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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Beyond Good Taste - Worst Foodie Gift-Giving Ideas

What with Xmas and the New Year just around the corner, time to take a brief hiatus from the restaurant review scene. This is a moment for pigging out at home. And I've begun to do my share, with the traditional (smoked salmon, multi-fish terrines, escargot drenched in persil butter, mini feuilletes of black olive, etc.) and non-traditional (Mortstiff's famous spicy fish chowder, etc.), not to mention the glutinous buches de noel beckoning from the freezer and copious varieties of beverages to wash all this down.

But if you've waited until the last minute for your annual gift-buying spree, there are numerous items of note that are available for the avid food and dining enthusiast, from books (such as Rene Redzepi's Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine) to kitchen appliances, like the inexpensive Capresso frothPRO milk frother I just purchased. The frother works great, although once I translated the customer reviews from the German site from which I ordered it, I'm a bit hesitant to recommend it as a gift - apparently, I can expect a lifespan of about five weeks before the thing goes kaput.

But from my experience, you definitely can't go wrong with the simple gift of a bottle. For example, I would not say no to a 21-years aged PortWood bottle of The Balvenie.

There are also plenty of items out there to avoid at all costs as possible gifts, unless you really, really don't like the person for whom you are buying it. Some amusing examples from Robert Sietsema's Village Voice column Our 10 Worst Foodie Xmas Presents. I've posted below some of the more noteworthy examples - you can check out all 10 at the Sietsema link.

Awful Gift #9: Chocolate Bathroom Scale, uncommongoods.com

This actual bathroom scale bears images of succulent chocolates, which should make your gift recipient really pleased each time that person checks out his or her weight. Worse, instead of pounds or kilos, there is a graduated list of obnoxious phrases like 'I'm so amazing.'

Awful Gift #7: Banana Stand, curiousphotos.blogspot.com

I must admit, if I ever received this luxurious banana holder as a gift, I would be torn as to where to put it - in the kitchen or in a place of prominence in the living room. Can you say trash can?

Awful Gift #4: Funny Chef Outfit, justotc.com

What I would like to know is what is so funny about a stupid chef outfit, and who would you imagine would appreciate receiving one?

Awful Gift #3: Ms. Food Face Plate

There are no doubt many creative cooks who would love to receive something like this, which would make food presentation as simple as connect the dots, some of whom may in fact have a mental age above 4.

Awful Gift #2: Pizza Cutter Fork, curiousphotos.blogspot.com

I'm sure that on paper this 'futter' must have looked like a great idea. My guess is it would end up in the back of one's kitchen drawer within days, assuming it could fit.

Awful Gift #1: Fetus Cookie Cutter, hogmalion.com

I'm sure some expectant parents might find this cookie-cutter shaped like a days-old fetus to be an ideal gift.

Still can't decide? Here's one for honorable mention.

Happy shopping!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Le Chateaubriand - Movin' On Up

That's what I'm talking about - originality, surprise, subtlety, outrageousness. What am I talking about? Last Friday night's dinner at Le Chateaubriand (let's say LC, for short), quite possibly the best meal I've had in Paris all year. LC has been on my radar for some time, but each time I came close to reserving, something held me back. 'You'll either love it or hate it!' 'Noisy and crowded!' And this one from Le Fooding: 'Impossible to get a table. Impossible to get a table: need further explanation?' And also from Le Fooding: 'Gourmet works of art.' There you have it, yin and yang, to go or not to go? Well, when someone tells me 'impossible to get a table' I immediately reach for my phone. Let's face it, if it were truly impossible, how could the restaurant make any business? And sure enough, I was offered a table two Fridays away without difficulty. 'Impossible to get a table' -don't believe it.

LC sits on a busy section of avenue Parmentier in a funky area of the 11th, and that funky atmosphere follows you into LC, an old-style Parisian bistro that once was an old-fashioned grocery, remnants of which appear in their antiquity here and there on the otherwise unadorned walls, save the obligatory chalkboards announcing the available wines by the glass. This is a roomy bistrot that starts feeling more intimate once the room fills, and believe me, it doesn't take long for the place to fill up. Nonetheless, Co. and I were ushered to a cozy corner in the back room, apart from the more hustle-bustle of the larger front room/bar area. And it does get noisy, but in a quasi-bawdy way that adds to the atmosphere, if you get my drift - this is what a Parisian bistrot is supposed to be all about.

But all that noise and crowdedness is for a reason - the evening's 50€ set menu created and prepared by chef Inaki Aizpitarte, who emanates from the French Basque country, and previously held court at La Famille. Alexander Lobrano (Hungry for Paris, Random House) put it very well when he described Aizpitarte as 'a brilliant miniaturist, composing original origami-like compositions of taste that are often potent and pretty.' Our menu for the evening was explained by a young, bearded waiter, slowly, with questions saved for the end. We started off with a set of five amuses bouche, wham bam thank you ma'am, one after the other. First up, a small plate of four gougères - savory little puff pastries, with what may have been subtly embellished by pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top. (Photo thanks to the great eye and camera of gourmet traveler.) A low-key start, with hints of the miniaturist concoctions to come. Our empty plate was soon replaced by two small bowls of cheviche with tiny scallops in their liquid, which our spunky waitress informed us should be consumed in a single gulp. Up next came a dish of two grenouille enveloped by a mysterious sauce with bread crumbs. If frog turns you off, never fear, this looked nothing like aforesaid amphibian. The string of amuses bouche continued with a bowl of miso-like bouillon with small cubes of foie gras. And that was followed up by a plate of tiny crevettes grise with berries and pineapple. Bear in mind, this was all to wet our appetite for the set dinner, which hadn't started yet! I suggested to Co. that this wouldn't be a bad time to pay for the wine (an adequate, but rather light, 36€ Bourgueil) and leave, our stomachs filled with the pre-meal tapas selection, but of course, this was solely in jest, as both us really wanted to see what was next.

What was next was a mulet noir, perles du Japon, huitre, cresson dish. My blurry photo will give you some idea, but the photo really doesn't do justice. Next, a cabillaud, pil pil, betteraves dish. Pil pil reflects the Basque origins of this recipe (i.e., the dish was prepared in a special sauce originating in the Basque country), which was highlighted by a delicate, sweet lump of beet, which really brought the steamed cod alive with flavor. Well, it's been two years that the betterave has been showing up in one way or another in finer restaurants around the world (see my Finland reviews), and when this much maligned root is cooked right, it can't be, sorry I can't resist, beat. But I'm starting to get that 'been there, done that' attitude about the beet. With 2011 right around the corner, I say, 'Next trendy vegetable, please!'

At this stage of the festivities, Co. partook of the boeuf, beurre noisette, racines offering, while I was granted an appropriately bloody portion of canard in lieu of the beef. The dish worked well with either meat, and this was just fine. Up next, two desserts, a dish of pommes, butternut, rose, obligatorily consumed before the crunchier chocolat, celeri invention. (You have the option of going with the desserts or the fromages du jour.) And that was that. Each dish reflecting the confidence and skill of the artisan in the kitchen, not a false note during the entire epic meal.

Don't take my word for it, just go. With Rino and LC under the belt this month, I feel like we're movin' on up quality-wise. Yet in both cases, the set menu approach keeps the prices down, with LC topping out at 139€, including one post-meal cafe and the wine, and how many courses, if you include the amuses bouche and two desserts? I count 10. While I also liked Rino very much, if I was stranded on a desert island and could only take one of the two bistrots with me, it would be Le Chateaubriand, hands down.

Note: other than my pitiful photo of the appetizer (Mulet noir), the other food photos from the aforementioned gourmet traveler; others from qype and The New York Times.

129 ave. Parmentier
75011 Paris
tel. 01 43 57 45 95
website: can't find one

P.S. There's another Le Chateaubriand restaurant in Paris, in the 17th. That's not the one I'm talking about.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Today's Italo-French Genius Bistrot - Rino

Out with the old, in with the new. As a follow-up to a string of return visits, Co. and I put on our trendiest clothes and headed out to the new big deal neobistrot in Paris, Rino. Like La Gazzetta, where chef/owner Giovanni Passerini previously shared cooking duties before opening his own venue, Rino boasts an inventive array of dishes a la Italian/French mode.

Outside and in, Rino is minimalistic to the core. Easy to miss from the outside, once past the bar/kitchen area, where a few stand-up tables line the opposite wall, you are ushered into a 20-seater room that looks like someone’s quickly converted garage, retro hanging lamps notwithstanding.

Be forewarned, at Rino there is no choice apart from your selection of the 4- or 6-course tasting menu, the carte held up on a slate tablet by the laid-back waiter. When I asked for the wine carte, I was informed, ‘J’ai un bon rouge vous pouvez essayer’ [I have a nice red you can try.] Apparently there is also a nice white, if that’s your preference. At 28€, the Chateau de Lacroux Gaillac held its own, and who was I to complain? It was nice not to have to fathom a largely incomprehensible wine list for a change.

Despite being recently awarded a Le Fooding palmarè as ‘meiller bistrot d’auteur,’ Co. and I cautiously selected the four-course option, skeptical as we are about anything dubbed ‘best’ by any critic, journalist, politician, or any other so-called expert that might be hanging out a sign. Not that I don’t trust the Fooding guide, but somehow their ‘what would have happened if Petter Nilsson had had a kid with Monica Belluci’ endorsement left me a bit hesitant. Our repas unfolded as such, following a welcoming amuse bouche of pumpkin petit marron: ravioles avec coques, rouget et legumes sec, an agneau dish for Co. replaced at my asking for a substitution with cabillaud et legumes, and a dessert mixture of crème, agrume, nuts, and another ingredient that I can’t read off my notes. The ravioles were very nice, like the room, minimalistically presented without much sauce; the rouget, probably the best preparation I ever have had, and I have tried rouget high and low, left and right; the cabillaud, not as epic but thoroughly satisfying. I enjoyed the dessert as the diet/cholesterol lethal mixture it was, but Co. was decidedly underwhelmed, suggesting it was pretty mundane. With two espressos to round out the evening, the bill came to a remarkably reasonable 109€.

What to conclude about Rino? The reviews are effusive, and the bistrot did win that palmarè, whatever the hell ‘meiller bistrot d’auteur’ is supposed to represent. As one reviewer put it, Passerini’s cuisine is ‘inventive and passionate’ and I would not disagree. Still, I’m not convinced Rino is yet deserving of any ‘best’ nomenclature - it is very good, but not especially spectacular (call me 'jaded'?). I’ll definitely go back, but I’m not ready to run out into the street waving my arms and screaming ‘they’re number one, they’re number one’ quite yet. Still, I have to admit, Rino offers a very appealing price/quality rapport.

Accompanying photos not mine, but glommed off other websites. Pretty representative of our dishes, however.

46, rue Trousseau
75011 Paris
01 48 06 95 85
website: http://www.rino-restaurant.com

Second Helpings

Almost a month since my last installment, so a lot of catching up to do. I'll begin with some repeat visits, three to be exact. Two mainstays (Au Petit Margery and Le Marsangy) and one 'not sure' (Urbane). You'll find expanded reviews, albeit earlier ones, by following the links on the right. But without further adieu, I begin with my second visit to Urbane, this time with Co. in tow. Urbane has notoriously mixed reviews online, with one relatively consistent theme - the food doesn't always work, but when it does it's pretty interesting. That was basically my reaction during my initial visit, that time running solo. One reviewer I came across made an interesting comment about Urbane's gastronomical efforts: 'Maybe if you drink enough, the food will begin to make sense.' Right there in a nutshell could be the reason why my initial review of Urbane was on the right side of positive. Let's just say that I had more than enough to drink that evening, much more than enough, and by the time dessert arrived, the room was dancing while I was trying real hard not to pass out. To this very day, I have no idea whether I ate what I remember to be a rather tasty looking dessert. At any rate, the second, far more sober visit, left me with a decidedly different impression. Everything was pretty good, but rather uninspiring, and I needed no mind-altering substances to figure out the food, although it may have helped me understand the rather distant comportment of the Irish lass owner. Both Co. and I agreed that we could have stayed home and cooked up something at least as satisfying. Of course, at Urbane, you don't have to wash the dishes.

Next up was Au Petit Marguery, which I've reviewed a couple times now. APM is pretty much a Parisian institution, where you're likely to drag visiting family or friends and rest assured they will leave satisfied. But this time Co. & my visit coincided with hunting season and the carte was heavily laden with a rigorous assortment of wild game and birds, many with 10€ supplements added to the 35€ cost of a 3-course menu. I selected what, for me, were pretty out of the ordinary dishes, consisting of an entree of Purée de Grouse et toasts and a plat of perdreau roti avec pommes de terre sautées et sauce aux champignons sauvages. Please believe me when I say I have nothing against the grouse, although like snowflakes, I've never seen two pictures of a grouse that look alike (top image). But I can tell you, pureed grouse is definitely not my cup of tea - chopped liver, very strong chopped liver, if you get my drift. And the toasts consisted of toasted white bread, which if served consistently enough to aforementioned grouse, I am afraid the poor bugger would die of malnourishment. I fared better with the perdreau, although the very tasty mixture of sauteed potatoes and wild mushrooms overwhelmed my interest in wild bird no. 2 (right image). Very disappointing, and for my money, over-priced.

Finally, the Moose and I headed over for libation and grub one late-ish, rainy Wednesday evening to Le Marsangy in the 11th. It's a shame that Marsangy boasts one of the ugliest restaurant facades in Paris, because inside everything is warm and welcoming. The food is far from spectacular, but quite satisfying (I especially appreciated the millefeuille with langoustines and avocado), and it's always impressive to see the complete wine list written by hand on the chalkboard running the length of the restaurant's back wall. The owner looked far less like Lyle Lovett this time, but his down-home attitude was nonetheless appreciated.

URBANE (see above)

9, Boulevard de Port Royal
75013 Paris
tel. 01 43 31 58 59
website: http://petitmarguery.com/fr/index.html

73 ave Parmentier
75011 Paris
tel: 47 00 94 25
no website!

Monday, November 15, 2010

And the Winners Are - Le Palmarès Fooding 2010

Le Palmarès - 'winners,' or in more common French usage, the Oscars, have just been awarded to the creme de la creme of the 2010 Paris and beyond restaurant scene by Lefooding.com, producers of an informative website and even better restaurant guide (mentioned in my last installment). Yes, it does seem rather early, and this is probably the first 'top whatever' list to appear for 2010, but, well...forget it, Jake, this is France. I have no idea what criteria the list is based on, or the process by which winners are chosen, but that doesn't mean my interest is not piqued for some new ideas for future meals, and of course, subsequent reviews. Two have been on my radar for some time: Spring (last year's big news and this year's big relocation) and La Tête dans les olives. A lot of buzz for both. And good to see another top spot around Parmentier, although I'm not so sure I'm willing to try a restaurant on the basis of best decor alone.

So here they are, Le Palmarès Fooding 2010. Let's just hope they don't turn out to be red herrings.

FOODING 2010 du Meilleur Petit Luxe
Aux Deux Amis, Paris

FOODING 2010 du Meilleur Bistrot d’Auteur
Rino, Paris

FOODING d’Honneur 2010
Bertrand Larcher
Breizh Café, Paris
La Table Breizh Café, Cancale

FOODING 2010 de la Meilleure Auberge
L’Auberge, Audierne

FOODING 2010 du Meilleur Décor
Rem Koolhaas et Clément Blanchet
Le Dauphin, 131 avenue Parmentier, Paris 11e

FOODING 2010 de la Meilleure Table d’Hôte
La Tête dans les olives, Paris

FOODING 2010 de la Meilleure Cave à Manger
Les Papilles Insolites, Pau

FOODING 2010 du Meilleur Agit’Popote
Spring, Paris

Links to each of these venues at lefooding.com website.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Lilane - Gracious

In his book The Anatomy of Buzz, Emmanuel Rosen estimates that 27% of consumers go to a restaurant because of recommendations from a friend, and the more expensive the restaurant, the more important the recommendations. As I've previously written, I virtually never frequent a restaurant for a serious meal without first having heard or read something positive about it. Paris may be a capital for fine dining, but there are also a lot of dumps. Sometimes, though, all it takes is a broken carrying bag. For the second time in a month, when the strap broke on my leather bag, I went off to L'Epee de Cuir in the 5th arrondissement for a repair. This time, I headed back to the metro via a back road and came upon Restaurant Lilane, a gracious-
looking venue on none other that rue Gracieuse, almost in the shadow of the Great Mosque of Paris (see photo). A few days later, the name had stayed stuck, and so I did some online investigating. Lilane is largely under the radar, perhaps with the exception of the wonderful 2010 Fooding guide (the 2011 guide is promised for Nov. 18), but everything I read was favorable, with the word 'raffine' appearing more than once. So off Co. and I went.

What can I say but that Lilane was a nice little discovery. Warm welcome, subdued lighting, modern brown decor, unpretentious. The place hadn't yet filled up so we were offered our choice of three small round tables, and opted for the more isolated one where those two guys are sitting (photo graciously lifted from the Lilane website). 'Why Lilane?' I inquired to our gracious hostess (see photo) . The answer, she explained, is that the name is a compromise (she is Leila, the chef is Stéphane Guilnitude: get it?).

We started off on good fooding with a satiny smooth velouté de pomme de terre amuse bouche, followed by two 3-course menus more than reasonable priced at 32€ a pop. Our entrees consisted of an apparent Lilane specialty, Ravioles de langoustines, tombée de poireaux en feuilleté, fully living up to their reputation, but the ravioles could have been served hotter. The other entree, a Fricasse d'escargots aux legume oublies was nicely prepared, with a copious helping of succulent snails. For the main plates, I opted for the fish, Filet de bar fricassee de legumes et tomate seche, while Co. went for the plat du jour, a tasty Foie gras de canard poêlé, artichauts barigoule, which carried a 3€ supplement. For dessert, Co. opted for one of her faves, the souffle au grand marinier; I went the chocolate route with a fine barreau chocolate noir et marron glacé. I could not complain. What stood out during the meal for me was how well-prepared was the fish. I look forward to trying out some other fish plates on subsequent visits. Before I forget, this was all washed down with a bottle of Menetou-Salon, Jean Teiller 2006 (26€), a tasty Loire. Total for the two menus (+ supplement), wine, and one espresso came to 95.50€.

So now the word is out, and I'm kind of surprised is hasn't been already. Lilane may not be Michelin level gourmet cuisine, but that doesn't seem to be the point. Definitely worth checking out.

8 rue Gracieuse
75005 Paris
tel: 01 45 87 90 68
closed: Sat. lunch, Sunday & Monday

P.S. L'Epee de Cuir, one of the few places I know in Paris that repairs airport damaged luggage, charged me twice for the same repair in the span of one month, and the proprieter's idea of customer service is a sneer accompanied by the mantra, 'Show me the money!' Not very gracious, indeed. How's that for some word of mouth?

P.P.S. The Great Mosque of Paris (La Grande Mosquée de Paris, 39 rue Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire) has a nice little cafe/tea room, and though I've never tried it, a small restaurant. More information at their site.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Yam 'Tcha - Singin' In the Rain

First things first, and most importantly: the food at Yam ‘Tcha is great. Diminutive co-owner (with husband Chiwah) Adeline Grattard, via L’Astrance and Hong Kong, prepares creative, delicate, and sometimes sublime Asian/French fused dishes in the open kitchen just to the right of the entrance of her storefront restaurant Yam ‘Tcha. This was a dinner Co. and I were looking forward to for 1-1/2 months, the lead time necessary to luck out with a reservation, once they start accepting them more than a month in advance. For good reason – you could barely cram 20 diners into the two tiny rooms that comprise the restaurant, along with the aforementioned tiny kitchen up front, a tea bar, and a phone booth-sized bathroom.

The size of Yam ‘Tcha, or lack thereof, may have been one reason why our eagerly anticipated evening got off to a rocky start. Arriving 15 minutes in advance of our reservation, not wanting to put the latest wave of transport strikes to more of a test than necessary and not all that enthusiastic about loitering around Les Halles in the pouring rain, we were ready for food, drink, and drying off. Unfortunately,
we got none of the above. We were brusquely informed that the staff wasn’t yet ready or appropriately dressed and were duly sent back out into the pouring rain. Not that it was my responsibility or anything, but I did my best to defend this action to Co., who was shall I say a bit hot under the collar, as we took a glass at the bar of a nearby restaurant. My arguments, though, were pretty hollow. I mean, it was already after 8 p.m. when we arrived, and I’ve already seen girls get dressed, so what would have been the problem with sitting us at a table with a warming glass of tea on the house? At more than 200 euros for the meal, let’s face it, they could afford it.

As for the meal, you know the drill. Prix fixe menus at 85 euros a pop, consisting of two entrées, two plates, a cheese dish, and dessert, all chosen by Adeline for the evening. However, you do have a choice when it comes to drink – a selection of different wines (40€ per person), teas (30€ per person), or wines/teas (40€ per person) for each plate. None of these sounded like an appetizing deal for me, so I asked for the wine menu and selected a 2007 Langedoc for 40€. But you can’t get too far without tea at Yam ‘Tcha (literally, ‘drink tea’; Chiwah is purportedly an expert, and one staff member spent the entire evening preparing various herbal concoctions at the bar to my right). Thus, we were started off with a Chinese variety that did nothing to soothe my sour mood. I admit, I am not a connoisseur or enthusiast of tea, and our free cup of tea tasted to me like the usual tea served at any typical Chinatown venue. Tea was followed by an amuse bouche consisting of a subtle bowlful of bright green cresson soup, in which a succulent oyster was floating along with some lardons. Along with the wine, I was feeling better already.

Doing the little things wrong, part 2. As our cresson soup was served the server promised that I would not leave without a listing of the offerings for the evening, after I delicately explained how I have difficulty remembering the complicated descriptions of the various plates. It is nice to be able to relax without having to scrawl what turns out to be unreadable gibberish on paper in preparation of my review. Well, as it turns out, what with all the drink and good food, and the opportunity to compliment Adeline as we moved toward the exit, I ended up leaving without that list. This is something the staff should not have allowed to happen, after promising that this would indeed be delivered. But then, despite their apparent attentiveness and concern, there was just something that was not quite genuine about the staff. So without the details on paper or remaining in my memory banks, what you end up with is an expurgated, incomplete description of the various courses. Here goes.

- Coquille St. Jacques (2 large sized, succulent scallops), algue, emulsion, pomme de Terre cuites partiellement

- Foie gras (poached), tomate, sauce sucrée, calamars – a definite highlight

- Dorade, delicately sitting on a bed of steamed Asian vegetables

- Veau (Co.) / tofu (me) served on a mound of brilliantly cooked aubergines (vapeur, 2 sauces de soja, gingembre, poive de Szechuan)

- Fromage

- Cheesecake + figue + fruits (gingembre, framboise), served with a bowl of ananas + ?

Pretty vague, I realize, but then the menu changes every night, so you’re not going to get this anyway. I’ve included some photos of dishes previously uploaded online, so you get the general flavor.

Although the evening got off to a damp start, we were warm, satisfied, and tipsy by the end of the dinner, and who can ask for more? Yam ‘Tcha’s prices have distinctly increased since receiving Michelin star #1, so don’t believe those 45-65€ ranges you see at other sites. If you go with one of the special wine/tea tastings and throw in coffee at the end, you can expect to pay more than 300€ for two (if that’s a turnoff, you might want to try the more affordable lunch). Opting instead for the bottle and no café, we checked out with a reasonable 212€ tab. Those extra 2€, by the way, were charged for the couple glasses of mineral water Co. asked for along the way, part 3 of how to get the little things wrong.

So there you have it. Yam ‘Tcha gets the big thing – the food – more than right. But those little customer relationship details are enough to keep me from having any great yearning to return anytime soon.

4 rue Sauval
75001 Paris
tel. 01 40 26 08 07
No Website!

Friday, October 1, 2010

La Gazzetta - Good News

I had high expectations for La Gazzetta and it did not disappoint. La Gazz (if you don’t mind the truncation) as you may know, is one of the 6 great affordable, price-fixe wonders of the contemporary Parisian restaurant scene annointed in a widely regarded New York Times piece penned this past April by Christine Muhlke. Not that I don’t have the perpiscacity to discover these places on my own, but let’s just say that Muhlke got me to L’Agrume and La Gazz faster than I may have on my own. And after all, I did hit Jadis nearly a year before Muhlke’s article and found it to be decidedly underwhelming. Not so for L’Agrume, as I have well documented here, and certainly not so for La Gazz – both are the kinds of places you want to keep going back to, with friends in tow. Both feature inventive cooks, an unpretentious yet subtly sophisticated atmosphere, and ever-changing fixed menus.

In the case of La Gazz, that ever-changing fixed menu changes every week and is boldly announced at the restaurant’s website, how’s that for a 21st century Parisian culinary experience? Good to see someone knows how to set up a website and keep it fresh, and for a French site that doesn’t take three weeks to load, my hat is off to ya. And what is even cooler for those who still like a little surprise upon arrival, you can expect a little tweak here or there. Thus, a pre-announced online biche dish became a poulard in bricks & mortar reality.

La Gazz’s dinner menu essentially offers two menu choices – 5 plates (39€) or 7 plates (52€) – both of which are great deals. Coupled with an affordable wine list
– Co. and I opted for our international favorite - Rioja - in this case, a 31€ Rayos Uva 2009 (I have never, never met a Rioja I didn’t like), and you certainly can’t complain, especially once the food starts coming. The Rioja didn’t rise anywhere near our top, but it was adequate for the pleasures to come. First up was a highlight, and one of the best kinds: one that doesn’t sound intriguing until you start experiencing it, a Maquereau fumé, brûlé, topinambours et citron confit. The poor man’s topinambours (Jerusalem artichoke) were cooked to a crunchiness that meshed well with the smoked fish, enveloped by the sweet tinge of lemon confit. Original and very tasty. Next course, huîtres et tomates écrasées, courgette – nice sized 1-1/2 oysters under a cover of crushed tomato; again, not something that sounds like writing home about. . . until you try it, that is. The third plate was a light vegetable adventure. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it twice, the carrot is an underrated vegetable, which is one reason I was really looking forward to see what René Redzepi’s Noma would make of it. Alas, that never came to pass, but La Gazz’s 39-year-old Swedish chef Petter Nilsson’s take was an intriguing alternative, with his carottes cuites au foin et rôties, semoule de lait et feuilles. It was the mousse-like mound of semoule that made the dish for me. Three up, three hits, with one drawback – the relatively stingy dishes each left you craving for more.

At this point, yours truly took a detour – passing on the jarret de veau et oursin, betterave blanche et pourpier, I settled for five, while Co. went whole hog with the lucky seven. I tasted her oursin and betterave (a tweak, originally designated as an oursin et poitrine de porc on the website), saving the veal for another lifetime. The taste of sea urchin was indescribable, so unfortunately, I can’t describe it. The word 'interesting' certainly applies. Another tweak was the poularde de Pierre Duplantier, salsifis et olives, estragon et girolles, essentially two rectangular slabs of poultry accompanied by two thin cigars of salsified olives. Very nice dish, and the replacement for the online biche de la Sarthe. Co.’s second add-on consisted of a sublime mousse yaourt de brebis, racine de persil et prunelle, the dried prune cut in thinly slice shards and placed atop the brebis, which went especially well with the accompanying country bread. As usual, I was already verbally downgrading the rather pedestrian-looking dessert, in two parts (in fact, the dessert and my review). On the left, rein de reinette trop cuit et terre chocolate, oxalis – or, in layman’s terms, an overly cooked half an apple sitting atop a shattered mound of chocolate crumbs – and to the right, soupe de Reine Claude et glace lait réduit – or, as we used to say in Philadelphia, 'yo, what is this, a slab of milk sorbet in gravy or sumptin?' Well, this turned out to be another one of those experiences where as you’re talking about how disappointed you are in not getting some elegant chocolate croustillant concoction or whatnot, the dessert starts getting better and better, until you’re struggling to get that last drop out of the plate and into your mouth, which is now uttering comments like, ‘man, what was that? That was damn good.’ That kind of dessert.

I don't like to brag, but do you notice a pattern here? I think this makes the third or fourth dinner in a row which prominently featured beet in one of the plates. Was I ahead of the curve claiming 2009 as year of the betterave, or what? As it turns out, the veal with betterave dish was probably the least inspired, if I am to believe Co., and why wouldn't I? Chef Nilsson apparently sees the potential in this rather nasty little root, as suggested by the accompanying photo, which was not on the list during our visit, a beets with watercress coulis construction.

An espresso to finish up for myself, accompanied by a couple of pastries gratis, and the final tally came to 124.50€ - that’s one 5-plate and one 7-plate menu, the Rioja, and one café. La Gazz, unlike many popular bistros in the capital is roomy – what amounts to a sizable loft loosely distinguished by three rooms. Co. and I had a nice little table in front sandwiched by the street window on one side and the bar on the other. Rue de Cotte is animated, with plenty of bars, in a lively part of town, about halfway between Nation and Bastille, not far from some other Mortstiff & Co. haunts (Paul Bert, et al.). Even on this gloomy, rainy early Fall evening, things were looking up.

29, rue de Cotte
75012 Paris
tel: 01 43 47 47 05
website: www.lagazzetta.fr
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