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Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Clown Bar - How Do You Say 'Clown' In French?

Source: https://www.eater.com/2016/10/19/13314418/paris-clown-bar-veal-brain
The answer is 'clown' (pronounced 'cloon'), but you probably already knew that.  But I already used the obvious 'no clowning around' as the sub-heading of a previous post (Bondi, same neighborhood) and I hate to be redundant.

This was mine and Co.'s second visit to the much touted Clown Bar on rue Amelot in the 11th for dinner.  Co. couldn't remember the previous visit at all.  I could remember exactly where we sat, but nothing we ate, but then again, that must have been 4 or 5 years ago and my memory cells have decayed a lot since then, or, the food just wasn't that memorable.  No doubt, a combination of the two.

In fact, we had no intention to return to the Clown.  Earlier in the week I reserved online for one of our favorites, restaurant Louis and then, memory cells again, I completely let slip the fact that I never received an email confirmation from the restaurant.  So perhaps it wasn't surprising when I called Louis (the restaurant) on Friday afternoon to confirm, gave my name, and received the dreaded response, 'Who?'  I was then informed what an ignoramus I am for thinking that I could get a reservation outside of the 10 days to 2 weeks window.  Ah yes, I remember the good old days when Louis was relatively obscure.  But I take full responsibility for my blunder.  Anyway, faced with the 'we're going out to dinner tonight' mojo and no place to go, Co. fumbled through her recent Telerama clippings, called Clown, and they were kind enough to offer us a Friday evening table if we got there in one hour, which we did.

BORING.. I know, you probably could care less about all this crap and just want me to get down to the business at hand - dinner at Clown.  So I'm not going to leave you on the edge of your seat any longer - the food was, uhm, 'meh'?  No, that's a bit unfair - the food was pretty good, but I still don't get the effusive praise.  For example, according the The Eater Guide to Paris (the eater guide to Paris?  yikes, what a name):

 'Clown Bar Is the Most Thrilling Restaurant in Paris. You won't find anything more  exciting, innovative, fun, or (literally) cerebral.'
Well, I wasn't inordinately thrilled, excited, or bowled over by innovation and raucous fun during our visit, although the carte did get a little cerebral (literally), with it's calf brain entree offering. As I prefer to use my brain rather than to eat brain, maybe that diminished my 'fun' experience.  No brain, no fun?  Pretty good title for a spunky little punk song.  I will file that one for later.  Nonetheless, I've been seeing many 'Eater'-like accolades over the past year lavished on the Clown, and I'm still not sure why.

I have to admit, it is sometimes difficult to dissociate the eating experience from some element of the dining experience that lingers in one's cerebral hemispheres (literally) long after the meal has ended.  I remember having a meal at one casual bistro that I had frequented a couple of times, but this time, plans having already been made, I happened to read a review in which a diner complained of a mouse skittering around the restaurant floor during his meal and the waiter simply pooh poohing the diner's complaint.  So I'm sure my reaction to the food would have been more favorable if I hadn't been constantly looking around my feet for any evidence of rodents (it didn't help that my table was shoved into a corner toward the back where mice are no doubt more prone to congregate).  Now, mind you, the Clown had no such rumored rodent problem, at least that I am aware of, so let's not go down that route.  However, there was - literally - a quartet of elderly Cuban/Miami denizens sitting at the table next to us extolling the merits of the Donald (the clown president, literally).  I won't get into the irrelevant details, and our interaction was cordial enough, but as I said, it's kind of difficult to dissociate those sorts of things from the meal itself.

Source: http://www.clown-bar-paris.com/

The bistro/bar is a real throwback to Cirque d’Hiver circa early 20th century, with circus-inspired decorations and painted tiled walls.  But other than atmosphere, don't expect a Ringling Bros. experience (hell, they're defunct now anyway).  English spoken here - by patrons and servers (Americans?)  Given the quality of the food - pretty good, not really great - I found the carte to be somewhat over-priced, including the wine list, which only had a couple of choices of reds for under 40 euros.   36€ for a turbot filet with asparagus seemed pretty unreasonable to me and I didn't like the fact that no menu was available.  Granted, the dishes were rather copious and, rare for French bistros, the main courses each came with an accompanying side dish.

The nitty gritty - click to enlarge

As for our choices from the carte above, read on...

Co. chose the crab meat wrapped in beet (15€), a tasty starter, if not extraordinary.  I opted for the moderately-priced (16€)  black rice with fava beans and tuna (the latter veritably missing).  Black is my favorite color, I must admit, and that includes pasta and rice.  This dish was good, but ala the crab/beet appetizer, hardly spectacular and my attention wavered after 4 or 5 forkfuls.

Crab in beets entree

Black rice with feve and disappearing tuna entree

Two hefty main plates followed - pigeon for Co., with accompanying courgette (24€) and, for me, a rather intriguing canard/foie gras pairing with an unimaginative salad and vinaigrette on the side (30€).

Co.'s pigeon, as seen from the other side of the table, wine and bread in foreground.

Pithiviers de canard et foie gras, dates and yuzo included

Our desserts provided a refreshing finish to the meal, but lacked the thrilling, exciting, innovative fun that Eater site had promised: lemon tarte for yours truly and a crème brûlée with banana ice cream for my counterpart, both reasonably priced at 10€.

Tarte au citron with flowers

What was left of Co's crème brûlée by the time I got my camera focused.

For a warm end of Spring Friday evening last minute selection, it's hard to complain about dinner at The Clown Bar.  But for what is becoming a Paris institution, the restaurant had a distinctly ex-pat feel about it (it takes one to know one, I guess).  And for the second time out of two visits, I was left with the impression that the meal fell short of what we expect from our favorite dining venues in Paris.  We could have spent roughly the same amount (148€ including a 33€ pretty decent bottle of Roussillon) for a much more rewarding culinary experience at our preferred choice (Louis), which left a bittersweet taste in my mouth as we hit the pavement and began our walk back toward Republique.

TEL: 01 43 55 87 35
Web: http://www.clown-bar-paris.com/
Closed Mon/Tues.

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