29 August 2011

credit sort of due: le petit trianon, 75018

The Native Companion and I joined some restaurateur and bartender friends at a competitive coffee event in the 17ème the other evening, and the plan afterwards had been to all pile into a natural wine bar around the corner, six or seven of us, possibly more. The plan foundered, however, when said bar turned out to be closed for vacation, and we found ourselves all shanghaied in the sleepy 17ème, caffeinated, sober, and starving, at close to 10pm on a Monday night in midsummer.

Sitting on the curb outside the shut wine bar, our options seemed limited to beer and kebabs, or just cursing the city and giving up on the evening. The latter is a particularly galling end to a night-out when it comprises one of two nights-off per week, as is restaurant industry standard. It explains our unanimous assent to our friend J2's heavily qualified proposition to check out Le Petit Trianon, the maniacally overpackaged, seven-day-a-week, practically-all-hours bistro attached to Le Trianon, a concert hall near Anvers.

As we hailed cabs, J2 was repeating, "If it's good, I take all the credit. If it blows, we knew it all along..."

What J2 was referring to is the hard / fast rule stating that restaurants attached to other ventures, not always including hotels, tend to suck. There are exceptions, such as the excellent Bal Café,* attached to the photography museum of the same name, but even that example, in its small scale, supports the general idea of which the above rule is merely a manifestation: hospitality on a large, venture-capitalist scale just gets spread too thin, leading to miserable airline-like experiences of fundamentally intimate acts, eating and drinking.

Anyway, we pressed ahead despite our dread. After about ten confused minutes waiting at the restaurant's chaotic service bar** surrounded by dirty glasses and a truly astonishing amount of restaurant marketing material, everything from brochures to placemats to sticker sets (really), watching a framed license fall off the wall and shatter and plates whisk past us with kitchen receipts still stuck to their grease, we were sat on the terrace and had - against all odds - a perfectly enjoyable meal.

The unphotogenic mid-meal state of a keenly flavorful coquelet à l'estragon.
Acceptable if slightly dry and runty burgers.
If not a gastronomic odyssey by any means.

A tiny, gougingly overpriced (15€) charcuterie plate, for which I see other reviewers have lauded the kitchen. Are you kidding me? A meat plate with standard or bad quality meats is criminal; one with good meats achieves not a great deal more than the feat of justifying its existence on a menu. The skills involved are buying and slicing.

The restaurant's rock-solid concept, for which credit is due to Hotel du Nord*** restaurateur Julien Labrousse and his partner Abel Nahmias, seems to be just providing obvious bistro fare at all-hours at reasonable prices with good ingredients. You'd think many others would have already hit on this not-exactly-rocket-scientific formula, but in Paris these graces tend to be mutually exclusive. (Those restaurants that are enlightened enough to use good product are frequently too enlightened to work long hours, and / or they adjust their prices to account for the cost of enlightenment.) Nahmias is the son of Casa Olympe chef Olympe Versini, who consulted on the menu, which, if heavy-handed with the meat-origin verbiage and home to some really limp side dishes,**** is decidedly not as stupid as it could be, considering the restaurant is aiming for a concert-goer / club kid crowd.

Especially astute is the all-day menu, which contains a really a-okay croque madame for the not-horrendous price of 7,6€. (For Paris, a bargain.)

The wines list, if not exactly heavy on natural selections, at least contains them. To start we shared bottles of Daniel Bouland's 2010 Morgon "Corcelette," not a natural wine, per se, but one imported to the states by the inestimable Peter Weygandt, whose endorsement is usually good enough for me.

Additionally I was interested in tasting more "Corcelette," a little-encountered cru of Morgon notable for its sandy topsoil. The only other I've tasted was from Jean Foillard; it had a precictably leaner, more pliant structure than that vigneron's ubiquitous "Côte du Py," sourced from schiste and granite topsoils.

Bouland's 2010 "Corcellette," befitting the winemaker's traditionalist reputation, was to my palate a dead-ringer for creaky, trip-wire-lean Borgogno Barbera. One of those moments where my background in Italian wine affects how I taste French wine. The wines share pleasant savoury bark and rust flavors among their edgy purple fruit. The "Corcellette" unfortunately arrived far too warm, but the staff were very nice about providing an ice bucket, and later an extra table when the outside tables, about the size of 50 centime coins, proved way too tiny for our party's meal.

The staff deserve a specific mention, particularly a young woman who appeared to be managing the place, who, when the aforementioned framed license fell off the wall and shattered, announced without missing a beat that everything was okay, the liquor license was still on the wall and they could still serve us drinks. My friends and I felt basically taken care of, a rarity in restaurants-that-are-attached-to-things, and such was our pleasant surprise that we all shared a magnum of 2005 Château le Puy Bordeaux Côtes de Francs after the meal.

Belying its rich vintage, and the region in general, the mostly Merlot-based biodynamic Bordeaux Côtes de Francs was slender, Loire-ish, pure-fruited, and tasted slightly but not unpleasantly advanced, possibly due to having been kept in a broom closet. (Where the server got it from.) On the whole, a surprisingly light experience, considering the circumstances - much like the meal itself.

* We would of course have gone there, except for it was a Monday, and they had just closed for summer vacations, and additionally the proprietors were with us that night.

** It should be, like, a Commandment of restaurateurism, never to construct restaurants where guests will be obliged to wait at a service bar. It's such a basic thing, and yet one so rarely encounters restaurants with bars that are not service bars here. I think it's related to a general French feticization of the table; the underlying assumption seems to be that guests will suspend judgment of what happens at a service bar because they do not feel themselves truly at the restaurant until they are at the table.

*** Had I known this before going in, I have to say my expectations would have been even lower. I have never understood the attraction of the Hotel du Nord, beside it being a pretty space to have crap drinks. Dining there has always been unthinkable to me.

**** Do not order any vegetables at this place. Everything arrives boiled to a soup. 

Le Petit Trianon
80 boulevard de Rochechouart
75018 PARIS
Metro: Anvers
Tel: 01 44 92 78 00

Related Links:

Retaurants attached to things:
Le Bal Cafe, 75018
Mini-Palais, 75008

A very nice thoughtful review of Le Petit Trianon @ HungryForParis
An unimpressed review of Le Petit Trianon @ JohnTalbott
A good comprehensive review of Le Petit Trianon @ GillesPudlowski
A positive word on Le Petit Trianon @ TableàDécouvert

A useful discussion of Jean Foillard's "Corcellette" in the comments section @ PeterLiem

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