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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Pierre Sang on Gambey - Voila, A Winner

I'll admit right from the start that this is going to be a piss-ass review, pardon mon francais.  I don't have the names of dishes, I don't have a photo of the carte - there wasn't one - I quickly forgot two or three key ingredients of each dish about ten seconds after our servers described them, and the place was dark enough to render most of my photos as illegible.  That said, I loved everything about Pierre Sang on Gambey, not to be confused with Pierre Sang on Oberkampf a few doors away on the corner (where Oberkampf, surprise, surprise, meets Gambey). PSO is also supposed to be pretty good --albeit less creative cuisine and less pricey - and it was livelier on the summer evening when Co. and I passed by.  PSO also looks more like a restaurant from the outside than the non-descript PSG, which I wouldn't have located if I didn't already know it was only a couple doors down from PSO.

We were seated at the counter, right in front of the open kitchen - a front-row seat - having passed on one of the few scattered tables.  Next time, we'll probably opt for a window seat, assuming the season calls for that.  The deal is a great one - six dishes for 49€ - and they were all excellent - unique, flavorful, fresh, compelling, and eye-opening.  The whole Gestalt traversed various ethnic cuisines, with some Asiatic permeating throughout, not surprising, given chef Pierre Sang's Korean and French roots.  The carte changes regularly, soley as a function of Monsieur Sang's whims, and the evidence suggests he throws caution to the wind when conjuring up an evening's selection of dishes.  Since I was so lame in noting the details of our meal, get a load of le Fooding's description of another selection:

...mandoo (fried dumplings) filled with poultry, anchovy cream, mussels and lemon caviar; seared chinchard mackerel, eggplant caviar with yuzu and cucumber kimchi; sliced prime rib, a chili dip, reduced jus and sweet rice with butter; magic wagyu flank steak with sweet miso, accompanied by a killer pork ragout and noodles made with sweet potato flour; beautiful cheeses with yuzu jam…

Yep, we had some of that, particularly the yuzu (an East-Asian citrus fruit, part sour mango), sweet miso, and cucumber kimchi, but with radishes, shrimp, fish, calamars, etc.  The cool part - or insipid, depending on your level of cynicism (hey, I'm cynical but even I thought it was cool) - is that you're not told what you're eating until you've already consumed the dish - only then does the server provide the details, and only after you've made your guesses.  I was pretty proud of my hits, but there were misses, and of course, there's a bit of cheating involved if you are sitting directly in front of the cooks in the kitchen, watching their every move.  I only have a couple photos that turned out, below, well, two out of the three below turned out - and I'll only tell you what they consisted of after you've eaten them:

 Throw in a superb Corbieres Ribaute (44€) and the bill for two, including one espresso (2.50€) came to 144.50€, a steal for what was maybe my best meal of the year.  With one visit under my belt - the first of many, I presume (visits, not belts), Pierre Sang on Gambey has quickly risen to the top of my list, with a bullet.

6 rue Gambey
Paris 75011
TEL: No phone number
Metro: Oberkampf, Parmentier

Graffito on the way to Pierre Sang on Gambey

Sunday, July 19, 2015

L'Apibo - Underrated on Tiquetonne

I don't know why, but I love street names like Tiquetonne.  It would be cool to live on that street, just to be able to tell people that I live on Tiquetonne.  Like I said, I don't know why.  Well, one reason I would like to live on rue Tiquetonne, a casual 5-10 min. walk from the Forum LeHalle, is that I'd get to go to L'Apibo more regularly.  As it is, Co. and I made our second visit to said venue this past Friday night, nearly a full two years from our initial excursion.  We liked it then and we like it a lot more now.

L'Apibo chef Anthony Boucher
Again, I don't know why, but L'Apibo doesn't seem to rate the well-known gastronomic review channels.  Not in Le Fooding - a big surprise.  Way back - especially in culinary timespace - in 2012, Le Figaro didn't exactly pan the restaurant, but dissed it with the following comments (translated from original):  "... young staff strives to make a copy out of the ordinary, unfortunately spoiled by too much haste. Nothing catastrophic, but that feeling of a school setting, hardworking, middle class.."  Ouch.  However true that may have been at the restaurant's debut, if at all, those comments ring hollow today.  Headed by chef Anthony Boucher, L'Apibo is all grown up, professional, yet laid back.  Nothing apparently hasty in the food's preparation and the service was right on.

I've now eaten at L'Apibo twice and never made it inside, both times opting for the small (8 tables?) and narrow terrace on the indubitably animated Tiquetonne - I've copied an image of the interior for your viewing pleasure anyway.  As for the carte, for dinner you basically have two options: (1) a menu carte - entree, plat, dessert for 35€ or (b) the more extravagent carte blanche au chef - 5 servings at 55€.  We did (1).

The meal started off with a summer-appropriate, mise en bouche of watermelon gazpacho - fresh and ephemeral - ephemeral because although I am 100% positive I snapped a photo, it has apparently evaporated into the heat of mid-summer Paris night.  Try this, imagine a small glass bowl filled with  semi-thick watermelon juice - there, that's what you're missing.  I did better with the other courses, as you will see below.

 The formal menu got underway with two excellent entrees.  I went with Le Thon Rouge - half cooked, with sweet red onions, soy sauce, chick peas, and some assorted vegetables.  Perfectly cooked and I was impressed, given that slightly cooked tuna Germon is a dish I experiment with regularly in my very own kitchen.  Co. opted for something more Mediterranean, mozarella wrapped in zucchini in a tomato broth.

Le Thon Rouge


Something very fishy about the main plates - we both ordered fish.  Co. got there first to the one I would have taken if she hadn't got there first - deep down, yes, I am a true gentleman - Le Bar - cooked on a bed of salt and black rice, tandoori, and caviar d'aubergine.  I didn't suffer too much - my choice turned out to be pretty good, although coming in second to the bar - La Lotte - roasted, with potatoes, celery, and enveloped in a fish soup, all in the direction of a bouillabaisse.

Le Bar - no, you are imagining Co. playing with her phone in the presence of such a grand fish

La Lotte

The greatest disparity came at dessert.  I hit the jackpot with Le Chocolate (don't you just love these original names L'Apibo came up with for the dishes?) - mousse onctueuse, ganache chocolat, tuile grue, cacao - all I can say is go there now and get this.  Co., however, was very disappointed with her more fruity choice - La Framboise.

Le Chocolate - epic, trust me
Le Chocolate again, excavation underway

La Framboise - Co. was underwhelmed

Add a couple chocolates with the cafe, and that's a wrap.

Speaks for itself

All of this washed down with a fine Chinon, reasonably priced at 29€, one of 6 or 7 featured bottles.  Grand total for two, 102€.

Once again, I'm not sure why L'Apibo isn't up there with the other usual subjects.  Creatively, of course, it doesn't compare with say, Les Deserteurs - the current bees' knees in the capital (for good reason) or Louis - but you could do much, much worse.  I'd say L'Apibo ranks at the top of some of my other underrated favorites, like Lilane, Fabrique 4, and Vilia.  Mainly because their street names aren't nearly as fun to say as 'Tiquetonne.'

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Louis - New Kid in Town

Only 3 months old, Breton chef Stéphane Pitré's Louis has begun to make its mark on the Paris restaurant front.  The spacially-challenged, well-appointed venue in the 9th - somber blues on the outside and elegant whites on the inside houses a whopping 10 tables, providing the possibility of feeding 27 patrons.  There were fewer than that last Friday night when Co. and I went for dinner,  with a few tables still unoccupied by evening's end, and so nice that one of those empty tables was next to ours, providing a bit of privacy to our fascinating, enlightening conversation, which had to be toned down every two minutes when one of the two attentive and informative hostesses/servers - what is the politically correct term anyway? - kept hovering over my shoulder to work on the restaurant's computer to manage reservations, l'additions, etc.  It's that kind of place.  Monsieur Pitré and two assistants worked their fine-tuned choreography in the tiny, open kitchen providing, at least for me, endless amazement at how the three weren't constantly bumping into each other, but we're talking pros here.  The meal was outstanding, need I say more?  I'll think of something.

 As I had done my homework before arrival, I knew not to expect much from the carte, and true to expectation, beyond price and number of dishes, there was ... nothing. 

 Co. and I slummed it, opting for the Louis en 6 temps formule at 48€ a pop.  Throw in an intriguing 3-part mise-en-bouche and a quartet of end-of-meal patisseries, one does not leave Louis wanting for more.

Mise en bouche - a merangue croustillant with mustard, a green brioche, and although I can't remember what was the third, it was without doubt the tastiest

Temps 1 - a foie gras and bouillon de moules concoction that belied the chef's Breton origins

Temps 2 - Co.'s boeuf tartare with wasabi (and her hands)

Shying away from beef, my alternative was an amazing haddock and caviar dish

Temps 3 - an original take on Asian noodles - its bouquet enveloping a hefty langoustine, with raspberry garnish

Temps 4 - the photo doesn't do justice to this tender vollaile dish with girolles - probably the tastiest dish of the meal

Temps 5 - not that the meal wasn't copious enough, but this 'pre-dessert,' albeit very nice, wasn't much of a dish

Temps 6 - oh yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about - just because it's summer doesn't mean we have to limit ourselves to fruit; this chocolate mi-cuit with avocado ice cream and chocolate flakes left me wanting another one, now.

 No photo for the patisseries at the end - two financiers au poire and a couple fondant chocolates.  This was a great meal, with flavors spanning various parts of the globe.  The 48€ menu -or if you want, 62€ for 8 dishes - is a bargain and there were some reasonably priced, well-selected wines on the list, including the 37€ Chinon that accompanied our meal.  This is one we'll definitely be revisiting, although I highly doubt we'll have much luck with the empty table next to us in the future - once word gets out - or at least further than it has to date - get ready to have to reserve weeks in advance.

LOUIS  -  Stéphane Pitré
23 rue de la Victoire
75009 PARIS
tel. 01 55 07 86 52
website:  http://www.louis.paris/

As an inane postcript, as a baseball fan, and even more specifically, a Baltimore Orioles fan, I couldn't help thinking of O's Mexican-born starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez every time I glanced upon M. Pitré work his kitchen.  I don't know if anyone has ever seen the two in the same room at the same time, but they are both aces in my book.

The chef

The baseball player

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Neige d'été -Mono no aware in action

The Japanese aesthetical concept of mono no aware, literally translates as the bittersweet awareness of the transience of things, signifying a sad, fleeting beauty that is conspicuous in traditional Japanese cultural expressions.  And it is no surprise that this notion kept coming to mind during last Saturday evening's dinner at Co.'s latest Paris discovery, Neige d'ete, itself translated, for the uninformed, as 'summer snow.'  Nice - it was a summery, mid-June evening, and our long journey to the 15th paid off big-time with a surprisingly fresh, original, and refreshing meal.  Hideki Nishi's restaurant is austere beyond belief - no sign on the facade, and no embellishments on the whitewashed walls, save some understated chandeliers and white, linen curtains.  The restaurant's name evokes a winter flower that blooms in the summer in France, once again suggesting the ephemeral nature of things.  An overly attentive staff of black-clad Japanese servers were as understated as the decor.  The fleeting nature of things further personified by the virtual wine list, brought to the table on an iPad.

But the food is where the real action is at Neige d'été.  As le Fooding guide observed, "vegetables from Annie Bertin, fish from the Etel auction, lobsters from Vincent Doucet…).  The more things change, the more they stay the same - another fixed price, fixed options menu , respectably priced at 70€ per person.  There was a second option priced at 90€ that included a special cut of beef, but Co. and I slummed it and went with option 1, which looked like this:

70 euro menu, page 1  (click to enlarge)  

70 euro menu, page 2  - missing from the top is dish 4, couchon (click to enlarge)

No skimping on extras either - the meal started off with two well-appointed mises-en-bouche, as seen below.

Something is missing - the pain d'epice, the least interesting of the trio which I impulsively ingested prior to shooting, but right off the bat, it was apparent that something good was happening here Mrs. Jones

Mise en bouche 2 - a simple gazpacho

This salmon with flowers, resting on a croustillant base, takes the prize as the most beautifully prepared dish I've had all year.

Another exquisite dish, the obligatory - for Paris in May/June - white asparagus dish - didn't reach the pinnacle of the salmon, but still tasty

This Saint-Pierre fish and rice was a most original take on paella

Co.'s couchon

... and my couchon alternative, pintade

Desert 1 - hit the spot

Desert 2 - the also obligatory - on Paris menus May/June - panna cotta.  Sorry, I know it's summertime and you're supposed to eat refreshing fruit and all, but panna cotta isn't my thing.

More extras, just in case two deserts weren't enough - and these weren't throwaway patisseries, either, these were really good.

Somewhat difficult to get to and a bit on the pricy side, true - wines starting at around 40€ - you can expect to close in on the 200€ mark for two - but Neige d'été, although currently not all the buzz, will probably garner quite a bit pretty soon.   So reserve while you can.

Opining on mono no aware, the designer Jaitra noted that the Japanese ideal sees beauty . . .as
an experience of the heart and soul, a feeling for and appreciation of objects or artwork—most commonly nature or the depiction of—in a pristine, untouched state.  That's not a bad way of characterizing the philosophy behind Neige d'été.

Just a little gift on the way out the door - a plastic bag holding two sugar cookies.

Two for the road

Neige d'été
12 rue de l'Amiral Roussin
75015 Paris
tel: 01 42 73 66 66

Read more about mono no aware in my new book, People and Products:

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