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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jaja - Dahling I Love You, But Give Me Park Avenue

Sitting here la la, waiting for my Jaja, a hm ahm. Sorry, I digress. I hope my readers will appreciate the elliptical title of this here installment, even though, as one should know, it was Eva who starred in the referenced pinnacle (or should I say 'nadir') of '60s American mindless TV, Green Acres, and not sis Zsa Zsa, may she continue to battle the grim reaper. Where was I? Ah yes, Jaja. It doesn't take much to get me off my butt and into a new restaurant venue in the heart of Paris, and so to Jaja Co. and I trekked last Friday night, after I read Sarah Emily Miano's favorable (with reservations) review in the online Paris Update newsletter. As suggested, Miano's review fell far short of a rave, but enough to pique my interest in the possibilities. Ms. Miano, who was saddened by the lack of pichets on the wine list (does it sound elitist if I add a 'tsk' here?), also effused that "The burger, when presented to a neighboring diner, had me drooling." Well, hopefully she'll grow with the job, but Ms. Miano is clearly no Richard Hesse, her resident predecessor at aforementioned newsletter. New York is where I'd rather stay, I get allergic smelling hay, I just adore a penthouse view. I don't know, I can't get that Green Acres theme song out of my mind now. I wish I could say the same for our 129€ mediocre meal at Jaja.

Location! Location! Right smack dab in the heart of the trendy Marais district in a quiet courtyard amidst the shops and hordes of passersby, one enters the glass front of the restaurant and still feels outside, the large front rooms doubling as a terrace with retractable roof during the warm weather months. There are other rooms in the back and downstairs, and these emulate less terrace than cave, images available at the restaurant's website gallery. Young, attractive, and efficient waitresses fanned out from their little tete a tete phone klatsch around the central bar as soon as the tables started filling up with casually attired patrons who looked like they had dropped in for a quick nosh. We are not exactly talking Michelin-level here.

For an idea as to what to expect in the way of dishes, here is a look at Jaja's online carte, little of which matched what was on offer during our visit (click to enlarge):

From the ala carte offerings for the evening of our visit (a 'menu' only available at lunchtime), I selected the poelee d'ecrevisses as an entree, or as they prefer at Jaja my 'first act', essentially a mound of Asian noodles sporting several bland crayfish. I lost interest midway in, so Co. obliged as I periodically snatched some of her fricassee de champignons, a competently prepared dish of smoky mushrooms - both opening acts overpriced at 17€. For the 'classics not to be missed' Co. went with the canard sauvage, while I selected a blackboard special of filet de barbue poele et puree de topinambours, priced, respectively, at 23€ and 26€. I can't complain about my fish dish, topped by what appeared to be a pistou sauce, but both dishes, while workmanlike, evinced little evidence of creativity. Desserts as well were hardly inspired - my tiramissu marron and Co's tartare mangue/ananas provided the obligatory sugar fix at the end of the meal and nothing more. Top notch, however, was the bottle of Languedoc St. Chinian, a bold red that kept me in good spirits even when having to pay the 129€ for an uninspired meal. No complaints whatsoever regarding the wine list - plenty of reasonably priced and interesting choices, including some foreign bottles.

Jaja comes to the Marais bearing something of a pedigree, having been conceived by the same folks behind Glou, another trendy spot also located in the Marais that I have not reviewed at this site. Take away that pedigree and stick Jaja in some burg off the beaten path and I wouldn't put much money on its chances for long-term success. In fact, take away the location and the nice terrace, I have no idea why Jaja would merit the detour. If you're in need of a refilling during a hectic shopping trip to the interesting shops of the Marais and are willing to pay for mediocrity, you know where to go.

jaja. That's correct, it isn't supposed to be capitalized and that period is part of the name. Sitting here la la Waiting for my Ya Ya a hm ahm Sitting here la la Waiting for my Ya Ya uh

3 rue Sainte Croix de la Bretonnerie
75004 Paris
tel. 01 42 74 71 52

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Going Back

Say something once, why say it again? Which explains why I haven't posted for a while. As I gear up for some new venues, some obligatory return visits were in order. One of the hazards of a passionate interest in restaurants, not to mention restaurants in Paris, is that you discover places that are so good, once is not enough. Rather than belabor the point, and because I've reviewed L'Agrume, Le Chateaubriand, and Rino in previous installments, I merely intend to reproduce the tasting menus/ menus degustation that Co. and I experienced over the last few weeks, just to give an idea as to what some local chefs are up to as the chill of Autumn begins to envelop the Parisian atmosphere.

First up was Rino. Not exactly an old favorite, but the first visit there made me want to go back, though I couldn't exactly pinpoint why - maybe it was the terrific rouget I had there during visit 1. Once again, each of the offerings were satisfying - with the standout being a very unique appetizer of ravioli with onion confit and oyster. Nonetheless, I can't say I was particularly wowed by anything, and for that reason, I doubt I'll be returning in the near future. (Click on the menu to enlarge)

Next up, one of my favorites, L'Agrume. I earlier promised I wouldn't review L'Agrume again - in that case, twice was enough - so this isn't a review, just a quick glance. Out of our several visits, Co. & I found this visit to come up a bit short with chef Franck Marchesi-Grandi rather heavy on the light with the first two courses consisting of Burratina cheese and tomato pulp followed by a mousseline de topinambour. The highlight clearly consisted of the poached langoustines - small bloated but light langostines - a real marvel. Dessert was largely forgettable.

Finally, a second visit to Le Chateaubriand, and this did not disappoint. I really like this place, boisterous and noisy, a steady flow of diverse diners and energetic, witty and young waitpersons, and one surprise after another as the multiple courses ebb and flow before you. Highlights here consisted of the red tuna, turnip, and radish dish, as well as an apparently simple lait ribot which edged us into dessert territory. Unfortunately, reserving proved to be more challenging this second time around, and if there is one problem I have with Le Chateaubriand's multiple dishes is that once some dishes get your taste buds going, the offering is gone. In other words, sometimes copious is not a bad thing (hint).

There you have it, Le Chateaubriand wins the retro tour, with L'Agrume coming in runner up. You can't go wrong at either venue. And now, with the exception of a long overdue detour to Les Magnolias, out with the old and in with the new - coming next: JaJa and Septime!

46, rue Trousseau
75011 Paris
tel.: 01 48 06 95 85
web: www.rino-restaurant.com

15, rue des fosses St-Marcel
Paris 5
tel. 01 43 31 86 48

129 Avenue Parmentier
75011 Paris
tel. 01 43 57 45 95
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