Here's a quick and dirty look at eight 2013 lunches, giving my rating 0-10 and the price for 3-courses (sorry for the lack of coordinates but they are all searchable here): 7.9 Cantine de La Cigale 25-40 E a la carte 7.5 Les Premices 24 menu 6.7 Encore 30 menu 6.6 Verre Moutarde 29.50 menu 6.5 Gagnage 22 menu 6.2 Jeanne B. 17 menu & Cuistance 27 menu 6.1 Chameleon 19 menu
I wrote an essay a while back about what to do when readers note that places are not up to snuff or not the way I wrote them up, so here goes - hearsay but people I trust.
The Terroir Parisien has come to my attention as being disappointing to two persons, one a long-time Paris resident and friend, the other a loyal contributor to Chowhound. And the Repaire de Cartouche's food was found by my friend, who's been a dozen times and always loved it, to also be very off.
Again this is hearsay but in the spirit of "the best surprise in no suprise" - there it is.
The day this was written, I ate with an old colleague-friend in the food biz at Le Griffonnier in the 8th; Why? Because at 11 AM he was sitting in the dentist's office with his iPhone battery on life-support and I knew I'd better agree to something or I'd go hungry. So, remembering it positively from the years before I had a blog, took pix and wrote detailed reports of meals, I made a rez with minimal enthusiasm and we went. And you know what? It was great.
So what's my point? It's that, in the rush to go to "the" hottest restaurant in Paris today, whether blessed by the NYT or CH or whatever, and the list is here for all to read: Spring, Septime, Frenchie, Chez L'Ami Jean, Chez Denise, the Paul Bert Three, The Christian Constant Trio and occasional outliers like Les Papilles or Maceo - we contribute to the sense that any other place is less worthy.
What's shameful is that folks (arrogant Americans no doubt) make reservations at these hot spots and either never show or cancel at the last minute, which for a place with 20-40 covers, is killing when it's at a level of 10-20%.
So my question here folks, is, why aren't we touting places, like Le Griffonnier, or ..., or ...., or....?
Except for Parnassien, Ptipois and Parigi, who try to move us out of the comfort zone, the lists of "Where I should go" are pretty predictable.
Shouldn't we all spread the news and choices a little wider and move seekers of info on CH out of the hot top 5-10? Or, as they say, should I just shadup?
Ok, so I’m alive, sentient (well sort of) and in the wind (“dans le vent.”)
I’ve had Sabrett’s hot-dogs from push-carts in NY since I was a medical student (my daughter even ran and egg cream one and got into college based on her essay on that experience plus a few incredible grades), fish tacos from a truck in San Diego many years ago, and been invited to the Camion Qui Fume by its owner/chef who never honored my request to jump the hour plus line to sample her wares.
So I’m not totally out of it.
But, the day this was written, en route home I passed a long-abandoned railway station on the rail line that linked the stations in Paris, a sort of precursor to the peripherique for cars or Petite Ceinture for buses and what should be sitting there but a camion serving up tartes. Not my great passion but gotta support local industry, right.
Sidled up to the bar, looked over the offerings - Carrot – are you kidding? - Zucchini – Lord! - Chocolate – too early or late - Passion, etc, give me a break - Apples and caramel, huummmm - Orange and ginger – could be a winner - But then there Three Hams with Old Mustard.
But of course, the quiche disappointed, ah Colette can do it better.
But when the San Diego Fish Taco Truck trucks in, I’ll be there.
Is there a Mother on the planet who didn’t say “Finish your plate, if you don’t eat your broccoli, if you don’t finish your plate, there’s no dessert. There are starving children in China?”
Background: I also grew up in a household where books were semi-sacred, where I got a pitiful allowance, but could earn decent money by clearing the South-40 of rocks or shining shoes but I was encouraged to buy any book or record I wanted, no matter how expensive. As I result, even though it was never directly said – I knew I had to finish every book I picked up,…..until home from Viet Nam service with time on my hands as I tried to build a practice, I took Evelyn Woods’ speed-reading course and the world tilted. One of the first lessons was “If you don’t like a book, don’t set it down for later, don’t set it aside, abandon it. Freedom from the tyranny of finishing books.
As I get older and my stomach shrinks and I no longer run marathons or even 6 K’s, I eat less, American portion sizes overwhelm me so I often eat two starters and I leave much of Colette’s carefully prepared food untouched. She’s gotten used to it and is no longer offended, but in the US waiters ask if I “didn’t like it” and in France ask "ça a été?" (I'm told by some guy) with a pleading tone.
A few years ago both Gilles Pudlowski and Francois Simon wrote books that discussed how critics could maintain their weight eating out so much. Some of the tips were sensible – exercise, moderation and ordering wisely, but some were ridiculous – instead of food drink a few liters of mineral water or nap.
I’d suggest leaving something on your plate is perfectly acceptable so long as you make it clear to your anxious wait-person the food was indeed acceptable.
Where I didn’t finish my plates but the food was more than acceptable: Le Petit Marché 9 rue de Bearn in the 3rd, (Metro: Chemin Vert) T: 01.42.72.06.67 Open 7/7 and in August Lunch menu 14.50 E, a la carte 40-50 E
On one of the food websites I spend much too much time on, you’d think that there were only about a dozen good restaurants in Paris, places like Spring, Septime, Frenchie, Chez L’Ami Jean, Rino and so forth.
Whatever happened to the places that were so hot 5 years ago? Places like Bigarrade, Le Violin d’Ingres, Afaria and l’Agassin?
Or 10 years ago – like Les Magnolias, Ze Kitchen Galerie, Le Repaire de Cartouche, Celadon, Fish and Le Meurice?
How can places like MBC, the original Regalade and Les Ambassadeurs fall off the blogospheric cliff seemingly in the blink of an eye? Are they bad, did they suddenly lose their moxie, or is cyberspace really fickle?
I think the latter.
It seems to me that every year two or three places are chosen kings of the heap by posters and then anointed by The New York Times and they remain darlings until finally they too are forgotten in the rush to find the next big thing. I guess it’s human nature and I should just get on with it, but it does seem a shame to limit our horizons so narrowly.
As you may know from my previous essays, as opposed to the big-time American reviewers writing for organs such as the New York Times or Los Angeles Times, who may visit a place a half-dozen times before writing it up, I quickly learned in Paris that the big boys go once, in part following the theory that what they get that one time is what Mr. Average Citizen gets.
I go to a place, write it up and if it appeals to my severest critic, Colette, who only visits Paris four times a year, we go back the next time she’s in town and I write that visit up too, frequently indicating whether it’s better, “holding up” or less impressive than the first time.
It’s not unheard of for me to feel negative about a place and write it up with a “bad note” and subsequently have friends and/or colleagues I respect tell me ‘John, you gotta go back, I had a great (or fine, or outstanding) meal there – try it again.” And often I do and at a place like Pantruche and you won’t believe this, my beloved Ze Kitchen Galerie, I am pleased and write what is essentially a correction, albeit in the form of a review.
But now we come to a thornier dilemma. What do you do when reports come in that while you (that is me) had a good meal, they didn’t. The message is often one of the following:
“John, they changed the formula, there are now two or three choices, nothing like the 6-6-6 choices your photo shows.”
“John, they’ve gone to cheaper products, there was nothing like you described when it opened three months ago.”
“John, I was so disappointed; everything was different – the prices were up, the quality was down, the service was bad and I had the feeling they’re on the skids.”
Now what do I do?
My blog, even though getting 1K status on good days, doesn’t attract the to-and-fro of comment areas on say David Lebovitz’s, so publishing a “I heard this today…….” probably would not get read. I certainly am not going to go back and pay for what I almost certainly know will be a bad meal in the pursuit of “fair and balanced” reporting. And I’m not wicked enough to sucker someone else into going to confirm the message.
So I’m left with reporting on website forums second-hand information, stating it comes from trusted source(s).
I pride myself (ignoring the fact that pride is a sin) on reporting the good the bad and the ugly, not suppressing bad experiences as many do, on the justification that readers deserve to be warned off places as much as steered to them. But I let my readers down a bit when it comes to channeling bad news about previously good places.
If you’ve got a better idea of how to report second-hand negative reports to warn off eager diners, let me know.
“I like good food and I have an x-month old baby – where can I eat that will be high quality but we’ll have space” Quote unquote.
A bit of personal history; For almost 50 years we’ve eaten out with our children and grand-children in Paris whether they have been 3 months, 3 years, 5 years, 9 years, etc, etc, old. While we have accommodated to their age-specific interests (coloring books, stickers, jump-ropes, mobile devices, etc.) we’ve never suffered from bad food because of them. That said, we’ve also not gone to starred places, instead choosing more informal sites, often with some terrace or sidewalk space(s). So here are some suggestions:
Spring. I know the answer here because I described a situation to Chef Daniel Rose where a young couple and baby were asked to squeeze into a telephone booth sized table at another restaurant and I asked him what he’d do at Spring – Answer: “We’d find a way.”
Felicity Lemon (lots of poussettes the times I’ve been as well as a roomy alley out front.)
Jeanne B. Ditto for the strollers, plus it is or at least was when it opened, a neighborhood Montmartrois joint, not a destination place.
Pirouette is spacious and has all that space outside as well which in summer is ideal for letting loose.
Clandestino sends out waves of friendliness and bonhomie to young couples.
Terroir Parisien couldn’t be more down to earth = terroir, it’s called that for a reason.
Comme Chez Maman has the atmosphere of “we’ll do anything to make our customers happy.”
Le 6 Paul Bert is another place that exudes openness.
L’Auberge Flora ditto
Florial is so goofy and hipstery and Bobo-y it just sings “Come in”
What’s the common thread here? I think it’s that the places themselves give off the air of informality. I mean “air” not that they are. For instance, Spring’s food, napery, service etc., are very adult, but you get a sense you’re not being judged on which way you cut your meat.
I cannot tell you how many times this question is asked in/on the blogosphere.
The best answer I’ve seen is that from a poster on CH, lemarais, who said “Why don't you want to make a reservation? Is there a downside to making one?” Perfect.
One makes reservations, even at a 100-cover joint turning tables (of which there are none here) because: It is Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent, It ensures you the best table, for me by the window not the bathroom or swinging door to the kitchen. They know your name and despite the bad rep the French food folks have gotten, they will treat you as you treat them. Remember the Golden Rule folks. It helps them judge the number of dishes they need to have on hand (not all places depend on massive Metro shipments or their "little guy" running next door for a steak or baguette.