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Saturday, February 4, 2012

La Vitrine - Spring Backwards, Fall Ahead

By Paris standards, this past Friday night was virtually arctic, but Co. and I gamely donned several layers and headed out to the metro, direction Pigalle, and ascended into the Paris night at the Anvers stop. As we walked toward La Vitrine, our destination for the evening, and approached the square on rue Turgot, we paused for a moment to turn around to have a look at the Sacre Coeur, sitting majestically atop Montmartre all aglow. Once we passed the Auvergne cheese and fish stalls aligning the square, there was the Montparnasse tower off in the distance straight ahead. Paris it is. And my mood was truly upbeat, because after checking out Vitrine's website and catching a glimpse at the following dishes, I was looking forward to a memorable meal.

I really wanted to like La Vitrine. First, there are those snide comments on other review sites about how La Vitrine is doomed from the start, having moved into the old site of the local legend, Spring. Now, I still haven't found out how wonderful and super fantastic Spring is, because the last time I tried to reserve there, which is when they still resided at the rue de la Tour D'Auvergne location, I was told, sorry, we're fully booked until 2015, or something like that. Second, everything was copacetic upon arrival. A nice welcome from the charming hostess, we were seated abutting the counter separating the dining room from the open kitchen.

It's understandable that a wildly successful venue like Spring would bolt from its original location. La Vitrine's owners have done an admirable job of making full use of the limited sq. meters, lining up a grand total of 9 tables along the two walls. The offerings for the evening, barely legible on two mounted slate boards included the following dishes, as listed at the website:

Unfortunatley, La Vitrine ultimately didn't live up to expectations. I went with the marinated tuna, the fish of the day - a rectangular slab of lean white fish, poisson maigre - and the lemon tartelette. Co. opted for the raviole (which unfortunately couldn't touch that of Table D'Eugene, see my last entry), cochon, and creme brulee. The personal touch of Israeli-born-and-bred chef Kobi Villot-Malka, seen preparing the tuna marinee dish below, was plainly visible to the naked eye. After all, as he was preparing the dishes, he was probably as close to me as Co. was at the other side of our small square table.

All that work put into each individual tuna entree resulted in a dish whose taste was surprisingly un-wow (pardon my deconstruction of the English language). My maigre (2nd image below) was delicious, but the accompanying thick turnip circle didn't seem to make any sense - its slightly bitter taste contrary to the almost sweet elegance of the fish. The small cubes of panais - a root vegetable close to the carrot - were pretty much tasteless. What could have been a great dish ended up as a minor disappointment. Co. was less critical of her cochon dish, savoring the topinabour cream. Two big thumbs up for the desserts, however. I now recognize that I am an easy mark when it comes to well-prepared lemon tarts, and the one at La Vitrine was a winner, accompanied by a mound of gentle slices of mango and cassis. Much care also went into the creme brulee with truffes preparation - Co. happens to be a creme brulee fanatic, and this one scored mightedly.

The meal was washed down with a decent bottle of Haute Cotes Beaune, reasonably priced at 27€. The wine menu was relatively short, but well composed. A couple of post-meal cafes, brought to the table in cute little covered tasses, brought the grand total, including a couple 'supplements' to 107€. The menu lacked from inclusion of a cheese course - incomprehensible given the Auvergne cheese stalls a couple blocks away, and I'll say it again - why not bring a couple patisseries along with the coffee, especially when the dessert menu lacks a chocolate option? Little things, big effects. Too bad to see only three other tables occupied during our visit, perhaps more a function of the weather than reputation. I got the impression chef Kobi likes to experiment, so maybe you'll have better luck, but I don't think we'll be returning. La Vitrine is still fairly new and it deserves a look. Nonetheless, as we made our way to Gare du Nord, a light snow was falling, reminding us that we're still a long way from Spring.

28, rue de la Tour D'Auvergne
75009 Paris
01 45 23 99 13
website: www.restaurant-lavitrine.com

Easing Into 2012

As per habitude, Co. and I eased into 2012 by venturing out to two of our usual haunts during the first two weekends of the year, Table d'Eugene and L'Agrume, respectively. At a time when a new year heralds all kinds of potential for change, including various resolutions that we typically forget about one week later, when it comes to restaurants, our tendency is to lean toward the tried and true. And that's about all I have to say about these two Paris bistrots that I have previously reviewed extensively at this site - we tried them again and they remain true to our hearts.

LA TABLE D'EUGENE Admittedly, the return trip to Eugene was over a month ago, and I'm afraid I can't provide many details about the various courses that comprised the 38€ menu, accompanied by a 33€ bottle of Saumur (Eolithe). As usual, Co. was transported more by Eugene than I was, but my ravioles in cream entree was sublime (2nd image below). I've had that disgusting looking chocolate dessert you see below - the Blob - before: it starts off as an elegantly perfect, shiny globe, but once the chocolate cream is poured over the glistening black chocolate exterior, the composition implodes. The kid in me really gets off on that sort of thing, but the decrepit hedonistic adult in me loves the taste. The highlights follow:

One week later it was back to L'Agrume, a venue we try to get to 4 or 5 times during the year, and why not? Chef Franck Marchesi makes sure to change the menu...every single day. So there we were, snug at our favorite front corner table, surrounded by glass in the comfortable, dimly lit room, but in full view of the open kitchen activity. I had my camera in my pocket, but once I snapped a barely readable photo of the evening's five-course 39€ tasting menu, the camera returned to my pocket for the rest of the meal. I must have felt more Parisian than tourist/blogger that evening, especially after progressing through the tasty bottle of Palhas red (34€) and didn't want to wreck the mood by playing photographer. You'll just have to close your eyes and imagine - up to the somewhat disappointing banana dessert, it was business as usual, i.e., excellent, the creamy risotto with smoked eel a standout.

18 rue Eugene Sue
75018 Paris
tel: 01 42 55 61 64

15, rue des Fosses St-Marcel
Paris 5th
01 43 31 86 48
website: www.restaurantlagrume.fr
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