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Monday, June 20, 2011

L'Auberge de la Brie - A Tale of Two Critics

Goin' up the country, east of Paris to Couilly-Pont-Aux-Dames and the Michelin starred L'Auberge de la Brie, via word of mouth and nothing else, except true to its name, Paris Restaurants and Beyond is obliged to check out the beyond from time to time. 'Beyond' in this case means heading east along the N34, past the Marne, and just after the first toll booth (2.10€), at least I think, as I was not doing the driving. I need full concentration on the meal to come and find oncoming cars a tad too distracting. Not far from the center of town, and given the size of Couilly, the center is about all there is, on a quiet street, sits the Auberge, very country-ish.

Chef Alain and Celine Pavard hold court at their unpretentiously pretentious restaurant that seats about 25-30 at mostly round tables in a finely appointed, bright room.

Always a good start, the evening quickly got off to a good start with two tasty amuses bouches - four spicey millefilles, followed by a small bowl of fois gras covered by asparagus soup, the latter of which truly caught Co's fancy. L'Auberge is not cheap by usual Paris Restaurant and Beyond standards, especially if you plan to order ala carte, although there is a very reasonably-priced 46€ four-course menu that had me tempted, with dishes like a starter of Bonbons crousti-fondants de chèvre servis tièdes,Gaspacho et dés de betteraves rouges, pointe de mascarpone (that's all one dish, by the way) and a plate of Suprême de pintade farci et gratiné au comté Asperges vertes, pommes dauphines, sauce champagne among the choices.

Instead, we compromised and opted for the 5-course (69€) and 4-course (60€) menu gourmands, me opting out of the meat course, with Ris de veau braisé au jus réduit Marmelade d'oignons au jambon Ibérico,Macaronis farcis et gratinés not my cup of tea nor the pigeon alternative: Poitrine de Pigeonneau rôtie au foie gras poêlé, Craquant de charlottes, épinards frais, rouelles d'échalote. Now even with my more psychological than physiological aversion to pigeon, I was clearly ready to take a few bites off Co's dish, and when this became evident to Mme Pavard, well, what do you know? When course three arrived, we found that two individual and copious preparations of the pigeon dish had been prepared - what turned out to be a kind of breast of pigeon sandwich - sandwiched between two rounded and thick crepes (think American pancakes) and stuffed with spinach, a very elegant dish that, sorry, wasn't exactly my cup of tea, but which really caught Co.'s fancy. Have to admit, that was a pretty classy act by M. Pavard.

As for the other courses, starting with the entrees - Co. was wowed by her foie gras dish (Foie gras de canard aux artichauts, Tube de pain de mie croustillant et émincé de Bresaola),the foie gras enhanced as it was by a terrific honeyed crust, artichoke and ham). I enjoyed my Carpaccio de lotte fumée à l'huile d'olives Picholines,Tomates séchées, caviar d'aubergines, pignons de pin - the pignons a nice touch, the thinly sliced lotte, but I don't know why, it just didn't send me to the stratosphere. Entrees followed by the fish plates: Filet de Sandre et poêlée de girolles, Ravioles de Carbonara et jus réduit de volaille for Co. and Filets de Rouget-Barbet en croûte de viennoise, Confit de fenouil aux olives de Kalamata et galettes de risotto moelleux for your's truly. Once again, Co. found her fish transplendant, whereas I was more impressed by the preparation than the memory of my rouget, the very tasty olives confit notwithstanding.

Following the pigeon(s), came the cheese, and I must admit, halfway into the fish, I think we both were already well sated, but onward we pressed! Co.'s long strip of Le Brie de Meaux farci aux noix was truly impressive, as was the cheese tray, from which I selected. Dessert was preceded by a candy store interlude as a row of varied colored marshmallow concoctions and patisseries were brought to the table (that's Michelin star territory right there), as well as a large glass sundae bowl of individually plastic-wrapped bon bons, of which I could never imagine an adult imbibing. I went the chocolate route for dessert, selecting from the Dessert menu the Tarte sablée au chocolat guanaja Servie tiède, crème glacée, chocolat liégeois "à boire" and Co. opting for the Framboises et chaud-froid de crème brûlée à la vanille, neither of which I found particularly enchanting, although I am sure Co. once again would disagree.

So there you have it, an elegant change of pace in a room that warmed up as the evening progressed. The tale of two critics should be pretty obvious by this juncture - Co. was thoroughly impressed by the whole Gestalt, whereas cranky, jaded old me ended up satisfied, having spent an enjoyable and at times surprising evening out, despite not being particularly wowed by my selections. Lest I forgot, the copious helpings of food were ably washed down by a tasty Haut Medoc Chateau Peyrabon 2001, reasonably priced at 36€. Excellent wine list, with enough under 45€ choices to keep one within budget.

14, avenue Boulingre
77860 Couilly-Pont-Aux-Dames
tel: 01 64 63 51 80
Website: aubergedelabrie.com

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tintilou - A Work in Progress

The more things change. . . after reading a couple positive reviews of Tinilou, including Heidi Ellison's Paris Update review, I started getting a feeling of deja vu when I noticed the rue de Montreuil address, and sure enough, it was the very same address of L’Aiguière, a restaurant I used to frequent, but had long forgotten about . . . at least since 30 June 2008, when I penned my not very kind review. L’Aiguière had been around for a number of years, but had obviously run its course. Fast forward to this past March when chef Jean-François Renard took over as new owner and gradually began the transition from L’Aiguière to Tintilou. And when I say 'gradually,' I mean it. Other than a complete transformation of the interior, whose now bright and bold new colors
apparently didn't touch the fancy of Ms. Ellison, there isn't a single clue as to the new restaurant's new nomenclature. "L’Aiguière" proliferates - on the menus, on the facade, on the little restaurant cards available at the entrance, and on the bill. In my view, if you're going to change your positioning - and that apparently is what the new owner has in mind, catering to a younger and more laid back clientele than its predecessor - maybe it would be a good idea to get that new name out there as bold and bright as the decor.

Before moving to the food, I have to disagree with Ms. Ellison's assessment of the new decor, which she suggests isn't to everyone's taste. So many Parisian restaurants have an overly stodgy look - L’Aiguière was awash in subdued nautical blues and whites, and the furnishings were handsome in that 'my grandmother would feel right at home here' kind of way. So kudos to M. Renard for throwing caution to the wind and brightening the place up. Apparently, he is also more than willing to take risks with the food, too, but not too boldly. Yet, it's early and I'm hoping once he settles in, the confidence will come. Co. and I opted for the 3-course 35€ fixed-price menu and, following a tasty mise-en-bouche, started off with two promising entrees: for me, the nem de rouget barbet, vinegrette ail et noix de cajou; for Co., boudon noir de Toulouse, pomme verte et crevette laquee (both pictured below).

Co. was particularly satisfied with her boudin noir, but the presentation won out over taste where my nems were concerned - actually one large nem sliced in half, evidentally much effort into the preparation, but this dish called for more taste sensations than were forthcoming, and the small bowl of cashew garlic vinegrette lacked the requisite spiciness. An interesting dish that did not totally disappoint, but it did come up short.

No photos of the main dishes: for me, a fresh Turbot, Barigoule de courgettes aux fèves et basilic Thaï, pretty good; for Co., 'la coucotte de mois', sot l'y laisse et ris de agneau cumin sesame, artichats poivrades, no platitudes for the latter. Co. opted for dessert cherries - Cerises, citronnelle, glace à « La pie qui chante »; for me, Rhubarbe, tuile dentelle abricot fraise. I had been forewarned by the reviews I consulted that the rhubarbe concoction, completely enveloped by a meringue crust, would be epic. My verdict: epic, as in very, very good.

Overall, a distinct predilection by M. Renard toward Asian fusion without losing the French traditional (another entree boasted Sardines Bretonnes, carpaccio de canard frais, guacamole).

My guess is that it's still a bit too early to tell whether Tintilou will reach the heights of the top new bistrots in Paris; it has a way to go, but the promise is there, and I will definitely check it out again during the Sept./Oct. rentree. They have some glitches to work out, that's for sure - for one, if you're going to call your new restaurant by a new name - get rid of the old one!! And, though I hesitate to mention this, it must be said - when our bill arrived, I noticed in addition to the 70€ for the two menus and 19€ for the Bourgueil, cuvée Jean Carmet, Bouvet Ladubay [by the way, the wine menu is replete with reasonably priced, interesting bottles], there was 6€ supplement. The 'supplements' are pretty common in Parisian restaurants - certain dishes that are part of a fixed-price menu may have an additional surcharge. That's not the problem. The problem during our visit is that no surcharge was indicated on the carte. That is a problem. This was confirmed when we exited and checked out the carte on display in the front. Sure enough, no supplement. Co., more courageous than myself, marched back into the restaurant to point this out. By the time I coyly followed, a waiter was already pulling 6€ in change out of the cash register. The hostess than explained that they hadn't checked the printed menu when it came back from wherever it started out from. Not a good policy, although I have a feeling they'll be more attentive to proofing the menu in the future. I notice at the website the supplement (for the coucotte de mois lamb dish, by the way) is indeed noted, only it has mysteriously increased to 7.50€. What are you goin' to do? A work in progress, indeed.


37 bis rue de Montreuil
75011 Paris
tel.: 01 43 72 42 32
Website: http://www.tintilou.fr/

More food from the website:

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Millésimes 62 - Middle of the Road

What to do when you need a place to eat in close proximity to Gare du Montparnasse? Well, if you know Paris, that's kind of a stupid question, because there are eateries coming up the wazoo. But this was the situation I was in, looking for a decent, last minute spot after picking up Co. at the station. La Cerisaie would have been perfect, just a hop, skip, and a jump outside the door of the station, but if you checked my last review, you know, been there, done that, and I didn't much like it. I thought of some of the famous Montparnasse brasseries like La Coupole and Le Bistrot du Dome, but I wasn't really up for the atrocious price/quality ratio they promised.

Now, how I came upon Millesimes 62, I cannot recall, but my 2008 Pudlo Paris guide recommended it highly, to wit: "Elegant and charming, flavorsome and vinic." I ask you, who the hell says "vinic"? I read somewhere what a great guide the Pudlo is (not so humbly named after its author, Gilles Pudlowski). Let me be the first to correct that. The Pudlo may not be the worst restaurant guide I have on hand, but it's pretty close. In fact, why mince words? It's lousy. Yet, ever in need of confirmation of my numerous, strongly-held opinions, I gave benefit to the doubt and reserved at M62. Situated elegantly and charmingly in an imposing batiment at the Place de Catalogne, right down the bvd Pasteur from the station, we were vinically welcomed by the friendly maitre-d Jean-Marc. I said 'Bonjour," Jean-Marc responded in English, always a bad start for your's truly. We were guided to an artifact-rich, nicely appointed dining room, which somehow gave me the impression that I was on someone's elegant and charming yacht. I don't know what gave me that nautical impression, but there was hint of a curiously unpleasant aroma in the room, probably attributed to an overly exuberant cleaning product.

I'm afraid my memory of the meal itself, unfortunately, is not as vivid in my long-term memory as Jean-Marc, the nautical ambiance, and the weird smell. We opted, as we are wont to do, for the three course menu, modestly priced at 29€. Co. was underwhelmed by her crumble de chevre chaud, sirop a la tomate. I fared better with a tartare de saumon. As for the main plates, check out my award-winning accompanying photos. To tell you the truth, I can't remember what the hell Co. ordered, nor can she, but I think it is very probable that she partook of the poitrine de canard roti, carmel d'epices. Whatever, her main dish came in a nice little container, with a nice boring half tomato on the side. I am afraid that her selection was neither flavorsome nor vinic. I selected the filet de bar a la plancha, courgettes confites (with a 1€50 supplement, quoi?). I remember the rather crispy skin of the fish and the rather tasty meat, but for some reason I had the impression it was taking me forever to finish the damn dish. I kept talking, eating, and drinking, as per habitude, yet the fish never seemed to diminish in size. There were desserts, and whatever they were, I'm sure they were okay. Co's impression of the whole Gestalt was decidedly more negative than mine, but basically let's just say the meal was nothing to write home about, wherever home may be. Too bad, because the Millesimes team really seem to be making a concerted effort to succeed. The aforementioned aroma notwithstanding, they've got an elegant and charming, and perhaps at times vinic, bar and dining room, they offer money-off discounts online, and the staff is friendly enough. Now if they could just do something to perk up the food, they might be on to something. (The bill: 87.50€, including a 28€ bottle of St Nicolas Bourgueil.)

May was a washout for me keeping up this blog, but a few eating experiences to point out before bringing this installment to a close. I'm not much of a lunch guy when it comes to dining out, yet circumstance--some non-French visitors during the month--required that I scope out a few spots in unfamiliar quarters for lunch. My research pointed me to two venues that more than proved to be up to the task. The first was just off the Champs-Elysee, near the Etoile, and around where my visiting companion was holed up in a 600€/night hotel. Not far away I found the small bistrot Oscar (still referred to as Bistrot Bizet in outdated guidebooks). We had a nice private table next to the opened facade, kind of half in/half out and had a very satisfying three-course lunch menu, a bit pricey at about 35€ per person with two glasses of wine a piece, but copious, and as I have always advised, if you can afford a 600€/night hotel room, you can afford a 35€ lunch. Oscar proved to be everything an extended lunch (over two hours) in Paris is supposed to be.

The second worthy lunch of note was around the eastern edge of Paris in the 20th, La Boulangerie. Just in town from the US left coast's sunny California via NYC to an overcast Paris, my companion and myself ambled over to La Boulangerie, one of those spots that has long been on my 'to do' list since Time Out Paris used to have a little English section in Pariscope. La Boulangerie met all the necessary requirements for a welcome to Paris lunch--a genial staff and full house, and well prepared three-course menu. Affordably priced 17€ menus, three glasses of wine, and two cafes came to a measly 54.50 for two. With savings like that, you'll have plenty left over to check out that 600€ hotel, if that's your cup of tea.

Just to add,the highlights of the month of May were two dinners at a couple favorites: La Gazzetta and Le Gaigne. Go there now.

Sandrine & Stephane Savorgnan
13/15 place de Catalogne
75014 Paris
tel. 01 43 35 35 35

6, rue de Chailoot
75116 Paris
tel. 01 476 20 26 92

15 rue des Panoyaux
75020 Paris
tel. 01 43 58 45 45
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