Last Saturday the intended cosy casual dinner for two or three with my friend D eventually (and happily) turned into a roving thirsty party of eight, when it turned out a number of other colleagues from NYC and Tokyo were able to join us.* This presented the conundrum of where one might dine not-horribly in the center of Paris on a Saturday with a brigade of people in the middle of fashion week.
Happily, this is just the function in which the recently-opened 2ème restaurant L'Hedoniste excels, for the time being. It is extraordinarily not horrible - even excellent, at times, if one is able to forgive the prices, which are all a notch above what dishes and wine actually merit, and the slightly hapless one-man kitchen, from which most things seemed to leave lukewarm, rather than hot.
But that is the kind of restaurant this is. If it were hot, there is no way I could have invaded on a moment's notice with D et al , and had, despite my criticism, a very enjoyable meal.
We were all pretty taken with an appetizer of potted duck in potato emulsion. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture until we'd already begun to tuck in, with the result that the dish looks sort of lurid and smeared.
Presentation aside, it was with this dish that the kitchen's playful streak succeeded most winningly. Why emulsify the potatoes? I can't tell you, except to say that the resulting puddle had a beguiling corn-like taste that married perfectly with the salty / savory duck meat.
A digression: in principle, I am against this sort of cooking. Doing unnecessary things to things. At L'Hedoniste they manage to keep it relatively understated, except when they come out with wildly outdated misfires, like overuse of avocado, rectangular dishware, or potatoes molded to form churro-like constructions, which accompanied my tasty but queasily fatty steak. (Evidently the chef has some kind of desperate frustration with potatoes in their natural state.)
My friend and fellow blogger Barbra Austin has elsewhere correctly identified all this as very 1990's, to which point I would just add the worrying idea that it's actually somewhat common in Paris and surrounding cities to find places that transport you back to the design and service trends of Clinton-era America. We live in France, after all. The same reason we still enjoy bakers who can bake and heritage recipes and natural wines is the same reason we find a lot of Comic Sans on signage, and mojitos still so unbelievably popular. It's the slow life, folks. History is still occurring.
Speaking of natural wines, I was extremely pleased to see the courageously rude wines of Domaine du Pech on the list at L'Hedoniste.
My friends and I shared a bottle of their 2006 Buzet "Jarnicoton," a brooding black-fruited monster of a Merlot / Cab-Franc blend that I first tasted with winemaker Ludovic Bonnelle at the Buvons Nature tasting a few months ago. It's ashy, alive, meaty as a classic guitar riff - and its presence on the list at L'Hedoniste assures me that, behind their occasional awkwardness and opening stumbles, someone at the restaurant knows exactly what they're doing.
* I'd theorize that the general gastronomic poverty of fashion restaurants (Dave, Chez Omar, etc.) results from the low standards of the fashion crowd, which in turn is simply an effect of the impossibility of effectively planning anything even so basic as a dinner during the hustle and madness of fashion week. You leave the showrooms at unforetold times with a random varying crowd, and finally you are happy to settle for anyplace that will seat you promptly.
14 Rue Léopold Bellan
Tel: 01 40 26 87 33
Ludovic Bonnelle at the Buvons Nature tasting, 75008
A review of L'Hedoniste @ LeFigaro
Barbra Austin's thoughts on L'Hedoniste @ Girl'sGuideToParis (I disagree with the name of this site, all the cultural norms it contains. But Barbra's great.)
A characteristically dotty rave review of L'Hedoniste @ JohnTalbott