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Sunday, July 11, 2010

L'Aromatik - Sounds of the City

It was a sultry Friday night, but Co. and I braved the non-air conditioned metro and ventured out to the theater district in the 9th, to L’Aromatik, which a May issue of Telerama promoted as a ‘bistrot coloré à la partition fusion honorable.’ The bistrot, which apparently dates back to the circa 1920s-30s jazz era (when they didn't have AC), is a claustrophobic, but quaint, Art Deco venue which sits on the rather uninteresting, long and windy rue Jean-Baptiste-Pigalle, a street that arises from the Moulin Rouge in the Pigalle area to sights unseen and unknown. Well, I guess it’s true - you do learn something every day, and on that sultry Friday night, the first thing I learned is that Pigalle was originally a somebody before he became a someplace and a some street – an 18th C. sculptor to be precise. The second thing I learned is to never again visit L’Aromatik on a sultry Friday night, or any other sultry night for that matter, at least not until they get that second overhead fan working again (assuming it ever did).

The place is small, but we managed to appropriate a little table – and I do mean little – more or less by its lonesome, but we were already working up a sweat before the rest of the tables filled. I counted four floor fans and the one workable overhead fan cranking away, to little avail. The front of the restaurant was wide open for air, but here is where I learned a third thing – the narrow, typically Parisian rue JB Pigalle may look charming from the outside, but inside it is one noisy mother! My back to the street, I listened to a steady parade of buses, motos, Mack trucks, and Sherman tanks. How the tanks fit such a narrow street I cannot say, but the decibel level, not counting the screaming patrons, managed to drown out the waiter’s explanations and the lilting melodies of Miles Davis’s So What, which remained barely audible in the background.

The heat and noise did little for my disposition, so you may want to take my evaluation of the food with a grain of salt or some other aromatik spice of your preference. But let me digress for just another minute. What is it with restaurateurs’ fascination with naming their venues with mispelled words? Aromatik, Thai Me Up, Brews Brothers, you get the idea. Is this supposed to denote an ironic or playful indicator of imaginative meanderings in the kitchen? Anyway, I suppose Aromatik is supposed to signify a sort of thinking outside the box in the sense of asiatic and organic ingredients that justify the fusion-oriented nomenclature. Along those lines, to start off, following a tasty amuse bouche of crème of sardine with tomato, Co. went Mediterranean with the gaspacho entrée and I went Asian with the rouleaux de printemps à l'aïoli de Marseille. Even cold soup sounded too warm for me under the circumstances; Spring rolls struck me as a couple months more temperate. Neither of us was wowed by our choices. Co. did appreciate the combination of ham and fruit pieces in the soup (normally the ham is an accompaniment). My spring rolls had that tres fusion look, but appearances were deceiving in this case. Once I cut into the Spring rolls, a veritable garden blossomed onto my plate, which made me wonder why the dish was accompanied by a mound of greens. Until I reached the tasty two pieces of shrimp in the second roll, I felt like the green gardener. The uninspired sauce (mayo/mustard, tournesol) did little to spice up this disappointing entrée. But I admit, it looked nice.

The main plates were more satisfying, Co. going with the pintade and myself choosing the plat du jour, crevettes and risotto, identified as ‘Suggestion Bertrand’ (after youthful chef Bertrand Martin) on the bill. By this point, I think a delirium had set in largely attributed, I am sure, to the wine (a more than tolerable Domaine du Trillol Corbieres 2005) and rising heat. I vaguely remember Co’s pintade with peaches, having tried a couple forkfuls. I also remember two huge shrimp sitting atop my risotto, which was accompanied – imaginatively enough – by some paper thin slices of smoked duck. Things could have been worse, I guess. But if this is supposed to be fusion country, we were largely on the peripherique.

I am always lightly amused by French stabs at New York cheesecake, so I couldn’t resist trying Aromatik’s Cheese cake New-Yorkais au chocolat blanc. I couldn’t quite fuse my memory of the typical New York cheesecake with the round dessert that appeared on my plate, and where the white chocolate was my taste buds would not disclose, but I did experience a nostalgic rush when I found that it was sitting on a base composed of actual graham cracker.

Co’s 3-course ‘menu’ was priced at a reasonable 35 euros, but because Bertrand’s suggestion wasn’t included as a ‘menu’ choice, my ala carte total ran a bit higher at 46 euros. Topped off by the 25 euro Corbieres, our bill came to 106 euros, air not included, but more than enough decibels of noise to give you a free headache for the rest of the weekend. Overall, my evaluation of L’Aromatik is clearly less favorable than the more laudatory reviews you’ll find at Lobrano and Talbot’s blogs. Chalk it up to the weather, the noise, whatever. I have to hand it to Monsieur Martin, at least he is making an effort – judging from the dishes that appear on the menu – to spice up the typical Parisian bistrot menu, the latter of which is so predictable at this point you surely won’t need a roadmap. Even the reasonably-priced wine list included some non-French (an Australian, a Chilean, and a Spanish), and some biologique alternatives. But if you choose to try L’Aromatik before the end of the summer, just be sure to dress lightly and take some ear plugs.

7, rue Jean-Baptiste-Pigalle
01 48 74 62 27
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