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Posts Tagged ‘Le Gaigne’

mackerel tartare starter at Restaurant Itineraires (Paris, 5th)

mackerel tartare starter at Restaurant Itineraires (Paris, 5th)

Jon’s parents visited us in London last week, so we decided to take a quick 4th of July trip to Paris. Our 32 hours there didn’t allow for too many meals, but we did manage to revisit Itineraires for dinner and Le Comptoir for lunch.

Itineraires was just as (if not more) delicious and wonderful an experience as it was last November when we first ate there. Le Comptoir, however, was much less appealing than it was last March.

Despite the restaurant’s ever-growing fame, the menu at Itineraires is still 29 euros for two courses and 36 euros for three. The portions are still large enough that we didn’t make it to dessert; the food is still creative and delicious; and the service is still warm and friendly enough that we couldn’t help lingering for hours after we’d finished eating.

creme de lentilles soup at Restaurant Itineraires

creme de lentilles soup at Restaurant Itineraires

Given how sweltering the weather was in Paris last weekend, we were *very* happy that Itineraires offered a number of cold, refreshing starters: white asparagus soup and creme de lentilles were chilled and pretty much best in class. My mackerel tartare starter, while a bit over-colorful, was perfect for the summer weather – meaty but cool. And did you see? Itineraires got yet another star turn in the New York Times last weekend , courtesy of Mark Bittman. [Of course, in the same article, he was also super pleased with Le Gaigne, which I didn’t think was in the same league as Itineraires. But you can’t ignore Mickael Gaignon’s pedigree, I suppose.]

In any event, be sure to try Itineraires if you haven’t already. It’s impossibly lovely, especially considering it’s located in tourist ground zero, about ten minutes’ walk from Notre Dame.

As for Le Comptoir – this was our third time there for lunch. Le Comptoir’s appeal lies in its super-handy location in the 6th, its movie-perfect old-fashioned bistro looks, and the tons and tons of hype it gets. But I think it’s suffering from its popularity. Service was brusque and needed lots of reminding; the greens in three of our salad starters looked and tasted bruised and tired; and I didn’t enjoy having to explain that they’d over-charged us 5 euros on an already-pricey lobster bisque (of which we’d ordered three). Overall, it was still a decent place for lunch in that part of town, but everything from the service to the food seemed sloppy. Even at a relatively-modest 25 euros per person for starter and main, it was too much money. Next time I’m in the 6th, I’ll try L’Epigramme instead.

Restaurant Itineraires, 5 rue de Pontoise, 5th, 01-46-33-60-11; closed Sundays and Mondays. Closest metro: Maubert-Mutualite (10).

Le Comptoir du Relais, 9, Carrefour de l’Odeon, +33 (0)1 44 27 07 97. Closest Metro: Odeon

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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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Galerie Vivienne in Paris

Galerie Vivienne in Paris

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a francophile. For example, when I was 18 years old, one of my university applications asked me to describe my ideal roommate, and my answer was: “Her name is Chantal. She’s French.” And while that particular preference went ungranted, I did spend a couple of years at university learning to speak and write half-decent French.

In any event, one of the many things I love about living in London is the proximity of Paris. So, hot on the heels of our trip to Barcelona, Jon and I found ourselves on the Eurostar, pulling into Gare du Nord to celebrate our six-year wedding anniversary.

sixth-floor room at the Grand Hotel Francais, Paris (11th)

sixth-floor room at the Grand Hotel Francais, Paris (11th)

Having had a great experience at the Grand Hotel Francais the last time we were in Paris, Jon and I decided to return. Zyad, the hotel manager, remembered us, and upon hearing we were in town for our anniversary, he upgraded us to a large top-floor room with a small balcony. At 120 euros a night, the hotel’s standard rooms are a strong value, but our upgraded room was really a steal. If you’re looking for glitzy infrastructure (i.e., lavish lobby and floral arrangements), give it a skip. But if you want to stay in a hotel with friendly staff and stylish rooms in a quiet, pretty neighborhood on the right bank, give GHF a try.

In addition to enjoying two relaxing, tasty meals at much-talked-about Le Baratin and Le Gaigne (which will get their own posts), Jon and I were finally able to visit the no-frills-yet-high-end kitchenware shop, E. Dehillerin. (In the past, we’ve managed to visit the shop only when it’s closed). The place basically has no back inventory room, so everything they sell is jumbled onto rickety shelves, as if you’re shopping in – well, a back inventory room. There are no price tags, which is a bit of a hassle, because it means that if you’re interested in buying something, you have to hand the goods to a sales person who then looks up the price in a catalog that appears to have been printed using a dot-matrix printer (full employment, anyone?). Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find Mauviel copper pots and pans at a better price elsewhere.

cheeky, funny packaging at Pierre Herme

cheeky, funny packaging at Pierre Herme

In addition to loading up on passionfruit and salted-caramel macarons (with a little Ispahan sorbet thrown in) at Pierre Herme, we noticed that Pierre Herme has some cheeky (though, happily, sturdy) new packaging for his macarons. In case you can’t make it out in the photo above, the macaron boxes now show a series of Paris landmarks, followed by an image of Pierre Herme “and his famous macaron.”

mini financiers from Maison Kayser

mini financiers from Maison Kayser

At Zyad’s suggestion, we bought not only the usual outstanding baguettes, croissants and pain au lardon (aka bacon bread) at Maison Eric Kayser, but also mini-financiers in plain, chocolate and pistachio flavors. I loved these little guys. Nutty and sweet, with a moist, chewy center. Growing up, I loved eating chocolate Dunkin Donuts Munchkins, and these financiers brought those to mind (except with these financiers, you can taste real bittersweet chocolate instead of just cloying sugar icing).

The weather being fair and sunny, we velib’d everywhere, including to the Pere Lachaise cemetery, which we’ve never visited before. And it really isn’t as depressing as it sounds. It’s more like a park that happens to have graves in it.

Of course, all that biking and walking around made us hungry again, and one of the best things about Pere Lachaise is that it’s not far from Belleville. And on a Sunday, that means it’s banh mi time (because, frankly, almost every other place you’d want to eat is closed on Sunday).

porc banh mi at Dong Tam in Belleville, Paris

porc banh mi at Dong Tam in Belleville, Paris

This time, instead of visiting C&Z’s highly-recommended Saigon Sandwich, whose sandwich skimped a bit too much on the pickled crudite (but which I liked because the guy making the sandwiches took such obvious time and care to craft each sandwich), we tried the bustling, crowded Dong Tam (which uses the same font and coloring as the Dong Huang restaurant down the block, but above the awning it still says “Panda Belleville”).

Three women behind the counter were assembling sandwiches at lightning speed, and I liked that they were piling on the pickled carrots. You can get a speciale (porc and poulet lamine) for 2.80; a poulet (grilled skewers of moist, dark chicken meat) for 2.80, a normal (pork roti and pate de porc) at 2.50 and a vegetarian for 2.20 (not sure what’s in there).

Jon and I ordered two speciale and a poulet and then hopped on the metro to enjoy our banh mi while watching the crowds in the Tuileries.

Pluses of these banh mi: 1. tons of pickled veg – I love that sweet-vinegary crunch. 2. fresh coriander and cucumber. 3. creamy-sweet kewpie mayo. 4. generous, juicy portions of grilled chicken (on the poulet). 5. crunchy baguette. 6. low price.

Downsides of these banh mi: 1. still skimpy on the roast pork (i.e., three microscopically-thin slices in our normale, and the pate is a bit rubbery, like cheap bologna slices; and 2. no chilli peppers.

Still, it made for a perfect lunch in the sunshine, and heaven knows I’ve searched Kingsland Road in vain for banh mi in London. But next time I’m in Paris, I’ll continue looking for the perfect banh mi.

Grand Hotel Francais, 223, boulevard Voltaire, 11th; +33 1 43 71 27 57; closest metro: rue des Boulets (9) or Nation (1, 2, 6, 9, RER A)

Le Baratin, 3, rue Jouye-Rouve, 20th, +33 1 43 49 39 70; closest metro: Pyrenees or Belleville (11); closed Sun and Mon

Restaurant Le Gaigne, 12, Rue Pecquay, 4th; +33 1 44 59 86 72; closest metro: Rambuteau (11); closed Sun lunch and Mon

E. Dehillerin, 18 rue Coquilliere (cross: Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau), 1st; closest metro: Etienne Marcel(4); closed Sun

Pierre Herme, 4 rue Cambon, 1st; +33 1 58 62 43 17; closest metro: Tuileries (1); closed Sun and Mon

Maison Eric Kayser, 309, rue de Faubourg Saint-Antoine, 11th; +1 49 79 01 76; closest metro: Nation (1, 2, 6, 9, RER A); closed Sundays [though the Rue Monge location near Maubert Mutualite is open on Sunday, which is fab]

Dong Tam, 16, rue Louis Bonnet, 11th; closest metro:  Belleville (11)

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