Paris: Bar Le Passage

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.

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.