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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Le Beurre Noisette - Hard's Gone Soft

Back in August 2010, Co. and I partook in a very satisfying dinner at Le Beurre Noisette, just under the gun before they closed up shop for an extended summer vacation culminating in an overhaul of the quaint and aged interior.  We've been meaning to go back ever since to discover the reincarnated LBN but just never got around to it, the restaurant situated -at least for us - on the other side of Paris in the far reaches of the 15th.  Well, as luck would have it, the Moose was back in town and up for a rendezvous near his Parisian abode, which just so happens to be a metro stop away from the aforementioned venue.  Alas, the 'other side of Paris' is always in the eyes of the beholder.  As I sat waiting for the Moose at a table outside Le Murmure Cafe, conveniently located just next to the Boucicaut metro stop, I could almost imagine the approaching Parisian Spring, punctuated at my first table by the reek of the garbage containers waiting to be emptied and, after moving to a table on the other side, the wafting fumes of an endless stream of cigarettes spewed out by the young clientele texting away at tables to my north and west. Maybe I should have titled this post 'Both Sides Now.'

At any rate, by the time we approached LBN following a six minute walk from the Lourmel metro, it was immediately apparent that times have changed, or at least the interior and clientele had, edging toward somewhat more upscale than neighborhood informal.  A warm welcome, quickly followed by a decent mise en bouche, after which the dreaded blackboard was brought to our table.  I get it, why print up a menu when your offerings regularly change, but the barely readable scrawled offerings on a slate tablet sitting on a chair beside the table, waiting to be snapped up and moved to another table, just brings me nothing but stress.  On second thought, just type up a daily menu, make 20 photocopies and, voila, you're in business. 

However, to the slate we return, with its four or five offerings listed under the obligatory headings of entree, plat, and dessert.  A three-course menu was priced at the just under slightly upscale 35€ level. Another gripe: the slate tablet carte format seems to beg for little additions in the form of price supplements.  A +3€ here, a +5€ there, and all of a sudden, the 35€ menu becomes €35 not really.  I know, whine, whine, and speaking of wine, the carte in this case offered some reasonably priced bottles, among which - at the lower end - I selected a Saint-Chinian 2010 (25€).  Once allowed to breathe, the initial fruitiness waned to tolerable, and ultimately, decent levels.

It was during the early stages of the festivities that the Moose decided to forgo the menu and select from the entrees (12€) and plats soir (20€).  Upon informing our waitress, no, he would not be having dessert, a sudden hush fell upon the room - forks were dropped, glasses were stopped mid arc, the hustling and bustling in the kitchen stopped dead. No, I exaggerate, but in France the dessert is sacred.  As I've often opined, the Moose marches to the beat of his own drum and if he didn't want dessert, well, it was his prerogative.  Knowing full well that the LBN's famous baba au rhum comes with its own bottle of rum, dessert was not an issue for your's truly, and so the 35€ menu, supplements included, was a no brainer.

Now to the food - sort of.  I admit, I'm a bit rusty, having taken one of my annual hiatuses and sticking to the humdrum, but reliable, establishments close to home for the past few weeks.  I had my tablet in hand, but I screwed up my camera apps and have little to show in the way of photos, including the shot of the blackboard carte.  Here's what I remember:  I started with a very tasty tagliatelle de seches - calamari strips arranged to resemble a pile of spaghetti, settled nicely in a subtle, vinegary sauce (+3€).  This being the asparagus moment in the capital, where the rarely-seen green stalks become increasingly prevalent in markets and restaurants, the Moose opted for an asparagus entree, much enhanced by some pieces of something pinkish, which we forgot to ask the waitress about - my guess, betterave.  But really, a 5€ supplement for an asparagus entree?  Check out this photo of my seches - I know, it looks veritably radioactive - believe me, in truth, it was a more attractive dish.

The Moose was unimpressed by his lamb and vegetables main plate, whereas I was perfectly contented by the cabillaud roti, accompanied by a bed of the more prevalent - in France, that is - white asparagus.  Nothing really creative about either dish, but the fish was succulent and satisfying.

As for the baba au rhum, I remembered something a bit more elaborate during my first visit to LBN, but memories can deceive.  After all, what is a baba au rhum if not for a small yeast cake accompanied by whipped cream and rum?  Pretty simple, and simple is what arrived at the table - the naked cake sitting all lonely in a shallow plate, the large dollop of whipped cream resting in anticipation in its little dish, and the bottle of rum.  Yo ho ho, the best part of this dish is the calibration - how much rum can I pour over the cake before the dish stops being a dessert and starts becoming a sot's delight?  And really, who's counting?  When it comes to DIY, I think this is my favorite dish.

So what to make of the new - at least since two plus years - Le Beurre Noisette?  Well, I've only been there twice - once before and once after the remodeling - but I can conclude that the ambiance has somewhat less of a casual, neighborhood feel.  Despite the more elegant trimmings (and elegant is overstating it), the venue remains comfortable, friendly, and rather informal.  Don't expect to be overwhelmed by creativity from the kitchen, but chef Thierry Blanqui does seem to shoot for somewhere between hearty and sort of interesting.  The annoying supplements notwithstanding, LBN does provide the little extras, a mise en bouche and a couple little patisseries at meal's end, albeit, which didn't quite compensate for their €5 espresso.  Both sides now.

68 rue Vasco de Gama
75015 Paris
tel: 01 48 56 82 49
website: lebeurrenoisette.com

Before checking out, I got the camera apps working more effectively during a recent visit back to L'Ecu de France not far east of Paris on the Marne.  You can check out my earlier review of L'Ecu, so I'll just share the photos here.  Less creative than previous visits, and the vast space was more populated by waitstaff than diners - to be fair, the night was chilled and overcast, and L'Ecu seems to owe its longevity (the edifice itself dates to 1716) to weekend lunches and receptions.  On the night of the recent visit with Co., now past the midway portion of April, the humongous fireplace in the foyer was raging, a fire that would have adequately roasted a good number of suckling pigs.  On the up side, if you ever want to be treated like royalty, you can either marry a prince or princess or head over to L'Ecu when only two other tables are taken.  A finally oiled machine - one waiter delicately delivers the rolls, followed by another who changes the silverware, another who pours the wine, another who brings the plates, another who delicately lifts a linen napkin to wipe your mouth, etc.  Pretty cool . . . if you're into that sort of thing.

Tuna tartare mise en bouche


Foie gras



 Magret de canard

Creme brulee

31, Rue de Champigny
94430 Chennevieres sur Marne
tel: 01 45 76 00 03
website: http://www.ecudefrance.com/
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