Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Some Paris Observations - Nombre Une

Okay, it's time. We've been back from our excellent European vacation for a few days now - the jet-lag has almost worn off, and before my memory totally deserts me, I gotta get a few things down. And here, in nombre une, I want to compare our experiences at two restaurants, both of which receive their fair share of hype.

First up, Le Chateaubriand. Now, Le C gets written up all over the place...goog it and see what I mean. On a trip to Paris a few years ago, we ate at chef Iñaki Aizpitarte's La Famille restaurant, and were duly impressed. Me with the food, and Significant Eater with the guys serving it. Chef moved on to open Le C in '06, in an old grocery store in the 11th, and the raves came even faster than before. I mean, THE RAVES. The restaurant is rated #11 in S. Pellegrino's World's 50 Best Restaurants thingie. Number 11? 50 Best? Hmmmm.

Le C has a 5 course tasting menu (at dinner) that everyone gets. That's all they serve, it's 50 euros, and that's that. Our meal started off with gougères and moved quickly into 4 amuse-bouche, this night consisting of a single frog's leg, ceviche liquid served with a cube of avocado in it, salmon eggs with tapioca pearls and beef bouillion served in the style of miso soup. Now, these were okay, but special? Not really. From there, we moved on to what was probably my favorite dish of the night, the salad of scallops with lots of thin slices of vegetables, dressed beautifully and looking like a painting one might see...perhaps a Soutine at the Musee de l'Orangerie.

The powder is tamarind powder, and its slightly sweet and sour flavor made this salad literally sing. Next up was a fish course...bar (Mediterranean sea bass), iirc, served with briny clams and broccoli raab....

Here's where things started to go a little haywire, as the dish took a long time to come out of the kitchen, and when it finally arrived, it was lukewarm and any evidence of crispy skin on that fillet was long gone.

Following that - a chicken course; this one a yellow chicken (they have all sorts of colors of chicken in France), cooked beautifully but again very slow to arrive from the kitchen...

Desserts were to follow, and after about 15 minutes I gently inquired if they were perhaps on the way...I don't think I got a really nice look, and then both desserts showed up at the same time, even though I saw them being served successively at other tables.

So...a top 50 restaurant? Sorry, but not in my book. However, the (sullen) boys are as cute as ever...even S. Pellegrino thinks so..."not to mention one of the best-looking brigades in the business." Enough of a reason to return. For you maybe, but not me.

The next night was Thanksgiving and our last night in Paris. I had reserved a week or so before at the rue Saint-Honoré outpost of the legendary La Régalade, the restaurant in the far out 14th that allegedly begat the whole bistronomic movement. Significant Eater and I ate at that one on our first (or maybe second) trip to Paris a dozen or so years ago, when it was in its heyday. Then a hard table to book, impossibly crowded and utterly delicious. So now, what?

Well, there's much hand wringing on various web sites slash forums populated by all sorts of food loving know-it-alls (including moi, btw). It has tumbled terrifically, they say. For instance, the terrine, which is a help-yourself beauty if ever there was one, is placed on every table at the start of the meal, along with a crock of cornichons and some wonderful bread - but, without plates! Sacré bleu - what's a diner to do? I dunno - but Sig Eater and I made a dent in it, plates be damned - and it went just fine with our coupes of Brut. Or they write that the service has slipped terribly - perhaps the house is looking for ways to save money, mon ami(e)? Friggin' nonsense. We were greeted warmly by the staff, asked if we would prefer to converse in English or French, and taken care of with grace and humor for the rest of the evening. And here's a catch - if you think the "brigade" is cute at Le Chateaubriand, the ladies serving at La Regalade put them to shame.

So, how was the meal? Here's how it started...

3 courses for 33 euros, with a blackboard of specials off to the side; the specials do add a supplement to the price, but at 33 euros, really - who's complaining? SE started with scallops, served in their shells, and with scallops served in practically every darn restaurant in Paris, these weren't particularly stand-out-ish, but were fine nonetheless. As an aside, I think the fresh scallops I get at the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC are better than any that I've had in Paris, but...that's just me.

My entree was soupe de potimarron, a pumpkin-like squash which also appears on many menus around town this time of year. This one was spectacular, loaded with crispy lardon and topped with a pair of roasted shrimp. I shared, but didn't really want to...

For our plats, SE chose the braised beef cheek, a rich, hulking tender mass of boeuf if ever there was one...

Since it was Thanksgiving, I wanted something that had wings. So, from the supplemental menu I ordered red partridge, partridge being a bird which I think I may have had once in my life when it was cooked (and delicious) over a fireplace by my friend Judith, of Aroma Cucina fame.

Though the picture doesn't do it justice, the bird was cooked perfectly; the breast tender and juicy and the little legs crispy and just this side of gamey. A revelation for the second time, and Chinatown markets, here I come...

Dessert for me was the Grand Marnier soufflé chaud, while Sig opted (as she often does) for the cheese instead. The cheese was merely wonderful; my soufflé was merely (as I posted on one of those know-it-all food boards) textbook...

There you have it; though my comparison of these two restaurants will be merely a blip in cyberspace, the arguments and battles and postings and hand-wringing will wager on. For me, La Régalade Saint-Honoré was the better of the two. It's not on the world's 50 best, but it makes my top 10 meals of the year.


  1. I'm hungry. NOW.
    Mon dieu, what's a girl to do?

  2. Mitch, looks pretty good and you didn't have to cook. That souffle looks yummy.

  3. Testing ability to post:

    Did it work?

  4. It worked.

    Interestingly, the security code word was "duuch".