09 December 2013

kid stuff: 58 qualité street, 75005

My friend Christophe Philippe, the demure and talented chef of Restaurant Christophe in the 5ème arrondissement, has misgivings about his quartier. He rightly feels misunderstood: in the shadow of a tourist attraction like the Panthéon, his eponymous bistrot is a cultish anomoly: a spare, principled space, downright churlish in its refusal to cater to popular tastes. Whereas what the students and visiting families in the area want, judging by the success (or at least, unfathomable persistence) of neighboring businesses, are downmarket shot bars, cheap beer, and anonymous crêperies.

Apparently undaunted, chef Sylvain Sendra and the team from Les Itinéraires opened the abominably-named cave-à-manger 58 Qualité Street late last year just a few paces from Restaurant Christophe. 58 Qualité Street - no relation to the Nestle-owned brand of bad chocolates, ubiquitous at British Christmases - serves simple épicerie cuisine and natural wine non-stop until 11pm every day except Sunday. It could have been intended as a way to make tasteful product available to young audiences in the most informal, unintimidating way possible.

The would be the most charitable way to read 58 Qualité Street. It might also just be an underconceived rush-job of an establishment, without any discernible identity or ambition.

I visited on two occasions over the past few months. The first was a solo lunch, where I had an acceptable if soulless gazpacho and a fairly awful, underdress salad containing no acid whatsoever.

I thought I might just have chosen poorly, since chefs rarely put much ingenuity into a salade paysanne. And a nicely priced magnum of 2006 Alice et Olivier De Moor Chablis "Bel Air et Clardy" in the window made me eager to return with company.

Alas, I didn't bring enough company when I did. My friends C and J and I repaired to 58 Qualité Street after a vernissage around the corner, relieved that the kitchen was still serving. A magnum between three of us would have been ambitious but doable, had we had anything to celebrate or been at all encouraged or enticed by the environment.

The latter is mostly cosy, but contains two key design flaws: an over-festooned, amateurish-looking kitchen mise-en-place and an enormous band of mirror placed at such a height as to, confusingly, almost double the room.

J and C took joue de boeuf, which plates had been assembled with the sort of care one expects from student cafeterias. I declined a bite.

58 Qualité Street also managed to balls up the presentation of a simple oeuf mayonnaise, by insensibly serving it in a glass cup, like some kind of lab sample.

My carpaccio of roast beef, on the other hand, was eminently edible with enough extra mustard.

Having abandoned ideas of the Chablis mag, we just quaffed the De Moor's Bourgogne Aligoté, which was as correct and richly expressed (for the grape) as ever.

On the surface, it may seem gratuitous to come down so hard on such a skimpy restaurant concept. There's charcuterie, small plates, and natural wine - what more do I want?

I want a more thoughtful experience. Simple cuisine served with grace can be a wonderful thing : I refer to quiet snacks at places like Septime Cave, Camille Fourmont's La Buvette, hell, even the other, faker Buvette in the 9ème. At 58 Qualité Street, one gets the vague impression that someone in charge thinks simple cuisine is kid stuff, and condescends accordingly to the menu and to the dining experience as a whole.

With Le Temps Au Temps and Les Itinéraires, Sylvain Sendra and his team (including Hirotaka Okata, the Japanese acolyte widely credited for, but seemingly never seen at, 58 Qualité Street) have proven they are capable of treating restauration as an aesthetic medium.

With 58 Qualité Street, they demonstrate that they cannot or will not do so at lower price points.

58 Qualité Street
58 rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève
75005 PARIS
Métro: Maubert-Mutualité or Cardinal Lemoin
Tel: 01 43 26 70 43

Related Links:

Les Itineraires, 75005
Restaurant Christophe, 75005

A Dec. 2012 post on 58 Qualité Street by John Talbott, with whom I completely agree in this instance.

A June 2013 visit to Alice et Olivier de Moor

No comments:

Post a Comment