Saturday, May 1, 2010
L’Agrume – Gracious Humility
Nice expression, ‘gracious humility,’ too bad I hadn’t thought of it first. No, that honor goes to New York Times Magazine food editor Christine Muhlke, describing L’Agrume as such in a recent article about some new, affordable hotspots on the Paris restaurant scene. Stealing that description for this installment’s review should make it pretty obvious that I agree. Nothing ostentatious or gratuitous in the delicate and inspired preparation of dishes at L’Agrume, which isn’t meant to suggest Parisian snobbishness. Quite the opposite, the atmosphere in the smallish gray/black modern two-room bistrot (one out of view downstairs) is laid back, comfortable, animated, and, of course, packed. And, as Co. & I were informed by under-40 chef/owner Franck Marchesi-Grandi’s conjoint/hostess, Karine Perrin, since that Times piece ran a couple weeks ago, packed more with Americans than French. And sure enough, the first table to fill after our arrival as the evening’s openers consisted of four vociferous Americanos, whom I overheard uttering ‘New York Times’ several times during their meal. When will discretion become the better part of valor so that some people—I’m not naming names—will remember my famous restaurant motto : you are not at home, so please…SHUT UP !
Power of the printed word – who says newspapers are dead ? The Times’ (that’s the fourth time, I know) mention of L’Agrume in toto comprised a mere 85cm (or 3.5 inches) – six sentences, yet enough to send hordes of English-speaking foodies off the beaten path to L’Agrume. Not that the restaurant needs any help – the word already had gotten out—yes, that’s right, hard to believe, even before my review—that L’Agrume’s 5-course menu dégustation represents one of the best deals in town, that town being PARIS. Of course, a little worldwide publicity doesn’t hurt.
Okay, down to business, bearing in mind that the 5-course meal—not the only choice, by the way, as there is an ala carte menu as well—is apt to change on a regular basis. No mise-en-bouche at the outset, but a nice little chat with the diminutive, black-clad Mme Perrin, got us settled comfortably into a nice little nook in the front by the window, but still in view of the open kitchen, where Monsieur Marchesi-Grandi was hard at work preparing the evening’s delicacies, aided by a young, female assistant. There you have it – two advantages to being the first to arrive : you have a non-harried hostess to chat up and you get your pick of tables. With two assistants handling the upstairs and downstairs rooms, service ran like a well-oiled machine late into the evening. First up was a finely prepared tartare de dorade grise lié à la chair d’araignée Pomelos et pomme verte. This is my kind of opener,
a perfectly constructed slightly salted mound of fish tartar with a sweet fruity counterpoint. My highest compliment : ‘More !’ Unfortunately, Co. smacked my hand and socked my jaw so that I wouldn’t bring undue attention to our table when I pulled out my phone and tried to snap a photo of the first course. But the accompanying photo (top) taken from the Paris Notebook blog’s review of L’Agrume bears a striking resemblance. (The other photo from Simon Says is of a L'Agrume fish dish not among those we sampled during our visit.) The tartar was followed by a dish consisting of vinegrette de pommes charlotte – asperges vertes et foie gras. Very French, very excellent foie gras. Next up, a small slab of bourride de Saint Pierre, the sumptuous fish accompanied by thinly sliced green peppers and chorizo. Fourth course consisted of extremely tender slices of basse côte de bœuf ‘Black Angus’ rôti, with carrots and red onions. Our hostess obliged without a moan, merci, when I asked to have the beef dish supplanted by a non-red meat offering. My substitute consisted of a satisfying piece of broiled dorade – more fish, true, but no problemo, bring it on. Our dessert brought the evening’s tally to a perfect five for five courses : fraises et coulis de pêches Blanches, crème fourettée vanillée et feuilletage. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong when you add a crusty feuilleté with fresh strawberries and cream, and if you are an impeccable chef like M. Marchesi-Grandi sneaking in a virtually invisible layer of white peaches, you really can’t go wrong. So to steal again from Ms. Muhlke, you can find fancier meals in Paris restaurants, but perhaps none so gracious.
If there was one drawback to the evening it was our wine. A tasty 2008 bottle of Bourguiel Gueil – Catherine & Pierre Breton at 32€ unfortunately had a very slight taste of cork throughout, but which really wasn’t immediately evident. So much for my finely attuned oenological sense of taste. The wine and end-of-meal espresso brought the bill to a 105€ total, almost criminal given the high quality of the meal. And there appears to be an even better deal awaiting lunch-goers.
In my research for L’Agrume, I was struck by this heading from the Simon Says blog: ‘La réponse au sadisme ambiant.’ Wait a minute, I know my French isn’t the greatest, but what the hell does ‘the response to ambient sadism’ mean? Please, someone, enlighten me. Well, the review itself also seemed a bit above my coherence level, so I turned, as most of us ex-pats ultimately do, to Google translator, recently rated by the New York Times (back again!) as the most accurate online translator to date. So here are just some English translated snippets from M. Simon’s unique tongue :
It is still accelerating Pretties narcissistic undergoing gastronomy. Here it is struck by a kind of unbridled exhibitionism with reality shows. This world is so peaceful unrecognizable in this new great dance agitated. Leaders and caring as if truculent Constant become Taras Bulba sadis young chicks to tears.
It is still far from what is really a chef: passionate but something a bit deeper than the dishes scraped with powdered ginger, yuzu and syringe sweatshirt with shaved Parmesan. Suddenly, there is something calm, velvety chestnut and plates subsided.
If this universe shines in big tables fly high, research and talent, it is inseparably associated with a more everyday, and closer to us. Long live the big names, but kudos to those working in the shadows, in neon! If they remain our favorite tables is that they want us closer, more friendly in their search reasoned. Here is an address and extra cut in the coupon so sentimental. It's called L’Agrume, a restaurant high to a grasshopper no bigger than a pancake.
OH-KAY….I’m sorry I just can’t compete with that sort of, ahem, eloquence. At the same time, I thank the restaurant gods that we were spared the syringe sweatshirt, and I am slapping myself silly for not having the acumen to recognize how L’Agrume is not unlike a grasshopper no bigger than a pancake. It is only fair, you can find Francois Simon’s words in their natural tongue at the Simon Says website. I must add M. Simon’s concluding assessment, which I think says it all: ‘You'll love this address simple, stark, it's like a javelin tasty. Yippee!’ Tasty javelin?! N’importe quoi.
15, rue des Fossés Saint-Marcel 75005 Paris
01 43 31 86 48
Métro 5 Saint-Marcel, Métro 7 Les Gobelins