En route to Burgundy for a week of cycling and wine tasting, Jon and I decided to spend a weekend in Paris. Trouble was that our trip fell in late August, when lots of desirable restaurants are still closed, pending la rentree in September (L’Agrume, I’m looking at you). Of course, Paris is a big city, so of course we didn’t starve. The executive summary? Le Chateaubriand and Spring Restaurant are worth visiting even when you have all the choice in the world (i.e., even if it’s not August). And I won’t be revisiting La Fontaine de Mars and L’Aromatik anytime soon.
Le Chateaubriand has a number of attractions despite its lack of Michelin stars. For example:
- It’s passed muster with familiar and trusted London food bloggers like Gourmet Chick, Gourmet Traveller and Greedy Diva.
- It has the distinction of being number 11 on this year’s San Pelligrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (gotta love the chutzpah of claiming to rank every restaurant in the *world*, no?);
- It’s in the 11th arrondissement, which, over the last three years, has become my favorite area for exploration. Between the Vietnamese wonders of Belleville (yes it’s technically in the 20th, but close enough), the presence of several other food-lover hotspots, and the charms of my fave hotel in Paris, the 11th is worthy of many blog posts, which I will spare you for now; and
- It’s open in late August. Bonus points for having a walk-in-only 10 pm seating. Meaning that if your Eurostar pulls into Gare du Nord a bit later than expected on a Friday night, no worries. Parfait.
Le Chateaubriand’s menu is simple: for your 50 euros, you’re served five courses with a few amuses thrown in. As you’d expect from a kitchen that changes its menu daily and pushes the creative envelope, there are hits and misses. For me, the hits were the grilled squid course, served practically raw but somehow still charcoal-smoky, and the rare, tender pigeon, complemented in texture and flavor by blanched almonds. Dessert, comprised of berries with ice milk made of corn milk, was a miss, tasting mostly like Cap’n Crunch cereal, except not as tasty. There’s good cheese and bread (Poujauran, bien sur), and a quirky wine list (our server’s recommendation of “La Roumanie Conte” was a hipster’s homage to La Romanee Conti, I suppose).
Definitely a place to return with friends. Not so much for a quiet night out, though. In fact, much as I loved Le Chateaubriand’s casual bistro decor and buzzy mood, I wouldn’t bring my parents here. The vibe was pretty rockstar and even I, in my energetic 30s, felt a bit old and dowdy. Maybe it’s different if you show up before the 10 pm seating? And note the restaurant no longer serves lunch, which makes perfect sense considering that when Jon and I left at well after midnight, the place was still packed.
Spring is much adored by the Paris food press (click here for a sample of the adoration). Chef-owner Daniel Rose is American, and the restaurant is located around the corner from the Louvre, so I wasn’t surprised to find a heavy anglophone contingent among diners when we turned up for Saturday lunch. I reckon the jewel box, zen-chic restaurant would normally close for August, but seeing as how Spring’s snazzy 1st arrondissement location just opened several weeks ago (in July 2010), it’s no surprise they stayed open in August. Lucky for me. The trick is that when you book for Saturday lunch in August, you’re agreeing to eat only one thing when you arrive: lobster rolls.
I’ll admit I felt kind of silly showing up in Paris to eat such a classic American sandwich. But I was eager to see the new space, and I figured that with a week of eating in Burgundy ahead of me, an early break from “French food” would be no bad thing.
Thumbs up on the lobster roll: sweet, almost-raw chunks of lobster meat, lightly dressed and carefully arranged on a buttered, toasted roll. For 24 euros, I thought the portion was a bit meager, but that’s where the 6-euros-a-portion fries come in. With the restaurant floor-to-ceiling windows thrown open on a sunny afternoon, the atmosphere was relaxed and summery. A good lunch, but I left without a sense of what makes the restaurant so highly regarded. So I’ll look forward to the inevitable flood of blog posts about dinner there.
Finding an open restaurant on Sunday is challenging under the best of circumstances in Paris (which means I usually spend Sundays in Belleville for Vietnamese food). In August, the task seems impossible. This is when popular-with-anglophone tourist spots prove their value. They’re always open, it seems. And so we found ourselves meeting a friend for an early Sunday lunch at La Fontaine de Mars, whose latest claim to fame is last summer’s Obama visit. The food ranged from mediocre-and-expensive (roast chicken with mashed potatoes for 20 euros) to pretty-good-and-expensive (escalope of foie gras for 30 euros). All the bistro classics are there, with nods to Burgundy (oeufs en meurette and escargots).
Pet peeve alert: when we arrived, the servers told us all the outdoor tables were specifically reserved, so we were seated at an indoor table. And when we left – I kid you not – all the outdoor tables were still empty. All of them.
Overall, the place could have been worse, but unless you find yourself dying of starvation while visiting the Eiffel Tower, there are plenty of other, similarly-attractive bistros serving the same dishes at half the price. I will give them this, though: supremely clean, comfortable loos. No wonder my countrymen love it so.
Exacerbating the “everything’s closed in August” problem was my failure to make restaurant bookings until two days before we arrived in Paris (Rino actually laughed when I rang up on Wednesday looking for a Saturday night table). So I scoured the blogs of two trusted sources of Paris restaurant intell and came across this post and this post about L’Aromatik in the 9th. Attractive bistro serving simple, well-prepared dishes on its 35-euro prix fixe menu. Sounds good, no?
Sadly, while the art deco-tiled space is indeed attractive, the food was pretty mediocre. Take, for example, Jon’s roulade of cod (pictured above). There was way too much going on on that plate, and really, I can make bacon-wrapped cod at home. My supreme de pintadeau Maury et nectarines caramelisees au sechuan wasn’t much better. The nectarines were crunchy and raw (definitely not caramelised), and I didn’t taste or see any sechuan influence. So basically, I was served chicken with nectarines on the side. Desserts were of the sort that get served at large catered events.
Our server, perfectly nice, kept trying to steer us away from the prix fixe and towards the much-pricier a la carte, so that was a bummer, too. On the whole, L’Aromatik struck me as no good. Not even good as a neighborhood place, really.
Le Chateaubriand, 129 Avenue Parmentier, 11th arrondissement; +33 1 43 57 45 95; closest metro: Goncourt
Spring Restaurant, 6 Rue Bailleul, 1st arrondissement; + 33 1 58 62 44 30; closest metro: Louvre-Rivoli
La Fontaine de Mars, 129 Rue Saint-Dominique, 7th arrondissement; +33 1 47 05 46 44; closest metro: Ecole Militaire or La Tour-Maubourg
L’Aromatik, 7 Rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, 9th arrondissement; +33 1 48 74 62 27; closest metro: Trinite d’Estienne d’Orves, Saint-Georges or Liege
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