Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Agapes – Pour the Wine, Hold the Kids
Agapes – sounds familiar, doesn’t it ? So thought Co. and I as we passed the restaurant at the intersection of rue Poliveau and rue des Fossés Saint-Marcel, on our way a few doors down to L’Agrume earlier this month. Sure enough, a search reveals some other Agapes in France, one higher priced with apparently high aspirations in the 16th and one in my old vacation stomping grounds down in St. Palais in southwest France. But Co. and I are pretty sure we’ve never stepped inside any of these. If you’re not familiar with the language, the French ‘agapes’ essentially means ‘banquet’ or ‘feast’, so it’s not surprising more than one restaurateur has glommed onto it as a restaurant name. And it starts with ‘A’, meaning you’ll be listed right at the top of whatever list your restaurant is likely to be listed on. Anyway, we perused the displayed menu outside Agapes in the 5th and decided it was worth a try.
I wouldn’t dub Agapes Restaurant either the banquet place or the feast place, but I would say after our visit last Friday night that it is a worthy spot for a traditional French meal with a small degree of creative flair, reasonably priced, and tres auberge-like. Yes, I could imagine this spot somewhere out in the countryside, maybe on the way to a weekend of ski, with its warm and comfortably woodsy interior and its laid back, pleasant servers. With a smile.
One of those aforementioned servers kicked off our meal with a mise en bouche – two simple, but interesting morsels of bread accompanied by a mustard sauce. I was tempted to order a 2005 Bourgogne Pinot Noir “Louis Gras” (27.90€), only to be informed by our server that it wasn’t available – too bad, it’s been a while for the Pinot. This, however, provided the opportunity for a useful tidbit of information – he explained that the restaurant was about to go on a short hiatus for renovations and redecorating, so when you go, you will go to the ‘new and improved’ Agapes. Which explains the light stock in the cave during our visit. I settled for wine door number two, a perrenial favorite, a 2007 St Nicolas de Bourgueil “Domaine de la Cabernelle” (24.50€) – it was available and it did not disappoint. (More than once, the bottle was delicately taken from my hand by an accommodating server as I went to pour.)
The Bourgueil effectively washed down a tasty but unspectacular three course menu, priced at 30€. (The restaurant also offers a market-determined 5-course ‘Menu Gourmand’ at 56€, including apératif and café). [No food photos, but I swiped a couple representative images from the Agapes website.] I started off with an entrée of rouget barbet, accompanied by a sauce vigneronne and épinard-moelle. I really enjoyed this, but I am not a big fan of bone marrow, which essentially is what the ‘moelle’ refers to. Nonetheless, it was an inspired complement to the rouget. I was busily contemplating the little ceramic bowl inside of which rested a small cluster of greens – uhm, nope, can’t eat that part - only to eventually discover it wasn’t a ceramic bowl after all, duh, but a hollow bone, thus reflecting on the rouget preparation. The eyes – after the knees, they’re the next to go. With a 5€ supplement, Co. went with the foie gras de canard rôti, en terrine, fruits marinés (tangerines, I believe), sangria réduite. Co. is a tough cookie to crack when it comes to foie gras, having been raised on the stuff, but she seemed satisfied with this preparation.
On to the plates – for a main course I threw caution to the wind and ordered what normally isn’t my preference – unlike rouget, which is always high up on my ‘I want that’ scale – rabbit! Auberge, France, lapin – I don’t know about you, but they seem to go together for me, so there it was, râble de lapin fermier (i.e., the meaty breast), ses abats au beurre d’escargot, amandes grillées. Bearing in mind I am not a lapin connaisseur, this did the job for me, even if it didn’t knock my socks off, or untie my shoes even. Co. opted for the poisson de jour from Brittany which, if memory serves me correct, was a cabaillaud. I had a couple tastes and it was fresh and well-pepared. For dessert, I had a diet deadly Le cacao, basically a chocolate pudding with tuile craquante. I admit it, I’m a sucker for anything craquante in a dessert, so just stick that word in the description (in this case, crème et tuile craquante, viennois au fruit de la passion) and I am hooked. Just take that ‘craquante’ out of the description and what happens? You don’t want it. Well, this turned out to be pretty tasty. Co. took the orange-kiwi (minestrone au marsala, biscuit pistache) and seemed, well, to tell you the truth, I don’t know what she seemed. So there you have it, two 3-course menus, wine, and 2 cafés, for a total 92.30€.
Drum roll, please, it is now time for my monthly tirade. Having arrived rather early, we were seated in the roomier back room and it seemed like the place to be. By the main dish I was fully convinced how misguided our choice was, after glancing at the serene, calm atmosphere in the smaller and more somber front room. Directly behind our table, two couples who happened to bring along for dinner at a fine Parisian establishment – I hope you are sitting down – children! Two of whom were tamed, and the other, the young one dressed in a Batman T, untamed, with enormously distressing consequences. Now, one thing about eating out with Co. is that she always picks the seat facing the interior of the restaurant, leaving me contemplating activities on the street (if there’s a window) or the facing wall, where hopefully there is some artwork that I can memorize every fine detail of by dessert; otherwise, it comes down to, ‘is that an insect?’ So usually when we leave a restaurant, Co. will say something like, ‘hey Mort, you know that guy sitting a few tables away who…’ and I will respond with ‘there was another guy in the restaurant?’ Anyway, at first, I just assumed that those noises I kept hearing during my entrée were someone’s jungle sounds CD playing from next door, but by the time the little imp was lifting sugarcubes from the bowl accompanying my coffee, I
realized a ‘jungle music okay, but no kids allowed’ policy might not be misguided. True, I imagine most Parisian restaurateurs simply assume, what unthinking rubes would dare bring un enfant – a child, mon Dieu! – into my wonderfully French restaurant? Of course, this will not happen here! So in lieu of a ‘no kids allowed’ policy (which is not as rare as you might think in Paris), here is my advice to parents (choose one): (1) bring your kids to dinner, but sedate them first; (2) bring your kids to dinner, but keep them under the table, with a bowl of water (or milk); (c) on the way to dinner, drop your kids off at McDo; or (4) learn and apply the following term: ‘babysitter.’ I counted two or three moments where le petit Batman nearly tripped a server loaded up with plates. You know that look when a disapproving adult glances at a child - you know the one that says ‘I could strangle the little bugger’ – that’s the one I saw more than once at Agapes. Hey, you can’t fault Agapes – I doubt they fielded the reservation request with the addendum, ‘and don’t forget to bring your little monstres’! But it was a thorn in our side during the meal and the next time we think of Agapes I am sure we’ll be running for our Batmobile and speeding off in the other direction.
47 bis rue Poliveau
tel: 01 43 31 69 20
Internet site: www.restaurant-agapes.com (with video)