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Posts Tagged ‘Paris restaurants’

Le Chateaubriand restaurant, still busy at 10 pm on a Friday in late August

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:

  1. It’s passed muster with familiar and trusted London food bloggers like Gourmet Chick, Gourmet Traveller and Greedy Diva.
  2. 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?);
  3. 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
  4. 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.

grilled squid at Le Chateaubriand

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.

The newly-reopened Spring restaurant in the 1st

lobster roll at Spring, 24 euros (served only during Saturday lunch in August)

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.

escalope of foie gras (30 euros) at La Fontaine de Mars in the 7th

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.

L'Aromatik in the 9th

roulade de cabillaud (cod) at L'Aromatik

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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kaiseki-style starters ("zors d'oeuvres") (6 for 20 euros)

Hype. We’ve all fallen for it. Last weekend, having read a few blurbs in favor of William Ledeuil’s recently-opened “casual” venture, Kitchen Galerie Bis (see here in French, here and here in English, for example), I thought we’d give it a go, despite the fact that the earliest available table was at 10:15 pm. (On the flip side, I figured if the only table available was at 10:15 pm, then at least I knew for sure it was a much-in-demand place).

We arrived on time, and yes, the place was packed. And KGB really looked the part of an art gallery with its high-ceilinged, spare white room and walls hung with paintings.

The food is Asian-accented (unlike at Thoumieux, we knew this part going in). The first courses are named something hokey –instead of hors d’oeuvres, you get “zors d’oeuvres” in a nod to Ledeuil’s flagship “Ze Kitchen Galerie“– but they were the best part of our meal. Zors d’oeuvres can be ordered in sets of 3, 4 or 6, so Jon and I split six, and what arrived at our table was a kaiseki-looking treat of small dishes. See photo above. Clockwise from top left:

  • Foie gras cubes in a duck consomme
  • Prawn avocado with beets and citrus-zesty reduction
  • Seared tuna with radish and a sugary-salty miso condiment
  • Pork won ton with coconut milk and ginger Thai-style frothy-brothy deal
  • Deep fried lamb kofte with sweet chilli dipping sauce
  • Carrot-turmeric soup froth with grilled mushrooms

The prawn, tuna, lamb and carrot soup were stand-outs for the mix of textures and flavors. Great examples of French food with an Asian accent. From the zors d’oeuvres (it pains me to keep writing that), I can see why Ledeuil has die-hard fans.

scallops with a hint of lemongrass and coconut milk

The rest of the meal was fine, but not super exciting. Our two mains (scallops for me, sea bream for Jon) looked more interesting than they tasted. I figured if the dishes are going to be “just” well-prepared but unsurprising, then I’d rather be eating in a warm, comfortable old bistro than in a see-and-be seen contemporary art space.

sea bream

Our server was professional but perfunctory. He must’ve been slammed that night because he was awful about getting us our carafe d’eau, which is usually never a problem in Paris.

Main courses mostly fell in the 20-25 euro range, so with a cheap and cheerful bottle of wine (from Gascony, I think), our total for starters and two mains was 95 euros.

I’d go back if I wanted to impress super-trendy friends or if I stopped in only for a few zors d’oeuvres.

KGB, 25 rue des Grand Augustins, 6th, +33 (0)1-46-33-00-85. Metro: Odeon.

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interior of Thoumieux in the 7th arrondissement, now owned by the Costes brothers

interior of Thoumieux brasserie in the 7th arrondissement

I was back in Paris last weekend, and of course had to eat.

Thoumieux is one of these places that’s been around for a hundred years and is too close to a tourist attraction (Les Invalides) to  interest me normally. But about a year ago, the Costes brothers and a pedigreed chef, Jean-Francois Piege, took over, and last week, Francois Simon wrote that Thoumieux’s soul was “back,” which was “sans doute one of the best pieces of news of the season.” So how could I resist?

 

Thoumieux bread and butter and sardine pate

We knew we were in for a treat based on the quality of the freebie bread (crusty and crackly), butter (so rich it’s better than cheese) and sardine pate.

 

frisee salad with a poached egg and royale of smoked lardons (10 euros)

Years and years ago, I had the best frisee, lardons and poached egg salad of my life at Au Moulin a Vent (Chez Henri) in the 5th. I’ve tried to recreate that classic salad’s creamy porky glory at home to no avail. But the updated version at Thoumieux finally surpasses my memory of even that long-ago salad. Instead of lardons, there was a rich lardon-infused cream waiting to be scooped up from the bottom of my bowl, along with bites of crispy croutons for texture. The acidic tang of vinaigrette balanced all the creaminess of warm egg yolk and meaty deliciousness.  I’d go back to Thoumieux just for this salad.

 

wild calamari salad prepared in a carbonara style (10 euros)

Jon’s “calamar sauvage prepare a la carbonara” was served as slivers of fresh calamari “spaghetti,” which was playful and delish. There’s no more comforting a combo than warm egg yolk and hot, crispy lardons.

Basically, if I’d ordered my frisee salad along with this calamari salad, I’d have had the perfect lunch at Thoumieux.

 

slow cooked "Oteiza" pork belly with onion crackling and Puy lentils (19 euros)

But alas, the mains we tried were much less successful than our starters. There was a lot more “Asian” influence that just didn’t work out. My pork belly had a strong turmeric/curry flavor, and one of the two pieces of pork belly on my plate was 100% fat. Now, I love pork belly as much as the next girl, but even I draw the line at a block of pure pork fat. Especially for 19 euros.

 

fish of the day: scallops prepared Thai style with a rice cake (21 euros)

Jon’s scallops were a bit anemic-looking and -tasting and overwhelmed by the accompanying Thai-coconut sauce.

 

chocolate, apple and lemon tarts (8 euros a slice)

Overall, Thoumieux was a wonderful place to have lunch, because the salads were so outstanding; the servers so professional (I love when tap water is constantly refilled unobtrusively – and oh, did I mention?  the servers were extremely good looking); the room so congenial; and the atmosphere so buzzy (the room was packed with happy groups of families and friends by 1 pm).

Though I was eh on our mains, based on the excellence of our two starters, I’d give other items on the menu a try.  The place certainly does have soul, and based on our starters, it also has talent in the kitchen.  So order something other than the scallops and pork belly, and let me know how it goes.

Our tab for two starters, two mains and a half-bottle of wine totaled 82 euros.

Thoumieux, 79 Rue Saint-Dominique, 7th arrondissement, Paris; +33 (0)1.47.05.49.75; closest metro: La Tour Mauborg.  Icing on the cake:  Thoumieux is open 7 days a week (i.e., it’s a place to eat on Sunday!)

[For the French speakers among you, see also this 17 Nov 09 review in Le Figaro, and this 19 Nov 09 review in L’Express, both glowing with praise.]

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Le Cambodge Restaurant, Canal St Martin, Paris

Le Cambodge Restaurant, Canal St.-Martin, Paris

Jon and I started our Loire Valley cycling trip by taking the Eurostar to Paris last weekend. In fact, we set off for Chartres just as the Tour de France pulled into town.

Predicting that we had a full week of French-only food options ahead of us, we wanted to avoid eating French food while in Paris. Additionally, thanks to last year’s Frugal Traveler Grand Tour series, Jon and I have been meaning to visit the much-hyped Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood of Paris (which somehow we haven’t had time to visit during our three other visits to Paris over the last few months).

So, I looked up Canal St.-Martin restaurants on this BlackBook site, which is great for searching by neighborhood and has well-edited, up-to-date Paris restaurant tips, and voila, it was between Le Cambodge (serving Cambodian food) and Japanese-inspired Ploum. Knowing that it’d be the last weekend of the Paris sales (Bon Marche, je t’aime) and not wanting to commit in advance to a dinner reservation time lest I run out of sale shopping time, I opted for the walk-in-only appeal of Restaurant Le Cambodge.

As the photo above attests (and as described in Blackbook’s blurb about Le Cambodge), there was indeed a queue when we rocked up at just after 8 pm on a Saturday night. On the plus side, everyone queuing spoke French and I figured the food *must* be good for a queue to be forming. On the down side, it was annoying to queue. The restaurant will take down your mobile number and ring you when a table is free, but we waited around in case the restaurant didn’t want to bother calling a UK number and just skipped us.

pate imperiale at Le Cambodge in Paris

pate imperiale at Le Cambodge in Paris

Le Cambodge had a lively, intimate atmosphere. In fact, it’s much like a charming, hidden-away bistro, except that it serves Cambodian food. The server hands out menus, papers and pens, and your job as a diner is to write down your own order. At first I thought that this system was genius (to speed things along in light of there being a single server for the entire restaurant). But then I realized that while you saved time writing down your own order, the sole server had a b*tch of a time keeping up with all the dishes as they were completed. We could see our dishes on the bar counter, waiting to be served. Perhaps Le Cambodge should just do away with the server all together and go self-service all the way.

Not knowing anything, really, about Cambodian food, Jon and I ordered haphazardly. Pates imperiaux sounded impressive. They turned out to be cha gio, which of course is hardly a disappointment. Even though they looked a bit ugly (seems like they were fried in a re-used oil?), they tasted good, chock full of pork, prawn and rice noodle bits and served with a nuoc cham. At 8.50 euros for six, it’s a fair deal, but pricey in an absolute sense. My personal preference would be for a smaller portion at a lower price.

prawn roulade at Le Cambodge in Paris

prawn rouleau at Le Cambodge in Paris

The prawn rouleau was a bad value dish, even at the modest price of 6.50 euros. I wasn’t expecting it to look like a loosely-packed burrito. In any event, the stuffing consisted of two prawns sliced paper-thin, which were overwhelmed by the tons of rice vermicelli stuffing. Very bland and not worth ordering unless you love to eat flavorless rice vermicelli wrapped up in an equally-flavorless rice-flour crepe.

lacquered pork at Le Cambodge in Paris

lacquered pork (porc au caramel) at Le Cambodge in Paris

While the porc au caramel turned out to be more braised than lacquered, it was tender and fragrant. After polishing off the indulgently-fatty pieces of pork, I downed all the sauce as well. It was one of those sauces that you could eat all day when accompanied with plain, white rice.

Our total for two starters, two mains, and a 13-euro bottle of wine came to 50 euros.

Le Cambodge is a fun place in a currently-cool part of town. It serves enjoyable, simple dishes that seem to have a lot in common with Vietnamese food. The bottom line is that if you tire of French food while in Paris and/or want to eat where the other diners are all French, Le Cambodge is worth a try.

Restaurant Le Cambodge; 10, avenue Richerand (quai de Jemmapes), 10th arrondissement; +33 1 44 84 37 70; closest metro: Republique.

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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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ultra-rare "Iberico" steak on black beans at Le Baratin, Paris

ultra-rare "Iberico" steak on black beans at Le Baratin, Paris

Because Jon and I were in Paris during a French holiday weekend, a lot of the places I wanted to try (Jadis and L’Epigramme, among others) were closed for the holiday.  Luckily, the hard-working husband-wife duo of Le Baratin in Belleville kept things open that weekend.

What I read online indicated that this out-of-the-way bistro is where Yves Camdeborde, Pierre Hermé, Joël Robuchon and Alain Ducasse like to eat when they’re off duty.  And well, if it’s good enough for them, it’s definitely good enough for me.

The bistro had the buzzy feel of a neighborhood favorite, and compared to the boho chic of the French-speaking diners around us, Jon and I were painfully over-dressed.  But we quickly got over our self-consciousness when it became our turn to read the menu on the chalkboard, which was brought over to our table as soon as the last table was done ordering.  True bistro style.

pollack tartare with raspberry dressing at Le Baratin, Paris

lieu jaune (pollack) tartare with raspberry dressing at Le Baratin, Paris

Still feeling a bit full from our lunch, I started with a tartare de lieu jaune (pollack) served in a sweet-and-tart raspberry dressing.   The dish was light and fresh, though some of the pollack was a tad stringy (odd).  After seeing a mouthwatering, generous portion of seared foie gras go by, I regretted not getting that starter instead.

Jon’s Iberico steak (I’ve never seen Iberico as an adjective to anything other than pig) with black beans was stellar. The dish wasn’t much to look at, but the steak was juicy and raw-in-the-middle, and our marriage might have ended had Jon not granted me more of the accompanying thick, creamy, almost-fluffy black beans (apparently smoked in a Japanese style).

braised joue de cochon (pork cheeks) at Le Baratin

braised joue de cochon (pork cheeks) at Le Baratin

Main courses were simple and delicious.  Nothing fancy about them, which is perhaps the draw for all those Michelin-starred chefs who are looking to escape everything that reminds them of their jobs.  I ordered joue de cochon (pork cheeks), which were braised perfectly (until unctuous and fork-tender) and served with classic limp French vegetables.

raie (skate) at Le Baratin

raie (skate) at Le Baratin

Jon’s order of (yet more) skate was golden-and-crisp-skinned, and not only was it prettier than the version we’d had at Le Gaigne (where we’d expected seafood to be a strength), but also it was tastier.  Butter is the key.

Because the portions were so generous, we didn’t have room for dessert.  Starters were 11-12 euros; mains hovered around 25 euros.  The place isn’t cheap, but it’s packed with French speakers, very lively and is homely-looking enough to feel “authentic.”  What we ordered amounted to high-quality ingredients prepared in a satisfying,  home-style way.  I would’ve been thrilled to have stumbled upon the place by accident while exploring the neighborhood, but as a much-hyped destination restaurant, I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed.

With a coffee and a 36-euro bottle of wine, our total for two starters and two mains came to 100 euros.

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

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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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