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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 - End of the Line

As the hours tick down to Jan. 1, it's time to put a wrap on 2013.  I had a bad feeling about '13' last year at this time and I was right.  Was 2013 a shitty year or what?  Anyway, as commissioner, owner, president, and CEO of this here  restaurant blog, it is my duty to provide my readers with something I am sure they are waiting for regarding 2013 - closure.  So without further adieu, some highlights and lowlights, from my own personal, egocentric, and biased perspective.  I promise to keep this short and sweet and keep my fingers crossed for good things in 2014.

  • Bones - despite all the hype, I liked this new entry into the Paris bar/tapas/bistrot scene anyway.  Co. was less than impressed, but I'm looking forward to a return trip.
  • Alain Milliat - way over there near the Eiffel Tower, this venue has a lot of potential.  Small but innovative dishes.
  • 6 Paul Bert - Paul Bert has expanded into more gastronomic country.  This may have been my  favorite new venue of the year.
  • For tapas, Mary Celeste rose to the top of the list.  Innovative food and drinks, lively place.  Braisenville didn't reach those heights, but there's something intriguing about braised tapas.
  • L'Apibo - enjoyable late summer dinner, bears watching.
  • The grilled fish in Lisbon.  I want more.
  •  Les Caves du Roy (31 Rue Simart, 75018 Paris) - finally I find a place that sells bitters for my martinis.  And where else in Paris can you find Aviation, Citadelle, and 6 Ravens gins (for the martinis)?  And speaking of the Ravens - the ones from Baltimore, that is - thanks for bringing the Lombardi trophy back to my original starting point Baltimore (Super Bowl 2013).
  • The Splendid Table - with nothing else to listen to on the radio on Sunday mornings, this show really fills a void (via TuneIn's WNYC feed on my tablet).  Lynne Rossetto Kasper's laugh and other vocal mannerisms are nerve wrenching, but boy does she know food, or does she know food?  http://www.splendidtable.org/
  • My new Fang laptop and Nexus 7 tablet.
  • Old favorite: Les Magnolias. . . keep on truckin'.

  • Le Gaigne - RIP.  Why, why, why?  Please come back, as you promise online.
  • La Gazzetta - au revoir chef Petter Nilsson, who returns to Sweden.  Bienvenue to  Luigi Nastri, who has big shoes to fill
  • Mansouri - I remember when this was a very good couscous restaurant.  Not any more.
  • Mama Shelter - interesting place, lively bar, blah food.
  • Septime - such a great restaurant, such a nightmare to reserve.

Au Revoir 2013, less than 7 hours to go.  And don't come back.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Catching Ups and Downs: Part 2

180 degrees to go to come full circle and put a lid on a 2013 I am forever happy to bid adieu.  On the heels of Mama Shelter and Le Boudoir, Co. and I returned to a couple of our personal favorites - La Gazzetta and Le Pleine Mer - with a minor detour along the rue de Lappe.  Put on your seat belts, here we go.

La Pirada

After a terrific concert by Matt Elliott and band at the Cafe de la Danse, just off the well-trodden rue de Lappe in Bastille, Co. and I were up for some late night grub and more fire water.  Our usual venue for such purposes is the comfortable Cuban spot Havanita, but let's face it, when it comes to authentic Cuban repasts, Havanita doesn't come close.  So we decided to check out the Spanish tapas just next door at La Pirada.  If there is something that Co. and I know a lot about when it comes to food, it is Spanish tapas, because, well, we spend a lot of time in Spain eating aforementioned Spanish tapas.  We didn't have high expectations for La Pirada and our low expectations were more or less confirmed.  But....what was lacking in authenticity was clearly made up by some above average, satisfying and copious plates, including the following:

Tapas de jour (8.50€)

Pulpo Gallega (10€) - heavy on the paprika, which was fine with me 

Calamares plancha (7.20€)

Not pictured, croquetas jamon (6.90€), my least favorite.  Along with a vino tinto, these offerings hit the spot in slaking our late night cravings - well, at least the edible and drinkable ones.

Needless to say if you know rue de Lappe, with it's never-ending stream of pedestrians, La Pirada benefits from location, location, location.  Even at the late hour of our visit, people were coming and going, non-stop.  Convivial, cheap, and there when you need it.  There's something to be said for that, even if the food ain't the top of the world, ma.

Inside La Pirada, a hint of Spain

A tip of the hat to Matt Elliott at the Cafe de la Danse, around the corner

address:  7, rue de Lappe, 75011 Paris
tel:  01 47 00 73 61
website:  http://www.pirada.com/

La Gazzetta

If you are a regular reader of PRAB, you know La Gazzetta, so there's really no need to elaborate again.  No, check that, yes there is.  One of the cool things that added to La Gazz's charm was their carte,which enabled the diner to select 5 (39€) or 7 (52€) plates from a list of 7 offerings.  I always found it somewhat confusing to figure out which were the entrees, plates, and desserts, but in the end it didn't matter because they were all innovative and good and you'd probably, like me, end up taking all 7 anyway at a price that was well worth it.

But what Co. and I found last January was something decidedly different - a standard entree/plat/fromage and/or dessert format (39€ or 45€, depending on the cheese).  So much for greater novelty and choice.  Our latest visit, during the first week of December, found a similar format, albeit with more choices, plenty of innovation, and, big surprise, raised prices (45€ and 55€).  Some of the offerings:

  • Raviolis d'epinards, oursin et pomelos
  • Salsifis - hibiscus - raisins de Corinthe oignon doux des Cevennes et persil
  • Agneau de Bourgogne et carotte rotie olives et citron confit
  • Sorbet de lait reduit, citron et meringues
  • Biscuit trempe de chataignes, yaourt de brebis compote de pomme Bertane

More distressing than the price increase, we were informed that the renowned chef of La Gazzetta since 2006, Swedish Petter Nilsson is leaving to return to the source, Stockholm, just in time for a Scandinavian Christmas.  Here is the Google translated latest news from La Gazz regarding what happens next:

La Gazzetta will continue to follow the same movement back to basics by using the Italian chef Luigi Nastri , a friend of Giovanni Passerini , chef of Rino restaurant and former second at La Gazzetta. Thus, the torch remains in the "family." Luigi is the new Roman cook and is ready to invest the scene with the desire for a modern trattoria. His kitchen ...will give a Mediterranean tone necessarily rhyming with the Italian name of La Gazzetta.

I'm not sure about that rhyming part.  Not a big fan of Rino, all I can say is 'why mess around with a good thing?  Can't we just have the old La Gazzetta back?'  Maybe my fear is unwarranted.  As far as I'm concerned, I will continue to recommend La Gazzetta as I always have until they give me a reason not to, but best to be forewarned that changes are in the wind.  To be continued...

address:  29 rue de Cotte, 75012 Paris
tel:  01 43 47 47 05
website:  http://lagazzetta.fr/wordpress/

La Pleine Mer

I'm a modern kind of a guy, if I have to say so myself, and though I generally laugh in the face of tradition, Co. and I have a little budding annual tradition going, which consists of a late December visit to La Pleine Mer for oysters from the Cancal region of Brittany.  I've already told you everything you need to know about LPM, and though I may lament the coming changes to La Gazzetta, each visit to LPM further confirms that this place will never, ever change.  Yeah, I know, never say never, but LPM has that kind of an 'old reliable' feel about it.

If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times - if you want authentic, inexpensive, super delicious oysters in Paris, this is the place.  No embellishments, no variation in the menu - your only choice is between oysters no. 1, 2, 3, or 4 depending upon availability.  You do have the option of a 'menu' - starting off with a plate of salmon, tarama, butter, and rye bread, and a glass of muscadet (included in the menu).  Then you wait for your dozen oysters, shucked in eye's view, and a bottle of muscadet (extra), and topped off with the cholesterol inducing guilty pleasure, the Breton cake Kouign-Amann (also extra, but only 3.50€). 

La Pleine Mer is just a hole in the wall not far from Gare de Nord, but it's inexpensive and definitely the real deal when you have a craving for oysters.  In fact, it's probably more of a take-out that formal sit-down restaurant.  During our meal, a steady influx of customers were coming in to pick up their holiday oysters for home.

address:  22, rue de Chabrol, 75010 Paris
tel:   01 53 34 64 47
website: are you kidding?

Before closing this elongated post (Parts 1 and 2), I should add that I finally got around to visiting Le
Le Square Gardette
Square Gardette
on rue rue Saint Ambrosie in the 11th, not far from the St Maur metro stop and even less far from my day job.

This was a holiday dinner celebrated with some colleagues, so my function was less reviewer than survivor.  Laid back and convivial, with some odd decorations.  I vaguely remember a tasty entree -  ceviche de merlan, litchi, grenade, and yes, popcorn - and a main fish plate - lieu noir - followed by a pre-selected triad of cheese, featuring a terrific slab of Cantal.  At 44€ for the 'menu', this isn't the best deal in town, but worth checking out.  Lunch might be a better option - just stay away from the quail, which rocked John Talbott's boat in the decidedly wrong way.

Some Square Gardette decor
address:  24, rue Saint Ambrosie, Paris 75011
website:  http://www.squaregardette.fr/

Monday, December 23, 2013

Catching Ups and Downs: Part 1

Life is tough enough, do we really need Google to make it so difficult to access one's blog that was created before Google ruled the world?  Ok, cool man, or as the tax man really did say to me the other day: 'Zen.'  Wow, it's been a while and I blame my respite entirely on my day job.  So, if you're wondering where I've been, in this installment, I offer you 180 degrees (part 1) of a 360 degree recap, starting with some good old fashioned mama's home cooking:  NOT.

Mama Shelter

Way back around early November, I finally got the urge to check out the trendy Mama Shelter restaurant, situated on the ground floor of the trendy Mama Shelter hotel on rue de Bagnolet in the 20th and just across the street from one of my go-to venues for live music, La Fleche d'Or.  Mama's has long acquired Paris renown for its funky interior spaces, lively bar, pizza corner, and hip restaurant.  'Check' on funky interior decor, 'check' on lively bar, 'check' on pizza corner, but a decidedly 'thumbs down' on hip restaurant.  As for the funky decors, check out my photos.

Funky Mama Shelter decor 1

Funky Mama Shelter decor 2

Funky Mama Shelter decor 3

Funky Mama Shelter decor 4

Yes, the dark ceiling has a number of adages scrawled in chalk, including such deep musings as the following:

 Power is standing on a street corner without waiting for someone.
           Get out of my cloud.
Deep, huh?  About as deep as big Mama''s aspirations in the kitchen.
For a place that aspires to be so ostensibly cool, the menu offerings were decidedly dull on the evening that Co. and I made our visit (and probably all the other nights when we didn't, as well).
Below, the carte, followed by some food photos.

Mama Shelter's menu, Nov. 2013 (click to enlarge)

Burratta Tomates Cerises entree (14€)

The burratta was forgettable - not that anyone's could compare to that served at Aux Deux Amis, which I revisited a couple of weeks ago with the Moose.  The cerises were memorable - with so many, how could one forget?  Meanwhile, Co. was uninspired by her poele de champignon (13€).

Salmon snacke main dish (19€)

This actually looks pretty good, but to tell you the truth, I can't remember if this was my dish or Co's, and neither can she.  So it may have been good, but who the hell knows?

Plat du jour - some kind of fish and vegetables, take your pick (17€)

I know, I know, these photos suck, but then, so did the food.  (Actually, the place is so dark, you'll have trouble impressing your partner at the bar with all your stored selfies.)  Zen, man, zen.  Okay, the food wasn't that bad, but when it comes to Mama Shelter, you go for the decor, the lively bar action, and if you and your buds are up for group gourging on pizza, there's a special room set aside for that sort of happiness.  We downed our decent Pinot noir vieilees vignes (34€) and zenned back out into the Paris night without dessert or cafe at 97€.  Next question?

Address: 109 Rue de Bagnolet, 75020 Paris, France
Phone:+33 1 43 48 48 48
Website:  http://www.mamashelter.com/en/paris/restaurants/

Le Boudoir

This was a decidedly strange one.  The Moose, fully inspired by an earlier visit, suggested we check out Le Boudoir, a short block or two off the insanely crowded Champs Elysee.  I must admit, I was intrigued by the online carte, but nervous that it was in English, I guess a nod and blink to the hordes of tourists swarming around the fashionably ostentatious Champs Elysee shops.  By the time we arrived for dinner, only a few tables were taken, and we were seated next to a foursome of lovely young ladies finishing up what appeared to be a rollicking enjoyable early evening meal.  By the time we left, the place was filled with button-down male suits, hardly the touristy types, seriously huddled around their tables as if mapping out their strategies for their visits to a decidedly other kind of boudoir later that night.  My mind wanders, as it did at Le Boudoir, no doubt partly a function of the whiskeys I downed at a bar along the way.

The new seasonal Le Boudoir carte (click to enlarge)

I don't know what it is about the Moose, but he is the most gregarious person I know.  When we arrived at Le Boudoir, he asked for Stefan (manager?  owner?) and they greeted each other like lifelong pals.  Stefan spent some time at our table, just glowing about how the evening of our visit they were launching their fall/winter menu, which was why half of the items weren't available.  Don't worry, I didn't get it either.  The meal's a blur, but I remember ordering 'The famous poultry pie with duck foie gras - onion confit and foliage emulsion' because I wanted to find out what was so famous about it.  Stefan explained it is famous because care is taken to use only the freshest, most natural ingredients, which is fine by me.  I was less impressed by my dessert, the 'Black chocolate cream,' that would have worked a lot better without the bananas and with black chocolate cream.  Everything in-between is but a distant memory, but check out the photos below.  I do remember being surprisingly satisfied by the meal, however, although I'm not sure that I will return.  Still, if you're hanging out on the grand old C-E one evening and you want to check out something a bit off the beaten path (literally and figuratively) at fairly reasonable prices, you probably could do worse.

The famous poultry pie

Lightly browned scallops, risotto, red squash - fresh and succulent, no kidding

The Moose's choice: Quail stuffed with dried fruits and foie gras

Black chocolate cream - this one didn't work

Not to be forgotten, Le Boudoir includes the railroad car dining space, some more intimate private rooms upstairs (no, not those sort of rooms), as well as a 'cigars smoking room' 8-seater.  Now you've got the idea.

Restaurant & Wine Bar
Address:  25 rue du Colisée, 75008 Paris - France
Telephone:  01 43 59 25 29
website:  http://www.boudoirparis.fr/

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