Hope you don’t mind me making this post a twofer…
I happened to be in Paris during the same week as @Kjtravels, and as it happened, my menu of restaurants was completely different. Still, I would have to say, that for me, the combination of restaurants (and one at home meal with friends) was just overall the most delicious and satisfying week of eating (and being in Paris) to me I think I have ever had. So, here’s my report:
Unlike my fellow traveler, my flight into Paris left on time and was uneventful (my nightmare flight into Europe was at Christmastime). I arrived early morning at Orly (I do love arriving at this airport), and was having my first coffee and catching up with news with my landlord/friend at Le Peloton by 10 a.m. The place was seriously jammed with assorted 20-somethings in a way that I hadn’t seen it in a long, long time. I said something about the crowd to Paul, one of the owners, and he shrugged to me and said, “It’s spring.” Yeah, I thought, spring coming after the first winter in a while, where we weren’t holding our collective breaths, hoping to avoid sickness and death. Yes, the city was still rocking with protest and strikes, but I began to understand the whole picture, garbage and all, as signs of life writ large.
My friend and I took the first of several walks around the neighborhood, and stores were still not open so “early” in this Friday Marais morning. I was reminded anew that Paris is a very different city than my native New York, and that mornings are quiet; streets clear of traffic during my 9 a.m. cab ride into town, and shops still closed mid-morning. I spent my days in Paris, walking, seeing some art, doing a little shopping, napping, and reading. I cannot eat more than one real meal a day, so sometimes the days included a croissant or a sandwich, but not more. I ate my big meals this trip at night (not always the case for me, but it worked out that way for this week).
Friday night, I ate at my favorite local, Le MaZenay. Recent H.O. reports have not been very positive, but this place remains for me a homey and delicious stop, and this trip no different. The place filled up soon after I arrived for my 8 pm reservation, with mostly locals it seemed to me, though there was a table of two young German women next to me when I arrived who were just finishing. Couples out for a Friday night, some two’s, some four’s, and a big table in the corner celebrating what looked like Grandma’s birthday. I can’t comment about the criticism of similar vegetables on every plate, since I was eating alone, but vegetables and all, my food was delicious and a welcome meal after a long night and day for me. I ate a tart of white asparagus, 'tis the season (lucky me), a sole meuniére (with bright and varied veggies), and a kind of fritter for dessert with tropical fruits and a banana sauce (sounds sweet, but the bites were tart and then sweet in my mouth with a pleasure that made me smile). Pictures below (sorry in advance I don’t have pics of every meal). Lan, the co-owner and FOH, poured me glasses of two excellent wines (sorry, I am lame when it comes to knowing what I am drinking), and by the time I finished my coffee, I was ready to sleep.
Actually, found this picture of the wine that Chef poured me to go with my fish:
Saturday night was the only clunker meal of my trip. I had been wanting to try Pierre Sang Oberkampf for a long time, as it is open Sunday nights and has been strongly recommended on this board by people whose opinions I respect. I can only think it has been a while since they ate here. I ate at the counter in the front room (I know there are other spaces here, but I never went to look, sorry) and was sitting with two groups of French people (not sure if they were local) on my right who immediately introduced themselves to each other, and seemed to by having a nice time, and two women (English speakers as it turned out, one from London, the other from Australia) who had been in school in Paris together twenty years ago and have stayed connected ever since. They were memorably called, Julia and Julia!
So, although the food was seriously underwhelming, the company made it a very pleasant evening. I only remember five of the dishes (I didn’t take pictures of all of them, alas, as this would have helped). There was soup first, a couple of spoonfuls of a white soup, could have been potato/leek (but was in reality cauliflower) with a strong accent of wasabi. (An aside here: the “gimmick” of the place is that they ask you to guess the ingredients after you have the dish. In this first case, I got the wasabi, but not to cauliflower, e.g.) The next dish, looked like maybe it was pasta flavored with beet, as they were plating it in front of us at the counter, but turned out to be just ribbons of raw beet, with a little sauce (don’t remember what was in it, tasteless as I recall) and a little caviar and lemon peel:
The main courses were two tiny pieces of first fish (mackerel, I didn’t guess, but I knew it was oily and vaguely fishy) with mashed potatoes flavored with wasabi again (this I did guess) and a similarly small piece of pressed together beef pieces that was overcooked and dry that the Julia to my far left ate one bite of and left the rest along with carrots. The dessert was a carrot ice cream with gingerbread (again dry) with a sour cream sauce in between. I only have a picture of the fish when I had already eaten a small bite (but you can still get the idea, I think):
I have looked at pictures of the food from before, and it seems like there have been menus that looked very appetizing indeed, with actual food on the plate, but not this one. I will not be back, even on a Sunday night.
I had a spectacular dinner at my friends’ house on Sunday night, where I again got to sample white asparagus, this time with a “mousseline” sauce. I didn’t have a clue what this sauce was, but I saw the preparation, and although it tasted lighter than air, the main ingredients of egg yolk, butter, and whipped heavy cream made this taste something of a magic trick I am still pondering, and glad this isn’t an every day occurrence. Dinner ended with my friend’s grandmother’s chocolate mousse and a wonderful Banyuls that I had somehow sweet-talked a local caviste to part with from his private collection.
Monday’s dinner was another winner. I had booked Dilia for dinner with a French friend who lives in Paris but, like me, had not been. I think we would both thank fellow H.O.er @sfcarole for her turning our attention to this restaurant (as well, for me of my later-in-the-week meal at Omar Dhiab). I arrived before my friend, to a largely full restaurant, filled with a young, chic crowd that was full by the time she joined me. It is a noisy space when full, but again, to me, this felt like the sudden joy of life and season. The waiter was fun and friendly, and I think very much took a shine to my dinner companion, whose choice of wine (made by a female winemaker, sorry don’t remember her name, but if my friend wants to chime in, it was a wonderful bottle with meal) seemed to really impress him. And she had also clearly made a pal of the chef by the time we were done.
It’s a set menu, laid out in the carte, with options for 5, 7, or 8 courses. And unlike a lot of set menus, they were happy to exchange one of the other courses listed for one of the 5, if there was some allergy or dislike issue. I thought long and hard about doing this, as I knew the meat main course of duck was coming with beets, not my favorite. But I went with the 5 courses including the duck because I happen to love duck and wasn’t willing to trade. Good move, since the beets were a revelation, roasted in the meaty duck gravy, they tasted like a meat themselves, unlike any beets I’d ever had…there were a few slices of raw beets on top of the dish, a pale echo of the beet dish at Pierre Sang. Unlike that one, the raw beets were the garnish, not the main part of the dish.
For some reason, my pictures came out dark. But in addition to the five courses (and we added the cheese plate to this to share), there were three amuse-bouches and an additional dessert that were all extraordinary little bites that, in the first cases, made us first open our eyes wide and then settle in for the treat that was to come; and in the last, a delicious zabaglione that we heard Chef whipping for us in the kitchen made with grappa and served with a canéle, a perfect illustration of the marriage of Italian and French cooking that we had experienced throughout. Here are the pictures, but let me just highlight for you, the perfectly cooked fish and duck, as well as the tortoloni that were stuffed with “cacio e pepe”
First two of the amuse-bouches:
Then what I have of the rest:
Two pictures of the duck:
The two desserts from the menu were very different, though both used fresh citrus fruits. The second one (picture didn’t come out) was grapefruit with a pistachio encrusted pain perdu also with an ice cream (can remember the flavor, sorry, but the empty bowls are in the final picture):
We enjoyed everything about this restaurant and look very much forward to coming back.
The next night, @Carmenere arranged for a couple of friends of mine and I to come and taste organic wines and eat at YARD. It was definitely an education (at rapid speed French a lot of the time, a little above my total comprehension) that delved seriously into the kinds of soil and shale involved in these new iterations of “organic” wine making. We tasted several glasses and then settled on a bottle of white (Lulu) and a red (sorry can’t remember but I liked it and the white very much) to go with our very good meal that we all shared that started with some excellent croquettes of pig’s (something) and paté en croute followed by delicious quail and a pasta with a curry sauce and clams, enjoyed by all with some excellent bread! (Sorry, no pictures, as I was working hard to keep up with the conversation!)
Wednesday night was Omar Dhiab, again a big merci to @sfcarole and also to @ParnParis for guiding me to this restaurant. It won a Michelin star just after I had booked it, and I hoped it remained as good as they had said, even so. I had one disastrous experience last year with a meal at another young chef’s newly-minted Michelin restaurant, and remained somewhat wary. I had nothing to fear here. The welcome was warm and sincere. One walks by the open kitchen, where the Chef himself as well as his team stop to greet their guests, on the way to the comfortable dining room, with various off-shoots for more, semi-private dining.
As it happened, I was dining with the same friend I had been with for that meal-that-shall-not-be-mentioned from last year, so when our wine (a splendid Mersault that enhanced our meal) failed to arrive for quite a while after our amuse-bouches were served, I began to worry a bit. And when it finally arrived, it was still fairly warm, I have to admit to some serious déjà vus. But the service could not have been more accommodating to this error, and offered us a glass of cold white from the Loire (the other region we had been contemplating when we chose our bottle) to begin our meal while they chilled the Mersault. It went very well with the amuses as well as the first dish of the meal.
Here I have to apologize, as I have no pictures, and am going to be hard-pressed to describe with any accuracy this incredible meal. We were offered a choice of 5, 7, or 9 courses (we added cheese, and I could have done without this) and went with 7 for 138 euros. From melt-in-your mouth beef tongue on a stick, to vine leaf tempura (two of the amuse) to that first dish, a sea bream (maybe some variety of cured raw) in a vaguely Middle Eastern tasting sauce that had different tastes and textures (crunchy bits) in every bite to a single, perfect stalk of green asparagus to a sweetbread sandwich described as the Chef’s signature dish, to the final savory lamb from nose to tail, literally on the plate (a sausage at the bottom, and a perfectly rare slice of lamb at the top) to the final orgasmic chocolate dessert on three plates, all I can say is, Wow! I would say, if you haven’t tried this place and enjoy creative, modern French cooking, Run! (Here, I am trying in my small way to echo the kind of enthusiastic appreciation of a new discovery, though hardly “new” in this case with its ètoile, that I miss so from John Talbot’s absent “typepad.”)
Thursday night I ate solo at Jeanne-Aimée. This was a fourth time eating there, and I had four courses that for me eclipsed anything I had eaten there before. There were the oft-mentioned gougères and some other amuse-bouches, and then came my courses (no dessert) with pictures, and the menu from my night:
The man who runs the front of house greeted me warmly, gave me a nice table, and after a first glass of white wine, arranged for smaller glasses of different wines (one sake) to go with courses. This is the second time I have eaten solo here, and I just think they are so welcoming in this, as well as other kinds of parties. They clearly get joy out of diners’ enjoyment of their excellent food and experiences.
I had the cèleri brulé (best part of this was the intense mushroom sauce, yum!), gyoza, lotte, and côte d’agneau (sorry the pictures are weirdly sideways, something I did wrong?):
Finally, Friday night I had an early supper at Grande Brasserie, as I had an early flight on Saturday morning. I had booked a table for two at Parcelles for that night, but when my friend I was thinking of having dinner with couldn’t join me for the 9 p.m. table, I cancelled for two reasons: lateness of hour before my flight and that booking a table for 1 there is not possible online, and I didn’t want to get into a hassle in case this was because the restaurant didn’t want to welcome a solo traveler (haven’t been to the restaurant, so don’t about this, but welcome any thoughts about the future, if anyone knows, and I happen to be alone again, as it looks appealing and is in my neighborhood. In reflection, this is also the reason I have not eaten at Bistrot des Tournelles, as one cannot book online for one person. I am comfortable calling, but would like to know if anyone has any information about whether these two restaurants, in particular, would welcome a solo diner?
Anyway, a nice, homey meal at Grande Brasserie of a final plate of white asparagus, a little rabbit stew with mushrooms and potatoes gratin, and half the plate of wonderful profiteroles. N.B. @Trish, they were serving a special dessert that night of ile flottante (maybe at least in the same space as Norwegian Omelette in terms of a classic dessert, and plenty of happy, chatty people, all French the night I was there, around me).
I took another uneventful, early flight home yesterday and am wakening to a windy day and my morning coffee solo. Still the precious memories of burgeoning friendships over mostly incredible meals will keep returning for me. There is something in the people there about a passionate desire to live every day to the limit, and then stretch it some more, that is stronger than ever despite having been sorely tested in the last few years. They call it “joie de vivre,” and I think that is a pretty good description of how I felt during this week.