October 12, 2015 | BITE: My Journal

Fancy That, Lunch!

Prawn-dusted crisps hide small dollops of eggplant cream, fussy but delicious.
Prawn-dusted crisps hide small dollops of eggplant cream, fussy but delicious.

          The days grew more intense, more demanding as our departure neared. The simple little bistros I thought I’d revisit in my ten-day escape to Paris got cancelled as time compressed. A quick sandwich on the Rue de Buci and window shopping on Rue Jacob – I was seized with a desperate need to buy something.

Baccarat sconces, cubist ceiling, staff in tight-fighting navy suits, women with buns.

          Certainly I am totally opposed to a fancy tasting lunch on my last day in town. Dinner, perhaps. But here we are, the three of us at Jean-François Piège’s crankily uncommunicative and impossible to book Le Grand Restaurant Jean-François Piège. Fancy, stuffy, popinjay perky, precious. There is a 190 Euro “Debut of Autonne” tasting and a 245 Euro “Signature” event, too. Ours will be 84 Euros (the bargain choice). I am sure I will despise it.

Server dons scary black cotton gloves to deliver unusual layered bread.

          But fancy (Baccarat sconces and crazy quilt ceiling), perky (integrated young crew in tight navy suits, females coiffed with buns), precious (oversize black gloves dispensing an astonishing layered bread and butter on a curl of sculpted metal) as it is, the bruising euro pinch seems almost reasonable in the flavorsome triumphs of over-the-top amuses and boldface trickery.

It’s a trick! The silver egg delivers shocking taste surprises at two levels.

          Crisp, inflated potatoes soufflées dabbed with caviar atop a shellfish cream and silvers of cèpe. A creamy tourte of sweet onion, herring and crushed praline.  A silver egg mirroring the room with the natural gel of langoustine at the bottom and more caviar.

The tourte of sweet onion with herring sounded awful. But on the contrary.

          Two of us share a large veal chop cooked rare over nutshells (presented raw in its smoker for our approval, or maybe edification.) It’s meaty and fine, with more cèpes, raw and cooked, as is the creamy walnut mousseline spooned alongside.

The turbot is perfectly cooked; the circle of flowers and herbs is better than Fashion Week.

          My friend Lauren’s turbot stops conversation dead. Decked out like a nouveau riche matron wearing everything in her jewel box, except here everything is a leaf, an herb, a flower, a berry or a nut with a puddle of lime curry.

A bang with the spoon unleashes the sweet pastry cream river inside this floating island.

          After a rondelle of floating island, its cascade of crème anglaise released by the spoon, a parade of desserts arrives – I did confess that my wish to be anonymous has not been honored, didn’t I? There are fraises des bois, raspberry snow, flouve ice cream (a flower used in perfume), an oval of Perrier sorbet, and an adagio in almond milk.

A quartet of desserts includes this chocolate and raspberry confection.

          Then comes a wooden mystery box to unlatch, revealing a pudding of bergamot (another essential of perfumery) at the bottom of stone cups and stone spoons to eat it with. The cask is trundled away and the table is bare when yet another youthful server sidles up and suddenly smashes a chocolate ball on the table, releasing candy, chocolate and fruit gels. 

A mystery box arrives that we are expected to unbuckle reveals bergamot custard in stone cups.

          That last act, yet another house add-on to our 84 euro menu, leaves us giggling and nibbling – the gel is cold and chewy. Was the ball frozen? There are veteran connoisseurs who have not admired Chef Piège’s efforts in the past and warned me I might be disappointed.  But I was neither drunk nor drugged, so you’ll just have to take it from a serial eater who’s lost patience with egomaniacal tasting, that this one is worth courting whomever you know with connections to get in. Le Grand Restaurant de Jean-François Piège 7 Rue d’Aguesseau, 8th 33 1 53050000

Loaves and Parsnips

The soup of the day is a parsnip porridge with fried parsnip crisps.

          I cherish fond memories of the legendary Lionel Poilâne, and his wife Ybu (we lived in their guest room once for longer than they anticipated), and will always think of Rue de Cherche Midi as the street of Poilâne Bakery, run now by his daughter Apollonia. But today my friend Yanou Collart, the diva publicist of Paris, is suggesting we take time for lunch near the foot of Cherche Midi at La Bien Décidé, a small bistro owned by Gerard Depardieu, the former French now Russian actor, whose grand villa rises behind a walled garden on the same street as well as his fish monger’s and his shop selling fancy Japanese goods.

Both my Challans duck (enough for two or three) and Laurens beef tartare are first-rate.

          A waitress settles us at a tiny two-top next to the Depardieu wine bins across from a flamboyant creature who must be an actor, holding court, at the only other occupied table. A brief menu chalked on a little blackboard is propped on the next table. I’m pleased with the porridge that comes in a tilted bowl with crisped root spikes. Lauren’s beef tartare is feisty and rich. Two of us or even three could share the huge half of a roasted duck from Challans, a little bit chewy but also very tasty, alongside a root vegetable puree.

We study the dessert menu propped on the next table and decide to save ourselves for dinner.

          What is it? I ask the waiter.  “I don’t know the name in English,” he says. “It looks like a white carrot.”  Parsnip, actually, Yanou tells me later. It seems she called Depardieu on a movie set in Marseille. He is  pleased I liked my lunch. And laughs at the waiters linguistic plight, using a four letter “C” word that is only three letters in French.

          It would be foolish of me to lead you here without some caution based on just one surprisingly fine 67 Euro lunch. We did not even taste the actor’s wine, saving ourselves for full immersion at dinner. But if you’re drawn to the neighborhood anyway for Poilâne cookies or a chunk of the bread, you might  consider Girard’s lunch. Depardieu (it was an issue of taxes) has said he will open a brasserie in his new “official” home, Saransk, the capital of Moldavia.  Let’s keep that in mind. La Bien Décidé 117 rue du Cherche Midi. 6th. 33 1 45 48 39 29.

Thirty Years of Passion

Michel Rostang’s classic quenelle de brochet is a silken cloud in excellent lobster cream.

          Memories of my last little drop-in at Michel Rostang’s two-star Michelin corner are vivid. I can almost taste the fresh black truffle sandwich on buttered country bread that I’d chosen from his special truffle menu at his urging. That’s what I had in mind when I called to see what day would be good for a reunion.

The crisped sweetbread swims on a crayfish cream with cèpes stuffed into pasta shells.

          He insists I come for dinner Saturday night. I can’t remember the last time I invested in Restang’s two-star dinner. In earlier years, Steven and I would eat next door at the cozy, cluttered Le Bistrot d'à Côté, around the corner. The tightly-packed room lined with the Rostangs’ flea market collections sometimes seemed almost too cute, but the food was always splendid.

Wild duck breast paved with cèpes, the legs in a cabbage roulade, with fresh fig.

           I see tonight’s menu celebrates Rostang’s 30th year with “the Grand Classiques of Michel” and the signature dishes of Nicolas Baumann, his new partner. “He will take over the restaurant when I decide to retire,” Michel explains. He is lively, racing in and out of the four small dining rooms, each with a different theme, greeting guests, dashing in and out of the kitchen, chiding the crew or, who knows, cheering them on. I watch through the window behind our table. He doesn’t look ready to shed his whites and retire to the country. Marie Claude Rostang is a bundle of blonde energy on high heels at the podium welcoming Americans, grey-hairs, and later, long-legged mannequins in teasingly brief skirts.

Pig’s head for the Rostangs late supper arrives from the bistro next door.

          I ask Michel if my companion and I can share a single 175 Euro menu with the addition of two classics from the a la carte menu. The house’s famed little bread arrives, small fried whitefish from the Talloires River in a shot glass, a crispy dome of sweet pea and wasabi, a little foie gras amuse, a crepinette of frog’s legs with roasted artichoke in a watercress sauce, crab with jelly and cèpe -- a small dish, miraculous. Everything is framed by a series of different plates from Bernardaud.

Bitter running chocolate tart with coffee crémeux sauce.

          Wild girolles with mussels and bits of chorizo, blue lobster with chestnut butter, wild duck and more cèpes. The two of us taste and pass. The captain brings out Rostang’s classic quenelle de brochet  uncooked so we can see the before and after. The inflated cloud that follows is more Falstaffian than any quenelle I’ve ever seen. Cut in half and set on a classic crème de homard, the mix of silk and revved up lobster essence makes me giddy. As I sponge up the sauce, more is quickly poured, and then, again.

Behind us a screen drops over the kitchen signaling clean-up hour.

          A coral-colored crayfish crème under the croustillante of sweetbreads that follows adds to the classic decadence. The crunch and the dazzle of crayfish curls alternating with cèpe-stuffed pasta shells command more sighs.

          Memory fades a bit, even with photographs. I recall a fine bitter chocolate tarte running all over the plate. There is gold leaf as always on the classic “cigar” filled with Hennessy cognac cream. My notes mention fig with violette and, of course, other small goodies.

          After 11, the Rostangs sit down across the room to eat the pig’s head she has ordered from their bistro next door. We toast. A photograph on a screen drops down to hide the kitchen. At my insistence, a bill is presented, just 210 Euros for dinner and two 15 Euro glasses of wine, family price, I am sure. A stunning, even exciting, meal, with indulgent service (never elusive, never starchy), a change of pace in today’s Paris eats scene that one should consider. 20 Rue Rennequin, 17eme. 33 1 47 63 40 77.

A View from La Monnaie

Our server has almost a militant snap as she dissects the fish head to give us the delicate throat.

          I’d noted and tweeted Michelin three star chef Guy Savoy’ move to Hotel de La Monnaie – the imposing former mint building overlooking the Seine. With just ten days to chart the town’s new culinary climate, I wasn’t tempted.

          But Yanou suggests I might want to try the 110 Euro lunch. She agrees to join us, neglecting to mention there is only one 110 Euro table a day reserved for “guests who wish to discover – or rediscover – the delights of a French gourmet restaurant but who hesitate.”  It’s three-courses and available only to web browsers, I later discover.

Guy Savoy’s artichoke soup with black truffles is deliciously heady.

          Never mind on what fantasy, we are seated window-side in the last of the six little art-filled rooms -- sleek and sophisticated  -- at a round draped with heavy cotton. I wish I had room here for all the photos that tell the tale of mooching under false pretenses. The radishes with wheatgrass butter. The foie gras wrapped in filo with croutons on a skewer. The intensity of artichoke soup with discs of black truffle afloat served with a mushroom brioche slathered with truffle butter.

Here for the 110 lunch, we get the royal seduction from the house, like this perfect serving of bass.

          I don’t recall what our stylish server in her lean grey suit is pouring into that cup with the croquette hiding underneath, but I can’t forget the “coquillages in marmite éphémère,” with cuts of celery root, a haunting broth, and tiny clams on the rim of the plate. Or the exquisite blushing flesh of the roasted bass neck she delicately excises from the whole fish head bussed to us in its own silver holder.

Clams in and out of the shell are arranged in this coquillages en marmite éphémère.

          The little roulades of Bresse chicken seem to be the only failure of imagination, easily atoned for by the 
savory little curls of macaroni alongside. Cheese carts stocked for native connoisseurs – isn’t that why I’ve come to Paris? I must have Roblochon and Saint-Marcellin. Did I say something about not being in the mood for figs? The walls have ears. A Mirabelle plum dessert arrives instead, as well as a jewel of a fig balanced opposite a homemade marshmallow.

The chef de cuisine seems to be bored with the bird but his savory macaroni makes up for the lapse.

          Our server rolls a small armoire of mignardises into view with doors flung wide: macarons, more marshmallows, chocolate bonbons, truffles. Yanou directs the waiter d’ to produce my bill. Sure enough, 110 Euros. My companion, like Yanou, is a guest of the house. Others will pay possibly 200 Euros a la carte to 390 for the most expensive tasting without drinks.

Around the corner from La Monnaie is Guy Savoys jewel-like brioche shop. We stock up for breakfast.

          Lauren and I march around the corner. We need a little exercise, after all. Our path leads directly to Guy Savoy’s “Maison des Brioches” where we select a trio of tall pastries.  Already planning tomorrow’s breakfast. Restaurant Guy Savoy. Restaurant Guy Savoy. Monnaie de Paris. 11 quai de Conti. 6eme. 33 1 43 80 40 61.


Photos may not be used without permission of Gael Greene. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

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