Paris: L’Ardoise

L’Ardoise, 28 rue Mont Thabor, e-mail :
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.

Paris: Au Bourguignon du Marais

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.

Paris: Goumard

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.