Showing posts with label good design. Show all posts
Showing posts with label good design. Show all posts

29 April 2014

worth the wait: le servan, 75011

Two observations on restaurant service, following a meal at Le Servan, the spiffing new restaurant on rue Saint Maur by the charming and demure Levha sisters, Tatiana and Katia.

One is that I much prefer the ambiance in restaurants run by women. Natural wine bistrots have for too long been the province of grouchy old men and churlish young guns more attentive to their facial hair than to guests. With Haruka Casters' 6036, Jane Drotter's newly revamped Yard Restaurant, and now Le Servan, diners of the 11ème arrondissement are treated to a preview of what I sincerely hope will become the preferred service standard citywide. Service at Le Servan is unfailingly good-natured; staff are happy to share Tatiana's subtly Asian-inflected cuisine and Katia's boutique natural wine list.

The other observation is that a terrific meal at a restaurant, like a certain other very enjoyable act, can turn unpleasant if it goes on too long. At a certain point, it doesn't matter how seductive the appetisers are, nor how climactic the main courses might be. Even at the most promising of restaurants, when an hour passes between courses, friction occurs.

07 April 2014

from the ground up: yard, 75011

A few weeks ago I organised a hilarious and, thankfully, thereafter utterly unrepresentative meal for a visiting friend at Père Lachaise bistrot Yard. I hadn't been to the restaurant, but had heard about it for years and thought why not. Unfortunately for my friend, who idolizes the strenuous "modernist" cuisine of the likes of Inaki Aizpitarte, Yard was between chefs. We later learned that owner Jane Drotter had been in the kitchen that night, winging it.

All at the table agreed that it was like not even eating at a restaurant. It was like dining in the countryside at the house of a French friend's mother who had never been to restaurants. We fled to Clamato for a second dinner to remind ourselves what food with flavor tasted like, and my friends learned never again to trust me for a restaurant recommendation.

As usual, I was just ahead of my time. Not a week later, I learned that Shaun Kelly, ex-chef of Au Passage, and Eleni Sapera, ex-cook at Bones, were taking over kitchen duties at Yard, instantly rendering it a destination. So my friends and I returned on Friday for an entirely different register of meal. It was a testament both to how much Drotter got right with Yard in the first place, and to the transformative power of a certain circle of young foreign chefs in Paris

18 December 2012

hot potato: roseval, 75020

The remarkable hyperactivity of Paris food-blogging is partly due to the outsize international attention paid what is essentially a medium-sized, semi-provincial city. Thirty million tourists per year arrive in Paris; before, during, and after their vacations, they constitute a readership.

The repetitive nature of Paris food-blogging - and that of Paris dining in general - derives from limited subject matter. Restaurateurism in this medium-sized, semi-provincial city has been, for reasons both economic and societal, slow to catch up to the democratisation of gastronomy that has occurred in the past few decades. Most of the remaining first- and second-wave "bistronauts" of the 1990's and 2000's have long since settled into comfortable routines of semi-pro mediocrity; outside of hotels and Michelin-starred places, one rarely encounters service or cuisine that takes itself seriously.

This is why laudatory coverage of a few restaurants - Frenchie, Le Chateaubriand, Spring, Rino, and a few newcomers including the subject of this post, the 20ème's Roseval - will continue unabated: there stilll aren't enough informal tables whose informality does not excuse staff from evincing actual chops and ambition.* These are the tables that impress bloggers that bloggers can afford. The creative team at Roseval - chefs Michael Greenwold and Simone Tondo and sommelier Erika Biswell - formerly worked at some of these places (Le Chateaubriand, Rino, and Le Chateaubriand, respectively), and to judge by the results of their collaboration, they learned all the right moves. Roseval is the best value of its too-small category: a place where those who work outside the financial sector can experience inventive food and thrillingly obscure wines served by people who believe in what they do.

16 July 2012

pulled up: racines, 75002

My friend L and I hadn't intended to go to Racines for lunch. We'd planned to go to Gyoza Bar, a very contemporary Japanese concept that has opened across from the pioneering natural wine bistrot. But there was a line at the gyoza place, and we were famished, and finally it amounted to a sort of pilgrimage for this natural wine afficionado to dine at Racines, a restaurant that, under the direction of its founder and former owner, serial restaurateur Pierre Jancou, did so much to promote a certain ethos of natural wine in France and abroad. 

Whether Jancou's famously combative, didactic style of hospitality is a salutary accompaniment to natural wine remains open for debate. I have some friends in the wine scene who seem permanently put off natural wine expressly because they associate it with what they consider to be poor hospitality. For what it's worth, I have the impression Jancou has mellowed since his time at Racines; at his present restaurant, the 10ème's Vivant, I've never had anything but stupendous service. If I hadn't visited Racines before this, it's because I was usually dining at Vivant.

I saw no urgent reason to visit what I presumed must be the husk of a great restaurant; to repurpose a Saul Bellow line, it felt like praying to the gods of an extinct volcano. It's part of Jancou's racket that he sells his restaurant's at the peak of their popularity, such that the best a new owner - in this case David Lanher - can hope for is to maintain Jancou's standards. On the basis of our lunch the other day, I can report that Racines still serves superb food and wine. The restaurant itself remains a beautiful, patinated space. What's missing is Jancou, whose standards - like those of any great restaurateur - are not limited to superb food and wine in beautiful spaces.

16 May 2012

fish out of water: albion, 75010

On whom can we blame the undying, slightly questionable fad for Brit nostalgia ? Pete DohertyThe Kinks? More recently, perhaps my friends at Le Bal Café?

The fleet of establishments launched this past decade plus that nominally hark back to some hazy olde England ideal is staggering, and perhaps it is a sign the trend is nearly dead in the water that even the French - historically somewhat resistant to Brit nostalgia - are leaping aboard. Albion (another one!) is a genteel cave-à-manger opened near Métro Poissonière last year by two longtime Paris expats, Haydon Clout and Matt Ong, who'd previously tended bar and cheffed, respectively, at 6ème natural wine standby Fish. Albion, which serves mediteranean food alongside French wines, has been more or less thronged since opening, and not just by expats.

The irony, of course, is that for better or for worse the only remotely British elements of the restaurant are the ownership (just Ong), the warm(er) service, and the relative spaciousness of the place. Sticklers will point to the odd Elizabethan dessert recipe, and the presence of a British cheese on the cheese plate. But I suspect the success of the Albion the restaurant is due much less to effective branding (it's not) than to how Clout and Ong are cleverly offering 6ème restaurateurism - with its conservatism, and its relative professionalism - to a heretofore underserved market of 10ème gentrification.