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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Worth the Wait: Spring Lives Up to the Hype

And they say it's difficult to get a reservation at Spring.  I think I started trying back in 2009, so that's what, 3 years, give or take several months, and in the grand scheme of things, that really isn't so bad, is it?  I guess I should mention that my attempts have been limited to potential Friday evenings, a notoriously difficult slot for a reservation in the space-challenged, New York Times-reviewed neo-bistrots scattered throughout the French capital.  Nonetheless, my dinner last night, with Co. in tow - or rather, the other way around, as this was her treat, and her successful reservation snag - attests to the fact that one can indeed have a meal at Spring, even without pulling any strings, if one tries hard enough and has a lot of time on one's hands.  As Lenin once observed, the two trump cards of a Bolshevik are patience and irony, a good way of summing up the end of one battle and the launch into another (Septime, but that's another story altogether).  (I hope you caught the Alain Resnais reference there.)

If you are a regular reader of this blog, as I certainly hope you are, you may remember that Spring's reputation was originally established  at a much smaller venue around Pigalle in the 16th, now occupied by La Vitrine.  (If you think it's difficult to get a reservation now, imagine what it was like when Spring could only cram 16 diners into its space, a venue that Le Figaro once anointed the hardest to reserve table in Paris.)  In July 2010, Spring moved to a 17th century building in the center of Paris, where its success has reached new heights.  Once Co. and I rang the doorbell at 6, rue Bailleul, a leisurely 10-minute walk from the Forum Les Halles, we were ushered into the elegant two floor restaurant, cozily seating about 22 on the main floor, and about another 20 or so in the more secluded downstairs floor.  Everything is elegant hardwood, metal, and stone, a nice juxtaposition, perfectly reflecting the melange of subtle ingredients in the Daniel Rose-led open kitchen, first thing you see upon entering.  I like the idea of the locked front door - good way to keep out the riffraff, i.e., the tourists who had read glowing reviews of the restaurant and decided to just drop buy and get a table ('try back in another few years, we should have something by then').  We were seated at a perfectly placed table overlooking the staircase and in close proximity to the kitchen.  Okay, that's stretching it - given the relative size of the kitchen and the main dining room, everybody is in close proximity to the kitchen, which I would have to guess is exactly the way Monsieur Rose prefers it, because dining at Spring is not only about the food, but also about the performance of preparing the food.

We found the now scruffier head chef leading the choreography in the kitchen from note one.  Allow me to digress.  It’s not hard to understand the popularity of Facebook.  Yes, I know, countless sociologists and popular culture pundits have opined the obvious – social networks offer us the opportunity to connect with heretofore unprecedented ease blah blah etc. blah.  And as one of those pundits myself – in my non-Mortstiff persona – you can add me to the club.  But let’s face it Facebook fanatics, Facebook is all about ‘face’ in its three most obvious facets:  narcissism, exhibitionism, and voyeurism.  What does this have to do with a review of Spring?  No bloody idea.  Just joking.  I was thinking about those three purely human needs as I pondered the recent explosion of open kitchens - seen in my previous reviews of Yam 'Tcha and L'Agrume, most notably.  Based on my limited exposure, I think chef Rose is in no small part an exhibitionist, noisily instructing, demanding, urging, joking, crooning, and otherwise chatting to his team throughout the evening.  We speak English here - Monsieur Rose and the wait staff, all bilingual of course, but at Spring, English rules.  Which is why I tried my darnedest to stick to French, being the cynical contrarian Bolshevik that I am. And then there are the diners, and let's face it, we are the voyeurs, checking out our fellow lucky devils --the night of our visit, apparently heavy on the well-heeled, well-coiffed American side - who also somehow managed a Friday night table, but more so, the hard-working team in the (multi-language) kitchen.  You ever watch those cooking shows on TV?  This is much better. 

Time to move on to the 76€ fixed-price 4-course dinner.  No carte to ponder, only the pithy description of the meal-to-come from one of several servers.  You take what is offered, although Spring - like most of the other neo-bistrots - is flexible when it comes to dietary restrictions, allergies, and what-not.  For example, well-informed in advance that I do not eat veal, I was offered a pigeon alternative.  Apparently, I wasn't the only one, as it appeared that about half the patrons also opted for the bird. And I could have sworn I heard Mr. Rose mention a party of vegetarians on their way. (Good luck with that.)  Things got off to a light, relatively forgettable start, with four amuse bouches brought to the table: two petite roasted potatoes, a small plate of cucumbers and radishes in salt, a very flavorful tapenade, and a triangle of butter for the two large-sized rolls.  Our bottle of Saumer (2010) Germain Roches Neuves quickly followed, one of the handful of reasonably-priced bottles (35€) on the extensive (and otherwise pricey) wine carte.  At its bargain basement price, the red excelled.  This was followed by a first course of fish soup, accompanied by a lightly batter-fried sextet of rouget.

Aside from a few miniscule moules, the highlight of the soup was the ample use of fenouil - the herb and the meaty white crunchy chunks of the slightly sweet plant.  Fish soup in late June may not compute for the reader, for whom 'spring' means something more than a trendy restaurant in Paris.  But when Cole Porter penned 'I Love Paris in the Springtime,' he couldn't have had the current weather in mind - rainy, windy, and cool - enough reason for me to don my dark shirt, suit coat, and leather coat before embarking on the evening's mission.  In Paris, unfortunately, these days 'spring' is a restaurant, not a season.  So on this particular Friday night in the middle of June, a hot soup seemed more than a propos.  Co. was less impressed than I was by this opening act, but those herbs really hit the spot for me, and the fried rouget was an inspired accompaniment.

Next up, a hefty langoustine on a bed of peas, and embellished with a modest dollop of lemon confit.

I hate to have to trot out that over-used bromide, 'melts in your mouth,' but I can't think of a better way of describing the langoustine.  This dish was followed by the main dish, the aforementioned veal (or pigeon) dish.  Both dishes were identically prepared, save the meat.  Here's what the pigeon looked like:

The succulent meat was accompanied, in part, by girolle mushrooms and a hefty spoonful of memorable mashed potatoes.  As I wolfed this course down, I kept hearing Co.'s tsk-tsk at my aversion to veal, content as she was with the well-prepared slab of veal and accompanying ris de veau (sweetbreads).  The four-dish dessert came in two stages - two small bowls of chocolate and strawberries, followed by a cherry tart and Greek yogurt sorbet.  These were consumed in utter silence - they were more than worthy of our complete attention, as noteworthy desserts should be.  

That about wraps it up.  To keep the bill under the two-century mark (it clocked in at a reasonable 187€), we eschewed end of meal cafe, perfectly content to empty the final drops of the Saumer.  As we donned our outer garments, I gave a thumbs-up to a bemused Monsieur Rose and, as we made our way back out into the now rain-free Paris night, I couldn't hold back a little grin that patience had paid off.  I may be the last blogger on the scene to finally make it to the highly-touted Spring, but guess who's review is now the most up-to-date?  Ironic, n'est pas?

6 rue Billeul
75001 Paris
tel: 01 45 96 05 72

1 comment:

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