Search This Blog

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Au Trou Gascon - Of Armagnac, Spidergirl, and 'How much did you say that coffee costs?'

I’ll take a lesson from our waitress and be quick. The effusive reviews led us to the 12th, on the cusp of the 14th, for what we expected to be an outstanding dining experience. Overrated. Major disappointment. Bah, humbug.

As Frommer’s put it, ‘one of Paris's most acclaimed chefs, Alain Dutournier, lures fashionable palates to an unchic area.’ Yes, our fashionable palates were indeed lured, to an unchic area and a restaurant with chic pretensions. I admit, the chef made an effort and I suspect some menus are better than others. Maybe you’ll have better luck. On this occasion, Mortstiff & Co. opted for the 50 euro five-course ‘Diner Gourmand. ' Here it is, direct from Trou's website:

Sounds pretty fantastic doesn’t it? Well, I'm starting to get the impression that any meal sounds good in French. I’d give high ratings only to the pigeon – a disgusting bird that I swore never to consume, especially following that little episode at the house last year when pigeons took over the roof and before you knew it, we needed an umbrella to disembark, particularly on sunny days. But if you’re going to be a restaurant critic, I’ve learned it’s important to forgive and forget. So, my dear pigeon friends, you are now fare game. And I must admit, the slab of pigeon filet was pretty tasty – slightly bloody, and accompanied by two interestingly prepared cannellonis stuffed with vegetables. If only the rest of the meal had been prepared with equal care. The scallops and endives weren’t bad, but the rest was pretty mundane. The ‘gambas’ turned out to be ‘gamba,’ as in ‘une.’ Dish four, the ‘faiseselle pastorale’ sounds tasty, but it was nothing more than a square of yogurt and honey.

The room isn’t bad, with tables nicely spaced apart, and as advertised over

at Frommer’s, there is indeed a ‘fabulous collection of Armagnacs,’ impressively

taking up a full bookcase. I shut the digestif menu pretty quickly, though, after glancing at a 60 euro price tag for a glass. Good thing – I needed the spare euros to afford the two coffees that followed our meal – rounding out to an even 12 euros. The cakes you see to the right were taken from another blog written by a more satisfied Trou diner. These are the cakes we did not receive with our coffees. Instead, accompanying our 12-euro coffee finale was a little bowl of those chocolate-covered coffee beans. Yawn.

To cap off the evening, I contemplated strangling our waitress. Spidergirl was extremely efficient – the second I took my last bite of a dish and placed my fork on the plate, there she was with uncanny speed to take away the woebegone plate, lest the memory of the dish linger any longer than necessary. Dishes were delivered, not a word of explanation spoken, unless I was able to ask quickly enough – alas, only for the pigeon. At one point, a fork flew out of her hand before she could place it next to a plate. Earth to Spidey – calm down!

Overall note (out of 10) : 6-
Food : 6-
Ambiance : 5 (open those curtains and let some life in!)
Service : 3 (Welcome with a smile, efficient but uninformative server must have had a plane to catch)

Note : For restaurants like Trou that aspire to great heights, as in Michelin stars, it's not uncommon to offer the coffee at the end of the meal, a gesture that helps develop a nice relationship with potential loyal customers. To overcharge for a thimble of mediocre java adds insult to injury.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Le Bistrot Paul Bert - Bert's Hat Trick

It’s called Le Bistrot Paul Bert (Paul Bert for short), it’s located on rue Paul Bert in the 11th arrondissement, and its owner is Bertrand (Bert for short) Auboyneau. Coincidence? I think not. Regular readers of this blog (all two of you?) may recall that Paul Bert appeared on Mortstiff’s ‘best of’ list for 2007. The most recent visit – my third - on March 7th didn’t reach the heights of previous visits, but was good enough to keep this one on the list of ‘go to’ Paris bistrots.

There are three rooms to Paul Bert – to the left of the entrance, one enters the smallest room, a converted butcher shop, and it looks it. The main room has a bar and several tables and is the most lively and boisterous of the three. My preference is the room on the right – nice tablecloths, mustard walls, a bit more relaxed in a bougeouise arty we’re in Paris sort of a way. This is a restaurant that has scrapped the idea of having a menu you can actually hold and fondle – instead, yes, my personal bane, there are freshly scrawled chalk boards positioned in every nook and cranny with the day's offerings. My condolences to the poor workers who have to prepare the chalk boards daily (and modify them throughout the evening, accordingly). What a monumental (and horrifying) task that must be.

Getting to basics – Mortstiff & Co. each opted for the 34 euro menu accompanied by a bottle of Ardeche red, a recommended blackboard wine special for 20 euros. (By the way, there is an actual carte de vins.) Among our selections were a plate of scallops in their shells, a fish tartare, pig shoulder, and squid risotto. I’d say the tartare and risotto were the standouts. The preparation of the risotto was particularly interesting, including a little sliver of sweet tomato that really hit the spot. The highlight of the meal, without question, was the dessert. I’ve learned from experience that Paul Bert’s macaroons are probably among the best in Paris. Rather than duplicate our order, Co. & I struck a deal to go 50/50 on the desserts, an even split. And I’m glad we did, because the combination of dessert 1 (Paul Bert’s tiramisu) with dessert 2 (Paul Bert’s strawberry macaroon, about the size of a Big Mac) made for a whole fundmentally greater than the sum of the parts. You know it’s good when the only word that comes to mind is ‘More!’

If I recall correctly, I discovered Paul Bert via a review I read by Patricia Wells, the noted restaurant critic. I feel about PW the way I feel about Robert Christgau for music and Andrew Sarris for film. We may not share the same tastes and I often disagree with their opinions, but I hold them in high esteem in their respective fields.

Here’s what PW has to say about Paul Bert on her web site:

I could dine at this boisterous, crowded old-time bistro once a week, feasting on steak and fries, ultra-fresh fish and shellfish, always imaginatively prepared and served with a flourish. One of the city’s surest bistro bets, with a great wine list to boot.

Once a week would definitely overdo it for me – once every couple of months should do the job.


18, rue Paul Bert, Paris 11.
Telephone: 01 43 72 24 01.

Overall note (out of 10): 6.5

Food: 7

Ambiance: 6.5-7 (Its got that Paris bistrot ambiance down pat.)

Price: middle bracket reasonable (93€, including wine)

Service: 7 (It was the first night for our waitress, and the staff must have spent a grand total of 5 minutes to train her. After a mighty struggle popping the cork of our wine bottle, I thought she was about to storm out in tears. But she put forth a gallant effort and seemed to ease into the job as the evening wore on. The rest of the staff is amiable, energetic and unobtrusively attentive).

Note: Bert! Do something about the bread. Tossing slices of a skinny baguette in a basket should be beneath you.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Auberge Nicolas Flamel – Sweet Home Virginia

So many restaurants, so little time: Several restaurant visits since Les Magnolias but no time to write about them. Time to start rectifying that. And I’ll begin with the visit to Auberge Nicolas Flamel on Feb. 15, a restaurant I had never heard of until I came across a mention in the Parler Paris online newsletter (http://www.parlerparis.com/), written by Adrian Leeds, an American ex-pat with an unabashed love of Paris.

Here is Leeds’ description of Auberge: Auberge Nicolas Flamel, in the oldest house in Paris (1407) . . . was a particular treat. Ancient under the 15th-century beams and contemporary all at the same time, much like the contrast of Le Louvre and its Pyramid, it's a romantic setting and a class A dining experience.

Now having visited the oldest house in Paris – 1407, mon dieu! – I would agree with the ancient part of that description, but as for the contemporary part, well, modernity is in the eye of the beholder, I guess. I don’t want to give the impression there were cobwebs hanging from the ceiling overlooking a dirt floor or anything – the milieu was finally appointed--candles, curtains, wood--with more than a slight hint of freshly restored colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. I also wouldn’t go so far as to characterize the visit as ‘a particular treat’ or ‘a class A dining experience.’ However, it was a satisfying meal and, the mark of thumbs up – I intend to pay a return visit.

Two dinner menu options were available: a ‘Menu Gourmand’ for 31€

and a ‘Menu Prestige’ for 45€,both offering a choice of entrée, plat, and dessert. I won’t quibble with the gourmand vs. prestige rank ordering. Another time, maybe. Co. and I both chose to be safe than sorry, given this was our first visit. We’ve been burned before with eloquent sounding offerings on cartes we’ve never sampled, finding out the hard way that the reality of the meals fell horrifyingly short of their written descriptions. Here’s what we selected from the Gourmand choices:

Foie gras de canard cuit au torchon, fourré aux figues et son toast aux noix
(Duck foie gras stuffed with fig, served with a nut toast) – entrée 1

Coeur d’artichaut marineé au basiclic et crottin de chèvre rôti, cariar de tomates confites (Artichoke heart marinated in basil with roast goat’s cheese and a confit tomato sauce) – Entrée 2

Souris d’agneau façon tajine aux fruits secs, pommes vapeur aux épices douces

(Lamb tajine with dried fruits, mild spiced steam-cooked potatoes) – Plat 1

Filet de bar de Méditerraneée grillé à la plancha, jardinière de légumes sautée au pesto, citron confit au thym (Grilled bass with vegetables sauteed in pesto with lemon and thyme) – Plat 2

Assiette du Maìtre fromager (cheese plate) – dessert 1

Emotion de crème brûlée à la vanille de Madagascar sur canapé de chocolat noisette (Madagascar vanilla-flavored crème brulee on a bed of chocolate) – dessert 2

All washed down with a 2004 Bourgeil that I can’t remember.

Looking over this listing I really have to go by memory because it’s been three weeks. But as far as I’m concerned, a standout meal is one that is memorable – you keep thinking of some of the dishes long after you’ve eaten them, and you want to eat them again at the nearest opportunity. From my perspective, the Auberge meal was all very satisfying, especially the grilled bass. But overall, the general reaction from both myself & Co. was along the lines of pretty good, but nothing to write home about.

One point that has be mentioned, however, is a faux pas on the part of the waiter. I had ordered a plate of grilled rouget (red mullet) on a bed of eggplant, but was brought the grilled bass instead. Before I could get my mouth around the French for ‘but this doesn’t look like red mullet’, it occurred to me that the bass really looked tasty, so I shut up and stuck with it. But you’d think that since 1407, they would have figured out how to bring the dishes you actually ordered.

Overall, a traditional menu with some imaginative flourishes,

and tantalizing enough to encourage a step up to the ‘menu prestige’ for our next visit. I liked the way the chef, Alan Al Geaam, came out and mingled in the dining room towards the end of the evening. We weren’t too pleased by the obnoxious group of foreigners at the table behind us, but what are you going to do? This is Paris!

Overall, reasonable prices, nice setting, and okay food, but nothing very memorable.

Restaurant Nicolas Flamel sur RestoVisio.com
51, rue de Montmorency. 75003 Paris - Tél. 01 42 71 77 78

Overall note (out of 10): 6.5

Food: 6

Ambiance: 6.5-7 (I imagine it's sort of romantic when the obnoxious diners aren't there.)

Price: reasonable (97€, including wine)

Service: 5.5 (young didn't quite jibe with the room, but friendly; just remember, when a diner orders 'rouget,' he doesn't mean 'bar').

Note: Our visit coincided with the last few days of the Autumn/Winter menu, so the menu is in flux and the cave was on its way to being restocked. Our first few wine choices were already gone.
Real Time Web Analytics