Sunday, February 7, 2010

Multi-course madness

It was a big week for eating. (Wait. Haven’t I said that before? A little too often?) Well, I went to three restaurants that had pretty irresistible prix-fixe menus, so the gluttony exceeded the norm, in a very good way.

Sud Ouest et Cie: 39, boulevard du Montparnasse, 6eme
Went with: Lionel & Sylvia and the gang
On: A Saturday night
Had: Three-courses, including wine and coffee, for 36 euros.
Impressions: It’s a big, casual restaurant right near Gare Montparnasse that offers a huge menu of specialties from the southwest of France: foie gras, cassoulet, duck, etc.

I started with a simple green salad with big, toasty chevre croutons; followed by magret de canard in a sweet honey and spice sauce; and, for dessert, a lovely little croustade (hollowed-out pastry dough) with Armagnac-soaked apples. Being with a large French group, it was a classically long and leisurely dinner and after nearly three hours of eating, drinking and trying to follow French, I was sated, felt stoned, and ready for bed.

Les Papilles: 30, rue Gay-Lussac, 5eme
Went with: Michael
On: A Wednesday night
Had: Four courses for 31 euros, plus a bottle of wine, none of which are terribly cheap.
Impressions: Wow. This was a kickass meal. It started with a white bean soup
which was delivered in giant porcelain terrine, that could have fed four and that we ladled ourselves into bowls of whole white beans, homemade croutons, parsley and crisp bacon (my bacon promptly went into Michael’s bowl. Bob.) Shocking how good soup can be.

The second course was beef, but luckily I could get a tuna steak (there is just one daily menu offered here). It was enormous, cooked medium-well and beautifully seasoned with slightly sweet spices.

Then came a generous slab of cheese, served with caramelized onion and greens.

And after all that sublime food, we still had the best to come: panna cotta on top of small pineapple chunks and topped with a beautiful caramel foam.

This is up there as one of my favorite meals in Paris. Every course was generous, fresh, creative and incredibly delicious. One thing I will say, though I’m not fussy and don’t often like fancy, the casual atmosphere felt a little incongruous with the level of cooking. I think I would have liked it even better in a more intimate and cozy setting.

La Gazzetta: 29, rue de Cotte, 12eme
Went with: Jo and the girls
On: A Thursday night
Had: A five-course vegan feast for 38 euros, plus fantastic wine
Impressions: Another charmer, another winner! Of the five of us, one was vegan, one was fully vegetarian, two of us were seafood and poultry-eating veggies, and one was a carnivore. The full-veg and the vegan had indulged in this special feast cheffed up by Peter Nilsson before and called ahead to arrange for us to get the planet-friendly feast.

First course: pizza. Sans cheese, obviously. But the crispy crust and roasted red peppers and onions were full of flavor.

The second, third and fourth courses included different constructions of veggies, grains and starches—grilled endive topped with sweet yellow lentils; thinly sliced turnips served in broth with more lentils and a scoop of nutty ground legumes, and the most buttery vegan mashed potatoes you could ever dream possible, layered with broccoli and spinach. Sound boring? Trust me, it was anything but.

The only course that failed was dessert: pineapple carpaccio dusted with a gunpowder-y spice. The flavors and textures just didn’t go together.

All in all, though, I would go back in a flash and I would gladly go vegan again. The service was some of the best I’ve encountered in Paris: so friendly, accommodating and always there, but never cloying or annoying. The wine list and our Rioja choice were fantastic. The Art Nouveau atmosphere was fresh and contemporary, and the crowd was cool but casual. I loved it.

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