When in Paris, the last thing you want to do is eat in a restaurant full of Americans. But when you’re eating in a dining room as exquisitely beautiful and romantic as the one at Verjus, you’re more than willing to make the exception. Located in the backstreets of Palais Royal, Verjus is hidden from view and gated away in the back, like a secret passageway to another time. Sure, the conversations taking place are thoroughly modern, but use your imagination and replace that businessman from Chicago with a gentleman from the Island of La Grand Jatte.Read More
There are few restaurants that I would stay up so late for. A 9 pm seating is my limit, and after that, I’ll move on and revisit once the hype has died down. But like the desperate girl who can’t play it cool when she’s finally invited to a party, I caved to the pressure and made an exception for a 10:30 reservation at Le Coucou. There was a little thought behind this, though. First of all, Ruoxi’s birthday was at midnight, so we would need to do some sort of big, late night blowout celebration anyway. Also, my friend Eugenia from Hong Kong was in town, and she was already going to be jet lagged, so why not shake it off by staying up as late as possible? All good reasons for me to bite the bullet on a super late dinner reservation.Read More
Roseval is one of the new breed of restaurants in Paris that eschews the traditional for something different. Run by non-Parisiens in a small, cozy space located in the low-key and slightly out-of-the-way neighborhood of Belleville, it doesn’t fit the bill of a typical French restaurant, and it doesn’t really want to. In that way, it has a lot in common with the Brooklyn restaurant scene, where people with beards and man buns are free to make whatever food they want in whatever setting pleases them. Unfortunately, they’ve also adopted that similar indifferent hipster attitude. I always felt a bit of a tension between us and the server, who scoffed at our wine choices at times and was there just going through the motions.
The 5-course pre fixe menu of 55 euros is good value, and it sort of follows a New World theme that incorporates a lot of ingredients and inspirations from everywhere. The bonito fish, which is common in Japanese cuisine, made a surprise appearance here swimming into the waters of France, in the form of a smoky, fatty filet subdued by smoked ricotta and cherry. The scallop is a classic staple in many countries, but Roseval gives it a refresh with some tart pomegranate seeds for flavor. Duck is of course very French, but here it gets paired with a cured eggplant that gives it almost an ashy flavor, severing ties with its confit/l’orange past and forging a new identity. The best course was the langoustine, which arrived in an impeccable potato soup, creamy and classic in the best sort of way, while the weakest was the turbot, a poor man’s version of the farm-to-table fish creations that have been done much better elsewhere. Sometimes the experiments work, sometimes they don’t, but it’s clear that Roseval feels a sense of joy in being given the freedom to do what it wants. Now if they only brought that same sense of joy to their customer service…but some habits in a country die hard.
My favorite restaurant in Paris is Le Timbre, a tiny neighborhood bistro in the 6th arrondissement. I love this place for its warm, comfortable atmosphere and the general lack of haughtiness or indifference displayed by the wonderful staff, which is hard to come by in Parisian restaurants. The food is comforting, delicious and unpretentious, as bistro food should be. You won’t necessarily find traditional dishes like steak frites or onion soup here, the emphasis is more on farm to table, seasonally driven ingredients, but the same feeling of feel-good satiation applies.
The 3-5 course pre fixe options are very reasonably priced (49 euros for the 5 course set), especially considering all the skill that goes into each bite. The flavor profile is rich but well rounded and never heavy handed. Brown butter may be an overwhelming ingredient, but when paired with the smoothness of a fresh avocado or with the spritzy accents of citrus fruits, it embraces everything in a warm, unifying halo rather than assertively dominating its place. Other restaurants would likely charge a premium for the ability to reinterpret and innovate, but at Timbre this high standard is simply the norm that should apply to every customer. This very democratic approach in which good food and service are accessible to everyone is what makes Timbre stand out from the highly acclaimed or the painfully trendy.
I specifically called out the customer service here because there were so many ways in which Timbre went over and beyond its call to duty in making the customer happy, and I feel strongly that this needs to be recognized. When we had a question about where to get a bottle of wine that we particularly enjoyed during our meal, our server Agnes went to the trouble of writing down the name and address of the wine retailer and its hours of operations. One of the members in our dining party wanted to order the off-the-menu dessert for vegans, and again, Agnes made this happen with a smile. We asked questions about how this sublime apricot dessert was prepared, and Chef Charles let us in on one of the secrets, the transformative powers of the tonka bean, which he grabbed off of the spice rack so that we could all take a look. I would love to be friends with Agnes and Charles and just eat at their restaurant every night. They take care of you, and that’s what a great restaurant is all about.
With three Michelin stars and a #12 ranking on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List, L’Arpège is clearly a force to be reckoned with. Alain Passard’s beautiful, seasonally-driven vegetable creations have taken the world’s breath away, and any chef who has trained in his kitchen has leveraged that stamp of approval to run successful restaurants of his or her own. It’s rare to find these sorts of accolades bestowed upon a vegetarian restaurant in the fine dining world, so we were very much looking forward to our lunch reservation, as we figured the food here must be exceptional in order to warrant that attention and such high prices.
Truth be told, I felt like I was watching the Emperor wear his new clothes as our tasting lunch unfolded. Can serving a large white asparagus on a plate count as a novel preparation? Did that even require that much skill, other than picking it out of the ground? Or what about a cucumber maki roll? Isn’t that something that I could get as takeout at Beyond Sushi, at a quarter of the price and made with much better sushi rice? The king’s looking mighty naked right now.
To be fair, there were moments when L’Arpège really stepped it up, got properly dressed, and gave it its all, as demonstrated by the dreamy risotto and the zucchini and garlic soup. The vegetables in the risotto were so expressive, conveying a rich variety of texture and flavor that truly created a cohesive experience. And there was no arguing that the luscious, smoky and creamy puree of the zucchini and garlic was flawless.
There were other moments where I did observe a dexterous treatment of vegetables that teased out interesting and unexpected contrasts. The trio of vegetable tarts that arrived as an amuse bouche was such an example. These beautiful tarts yielded a wide range of unexpected flavors, sweet, earthy, bitter and floral, that belied their sweet facade. It embraced the natural flavors of the vegetable and pushed you to rethink what it meant to be a sweet tart.
And then there was the cucumber and onion broth, in which the kitchen managed to tease out a flavor that resembled steeped tea, which was unusual and impressive. But then that was offset by strange moments like the vegetable sausage with harissa and cumin, which felt more like a vegan experiment than a fully thought out gourmet effort.
Is it obvious that I was a tad disappointed by the end of my meal? I went to go see a performance only to sit down to a bizarre strip tease. And the small cup of coffee that cost 13 euros added insult to injury. On a positive note, I suppose, was that I no longer had to see the Emperor naked. Time to see a chef wearing his chef’s whites for real.