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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Yam 'Tcha - Singin' In the Rain

First things first, and most importantly: the food at Yam ‘Tcha is great. Diminutive co-owner (with husband Chiwah) Adeline Grattard, via L’Astrance and Hong Kong, prepares creative, delicate, and sometimes sublime Asian/French fused dishes in the open kitchen just to the right of the entrance of her storefront restaurant Yam ‘Tcha. This was a dinner Co. and I were looking forward to for 1-1/2 months, the lead time necessary to luck out with a reservation, once they start accepting them more than a month in advance. For good reason – you could barely cram 20 diners into the two tiny rooms that comprise the restaurant, along with the aforementioned tiny kitchen up front, a tea bar, and a phone booth-sized bathroom.

The size of Yam ‘Tcha, or lack thereof, may have been one reason why our eagerly anticipated evening got off to a rocky start. Arriving 15 minutes in advance of our reservation, not wanting to put the latest wave of transport strikes to more of a test than necessary and not all that enthusiastic about loitering around Les Halles in the pouring rain, we were ready for food, drink, and drying off. Unfortunately,
we got none of the above. We were brusquely informed that the staff wasn’t yet ready or appropriately dressed and were duly sent back out into the pouring rain. Not that it was my responsibility or anything, but I did my best to defend this action to Co., who was shall I say a bit hot under the collar, as we took a glass at the bar of a nearby restaurant. My arguments, though, were pretty hollow. I mean, it was already after 8 p.m. when we arrived, and I’ve already seen girls get dressed, so what would have been the problem with sitting us at a table with a warming glass of tea on the house? At more than 200 euros for the meal, let’s face it, they could afford it.

As for the meal, you know the drill. Prix fixe menus at 85 euros a pop, consisting of two entrées, two plates, a cheese dish, and dessert, all chosen by Adeline for the evening. However, you do have a choice when it comes to drink – a selection of different wines (40€ per person), teas (30€ per person), or wines/teas (40€ per person) for each plate. None of these sounded like an appetizing deal for me, so I asked for the wine menu and selected a 2007 Langedoc for 40€. But you can’t get too far without tea at Yam ‘Tcha (literally, ‘drink tea’; Chiwah is purportedly an expert, and one staff member spent the entire evening preparing various herbal concoctions at the bar to my right). Thus, we were started off with a Chinese variety that did nothing to soothe my sour mood. I admit, I am not a connoisseur or enthusiast of tea, and our free cup of tea tasted to me like the usual tea served at any typical Chinatown venue. Tea was followed by an amuse bouche consisting of a subtle bowlful of bright green cresson soup, in which a succulent oyster was floating along with some lardons. Along with the wine, I was feeling better already.

Doing the little things wrong, part 2. As our cresson soup was served the server promised that I would not leave without a listing of the offerings for the evening, after I delicately explained how I have difficulty remembering the complicated descriptions of the various plates. It is nice to be able to relax without having to scrawl what turns out to be unreadable gibberish on paper in preparation of my review. Well, as it turns out, what with all the drink and good food, and the opportunity to compliment Adeline as we moved toward the exit, I ended up leaving without that list. This is something the staff should not have allowed to happen, after promising that this would indeed be delivered. But then, despite their apparent attentiveness and concern, there was just something that was not quite genuine about the staff. So without the details on paper or remaining in my memory banks, what you end up with is an expurgated, incomplete description of the various courses. Here goes.

- Coquille St. Jacques (2 large sized, succulent scallops), algue, emulsion, pomme de Terre cuites partiellement

- Foie gras (poached), tomate, sauce sucrée, calamars – a definite highlight

- Dorade, delicately sitting on a bed of steamed Asian vegetables

- Veau (Co.) / tofu (me) served on a mound of brilliantly cooked aubergines (vapeur, 2 sauces de soja, gingembre, poive de Szechuan)

- Fromage

- Cheesecake + figue + fruits (gingembre, framboise), served with a bowl of ananas + ?

Pretty vague, I realize, but then the menu changes every night, so you’re not going to get this anyway. I’ve included some photos of dishes previously uploaded online, so you get the general flavor.

Although the evening got off to a damp start, we were warm, satisfied, and tipsy by the end of the dinner, and who can ask for more? Yam ‘Tcha’s prices have distinctly increased since receiving Michelin star #1, so don’t believe those 45-65€ ranges you see at other sites. If you go with one of the special wine/tea tastings and throw in coffee at the end, you can expect to pay more than 300€ for two (if that’s a turnoff, you might want to try the more affordable lunch). Opting instead for the bottle and no café, we checked out with a reasonable 212€ tab. Those extra 2€, by the way, were charged for the couple glasses of mineral water Co. asked for along the way, part 3 of how to get the little things wrong.

So there you have it. Yam ‘Tcha gets the big thing – the food – more than right. But those little customer relationship details are enough to keep me from having any great yearning to return anytime soon.

4 rue Sauval
75001 Paris
tel. 01 40 26 08 07
No Website!

Friday, October 1, 2010

La Gazzetta - Good News

I had high expectations for La Gazzetta and it did not disappoint. La Gazz (if you don’t mind the truncation) as you may know, is one of the 6 great affordable, price-fixe wonders of the contemporary Parisian restaurant scene annointed in a widely regarded New York Times piece penned this past April by Christine Muhlke. Not that I don’t have the perpiscacity to discover these places on my own, but let’s just say that Muhlke got me to L’Agrume and La Gazz faster than I may have on my own. And after all, I did hit Jadis nearly a year before Muhlke’s article and found it to be decidedly underwhelming. Not so for L’Agrume, as I have well documented here, and certainly not so for La Gazz – both are the kinds of places you want to keep going back to, with friends in tow. Both feature inventive cooks, an unpretentious yet subtly sophisticated atmosphere, and ever-changing fixed menus.

In the case of La Gazz, that ever-changing fixed menu changes every week and is boldly announced at the restaurant’s website, how’s that for a 21st century Parisian culinary experience? Good to see someone knows how to set up a website and keep it fresh, and for a French site that doesn’t take three weeks to load, my hat is off to ya. And what is even cooler for those who still like a little surprise upon arrival, you can expect a little tweak here or there. Thus, a pre-announced online biche dish became a poulard in bricks & mortar reality.

La Gazz’s dinner menu essentially offers two menu choices – 5 plates (39€) or 7 plates (52€) – both of which are great deals. Coupled with an affordable wine list
– Co. and I opted for our international favorite - Rioja - in this case, a 31€ Rayos Uva 2009 (I have never, never met a Rioja I didn’t like), and you certainly can’t complain, especially once the food starts coming. The Rioja didn’t rise anywhere near our top, but it was adequate for the pleasures to come. First up was a highlight, and one of the best kinds: one that doesn’t sound intriguing until you start experiencing it, a Maquereau fumé, brûlé, topinambours et citron confit. The poor man’s topinambours (Jerusalem artichoke) were cooked to a crunchiness that meshed well with the smoked fish, enveloped by the sweet tinge of lemon confit. Original and very tasty. Next course, huîtres et tomates écrasées, courgette – nice sized 1-1/2 oysters under a cover of crushed tomato; again, not something that sounds like writing home about. . . until you try it, that is. The third plate was a light vegetable adventure. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it twice, the carrot is an underrated vegetable, which is one reason I was really looking forward to see what René Redzepi’s Noma would make of it. Alas, that never came to pass, but La Gazz’s 39-year-old Swedish chef Petter Nilsson’s take was an intriguing alternative, with his carottes cuites au foin et rôties, semoule de lait et feuilles. It was the mousse-like mound of semoule that made the dish for me. Three up, three hits, with one drawback – the relatively stingy dishes each left you craving for more.

At this point, yours truly took a detour – passing on the jarret de veau et oursin, betterave blanche et pourpier, I settled for five, while Co. went whole hog with the lucky seven. I tasted her oursin and betterave (a tweak, originally designated as an oursin et poitrine de porc on the website), saving the veal for another lifetime. The taste of sea urchin was indescribable, so unfortunately, I can’t describe it. The word 'interesting' certainly applies. Another tweak was the poularde de Pierre Duplantier, salsifis et olives, estragon et girolles, essentially two rectangular slabs of poultry accompanied by two thin cigars of salsified olives. Very nice dish, and the replacement for the online biche de la Sarthe. Co.’s second add-on consisted of a sublime mousse yaourt de brebis, racine de persil et prunelle, the dried prune cut in thinly slice shards and placed atop the brebis, which went especially well with the accompanying country bread. As usual, I was already verbally downgrading the rather pedestrian-looking dessert, in two parts (in fact, the dessert and my review). On the left, rein de reinette trop cuit et terre chocolate, oxalis – or, in layman’s terms, an overly cooked half an apple sitting atop a shattered mound of chocolate crumbs – and to the right, soupe de Reine Claude et glace lait réduit – or, as we used to say in Philadelphia, 'yo, what is this, a slab of milk sorbet in gravy or sumptin?' Well, this turned out to be another one of those experiences where as you’re talking about how disappointed you are in not getting some elegant chocolate croustillant concoction or whatnot, the dessert starts getting better and better, until you’re struggling to get that last drop out of the plate and into your mouth, which is now uttering comments like, ‘man, what was that? That was damn good.’ That kind of dessert.

I don't like to brag, but do you notice a pattern here? I think this makes the third or fourth dinner in a row which prominently featured beet in one of the plates. Was I ahead of the curve claiming 2009 as year of the betterave, or what? As it turns out, the veal with betterave dish was probably the least inspired, if I am to believe Co., and why wouldn't I? Chef Nilsson apparently sees the potential in this rather nasty little root, as suggested by the accompanying photo, which was not on the list during our visit, a beets with watercress coulis construction.

An espresso to finish up for myself, accompanied by a couple of pastries gratis, and the final tally came to 124.50€ - that’s one 5-plate and one 7-plate menu, the Rioja, and one café. La Gazz, unlike many popular bistros in the capital is roomy – what amounts to a sizable loft loosely distinguished by three rooms. Co. and I had a nice little table in front sandwiched by the street window on one side and the bar on the other. Rue de Cotte is animated, with plenty of bars, in a lively part of town, about halfway between Nation and Bastille, not far from some other Mortstiff & Co. haunts (Paul Bert, et al.). Even on this gloomy, rainy early Fall evening, things were looking up.

29, rue de Cotte
75012 Paris
tel: 01 43 47 47 05
website: www.lagazzetta.fr
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