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Monday, January 24, 2011

La Gazzetta- Déjà Vu, All Over Again

Whatever you do, make sure you get to La Gazetta before their current dinner menu changes. Don't worry, if you can't reserve in time, I'm sure the next menu will be equally intriguing, and then you can comment about it and tell me what I missed. Touché.

This was my second visit - you can read my more effusive October 2010 reactions here - and the restaurant continues with its dinner option of 5 (39€) or 7 (52€) dishes - throw caution to the wind and go for the larger menu - at that price, you won't be disappointed. Have a look:

The large scallop in its shell smothered in lentils got the proceedings off to a nice start - why don't we see that combination more often, as it definitely works. Mackerel is not much my cup of tea, no matter how prepared, but the second dish proved to be a fascinating experiment. The pistou de celeri was more complex than it looked, simplicity at first glance - a tepee-like construction of steamed brocoli hiding a magical concoction of apricots, vinegar, and pistachio. Chef Petter Nilsson clearly hit his stride by the main courses, a nice slab of langoustine meat with grilled pear and white turnip, followed by slightly cooked beef and endives (for Co.) and lotte and endives (for myself)- perfectly cooked and memorable. (Co. had to wince when she overhead the young foreign woman at the nearby table send the beef back as too rare - I thought I heard chef Nilsson scream 'Sacre bloody bleu' from the kitchen, but maybe I just imagined it.) Those great heights were tempered by the two more subtle, but equally pleasing dishes that rounded out the evening.

Couldn't resist the Rayos Uva 2009 Rioja (31€), which was a preferred wine of the moment on the previous menu.

La Gaz's lunch menu bears a decidedly different look, one that is more tapas oriented (16€, with some supplements), along with an intriguing pizza margherita. Definitely worth checking out.

In short, two thumbs way up for this second visit to La Gazzetta, which continues to enchant with imaginative dishes.

29, Rue de Cotte
75012 Paris
tel. 01 43 47 47 05

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Le Gaigne - Good Things Come in Small Packages

My first visit to Le Gaigne last August had that ‘we’re closing for vacation tomorrow and may never come back’ feel about it, which is why I relegated the restaurant to my honorable mention list for 2010 but no higher. I vaguely remember at least half the tables unoccupied, an above average though not particularly exceptional meal, and not much more except for the suspicion that no one really had their heart in it. Well, last night’s return visit left a distinctly different impression – a restaurant nearly at the top of its game, full-speed ahead, damn the torpedoes mode.

When I say that good things come in small packages, I mean that literally - Le Gaigne’s storefront restaurant on the quiet rue Pecquay off the far busier Rambuteau is so small, that squeezing into it and your place at the table is not unlike trying to zip up your tightest pair of jeans after binging during the Xmas season. I counted seating capacity at about 20, with the distinct impression there were twice as many diners. Each time another couple of patrons entered what I thought (my back to most of the other tables) was a filled to capacity room, I was afraid the damn place was going to burst. All those winter coats and other rainy, gloomy January accessories (umbrellas, scarves, etc.) added to the bloated feel, which is probably why things felt a lot airier in the summer. But it wasn’t just that, everything looked and felt more elegant than it had during the first trip - the seating, the lighting, the spiral staircase leading to the cave just to my left, a precarious juxtaposition two-thirds into the bottle of the Co.-preferred light but tasty 2008 Anjou Village Rouge - Chateau la Francaie (21€).

The 5-course menu dégustation (42€) could not be forsaken - after checking on line, I noticed I missed out on last month's, which looked even better, but ended on Jan. 10. As it turns out, I doubt if it could have surpassed what we ended up with; to wit:

1. Tartelette d'endives parfumées au citron de Sicile, chèvre meringué
2. Gougère aux escargots du pré de Mme Liège à la sauce soubise, salade de laitue, crème d'ail rose
3. Saint-Jacques d'Erquy poêlées au beurre de thym, royale de crabe à l'encre de
seiche, purée de topinambour
4. For Co.: Queue de Boeuf (origine France) braisée au vin rouge, cassolette de
navets boule; for me: Suprême rôti de Chapon fermier du Gers, sa cuisse en
bonbon croustillant, légumes racines et potiron d'or et carottes de couleur à la
5. Nuage de Brie de Meaux, mesclun aux noisettes (Supplément 3€)
6. La Pomme dans tous ses états

It's difficult to say which dish was the more memorable, but I had the distinct impression the meal sort of built to a crescendo by #4. I was wowed by the roti de chapon, very succulent, the taste enhanced by the cubed vegetables spiced with marjoram and nested inside a hollowed-out miniature pumpkin, but the pan fried Saint-Jacques (scallops) were an inspiration, cooked in squid ink and mired in a puree of Jerusalem artichoke. I detected a couple of states missing in the dessert promising the apple in all its states, but the multi-tiered oval of cooked and raw apple hit the spot.

Co. and I shared the supplemental (3€) cheese dish - a wisp of light, spreadable Brie and greens, if anything, the one disappointment of the evening in terms of the food. There were a couple other downsides which bear mention - no amuse bouche, a miscue in my book. And although the pace of delivery of our plates began to slow as the evening progressed and the sole, young, comely blond server began to attend to latecomers, the wait became so interminable between the cheese and dessert that I was wondering if Waiting for Godot shouldn't have been titled Waiting for Giagnon (the 27-year-old chef Mickaël Giagnon). The table of four Americans to my right received increasing attention as they ordered their third or fourth bottle of wine. I guess that's understandable, c'est la vie.

The bill for two menu degustation (definitely the way to go in my humble opinion), plus wine and cheese (for one) came to par for the course: 108€ - a bargain that any reasonable fooding fan should not let pass.

12 rue Pecquay
75004 Paris
tel: 01 44 59 86 72
website: http://restaurantlegaigne.fr
Closed: Sunday & Monday

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Paris Bests 2010 - Mortstiff Opens the Envelopes

Where were my all-around most satisfying Paris restaurant experiences in 2010? I’m glad you asked. Here they are, more or less in order of preference. Each links to the more complete reviews. Three-way tie for number 5 – these were restaurants that may not have been at the starry-eyed Michelin level, but where I had some really tasty meals and I want to go back in 2011. Good enough.

Top Five (or Seven)

1. L'Agrume – best smile in Paris, surprising fixed menus,
great price/quality. Two trips, both equally great.

2. Le Chateaubriand – I said it before, I’ll say it again – best meal I had all year in a Paris restaurant. Hip and noisy (the atmosphere), multi-course meal with plenty of experimentation and unique ingredients. Possible to get a table! Possible to get a table!

3. La Gazzetta - Rounds out my favorite fixed-menu triumvirate, fresh offbeat combinations – sea urchin and beet, oysters under crushed tomato. Take me back, sweet viginie.

4. Rino – Not the pinnacle as I had been led to expect, but still the best rouget I’ve ever had. Some work on dessert and who knows how high we go next time.

5. Lilane / Fabrique 4 / La Beure Noisette – decisions, decisions:
Lilane for being so unexpectedly good and laid back.
Fabrique 4 for its potential.
La Beure Noisette for the old-timey bistrot feel – we got in the last day before their renovation, so the return should be revealing.

Honorable Mentions

Yam ‘Tcha
– Innovative, fresh cooking with an Asian twist. Would have made
top five (or eight?) if they hadn’t kicked us out in the pouring rain to wait and if they hadn’t dramatically raised their prices as soon as they got that star. Rename Yam ‘Tsk?

La Table d’Eugene – I know it was good, but not as memorable as my first visits there.

Le Gaigne - see above. Very good meal near Beaubourg, I'm just sorry I don't remember it better.

Ze Kitchen Galerie – Would have been listed if I had actually eaten there in 2010. Shocked to realize I never got around to it. That will be corrected in ’11.

Biggest Disappointments -better luck next time . . . if there is a next time.

Pramil - Rated at TripAdvisor as number 14 out of 6354 restaurants in Paris. It's good, but it's not that good. I would go so far as to say nothing to write home about. I did write, to TripAdvisor, and they quickly pulled my critique. Boo to TripAdvisor and their censors.

L'Aromatik - They try, but my ears are still ringing from the din, and the bloody summer heat reminds me of an evening spent in hell.

Au Petit Marguery - just couldn't get into those wild birds.

Random Bit(e)s
Lafayette Gourmand, Blvd Haussmann - a mind-boggling cornucopia of colors and aromas, including two of my favorite spots in Paris:

Best Take-Away Thai - Blue Elephant stand at the food court. You'll want one of everything. They also have a chain of restaurants in major world cities. The one in Paris is at 43-45 rue de la Roquette (Bastill) - worth a visit?

Best Alcohol Selection - Bibliotheque du Vin, Lafayette Gourmand, Blvd Haussmann.
Why they stopped carrying my favorite single malt, Bunnahabhain, I do not know, but there are many alternatives. And where else can you purchase a bottle of Remy Martin cognac Louis XIII dans sa carafe for a mere 29,080€?
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