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
tel: 01 43 47 47 05