I looked up at one point and caught the woman who served us glancing at us surreptitiously with a smile on her face as she drew up a bill for another table. Her glance told me that this establishment has not yet become jaded. They still take pleasure in seeing people recognize and enjoy the quality of their food. The service, by the way, was excellent.

At the end of the meal, the three of us were so happy with what we’d eaten that a fear siezed me. “What if this meal turns out to be better than Taillevent?” I squeaked. Joby had succeeded in getting us reservations for lunch at one of the world’s best restaurant at the end of the following week. “It’s a possibility we’ll just have to face,” said Joby.

Au Bourguignon du Marais, 52 Rue François Miron, 01 48 87 15 40

I don’t care if the Marais is as trendy as Manhattan’s SoHo, it’s a cool neighborhood. Overpriced, noisy, and crowded, it is still a wonderful neighborhood to walk around.

On the recommendation of an old friend who knows Paris well, I stopped in for lunch at Au Bourgignon du Marais, a bistro that specializes in the traditional dishes of Burgundy. Considering its reputation, the restaurant is very casual, laid back even. I decided both to keep it simple and make it the main meal of the day. The menu contained all the clichés of a classic French bistro: onion soup gratin, andouillette au bourgogne aligoté (large sausage braised in white Burgunday wine). It also contained a surprising amount of seafood for a landlocked province.

But I went strictly traditional. Considering all the fuss around Julie & Julie, why not order the real boeuf bourgignon? I’m glad I did.

The server brought to my table one glass of red Burgundy wine and a small, round cast iron pot that was too hot to touch. Inside, I saw 3 large two-inch-by-two-inch cubes of beef, a few small, beviled-sided peeled potatoes, and a few mushrooms. The smell and flavors were identifiable as lardons, juniper, and red wine. The beef cubes did not fall apart at the urging of my fork, but, then, the eating public has only recently begun to expect its meat to fall off the bone. I stood down from the demand. Simplicity, in the best sense, prevailed in this dish. Distinguishable strands of flavor stood out and pleased me.

And I got out of there alive fiscally. A short walk south of rue Saint Antoine, near the Saint Paul metro stop will get you there.

Goumard, 9 rue Duphot. 01 42 60 36 07

My trip to Paris in February 2010 included far finer dining than any of my visits before. Aiding and abetting my culinary extravaganza were two friends, Ted and Joby, whose time in Paris overlapped with mine. Even with guilt dogging me, nipping at my heels as I tramped across Paris in search of restaurants on my own or with my friends, I dedicated the hours outside of work to gustatory pleasure.

Our first joint venture was to Goumard, a restaurant whose reputation rests on the chef’s handling of seafood. It is located on a street set at an oblique angle to the Madeleine. The guides claiamed it is one of the best of new restaurants. However, we felt it delivered less than what the food guides promised.

The dominant primary color in upstairs dining room is purple. Nearly every other hue in the room deviated from that standard — lilac, mauve, burgundy — all highlighted by trimmings and piping of various shades of green. Men in suits outnumbered less formally dressed women. A bald, older man, with a fur-trimmed parka over the back of his chair, ate alone at a table in the center of the room.

We each had as our entrée (or first course) a lobster risotto flavored with cilantro, parsley, and chives. The flavor that stood out — overwhelmed, even — was cilantro. The risotto tasted as though the chef had used the lightest of chicken broth. None of us could discern lobster, shrimp, or fish stock in the risotto, which, as far as we were concerned, constituted a serious flaw. It was not a rich risotto. Two of us thought it was much underseasoned. The Italians have a great word for food of this kind: insipido.

The pan-seared roasted skate fish served on a mound of half-mashed herbed potatoes pleased us more than the first course.

It was a unanimous opinion that the panna cotta, covered with a green tea cake and topped by a generous dollop of cream with a small scoop of lemon sorbet to the side, made us happiest.

One detail stood out boldly against the pale background of our food. The butter. The server placed a small, square pat of butter on the table. Half the square tasted like ordinary saltless butter. The other half was dotted with herbs, it seemed. I spread some on a small piece of bread. When I bit into it, the flavor of butter mixed with the briny taste of freshly shucked oyster liquor jumped up alive in my mouth. If I had had a dish of oysters in front of me and mopped up the oyster broth with a piece of bread, the flavor would not have been more pronounced. Delicious.

Unfortunately, we waited half an hour between our first course and the second. We protested to our server, who claimed the kitchen was backed up. We looked around us and saw others receiving their plates. An elegantly dressed and handsome man at the next table prepared to leave. As a tacit apology for the poor service, he passed us the remaining half of the bottle of Chablis he hadn’t finished. Suddenly we were made happy.

In the end, we felt it was a good start. Not exciting, but a good standard against which to measure our upcoming meals.

img_9452.jpgIt doesn’t look like much, does it? If ever there was a case for not judging a book by its cover, this is it. And I won’t detract from the stress I place on the quality by going straight to the cost. Let me begin with the food that Stéphane Rocher creates. My sister and I ate there twice. The list of our dishes looks like this:

  • Duck foie gras, sliced saucisson de Lyon with pistachios, and Brussels sprouts in broth — STRANGE and FABULOUS.
  • Warm roasted red peppers and chevre in alternating layers served with lightly dressed lettuce in one corner of the plate and thinly sliced jambon de Vendée (ham from the Vendée).
  • Roasted quails in light, creamy sauce with cèpes (otherwise known as porcini mushrooms) accompanied by a small gratin dauphinoise (potato gratin), made with a cream that made me want to lick the dish.
  • Duck confit roasted for 7 hours with roasted potatoes and garlic, but right before he brought it to table M. Rocher placed a thin slice of terrine de foie gras on top that melted like butter.

That was the first dinner. You get the idea. An interesting blend of tradition, innovation, and coronary disease. In a perfect world, I’d eat a meal like this once a month.

The second meal equally delighted us.

  • Ravioli de Roman, small ravioli in a light cream sauce made with chicken broth and topped with slivers of dark burgundy-colored jambon de Vendée.
  • Queue de boeuf (shredded meat from the tail) formed into a patty, lightly fried, topped with a thin slice of terrine de foie gras de canard, and accompanied by delicately dressed lettuce.
  • Veal chop in velouté de cèpes (mushroom cream sauce) served with a portion of lentils lightly perfumed with truffle oil and a small gratin dauphinois. I thought this dish was outstanding.
  • Roasted pidgeon on sauteed shallots, roasted chestnuts and puréed celeriac. Pidgeon breast is better than sliced duck breast, in my opinion.

Now for the price. Rocher has set two prices: a starter and main course cost 28 euros; a starter, main course, and dessert run 33 euros. That is a bargain by any standard.

I fear by posting this I may be poisoning the well. However, Rocher deserves to succeed in his endeavor. A quick search on google informs me that the secret is already out. But we were seated immediately on a Tuesday night and a Thursday night without reservations (ok, I got there at 7:30, I admit).

If you are saving yourself for one good splurge that will send you home well satisfied and full, go here — if you can find it. You will need a good map, even though it’s in the heart of Paris at the top of the Marais, near the metro stop, Arts et Métiers. 6, rue des Fontaines du Temple.

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