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Thursday, May 29, 2008

La Gourmandise - What, Hard Times?

Everybody’s singing the inflation blues, Mortstiff included. Damn, can’t even buy an eggplant without shelling out nearly two euros at the local Super U. Okay, okay, it’s true, those same two euros will still get me a bottle of the Cotes de Ventoux I’m so fond of, but come on, this is France. Liberté, égalité, fraternité, as we all know, means every man, woman, and child has the right to a decent two-euro bottle of red wine.

Hard times notwithstanding, La Gourmandise continues to offer one of the best bargains in Parisian quality dining. Which is not to say that the restaurant hasn’t also been hit by rising food prices. Recently, the owners were compelled to change the price of the 34-euro three-course dinner—aperatif, wine, and coffee included—to—hold your breath – 35 euros! Viola, there you have it, a whole euro increase, for which our favorite maitre-d, whose name still eludes us, was obliged to apologize profusely during Mortstiff & Co’s most recent visit, last weekend.

The outstanding price/quality rapport is one of the main incentives that has led us back to La Gourmandise time and time again, dating back at least ten years. But we’d be willing to pay more for the food, which is very good, with dishes regularly tweaked by the chef, who is adept at both variations on old favorites (like aiguillettes de canard and nougat glacé), as well as new seasonal items (like lobster salad and curried lamb).

Let me share the selections from our most recent visit, and you tell me if this isn’t a great deal for 35 euros each. (Check out the full menu items at the La Gourmandise web site.)


- Kir pétillant au cassis et amuse bouche (paté encroute)


- ½ homard moulé en salade et macédoine de légumes au crabe, sauce crustacé
[salad with half a lobster and mixed vegetables with crab]

- Filet de rouget, gros piment doux d'Espagne farci de ricotta aux
épinards, jus de légumes sauce tomatée, basilic [red mullet filets with
accompanying red pepper stuffed with ricotta and spinach]


- Thon rôti au sésame et riz basmati, fond de légumes, saveur soja [lightly roasted tuna with

sesame and basmati rice]

- Aiguillette de canard, poire rôtie et pomme rate persillée, aux doux épices [duck slices with
roasted pear and potatoes]


- Cheese cake sur biscuit cannelle, coulis d'ananas [cheese cake, French-style]

- Nougat glacé au coulis de fruits rouges


- Bordeaux 2006 Pavillon Royal (1/2 bottle per person)


So? Is this a great deal or what? Okay, before you answer my question, a couple caveats. I wouldn’t be completely honest if I didn’t add that the lobster salad entreé included an 8 euro supplemental charge. And if you read my previous installment, where I railed against the pervasive tendency for restaurants to add substantial ‘supplements’ to the supposedly ‘fixed-price’ menu items, you know how I feel about a 35-euro menu suddenly evolving into a 43-euro menu. But I'm tempted to give a pass to La Gourmandise for their new surcharge policy. What they’ve done in recent weeks is to significantly expand their fixed-price menus to include some items that previously only could be selected à la carte. So you can now choose those items (albeit with a surcharge) as part of the menu and still get the aperatif, coffee, and wine gratuit.

As for the food, no real complaints. Both entreés were interestingly prepared and nicely presented – the lobster salad was well worth the supplement. Yours truly was a bit disappointed with the tuna – normally, I prefer that lightly-cooked tuna be less cooked (nearly raw, in fact) than presented here. However, a guaranteed highlight of any visit to La Gourmandise - be sure not to miss their nougat glacé – freshly prepared in-house and a refreshing culmination to the meal.

You’ll notice at the restaurant’s web site that there are other menus available, including a two-course 26€ meal (for those diners really hurting from inflation) and the big enchilada four-course 55€ splurge (for those diners who crave both surf and turf).

The room is traditional and quasi-formal, with two rooms neatly set off by bar. The narrow, larger room in the back includes a row of booths on the left and some round tables on the right. The gregarious, glib, and amusing maître-d livens things up with his loquacious and exuberant descriptions of menu items and service, while an exceptionally-professional waiter goes about his business, virtually mute.

In short, although the world, with its catastrophes, wars, and rising prices may be rapidly spiraling into the abyss, at least one can still dine well in Paris without breaking the bank.


271, avenue Daumesnil
75012 PARIS
metro: Porte Doree

Overall note (out of 10): 7

Food: 6.5+

Ambiance: 7 (too much pink for Morstiff's taste, but despite the small rooms, there's plenty of privacy - especially the case with the booths- and it's easy to relax)

Staff: 7.5 (a 2-man show - professional, and the maitre-d is both informative and witty)

Price/Quality: 9.5 (78 euros for two, what more can I say? If Co. didn't like lobster so much, it would have been 70 and we would have felt really guilty.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Au Petit Marguery - Tradition Makes A Comeback

Two recent return visits to the venerable Parisian eating establishment – Au Petit Marguery – have restored the restaurant to my ‘definitely recommended’ list. Co. and I periodically dined at Marguery until a couple years ago. My growing disinclination to continue resulted from meals that I found to be progressively less interesting and an incident involving a waiter deceiving a couple of tourists sitting a few tables away from ours. (The offending waiter at the time must have been taking lessons from the crooks at Chez Michel, who regularly rip off tourists and French alike.) But Co., who often has a penchant for traditional turn of the 20th century restaurants and a soft-spot in her heart for Marguery’s famed soufflé au Grand Marnier dessert, succeeded in dragging me back there for a dinner in mid-March. The verdict? Marguery is back and so are we.

During our March visit, we were informed that the restaurant had changed ownership last September, although chef Franck Laratte stayed on. But truth be told, not much appeared to have changed since our last visit. Usually, one well-prepared, epic dish does it for me, and during this visit it was the entrée of raviolis d’escargot in mushroom sauce. The ravioli entrée has become such a mainstay of the Paris restaurant scene – perhaps most famously launched at the over-rated L’Astrance – that when one emerges from the clutter and captures your attention, you take note. I took note. This was followed by a tasty coq au vin ‘Pictavienne’ with tagliatelles main dish. All in all, enough reason to recommend Marguery as the place to meet our friends visiting last week from Texas. When asked their preferences – nice, good French food, not too expensive, with good wine – Marguery emerged as a no brainer.

According to Frommer’s, ‘menu items are based in old-fashioned traditions, especially those from the Poitou region of west-central France, with emphasis on game dishes in autumn and fresh produce in summer’. Our visit coincided with Spring, and the carte reflected a mélange of seasons. The four of us opted for the three-course 35€ menus, accompanied by a couple bottles of a very fine-tasting St. Nicolas Bourgueil (28€ per bottle). Yannick, our waiter (the tall one in the middle) diligently
tended to our needs, alternating between French and English without any hint of patronizing. Among our entrée choices were the following:

- asperges blanches bio des Landes, Sauce mousseline
- mesclun de salade au Ris d’agneau confits et copeaux de Parmesan
- tartare de saumon
- presse de poulet

Yours truly went with the tartare, one of my favorites when it comes to openers, and Marguery’s did not disappoint. Subtle in taste and presentation, it slowly seduced.

By the time we consumed our main dishes, the second bottle of wine was beginning to do a number on my memory cells, but I do recall plates consisting of filet de sole, ris de veau, and grilled dorade, all copious and satisfying. I believe my dish was listed as an aumoniere de canard – a preparation of shredded duck and vegetables wrapped in a kind of phyllo dough pastry, not unlike a North African pastilla. Excellent and surprising, it was probably the least traditional item in this very traditional context.

For dessert, our (transplanted) Texans opted for the aforementioned soufflé au Grand-Marnier, which challenged even their hearty lone-star appetites. As for myself and Co. – despite her usual craving for the soufflé – we were tempted by the evening’s special dessert, a croustillant of strawberries. Multi-layered and rich, it definitely did the job. We capped things off with coffee, which much to my pleasure, arrived with a plate of small cakes.

All the images (with the exception of chef Franck) you see here were kindly borrowed from Marguery’s well-developed web site, and I think it would be redundant to try to describe the various rooms – and there are several. Marguery veritably reeks of Paris –its not a teen hangout, but would be a perfect place to accompany your lover, or visiting friends and family from Texas.


9, boulevard de Port Royal
75013 Paris

Overall note (out of 10): 7+
Food: 7+
Ambiance: 7.5 (vested waiters, chandeliers, ‘historic fin-de-siècle charm’ – Fodor’s)
Staff: 7 (professional)

Price/Quality: 6.5+ (228€ for four, including two bottles
of wine, you can’t do much better at this level, but loses 1.5 points
by taking on two 9€ supplements. In my view, you set a price
for a menu, you don't add a supplement.)


Watch chef share his recipe for and prepare Rognons de veau poelee, a la graine de moutarde at: http://www.revver.com/video/870065/recette-au-petit-marguery/
(not for the faint of heart)

A 1995 French film, Au Petit Marguery, directed by Laurent Bénégui concerns the last night of a Parisian restaurant. Starring Stéphane Audran and Michel Aumont, it’s one of the few films I’ve never seen, so I can’t tell you anything else about it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mort’s One-Month Hiatus Highlights

More than one month without a blog installment – one would think Mortstiff & Co.
have starved to death. Au contraire, other preoccupations have intervened, such as my day job and a one-week trip to Slovenia, but that hasn’t prevented me from one of my favorite pasttimes--visiting restaurants. A little bit older, a lot fewer memory cells in the brain, but I’ll try to briefly summarize the highlights of my dining experiences during my non-blogospheric period. It may not surprise, but I have absolutely nothing to contribute about the restaurant scene in Slovenia. Stuck out in the countryside, a hop, skip, and jump from the Croatian border, there weren’t many options. Not to say that I didn’t eat well, but it wasn’t exactly fine dining either. A couple novelty dishes, such as soya goulash and massacred potatos, were more interesting for their butchered English translations than taste.

Back in France, the time spent consisted mostly of returns to some past haunts. After the satisfying first trip to L’Ourcine (see January 31), our second trip turned out to reflect a sophomore jinx. Could be my disappointment can be attributed to a limited menu of offerings that just didn’t appeal to my ever demanding palette. With a regularly changing carte, that could be rectified next visit, assuming there is a next visit. Also less impressive than usual was a return trip to La Cave Gourmande, but don’t get me wrong – it was still very good.
The audacious chef Mark Singer came to our table to ask whether we were aware that our wine selection – a 1999 Cotes du Ventoux – was a rather strong choice to accompany our fish entrees. Well, Mortstiff & Co. have been working on a case at home, so you might say we are rapidly becoming Ventoux aficionados. Rather than demure, we insisted, but it was a pretty amusing exchange. Our efficient and pleasant waitress frantically explained that her boss was not insane, just a bit eccentric.

The most satisfying meal during the hiatus had to be a return to Le Villaret, in the 11th, not far from Place de la Republique. To date, Le Villaret is hands down my favorite Paris bistrot. I’ve probably frequented the place between 20-30 times, and I have never had a poor or mediocre meal there. I keep putting it off, but eventually I’ll write a more complete description. Just to say that my visit this time, with a friend visiting from ‘down under’ was terrific on several levels – quality of the food, wine, ambiance, and service. Zagat’s calls it ‘a hidden jewel’ – I would not disagree.

13, Rue Ternaux
75011 Paris
+33 1 43 57 89 76

10, Rue Gén Brunet 75019 Paris
tel. +33 1 40 40 03 30

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