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Archive for May 21st, 2009

interior of Restaurant Le Gaigne in the Marais, Paris

interior of Restaurant Le Gaigne in the Marais, Paris

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.

chilled sweet pea soup and mackerel tartare at Restaurant Le Gaigne in the Marais, Paris

chilled sweet pea soup and mackerel tartare at Restaurant Le Gaigne in the Marais, Paris

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.

l'encornet Breton (pan-fried calamari rings from Brittany) at Le Gaigne, Paris

l'encornet Breton (pan-fried calamari rings from Brittany) at Le Gaigne,

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).

skate with capers at Le Gaigne

la raie francaise farcie aux capres et a la moutarde a l'ancienne (skate stuffed with capers and grain mustard)

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).

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