Thursday, August 20, 2009
Jadis and L'Acajou - Summer Seasonings, Part 1
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that the armpit of last summer was disappointing for me and Co. as we traversed the capital during the wasteland of July and August looking for charming terraces and tasty flavors. What we found instead were forgettable restaurants that I’ve long since forgotten. In our search for the perfect summery idyll, and no small feat, a restaurant that wasn’t closed for vacation, we batted something like 0 for 4. This time around, we threw the terrace idea out the window with the bath water and went searching for decent spots, regardless of whether the experience would be in or out. I’m happy to report that our average is up, so far with two hits out of three.
Just prior to my foray into the Nordic hinterlands, we tried Jadis in the 15th, widely heralded as “the best bistrot of the fall” by local critics far and wide. Well, it’s not fall anymore, but we hoped that the magic had lasted into this period of Paris without Parisians. The first thing that comes to mind regarding Jadis is ‘O brother, where the hell art thou?’ Read an online review of this relatively new establishment and inevitably you will come across a comment about its being situated in the middle of nowhere. I’m not sure Paris qualifies as nowhere, but you probably get the idea – well off the beaten path. This can be a blessing for some restaurants, but it also requires a very strong motivation to get up and go. We got up and went to this unpretentious corner spot, comprised of a relatively decent-sized, brightly-lit space, gray walls and dark red trim, and under-dressed patrons. Think bohemian grunge, you get the picture. Our meal was quite good, although if this is one of the best bistrots in town, then Houston, we have a problem. Still, traditional French cooking that benefits from the creative nuances of chef Guillaume Delage, who, according to the Gayot guide, “explores his lessons from master chefs Michel Bras, Frederic Anton and Pierre Gagnaire. However, his biggest influence is notably Edouard Nignon, one of the great chefs of the 20th century, who has inspired the presentation, gastronomy and wines at this establishment.” If any of this means something to you, then you are indeed a gentleman and a scholar. On second thought, with those credentials, this had better be one of the best new bistrots in Paris.
To the chase: We both opted for the three-course menu at 32€ each. I started with one of my favorites, chèvre frais, served with pousses de salade and coulis of tomato, spinach, and green pepper. Interesting preparation, with the three pyramids of vegetable purée. Co. went to bat with the gelée de boeuf, served with squid ink, cauliflour and clams. She seemed pleased. For me, the main dish was rouget grondin grille, with black rice and bouillabaisse sauce. How many times do you see black rice on a French menu? This was a great and pleasant surprise. Co. was more or less satisfied with the poulet with leek and ginger. I liked the taste of the chicken, but agreed with Co. that it lacked the promised ginger. Less Asian than the preparation led us to expect. Two satisfying deserts – croustillant de framboise with cream (thumbs way up from Co.) and my cherry clafoutis (cake, eh, not too fantastic). A solid Pinot Noir for 26€, bringing the total to 94.50€. Jadis is an up-and-comer, but does it warrant the trek? I’m not so sure.
Next up, newly trendy L’Acajou in the 16th, soon after the return from the north. L’Acajou easily edges out Jadis for its edgy, inventive, throw tradition out the window, creativity, as the accompanying photos should attest. Unlike Jadis, the typical online gripe about L’Acajou is that the waitstaff are icy cold, and the consistency in this assessment was nearly enough to steer us elsewhere. Nonetheless, I liked the sound of the menu and figured, I’ll opt for service with a sneer when there’s a possibility of dishes like langoustines, crousti basilic tandoori, americain, fenouil sauvage in the offing.
The restaurant itself veritably reeks of modernity, assuming that modernity is capable of reeking. Entering from the brightly sunlit August early evening into the dark, sleek interior of this railroad car centered by a long multi-seat table, the effect is somewhat disconcerting. I wasn’t quite sure whether I had stumbled into a chic Paris bistrot or a mob-run strip joint. Dark, darker, darkest. A long mirror running along one of the walls gives the room a more spacious feel, although with the dark, you still get the urge to ask, ‘can we open a window or something?’ I don’t care, this was such a jolt from the typical Paris restaurant look (‘hey, we’ve been open since the turn of the century – 16th century, that is’) I wasn’t complaining. And I quickly understood where the complaints about the Antarctic servers came from. If I remember correctly, one of two hosts/waiters in the room was wearing sunglasses—or maybe he just looked like the kind of guy who wore sunglasses in a dark black room. But I don’t know if it was that mid-August, we’re only half full, lighten up effect, but at least the sunglass guy became veritably amiable as the evening progressed, explaining the facelift to a more modern slant that the restaurant had undergone in the past year. (Did I really just use ‘veritably’ twice in the same paragraph?) We asked for one of the several small rectangular tables running along the street side (there’s also a small lounge-like room largely hidden in the back), mainly to get a little distance from the parents and two kids occupying the communal mid-seating area. It’s one thing to bring your kids to a restaurant like this, but to add insult to injury, the father was wearing a wool scarf. Don’t get me started, I know this is very French, but it’s a warm August evening and this guy is wearing a scarf? Indoors? N’importe quoi!
As usual, I digress, so let me get to the thoroughly modern food. The young, imaginative chef Jean Imbert also has a fine pedigree; like Delage, he has worked with decorated chefs whose names I will spare you this time. You know me, it was the langoustines entree or bust. Cool presentation, very Zen — six long wood skewers projecting out of a black board, each skewering one encrusted langoustine (17€). A nice sesame or wasabi sauce could have made this an epic starter, but alas, no sauce was had, only some salad with vinegrette. Co. went with the tourteau, classic Acajou (14€), less inventive, but turtle is a rare option on the Paris table. The mound of turtle was served with a hard-boiled egg and a pyramid of vegetables (radish, tomato, carrot, and salad). For my main dish, it was the Omega 3—red tuna, avocat, yuzu, huile de noix (19€). I can not tell you why this is called the Omega 3. These were well-prepared, if less inventive, dishes when compared with the starters. Co. cannot resist a promising soufflé, this one accompanied by salted caramel ice cream (10€), while I sprung for the millefeuille, pain d’èpice, pomme granny, mascarpone, vanille (8€). No, that’s all one thing, and I can’t’ really remember it, so it couldn’t have been that great. A 2007 Corbieres (cuvee Alice, Ollieux Romanis) (19€) brought the total to 104€.
All told, L’Acajou beats Jadis easily. Neither seemed to get me to that euphoric state of summery ecstasy, or something like that, but I get the impression we’ll be giving L’Acajou more opportunities in the future. Don’t get me wrong, Jadis is a contender, but I’m not so sure that will be enough to get me back.
Summer sounds . . . to be continued.
208, rue de la Croix-Nivert
tel: 01 45 57 73 20
35 bis rue Jean de la Fontaine
tel: 01 42 88 04 47