A common response when I run the list of restaurants I’m going to try in the next few weeks by some folks is “Why bother?” or “Why do you do it?” By this, they mean why do I plan to go to so many new and often untested restaurants. I’ll try to explain why using three meals as examples.
The first** is Les Bouchons formerly de Francois Clerc but now Le Restaurant de Philippe et Jean Pierre. While Emmanuel Rubin wrote it up a couple of weeks ago in Figaroscope’s “Cest nouveau,” and I’m aware that “new” sometimes means after a face-lift, introduction of a new menu or new management – usually it means there’s a new chef. But in this case it was a change in name – the chef and “team” having been in place for five years. This is not dissimilar to the Fables de la Fontaine, where Christian Constant turned over the day-to-day running of the place to two of his trusted lieutenants. In the case of Les Bouchons, one recalls that Francois Clerc once had several such jewels in his crown, but for whatever reasons, Pudlo saying he’s in semi-retirement, he’s turned over the properties, one by one. In any case, I was interested to see what’s going on with this one, in part also because I haven’t stepped inside in at least 10 years. A friend and I had the “menu” (3 courses for 28, add wine, water and coffee and it’s 33 €) and thought it one of the best price-quality places of the year. So here’s a case of not really being new but of my having rediscovered it.
The second case is that of Le Petit Marguery, a place that was run for centuries by the Cousin brothers, who were real characters. When they left, equally to retire, I was doubtful that anyone or team could replace their warm reception, classic cooking and overall great ambiance. In this case, the place looks pretty much as it was twenty or dare I say, thirty years ago, including keeping the framed awards granted to the restaurant and the Cousins. And while the menu seems to have been updated, they, like Les Ormes when it morphed into Bellecour (or vice versa) kept something old and added something new. Thus, while Le Petit Marguery is reassuringly unchanged, its food seems as fresh as can be and its prices very reasonable (118 € for three of us). So here’s a case of the place, the menu and the waiters carrying on pretty much the same under a very friendly new managing and I assume cooking team, who are experienced, having already run the restaurant in the Air France Invalides terminal.
My final example is that of a truly new place – Le Bigarrade – where chef Christophe Pelé came from the Royal Monceau to open a brand new sparkling place in what was once a culinary desert but is now rapidly looking like a culinary oasis. This time, I was sent by a colleague/friend who had consulted with its owners, before it was reviewed, and asked me to tell him my opinion. By the time I had gone, Rubin, Simon, Ribaut, Berger and the rest of the critical world had already been and I hardly needed to advise my source. So here we have a third type of answer to why do we do it; we do it to see what happens when a well-trained chef moves out of the comfortable nest with a new team into an entirely new setting.
Even the day on which I wrote this, when I had a most ordinary meal at Alfred in Boulogne-Billancourt, one might say it was an “off day,” but it served the purpose of “grounding” my scale. After the three lunches mentioned above, which merited high single-digit ratings, Alfred demonstrated that the low single digit places do exist.
*These meals at Bigarrade, Le Petit Marguery, and Les Bouchons were January 25, February 2 and 18th, 2008, all fully paid for.
My favorite examples of why we do it, then, are;
106, rue Nollet,17th, (Metro: Brochant)
Closed Saturday lunch and Sundays.
Menus at 45 (lunch) and 55 € (dinner)
9, Blvd de Port Royal, 13th (Metro: Gobelins)
Closed Sundays and Mondays
Lunch menus at 23 (2 courses), 26 (3) and dinner for 30 (2) and 35 (3) €.
**Les Bouchons no longer exists but when I ate last it was Restaurant Philippe et Jean Pierre and not half bad.