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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Le Galopin - Looks Can Deceive, In a Good Way

Le Galopin - not much to look at ...
Situated rather inauspiciously on a corner of the Place Saint-Marthe in the 10th, Le Galopin has been churning out positive reviews since its inception four years ago.  Yet you wouldn't have guessed that just by passing by.  The look on Co.'s face as we approached Le Galopin for a Friday evening dinner said it all: 'what kind of a dump are you taking me to tonight?'  That question was quickly rebutted by two small warm-up dishes that perfectly fit the chilly, mid-Winter evening.  With each ensuing dish, the food just kept getting better.  Co.'s visage quickly changed to: 'Why haven't we been here before?'

...but the view on the square outside is typically Paris (whatever that is)

Unadorned walls, traditional wood chairs and tables, and a laid-back clientele left me feeling overdressed in my dashing sportscoat and button-down sweater ensemble, but I can live with that.

The online interior image ...

...and my more artsy take on the interior

Since Day 1, brothers Romain and Maxime Tischenko have gone with a simple concept - one ever-changing fixed menu consisting of seven plates:  2 amuse-bouches, 1 entree, 2 plats, and 2 desserts, now priced at 54 euros.  Let me tell you, this is a great deal, and the affordable and varied wine selection won't break your wallet either.  Here's what the carte looked like (exactly, because I brought it home) on the night of our visit:

Click to read without having to use a microscope

And here are some blurry photos of the food, sorry, but you will hopefully get the idea:

Amuse bouche 1 - our only gripe here was that there wasn't more of it, until we remembered that it was only an amuse bouche.  Left on each plate were three mussel shells, but the plate consisted of closer to twice that number.  Those are squares of dried seaweed beside the moules.

Amuse bouche 2 - if I remember correctly, the bouillon de fane was radish-based.  The salmon eggs are lying on the bottom, so you can't see them, but I ate them and they were really good.

Entree - it's too bad this is blurry, because this simple dish of soft tofu, raw mushrooms, and cedrat was very nice.  That's okay, I didn't know what cedrat (a citrus fruit) was either.  The highlight for me was the rectangle of fried bread, an almost crunchy counterpoint to the rest of the dish.

This first main dish (cabillaud) may have been the highlight of the evening.  Excellent.

This second main dish (canard) may have the highlight of the evening.  Wait, did I already say that?  Heliantis, by the way, is a sunflower plant, something else I learned at Le Galopin.

Dessert 1 - I admit, I wasn't looking forward to this one, and anytime I see grapefruit listed as my dessert, I'm disappointed.  But, wow, this dish proved me wrong in a big way.  A very refreshing transition leading up to the chocolate.

Dessert 2 - Blurred again.  I was looking forward to this one and was not disappointed.

To sum: 7 for 7 - you can't do much better than that (except to maybe add some little cakes with the coffee, but you can't have everything).  Not a dud on the table.  I, of course, can't guarantee you'll be as lucky as we were during our recent Le Galopin dinner, but I quickly added the restaurant to my 'go-to Paris bistrots' category.  One of my counterparts, John Talbott, summed up Le Galopin this way:  “out of this tiny kitchen . . .  come dishes of such complexity, creativity and contrasting ingredients it kind of takes your breath away…”  I wasn't exactly breathless, but that was a damn good meal to start off the new year.

Les frères Tischenko

34 rue Sainte-Marthe
75010 Paris

On the way back home from Le Galopin

Monday, January 4, 2016

France Welcomes le Doggy Bag

True, TF1 and France 2 might have devoted the majority of their evening newscasts the past two evenings to the passing of national icons, singer Michel Delpech and actor/comedian Michel Galabru, respectively - no, not a good year so far for les Monsieurs Michel - you wonder how they could have missed the bombshell, reported in Le Parisien, that le doggy bag has come to French restaurants.  Oui indeed - as of January 1, 2016 all customers engaging in the ultimate faux pas of leaving part of their ordered meal on their plates can now take home the remains in a doggy bag.  However, there is a caveat:  according to the Union of crafts and hospitality industries (Umih), this development only applies to restaurants serving between 150 and 200 people a day.  That pretty much eliminates about 95% of the restaurants reviewed on this site, but then again, if you are eating at the restaurants I review, you're not going to leave much on your plates, its just too damn good.  

In addition to benefiting customers who would stand to benefit completely from what they paid for, the
measure has grander aspirations. It is an element of the 2011 law on bio-waste - the waste associated with food preparation, the remnants of food served, and food that passes its expiration date - which is projected to reduce food waste by 50% within the next ten years.  This reminds me Intermarché's well-known 'Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables' ( 'Fruits & légumes moches'), launched in 2014, which also was developed in the spirit of the bio-waste law.

We'll have to see how far we get with le doggy bag measure.  I remember reading a few years ago about French restaurants providing the option for a wine doggy bag, but have seen nary a one.  That may have to do more with the fact that I never stick around to see people not finishing their wine - the very thought sends shivers down my spine.

According to le Parisian, the Anglo-Saxon practice of providing patrons with doggy bags connotes a stinginess that is not to be confused with French dining propriety; as a result, the Management of Food, Agriculture and Forestry in the Rhône-Alpes has chosen to call the food transporter a "Gourmet Bag", and prompting the slogan “C’est si bon, je finis à la maison!” ("It's so good, I finish it at home!").  N'importe quoi.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015 - Unforgettable

Le Carillon - 1 week after the attack
Little did we expect at the start of 2015 that such  beloved Parisian (and beyond) pastimes as lingering outside at a cafe with friends or a relaxed dinner in a restaurant would suddenly become matters of life and death.  Unfortunately, that's the new reality and 2015's bad news, and though it shouldn't be forgotten, there was also quite a bit of good news on the restaurant front during the past year.

The bad news came to me and Co. around the time we were ordering dessert on the Friday evening of the Paris terrorist attacks at An Di An Di ('go on, eat' in Vietnamese), a small restaurant that sits on a corner of the quiet rue du Liban.  Our hostess/waitress shared the vague (and tragically unfolding, as it turned out) news that a neighbor had imparted minutes earlier about some shootings around Republique.  It was only when we got home and turned on the news that we realized that some of the attacks were one metro stop from An Di An Di's closest station, Menilmontant, albeit far enough that we didn't hear anything.  We considered our luck at not having chosen to dine, as we usually do on Friday evenings, in the neighborhood that was hit - at one of our favorites like Septime, Villaret, Waly Fay, or the like.  Having attended, like most music addicts, the Bataclan on previous occasions, I also thanked my lucky stars I wasn't a fan of Eagles of Death Metal.

Inside tiny An Di An Di - you couldn't exactly feed an army

An di An Di turned out to be a nice find - some original Vietnamese dishes on a limited menu that didn't exactly bowl me over, and wasn't as cheap as some online reviews promised, but clearly warranted a second visit.

 2015 Highlights

There were some real dining highlights during the year and I'm looking forward to taking advantage of some new personal discoveries in 2016.  In order of preference, although I preferred them all:

Pierre Sang on Gambey (2 visits) / Pierre Sang in Oberkampf (1 visit)
Les Deserteurs (3 visits)
Louis (1 visit)
Neige d'été (1 visit)

No question that Les Deserteurs and the two Pierre Sangs have risen to the top of my favorite restaurants list.  Inventive, constantly changing cuisine, informative servers, unique ingredients, great ambiance, all at reasonable prices - what more can you ask for except for more of the same in 2016.  We had a reservation at Pierre Sang on Gambey with friends exactly one week after the Paris attacks - along the way we passed a couple makeshift memorials in the neighborhood.  Everyone was understandably on edge, but the fantastic meal was cathartic.

Les Deserteur's lotte - one of the best dishes I experienced in 2015

Nege d'ete's colorful salmon and flowers appetizer

A great dessert at Les Deserteurs in December

Another great dessert at Les Deserteurs in December (less blurry in person)

2016 Lowlights

Co. and I experienced a few big disappointments during the year - highly praised restaurants that didn't come close to our expectations.  Three that stood out in particular were Yard (6 rue Mont-Louis in the 11th), Gare au Gorille (68, rue des Dames in the 17th, in the shadow of Gare St. Lazare), and Pantruche (3, rue Victor Masse in the 9th).  There were a couple pretty good dishes at Yard, but the ambiance was a turnoff, the servers unhelpful, and I can't think of much that would move me to recommend that you eat there.  They have a wine bar next door that might be a better idea for schmoozing with friends, though don't quote me on that.  I was hoping for the shared duck dish during the trip to Gare au Gorille with Co., but that item was replaced on the carte during the evening of our visit by a shared pigeon.  The pigeon was tasty but unspectacular.  Maybe we just picked the wrong day to visit - I would have loved to have eaten at the Gare au Gorille that was described in le Fooding's review.  With two alums from Septime, it's probably unfair to write off Gorille after one disappointing visit, so I might give it another shot in 2016.  As for Pantruche, I can't explain the buzz about the place at all.  The meal was underwhelming and they sit you along a row of tables way too close for comfort.

2015's Most Memorable Meal

Hands down, this would have to be the Sept. 1st dinner with the Moose at Vilia, mine and Co's preferred Italian restaurant in Paris.  Maxi Silvetti was shutting down his restaurant for his end of summer congé and promising to open up a venue in San Francisco.  I don't know whatever happened to those plans, but as the only patrons (at least until a party of four occupied a second table a couple hours later), we were rewarded with Maxi's undivided attention.  To say the atmosphere was 'loose' would be an understatement, replete with plenty of gossip about some of Paris's noteworthy chefs.  Maxi promised a dinner composed of whatever they had left in the kitchen and the meal was epic, including a caille dish that was so good we had seconds.  Before too long, after finishing off our second bottle of wine, the hour grew late, a couple of Maxi's friends showed up, the music got a little louder, and everyone started imbibing Maxi's extremely potent gin martinis until the wee hours of the morning.  I don't remember much happening after that other than a trip in a cab to get home and a two-day massive hangover, but the evening was, how shall I say?  Ah yes, unforgettable.

Vilia's caille - so good, we had a second serving

Vilia's panacotta hibiscus et glace aux raisins de muscat - and I thought I didn't like panacotta

Owner-chef Maxi showing off his 'Born to Cook' tat (after a few martinis)

Owner-chef Maxi showing off one of his favorite knives (because I asked)

 Year of the Soft-Shell Crab

 Well, not really the year of, but for the first time since I relocated to Paris, I had not one, but two, servings of soft-shell crabs, although neither actually happened in Paris.  Some history, first - as a native Baltimorean (US, state of Maryland, think John Waters), I covet, dream about, and avidly search out steamed and soft-shell crabs.  But other than Asian restaurants, I know not how one can come by such dishes in the French capital.  Maybe you know, and if you do, please share.  At any rate, the first soft-shell crabs dish I experienced in 2015 was served at Farang, a top-notch Asian fusion restaurant in Helsinki.  Nowhere as good as the real thing out of the Chesapeake Bay, but I wasn't complaining.  The second serving occurred at L'éléphant Blanc in the Paris suburb Noisy-le-Grand.  Also nowhere as good as the soft-shells of my youth, but again, I didn't complain.

Farang's (Helsinki, Finland) soft-shell crabs appetizer

 2015's Weirdest Development

The bad news came around summertime that one of Paris's best, Bones, was closing its doors in August, and then the good news came in December that Bones was reopening on January 5th as Jones Café Restaurant, with the same team in the kitchen.  Which begs the question - what was the point?

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