17 August 2015

eternal return: le dome café, 75014

Upon arriving in Paris, one can take pleasure in almost any characterful feature of the city, regardless of fame or exclusivity. For six years the bins of Chinese vegetables in Belleville and the hair-weave tumbleweed around Barbés fascinated me more than the Louvre or the Musée d'Orsay. But conversely, as earlier this summer I prepared to leave Paris, I found myself drawn to the old, uncurious Paris, and establishments such as Le Dôme Café, the historic Montparnasse seafood brasserie whose iconic fame and ludicrous price point had heretofore completely repelled me.

What changed? I guess I just didn't want to leave the city with the nagging doubt that, in my peregrinations around rive droite wine bars, I was merely nibbling at the edges of what the city had to offer its wealthier diners.

Moreover, the Native Companion was leaving the city too, headed for a different destination. I thought I would mark the unbearably sad occasion by a kind of financial suicide, blowing memorable amounts of euros at Le Dôme on fresh fish, François Côtat Sancerre, and cinematic décor - all the accoutrements of turgid, laurel-resting Paris that, in our time together there, we'd been doing our best to ignore.

11 August 2015

clowns: clown bar, 75011

To me, clowns aren't funny. In fact, they're kind of scary. I've wondered where this started and I think it goes back to the time I went to the circus, and a clown killed my dad. - Jack Handey

My distrust of Ewan Lemoigne and chef Sven Chartier's work goes back to the time Lemoigne botched my reservation at Saturne. Had Lemoigne handled the situation with any decency, I would've simply returned some other time. As it was, I didn't return to Saturne for over three years, until a magazine paid for my lunch there in March.

I just wanted no part of supporting such an inhospitable hospitality group. Until recently I was boycotting the Saturne duo's newer project, rue Amelot's Clown Bar, for the same reasons. Friends in the Paris restaurant scene, in efforts to persuade me to try Clown Bar chef Astumi Sota's lauded cuisine, would invariably arrive at the phrase, "But Ewan's not even there!"* I wouldn't budge, preferring instead to support nicer people at neighboring places like Repaire de Cartouche, Au Passage, Pas de Loup, Aux Deux Amis, and Le Tagine.

But hell, time passes. I'm about to leave Paris for a few months and I'd like to leave all grudges behind. Lunch at Saturne was excellent in March: I left utterly convinced of Sven Chartier's talents. And despite my differences with Lemoigne, I can certainly applaud the wine list he assembled at Saturne, which ranks among the city's best. Clown Bar, for its part, is a worthy addition to Paris' dining scene, offering an unmistakably upmarket experience of fine cuisine and natural wines in a pleasantly versatile format: small plates, Sunday service, a big terrace, a bar. True, it's more expensive than all its stylistic peers. But Paris has an under-served constituency who want that.