There’s a time and a place for everything, and in the case of Restaurant Le Gaigne in the Marais, I suspect its small, intimate dining room would be brilliant for a romantic dinner or relaxed night out with friends. For lunch on a Saturday afternoon, though, it was too empty and quiet. And at 100 euros for two starters, two mains, and three glasses of wine, it’d be well-priced for dinner, but was a bit expensive for a relatively-quick lunch.
Perhaps it was empty because the lunch menu on Saturdays is priced identically to the dinner menu. Or maybe it was because it was a holiday weekend and all the Parisians left town? I was baffled by Le Gaigne’s emptiness because the place has gotten a lot of glowing press recently (see e.g., eGullet’s John Talbott here and Gourmet‘s Alexander Lobrano here).
In any case, Le Gaigne’s chef/owner Mickael Gaignon has quite a pedigree (Le Pre Catelan, Pierre Gaignaire and Gaya), and the Marais is one of my favorite neighborhoods, so Jon and I looked forward to some outstanding food (especially of the marine life variety given the Gaya thing).
There’s a five-course tasting menu for 39 euros, which would’ve been amazing value if we’d been up for a long meal, but because Jon and I had places to go, people to see, we went a la carte. Starters on the brief menu were 12-18 euros; mains 24-26 euros; and desserts were all 8 euros.
Based on our amuse of rich, creamy feve (broad bean) soup and my petits pois veloute, I’d say soups are a strong point at Le Gaigne. My starter tasted the way fresh, sweet petits pois should – like a warm, sunny garden. And the mackerel was powerful (salty and oily) enough to cut through the peas’ sweet creaminess. The chorizo crisp was sadly flavorless, but it did add a nice splash of color to the dish, which was otherwise not much to look at.
Jon’s asparagus starter was good, though there was a lot going on on his plate. The green and white spears of asparagus were sweet and soft-firm, and they would’ve been great on their own. But served with chevre and herbs on a blini along with a confit of duck gizzard, the asparagus was just one of three independent starters that happened to be sharing a plate.
My pan-fried calamari was tasty and well-prepared (i.e., tasting of the sea and easy to eat/not rubbery), but perhaps again, there was too much going on on the plate. The accompanying “caviar d’aubergine et legumes printaniers” sounded a lot better in French than it tasted. The eggplant puree was super salty and a bit gloppy, drowning the wonderful veg underneath. I also didn’t like how my food was shaped to look like a fish. It seemed silly and childish rather than clever and charming. (Maybe I’d have thought differently under the soft lighting of evening bistro dining).
Jon’s skate was beautiful: buttery-crispy skin with moist, sweet flesh. A bistro classic well executed.
Overall, it was a good meal, but I wondered if perhaps the kitchen’s A Team was away on holiday. The ingredients were beautiful, and most of the cooking was very tasty. But the dishes needed some paring down. Then again, it could be just a case of mis-matched expectations: I was looking for a simple, relaxing-but-not-too-long neo-bistro meal, and the restaurant is much more ambitious than that, I think.
Service was friendly, attentive and unobtrusive, so if you go and you’ve got the time, you definitely should choose the 39-euro tasting menu over the a la carte.
Restaurant Le Gaigne, 12 Rue Pecquay, 4th; +33 1 44 59 86 72; closest metro: Rambuteau (11).