Thursday, December 08, 2016

Le Souffle, Paris

I recently took a very quick trip to Paris to meet with some co-workers.  I had only 3 evenings in Paris, one of which I was stuck in the office working (booo!), one of which I went to a nice Michelin star meal with Ojan at Les Fables de la Fontaine, and one of which I organized a group dinner, for 5 of us.

I struggled with deciding on a location.  I had so many places in Paris that I *wanted* to dine, and virtually no opportunities to do so.  But most didn't seem quite appropriate, they were either Michelin stared, or were no reservations sorts of places that I thought might be difficult with a group of 5, or required dressing up, which I didn't think would fly since we were going straight from the office, or were too far away.  For every place I wanted to go, I had a reason not to.

I actually made a booking at one restaurant, had too many second thoughts so I changed it to another, reconsidered, and then changed it once again.  In the end, I settled on Le Souffle.

Le Souffle is, yup, a restaurant serving mostly soufflé.  It is located a 20 minute walk from our office, seemed like it would be fine with a group of not-so-fancy engineers, and would give us a fairly French experience.  I'll admit, I was a bit worried it was going to be a tourist trap, like "OMG, soufflé!", as I realize a place specializing in soufflé is a rare thing for most, but reviews were so positive I pushed my fears aside.

I should have known better.

Was Le Souffle awful?  No.  But was it good?  Nope.  It was the most mediocre soufflé I've ever had.  The soufflé all looked excellent, but, just failed to deliver any real flavor.  The highlight of the meal for me was the bread and butter.  I felt bad that I led us there, like I had let the others down.  At least the service was good, and the meal actually moved along quite quickly, a bit surprising given that the soufflé had to bake.

Le Souffle opened at 7pm for dinner service, which is exactly when our reservation was.  By 7:15pm the entire restaurant was full.  I guess they really do require reservations and really are popular.

Here is my recommendation: if you want good soufflé, come to San Francisco instead, and go to Cafe Jacqueline.  Now *that* is good soufflé.

Setting

Le Souffle is located in the 8th Arrondissement, down one of many streets with sidewalks too narrow for a group.
Front of Restaurant.
It has some curb appeal with pretty blue woodwork, and a sign featuring a big, fluffy soufflé.
Menus.
The menus, with both French and English, are posted on front, drawing you in for soufflé.  Warning: English signage is not actually a good thing.
Place Setting.
Tables were set with white tableclothes, and fake (!) flowers.

I somehow didn't get an interior shot, but, the place did have a nice feel to it, sorta like grandma's house, with pale yellow walls, a dark brown chair rail, decorative floral plates, and paintings on the wall featuring bottles of wine and soufflé-related ingredients.  The painting were not all hung straight nor lined up properly, which happened to bother one guest in our group.

We were in a small room in front, which made me believe the restaurant was quite small, but when I ventured to the bathroom, I realized there were other rooms in the back as well. 
No Boys Allowed.
I always say I don't review bathrooms unless there is something particularly interesting, and this sign made me laugh.  There were two stalls, one that showed both a man and a woman, and one that had the man crossed out.

Food and Drink

Le Souffle is known for their soufflé, both sweet and savory, but the menu is actually far more extensive than that.

We opted to stick with all soufflé, and our meal progressed very quickly.  Service was generally good, we were brought share plates and spoons for sharing, staff were fine with speaking English to us, etc, but I did feel rather rushed.  On more than one occasion they tried to remove dishes while people were clearly still eating.  I'm sure this is because they pace everything out and you can't exactly hold back a soufflé, so when we were taking too long with our entree soufflé they didn't know what to do since the dessert ones were coming out already, but it was a bit odd how they literally tried to take away a plate with food on it as someone was putting their fork to their mouth still.
Menu.
The black leather skinned menu is a bit to take in.  Unlike my favorite soufflé restaurant, Cafe Jacqueline, it contains far, far more than soufflé.

The first menu page is a reasonable prix fixe, "Le Menu Tout Souffle" for 37€ which includes your choice of 4 starters (all of which include an item and a mini souffle), your choice of 4 main dish souffles, and any dessert.  If you wanted all 3 soufflé soufflé courses, this is quite a deal, as they price out at about 45€ normally.  Reviewers all stress that this is crazy unless you share it with someone, that one person simply cannot eat a starter soufflé, a main soufflé, and a dessert soufflé all on their own.

The next menu page is another prix fixe, "Le Menu Degustation", for 46€, with your choice of more substantial starter, a main dish  (non-soufflé), and then any dessert.

Then the a la carte menu begins.  Starters include some classics like french onion soup, smoked salmon, escargot, and foie gras.  Then, "Nos Assiettes Degustation", or, the starters that come with small soufflés on the side, like a foie gras terrine with a small foie gras soufflé, or a scallop tartlet with smoked salmon and a ricotta & basil soufflé.

Next is the "Nos Poissons", or, the seafood selections, including grilled salmon, roasted sea bass, seared scallops, and more, all of which came with assorted sides and sauces.

"Nos Viandes", meats, come next, ranging from beef, to chicken, to duck, again, all with sides and sauces.  This kitchen must be very large to handle so many dishes.

And finally, the full size savory soufflés, "Nos Souffles Sales".  Here you had the most options, some vegetairan, others with meat or seafood.  The descriptions often left out fairly essential elements though, like, well, sauces.  I knew that many came with sauces on the side, but only two of them explicitly said it on the menu.

After a small kids menu comes a full page dessert menu.  Most, as you'd expect, are soufflé.  Again, only two mention that they come with a sauce, but I knew that many would come with a liquor on the side, and I'm pretty sure a couple come with ice cream.  They do offer up a few non-souffles as well, such a tarte tatin, sorbet, and creme brulee.

We decided to stick with souffle, since it is what the restaurant is known for, and, if we wanted some quality fish or meats with sauces, then we could go just about anywhere else in Paris.  We also decided to just share a bunch.  Ojan mentioned that he wanted salad, so we decided to get one of the "Le Menu Tout Souffle", so we could get the starter with the salad on the side, and then a main dish soufflé and a dessert soufflé that we were already planning to get.

For our group of 5, we ordered:
  • 1 starter with small soufflé
  • 3 main dish soufflé
  • 3 dessert soufflé
which we did as one "Le Menu Tout Souffle", plus 2 additional main and 2 additional dessert.  This was more than enough, and we actually didn't finish it all.  That said, I think that was more a reflection on the quality, rather than quantity, of the soufflé.  No one really wanted to finish these, not that they couldn't.

Once we ordered, the meal progressed quickly.  Our wine was brought out and poured, and warm bread was delivered to the table moments later.  2 minutes later, the appetizer soufflé appeared.  Exactly 10 minutes later, the entree soufflés arrived.  And only 22 minutes after that, the desserts.  Looking at the timestamps on my photos, I realize it was no wonder we felt rushed, and no wonder they were doing strange things like taking food away from us.  The kitchen was a little overzealous, and obviously, you can't just leave a soufflé sitting under a heat lamp ...
Domaine de la Creuze Noire Saint-Amour Belle Vue, Beaujolais, France.
I delegated wine ordering to another member of our group, so I could focus on the soufflé.  I suggested a light red, and this was his pick.

It was fine, a decent table wine, inexpensive.
Warm Bread and Butter.
Our meal started with bread and butter, one large roll for each of us, and butter dish on each end of the table.  I'm never one to fill up on bread at a meal, because I usually want so many other things, and bread just rarely wows me.  So I took only a half, when someone else split one in half.  I quickly went back for more.

The bread won points from the start for being served warm.  It was crusty, yet soft and fluffy.  Just a dinner roll, but, really, a good one.

The butter was delicious French butter.  Sigh.  Why can't we have butter like this?  It was rich and creamy, and served on a cute little "Le Souffle" plate.

I genuinely enjoyed this bread.  In fact, it was the highlight of my meal.

NOS SOUFFLÉS SALÉS (Our Savory Soufflés)

For our savory portion of the meal, I wanted a mix of soufflés.  The starter salad and soufflé combo came with a basic cheese soufflé, which I thought would help frame the rest of the richer soufflés.  

I wanted to have one veggie soufflé, and had read many great things about the asparagus soufflé, but, alas, it was off the menu when we visited.  Our veggie choices were: cheese, spinach & goat cheese, mushrooms, or blue cheese & pears.  Since we already had cheese with the starter, and I hate goat cheese and kinda dislike blue cheese, that left us with mushroom.  So, mushroom it was.

Next I wanted a seafood or meat option.  Seafood choices were artichoke and haddock, salmon, ricotta, & basil, or pikefish soufflé with crayfish sauce.  Reviewers said the crayfish sauce was too intense, I don't like artichokes, and I don't generally care for cooked salmon, so, that ruled out all the seafood.  Meat options were beef bourguignon, foie gras & fig jam, ham & cheese, and "Henri VI".  I did somewhat want the foie gras version, since you know how I had a thing for foie gras for a while, but no one else wanted it.  Since ham & cheese had good reviews and seemed like a crowd pleaser, I went for that, plus the signature Henri VI (more on that soon).
Petit soufflé fromage & sa salade verte (part of set menu)
"Small cheese soufflé with green salad."

I have to admit, the mini soufflé really was quite cute.  But that is about all the good I have to say about this.  It was light and fluffy, but not particularly cheesey.  I have no idea what kind of cheese was used, as it wasn't flavorful enough to determine, and the menu always just said "cheese".  Some soufflés mentioned a particular type, like goat cheese or blue cheese, but the rest just said "cheese", and unlike Cafe Jacqueline where it is specified that all soufflé uses gruyere unless they say otherwise, this menu said nothing.

So, "cheese" soufflé it was, light and airy, but pretty flavorless.  We had a hard time finding anyone, out of a group of 5, to even want to finish this mini thing, that is, to take more than two bites.  Things weren't looking particularly good.

The salad was just simple greens in a vinaigrette.  It was for Ojan, and when I asked him for a comment on it, he just shrugged.  At the end of the meal, he concluded that the salad was his favorite part.
Soufflé jambon fromage. 15€.
"Ham & cheese."

The soufflés at Le Souffle really do *look* amazing.  Look at the height!  Compared to the Cafe Jacqueline versions, these rose much, much higher.

The ham and cheese was the only soufflé we ordered, besides the simple cheese, that did not have any additional sauce.  Just like the cheese soufflé though, it just didn't have much cheese.  No cheesy deliciousness here.  The slices of ham were good though.

Overall, yes light and fluffy, but ... just no flavor, except in the bits of ham.  Pretty boring.

While it was much higher than the Cafe Jacqueline soufflés, it was smaller in diameter, and overall, one of these soufflés is much less food than a Cafe Jacqueline soufflé.  The cost is about half too, so, that makes sense, the Jacqueline ones are meant to be shared by at least two people, whereas these are kinda meant for one.
 Soufflé forestier. 16€.
"Mushrooms."

Next up, our veggie option: mushroom.

Again, fluffy and beautiful to look at .  This one did not have a plain base, it actually had little tiny bits of mushroom in it, kinda like it was made from cream of mushroom soup.  I think it had no cheese (the menu didn't mention cheese, and we didn't taste any, but then again, we didn't really taste much in the others either ...).  While it clearly had the mushroom in it, you could see it, and the inside was kinda brown and spotted, again, I just didn't taste much.
Mushroom Souffle and Sauce.
But, the mushroom soufflé did also come with a sauce.  The server brought over the little vessel with mushroom sauce, cut a hole into the top of the soufflé, and spooned some in, leaving the rest with us.

I was really excited about the sauce.  I'm a sauce girl, and I particularly love creamy sauces.  I did a novice move though and slathered my souffle in it.  And then I tasted it.  I hated it.  I can't explain what the taste was exactly, but it had such a strange taste that I just couldn't stand.  I did not like this at all.  My least favorite.  No one finished this one.
Soufflé Henri IV sauce volaille aux champignons. 17€.
"Cheese soufflé with chicken & mushroom sauce."

The Henri IV is the soufflé that they are most famous for, and the one that reviewers all go nuts over.  So, even though I'm totally not one for chicken, I got it for the group.  

The soufflé base was plain cheese, like the starter.  Nothing much to say about that.  Like the mushroom one, the server punched a hole in it, and spooned in some sauce.  The sauce was a cream sauce with chunks of chicken and sliced mushrooms.  I liked the mushrooms, and the cream sauce was inoffensive, but not particularly good.

This was my favorite, but, that isn't saying much.  I really do see the appeal, and love the idea of sauces and soufflé, I mean really, these should be things I love, but, they just failed to deliver here due to complete lack of flavor.

NOS SOUFFLÉS SUCRÉS (Our Dessert Souffles)

As sad as I was about the entree soufflé, I still had hope for dessert.  I'm a sweet tooth, and, well, dessert is what soufflé is normally all about anyway.

We had many options for sweet soufflé.  There were several with chocolate, and we opted for one of them.  Several with fruits, like apple, lemon, pears, red fruits, and grapes.  None of those were particularly excited fruit options though, so we skipped them.  Next were a couple vanilla options, one of which I picked.  Finally, some crowd pleasers like Grand Marnier, caramel, and hazelnut, plus the more unique chestnut, which we opted for.

We had to order the dessert soufflés at the start of the meal, which I didn't really like.  How would we know how full we'd be?  Did we want 2 soufflés, 3, or even 4?  We went for 3.

We also opted not to get any of the other traditional french desserts, but we could have ordered sorbet, tart tatin, or creme brulee.  I love creme brulee, but, it seemed like a silly move at a souffle restaurant.

Our dessert soufflés hit the table 22 minutes after our first entree soufflé.  As I mentioned, they really rushed us to remove the savory dishes, clearly because these were on their way.  When the soufflés arrived, we did not yet have new plates nor utensils.  We had to sit waiting for a while to receive them, just staring at our soufflés.

The dessert soufflés had slightly more flavor, but weren't as tall and lofty as the savory soufflés, and, still, just weren't great.
Soufflé marquise. 12€.
"Chocolate with cream & rum."

I'm never one for chocolate desserts in the evening, but most others are, so they wanted a chocolate soufflé.  There were other options with chocolate sauce, but they went for the "marquise", with cream and rum.

The soufflé, while not loftly like the savories, was still quite light.  It had a decent chocolate flavor, and some little chocolate chips in the center.  There was not any cream nor rum actually in the soufflé though, and I think all the chocolate soufflé used the same base, and just had different sauces to pour in.
Soufflé marquise - with sauce.
Like the mushroom and Henri IV souffles, our server punched a hole in the center, and poured in some sauce, in this case, the cream and rum sauce.

I like cream, I like rum, and I like sauce, but, this sauce was just way too boozy.  It just wasn't good to have that much in your face rum.

I of course loaded my soufflé with the cream sauce, expecting to love it, so, just like the mushroom soufflé, I sorta ruined it.

Without the sauce, the soufflé was better, but, still, just a mediocre chocolate soufflé.
 Soufflé Rothschild. 12€.
"Vanilla, candied fruits & kirsch."

This soufflé was my pick, sorta a consolation prize.  The recent reviews I read all raved about a creme brulee souffle stuffed with white chocolate sauce.  Literally, every person who tried it declared it the best thing ever.  And ... no longer offered.  This one jumped out as at least interesting.

It came with a bottle of kirsch on the side, which of course our server poured into the center, and then left the bottle on the table for us to continue soaking our soufflé in, if we choose.  I didn't really choose, I didn't like the harsh alcohol flavors dominating everything, not that the soufflé had a lot of flavor to give on its own anyway.

The base soufflé was vanilla I guess, but tasted quite plain.  In the center was little bits of candied fruit cubes.  They were very crunchy, but, you guessed it, not very flavorful.  Maybe one of the real fruit versions would have been better.
Soufflé Rothschild: Inside.
Those of us who took the first couple servings thought the soufflé was plain, sans the few bits of fruit in the middle on top, but, it turned out, there was a ton more of the bits of fruit in the bottom.  They still weren't great, and no one wanted to finish this soufflé.  I tried a few more bites willing myself to like it, because the candied fruits looked like they should be good, but alas, were not.
Soufflé châtaigne. 12€.
"Chestnut."

Our final option, chestnut, mostly because it just sounded the most interesting.  It too was served with a bottle of booze, a chestnut liquor that our server doused the souffle in before we had a chance to stop him.  We wanted to stop him since Ojan can't have alchol, and now all three dessert soufflés were soaked in it.  He tried a bite of each, but, since none were actually very good, he didn't bother trying to get any without booze, and just passed on dessert.  At a soufflé place.  Sadness.

Anyway, the chestnut version.  It had a decent chestnut flavor, and a large roasted chestnut in the middle, which I quickly claimed.  Besides the bread and butter, the chestnut from the center of this was really the only other thing I actually liked in this meal.

I did almost enjoy a few bites of the top too, where it was a bit crispy, and slightly sugary from being sprinkled with sugar.  If only it hadn't been overwhelmed with booze.

This was my favorite, but, just barely.
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Wednesday, December 07, 2016

W Hotel Opera Breakfast Buffet, Paris

On my first trip to Paris, I stayed at the W Hotel in Paris for two weeks.  As part of my stay, I had breakfast included in my room rate, which was a buffet at the Coquette restaurant.

I was warned by friends who stayed there previously that the breakfast wasn't good, but, I do love buffets, and tend to like different things than they do (namely, baked goods), so I went into it still optimistic.

I should have listened.  The buffet really wasn't good, and I can't imagine paying the full price of 38€ for it.

The experience as a guest was a bit scattered.  On some days, I had to sign a bill with my room number.  On others, I didn't.  I was never sure when it was appropriate to leave.

Setting

Bar Area.
The restaurant has a nice vibe and decor, very modern, full of art, it matches the rest of the W nicely.  The bar area was unused at breakfast, but perhaps it becomes occupied in the evening?  I never visited then.
Tables.
Most tables have benches along one wall, and a chair on the other side.  Simple place settings with silverware were laid out.

The restaurant was always nearly empty.  There were never more than two other tables occupied the entire time I was there.  I can tell why, it certainly wasn't worth sticking around for.

Drinks

The buffet included juices, water, and coffee/tea in the price.
Self-Serve Drinks.
Juice (orange and grapefruit) were self-service at the bar, as were water and sparkling water.  Well, most of the time.  On most days, there was an ice bucket with self-serve water and sparkling water bottles in it.  However, on some days it was not set out.  On those days, when I asked for sparkling water, sometimes I was given a single glass of water.  On others, I was asked if I wanted a small or large bottle, and I was then later billed for the bottles.

Such inconsistencies in the experience.
Decaf coffee.
You could order any type of coffee drink (capp, etc) from the servers.  I opted for decaf.  The decaf was served in a tiny cup, and quickly ran out.  I felt bad, but I needed to ask for refills over and over. If you order regular coffee, you get a whole mini-pot, but since I was getting decaf, it was always an Americano, so they came cup at a time.

After the first day, the server remembered my order.  Such wonderful service!

The coffee was shockingly good.  The first day, I worried that perhaps I wasn't actually getting decaf, but, it remained consistently awesome.  It really was the best coffee I had in Paris.

The roobios tea was actually quite nice too, again, a bit of a surprise.  Someone here cared about the experience of those who don't go for caffeine.

Food

Continental Buffet!
The main buffet was set up along one side of the room, all cold items.  The arrangement of the buffet was different every single day.  Items were never in the same location.  Sometimes similar items would be placed together, other days they wouldn't.  So some days the 3 tarts were laid out next to each other, other days they were randomly distributed throughout the buffet.  So strange that they don't have a common setup ... doesn't this make re-stocking it hard?

Speaking of re-stocking, on many days, they ran out of plates, and patrons had to regularly ask for them.  It wasn't like it was busy.
Hot Foods.
In a tiny corner was the hot food selection and toaster.

The hot food selection had:
  • scrambled eggs
  • veal sausages
  • roasted tomatoes
  • roasted mushrooms
  • potatoes
The selection never changed in the entire two weeks that I was there.  I also never saw it get replenished, I don't think many people choose this stuff, and the quality looked so poor that even I didn't bother try it.

Alongside the toaster was was two types of sliced bread.
Cereals, Milk.
The cereal station had three types of cereals: corn flakes, wheat bran, and muesli.  I tried the muesli, and enjoyed it.  Loaded up with assorted flakes, grains, and bits of dried fruit including raisins and banana chips.

There was only a single type of (unlabelled) milk, likely full cream, pretty great with the muesli.
Croissants, Breads.
The bakery section included croissants (plain and chocolate), baguettes (on most days), and brioche.

I had a slice of brioche the first morning.  I threw it in the toaster, I have no idea if that was a faux pas or not.  The brioche wasn't great, and I never tried it again.  I was amused that only about half the days included a bread knife, other days patrons used their bare, unsanitary, hands to rip off chunks.

The most exciting aspect of the breads to me was the crazy pyramid of assorted jams.  They weren't labelled most days, so it took some guesswork (and many tastings).  One day, finally, they were labelled, so it was amusing to see how far off my guesses were.  I'll include the real answer and my guess in my reviews below, in the format Real Answer (Julie's guess), along with my notes before I knew the real answers:
  • Honey (honey): This was just honey, not much to say here. 
  • Apple Sauce (pear butter): basically like applesauce, but, well, pear flavored.  Fine if you are into that sorta thing.  (Yes, I thought it was pear butter, even compared it to applesauce, but, well, I guess it was applesauce.  Maybe the apples taste like pears in France?)
  • Rhubarb Jam ... or Apricot Jam (some kind of caramel): My favorite.  I honestly have no idea what it was, but it was thick like a caramel or dulce de leche, and quite sweet.  Good slathered on just about anything.  It wasn't labelled the first day, was labelled rhubarb the second, and apricot the third.  This one really amused me.  I hate rhubarb!  It also wasn't bitter at all.  It was thick, and I can see how you'd get that from rhubarb, but, it was like candy.  So strange.  I didn't detect any rhubarb flavor, even when I tried.  I think it must have been apricot?
  • Raspberry Jam (raspberry jam): my second favorite.  Just a nice basic raspberry jam.  I really fell in love with this, seeds and all (I don't like seeds generally), and opted for slathering it on just about everything.  It was sweet, fruity, and delicious.  Wish I knew what flavor it was.
  • Apricot Jam ... or rhubarb? (bitter ... something jam):  Again, not labelled the first day, labelled as apricot the second, and rhubarb the third.  This tasted sorta like a bitter orange marmalade, except it clearly wasn't.  No visible orange or anything.  I'm guessing it was the rhubarb?
I was let down by the pastry selection.  I thought there would be more options.  Where were all the danishes?

Still, I was in Paris, and if the random hotel I stayed at in Buffalo, NY could impress me with croissants, clearly this hotel would at least do a decent job, right?

Wrong.

Yes, the outside was flaky, and yes it was light and airy, but, it just wasn't buttery.  It wasn't ... anything.  As generic as can be.  Even slathering it in the tasty spreads didn't really help.

So I tried the chocolate croissant.  If at first you don't succeed, add ... chocolate, right?  Well, it was slightly better?  A bit flaky at least, but perhaps just because it was older and more stale.  The chocolate inside was decent, but still, just not a good croissant.
Cookies and Muffins.
The final pastry selection was little sweets.  Two types of hard style cookies, and two types of cake (labelled muffins).

The first day I opted for the white cake.  I thought there would be something interesting about it, but alas, there was not.  Just a plain little cake.  Slightly sugary, but no real flavor.  The top was a tiny bit crispy.  But really, not interesting at all.

The next day I tried the chocolate.  Again, really boring.  No deep chocolate flavor.  No chocolate chips.  Nothing interesting.  Kinda spongy.  And while labelled a "muffin", there was nothing muffin-like about it besides the shape.

I was disappointed that there weren't any other sweets.  Isn't this what Paris is known for?
Madelines.
One day, there was a random addition to the lineup.  They looked like madelines, and in fact were still inside the madeline baking pan.

But ... they didn't taste like madelines.  They weren't exactly sweet cakes, were more like eggy popovers.  Slightly more breakfast appropriate I suppose?

They weren't great, but when you covered them in butter and the raspberry jam, they, like anything, became edible.  That butter and jam were really, really great.
Fruit - fresh and stewed.
The fruit selection was rather comical.

On one platter, fresh sliced fruit.  Since the platter contained watermelon, I had to skip it entirely, but it didn't look that appealing.

The three containers had assorted stewed fruit.

One was a fruit salad mix, with melons, so again, I had to skip.

Another was ... whole oranges, just sans their peel.  I've never seen such a thing before, and was fascinated.   It went on the list of things to try if I ran out of other interesting options.

The final was poached pears one day, poached peaches another.  The peaches were actually quite good, sweet, soft, but whole.  I cut some up in yogurt, but it was still a bit hard to deal with a whole peach.
Yogurt, Cheese, Butter.
 Next was an assortment of yogurts.

Most were Ferme des Peupliers brand, available as nonfat plain, full fat plain, vanilla, or strawberry.  One other was a soy yogurt and the final was an athletic probiotic shot.

A single type of sliced cheese (unlabeled) was available, another curious selection.  Weren't the french known for their cheeses?  Another day it was at least a triple cream, but, rather unremarkable.

I did appreciate the large, quality, pats of butter.  It turned out to be some of the best butter I had on the trip (my office actually had totally amazing butter.  As in, so good that I'd literally just eat it by the spoonful.  Don't judge).
Ferme des Peupliers Yogurt: Strawberry.
The presentation of the yogurt was nice, in a glass pot, layered with strawberry puree in the bottom.   I was thrilled with the first spoonful actually, right from the top.  But then the yogurt got more runny, more generic.  Turns out, they top them with a cream top, no wonder I liked that part!

The cream top was nice, the rest of it was fine, not particularly interesting, just yogurt.  The strawberry puree on the bottom was sweet.

Overall fine, but pretty generic, fairly runny, yogurt.
Smoked Salmon, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Hardboiled Eggs.
I never tried anything from the smoked salmon and sides station, as they didn't look very fresh.
Cold Cuts.
Nor did I try the very generic looking cold cuts.
Quiches, Tart.
The final selection was a trio of unlabeled quiche (labels did appear later on in the week).

The first was salmon.  I eagerly took a slice, but ... well, hated it.  It was really fishy.  The second day this was replaced by ham and cheese.

But the next was a winner, "vegetable quiche".  Mushroom and some sort of green chile.  While the crust wasn't that buttery or flaky (again, disappointing, come on, Paris!), the layer of egg was thin (bonus for me, I don't actually like quiche generally because I'm not an egg girl), and the flavor of the mushrooms and green chiles was great.

The vegetable quiche changed daily however, most days I didn't like it.  The final day it was loaded with chunks of broccoli, green beans, other veggies, and cheese, and it was decent, but nothing compared to that first green chili quiche.

The final one was a sweet seasonal fruit tart.  The crust was again lackluster, but the filling was assorted stone fruits, nicely cooked down, sweet.  It was fine, but not great, and really would be better with some whipped or clotted cream.  If only we were in England!
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Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Les Fables de La Fontaine

Les Fables de La Fontaine is one of many Michelin starred restaurants in Paris.  On my recent, way too short, trip to Paris, I was in the city for only Monday - Thursday.  I ended up stuck in the office Monday night, had a team dinner planned for Wednesday, and needed to leave in the early afternoon to catch Eurostar to London on Thursday, so, I had only one free night for dinner with Ojan.

I wanted to have a good meal, but, I also was going to be heading to dinner straight from the office, and knew I'd be exhausted.  We almost went back to Les Cocottes, our favorite fairly casual restaurant from our previous trip, but I really did want to try somewhere new.  I selected Les Fables de La Fontaine.

I knew it had a Michelin star, yet was on the casual side, and was reasonably priced.  As a bonus, the menu is seafood focused, generally my top pick for cuisine.  The history is also a bit interesting, although the English translation on their website isn't the easiest to follow.  I think I got this right though ...  it sounds like the restaurant was owned by Christian Constant (same owner as Les Cocottes), but he then gave it to his head chef to take over, who then in turn brought on a new executive chef, a young 21 year old woman, who then earned the Michelin star?  Anyway, reviews were all very strong, and it sounded like a good fit for our needs, so, on our one free night, I made a reservation, and headed there for dinner.
Beautiful plating throughout!
Overall, it was basically exactly what we were looking for.

Michelin star level cookery and crafting of dishes, with beautiful plating, but without extras thrown in like an amuse bouche, palette cleanser, or petit fours.  Portions were all reasonable sizes, yet reasonably priced too.  Service was good, but without some of the extraneous extra bits that often come with fine dining like a server coming to brush away non-existent crumbs from the table.  We felt very welcome, the setting was relaxed and comfortable, yet it was high end cuisine.

I'd gladly return, although, I'm likely to try somewhere else, just because I know there are so many amazing choices in Paris.

Setting

Les Fables de la Fontaine is located in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, not far from the Eiffel Tower.  I remember walking by it on our way to Les Cocottes {LINK} on my first trip to Paris, and being drawn in by the curb appeal, and later, once I did a bit more research, the menu.
Outdoor Seating.
The restaurant looks very inviting in the evening, with a row of tables out on the sidewalk, and soft light streaming out from inside.  We were offered a seat outside, but opted to go inside, as I was worried it would get chilly.

The outside area was composed of 7 2-tops, which I think was actually more than could fit inside.  Dining al fresco is certainly a thing here.
Tables Inside.
The inside has a lot of outside elements incorporated, like stone walls, wide plank wooden floors, and wooden tables that show the grain.  The palette is muted, mostly beige and brown tones.

Tables are set with placemats, no table clothes, and wine and water glasses.  The overall feel was comfortable, not cozy exactly, but more comfortable and relaxed than many Michelin star settings.

We opted for sparkling water, which came in a glass bottle with the restaurant name written on it.  Our server poured us our first glass each, but the pour was so tiny I drank it in two gulps.  When we ran out of water, a new bottle was not offered.

The interior space is fairly small, only a handful of tables really.  Reservations are required.
High Table.
In the center of the room was a high table, and in the back, a curved stairwell that went ... somewhere.  I really wanted to know where it lead to, but wasn't ever brave enough to ask, as I don't speak French, and even though the staff were friendly enough in English, I didn't want to push it.

Cuisine

Menu.
As always I had done my research in advance, and arrived at the restaurant with a plan.  The only problem?  The online menu was out of date, and, several of the dishes I planned to order were no longer available.  Doh.

The menu was in both French and English, on the same menu.  There were 5 choices for entree, 3 Plats and 2 Signatures for main, and 5 desserts (including a cheese course).  Not a huge menu, and mostly seafood focused (which I knew going in).  Nothing vegetarian at all.

I did ask the server if the dish I really wanted that wasn't listed was possibly available (a signature dish of butternut squash cannelloni with calamari and pumpkin cream that just sounded amazing), but, alas, it was gone.  Ojan and I were both not very hungry, as our bodies were still a bit time zone confused, so we opted to share one starter and two main dishes (one from each section of the menu), and hopefully leave room for dessert.  I appreciated that the menu listed the desserts on it, as the dessert menu I had seen online wasn't very appealing, and these sounded better.
Bread and Butter.
Unlike many Michelin star restaurants, the meal did not begin with an amuse bouche.  Instead, we were brought a selection of bread and butter, soon after we ordered.

The bread offering was a slice of baguette for each of us, a slice of focaccia with olive oil drizzled over it, and a little bowl of butter, plated on another wooden element, a tray.  We were not provided with bread plates.

The baguette was pretty boring, crusty bread, better than most US baguette slices I guess, but not life changing like most other baguette I had in Paris.

The butter, mixed with herbs, was hard, and as such, difficult to spread on the slice of baguette.  Ojan and I both laughed, saying, "-1 star", but, I think we were both a bit disappointed at this point.

The focaccia I did like, although it was completely soaked in olive oil, making it rather spongy.  The oil was clearly high quality though, it had a deep grassy flavor to it.  On top was a flavorful red powdered herb and a fennel crust.  I loved the flavors here, but, it was just too oily.  When I asked Ojan what he thought of it, he said simply, "well, its oily".
Entree: Crispy Egg Yolk, Leeks Vinaigrette Seaweed, Raw and Baked Haddock. 15€.
"Jaune d'oeuf croustillant, poireaux croquants en vinaigrette d'algues haddock cru et cuit."

For the starter, I selected what I knew was the signature dish, even though it wasn't called out on the menu in any way.  Our other starter options were mullet and smoked eel tartar, another mullet dish, roasted chicken oysters, or smoked oysters, so even if I hadn't read a zillion great reviews of the crispy egg yolk, I likely would have gone for it anyway.

The starter, er, entree, came about 15 minutes after the bread, a slightly longer delay than we would have preferred, but, not bad, again, particularly given that we weren't really hungry.  Although we indicated that we were sharing, no share plate was brought.

The dish looked great, and it was clear at this moment that we were indeed at a Michelin star establishment, even if we didn't have an amuse bouche or a share plate, and even if the bread wasn't impressive.  This plating set the tone for the rest of the meal.

So what did we have here?

In the center was the "crispy egg yolk", literally, a deep fried egg yolk ball, perched on top of a round crispy crouton, surrounded by alternating chunks of leeks, and two types of haddock (raw and smoked).  This dish also seemed to be sprinkled with red powder, like the focaccia.

I didn't take a photo once I cut into the egg, but, it did ooze egg yolk porn all over the rest of the dish, soaking into the crouton below, which I'm sure was by design.  It was like an egg yolk raviolo, except, well, just the deep fried yolk, rather than pasta-encased.  The crouton was too crispy for either of our liking.

The crispy egg yolk was ... fascinating, but I found it too oily.  Which is also how I felt about the vinaigrette.  I realize I sound anti-oil now, after describing this and the focaccia as too oily, but I really don't mind oil.  It was just all more than I'm used to.

The haddock chunks were served cold, and I didn't really love either style, although I liked the baked more than raw.

The leeks though ... those I liked.  Large slices of leeks, fresh and really refreshing, very crisp.  I think I was really craving vegetables at this point in my travels, which I'd see again in the next course.  The dish had a bit of kick to it, perhaps that was from the red powder?

Overall, neither of us loved this dish, although it was beautifully presented, and the fried egg really was different.
Plat: Line-caught giant seabass with shellfish, green curry emulsion, chips and shallot powder. 25€.
The main dish options were filet mignon, braised beef cheeks, or seabass, plus two signature seafood dishes.  We stuck with all seafood.

Our main dishes came 20 minutes after the starter, again, slightly longer a wait than we would prefer given that we were tired, but, really not bad.  And again, beautifully plated, this time on a large white bowl with an extensive rim.  All dishes came with very unique serving vessels.

Ojan started with this dish, although we planned to share, so I got to see his reaction first.  He reacted, visibly and audibly, to the chips on top, 3 large, round disks.  He kept telling me how thin and crispy they were, which, I mean, I could see they were chips, so I didn't quite comprehend until I got my turn at the dish.  Indeed.  The chips were insanely thin, and, well, insanely crispy.  You could see through them they were so thin.

Under the chips was the seabass, served skin side up.  The skin was crazy crispy, just like the chips.  The fish was very well prepared, moist, yet with this amazing skin, but, it was just seabass, not particularly an interesting fish.

The shellfish element was mussels on the side, which I don't care for.  I didn't ever really find a "green curry emulsion".

But under this all was tasty bits.  I think it was stewed, caramelized leeks and shallots.  Soft, and so very flavorful.  I didn't really want it with the fish, but I was happy to just eat spoonfuls of this flavorful mush, although it was a bit salty on its own.

Overall, this was a fine dish, well prepared, well presented, but just not very exciting.  Oh, and it too had some red powder sprinkled on it.
Signature: Cod fish Aïoli, seasonal vegetables steamed, lagoon olive oil “Fuente de Piedra”.  24€
 "Aïoli de lieu, petits légumes de saison glacés, huile d'olive de la lagune "Fuente de Piedra""

Speaking of presentation.  When the second main dish hit the table, another signature dish, I think my jaw might have dropped a little.  It was served on a huge yellow rimless platter, with dots of aioli and red beet sauce all around.  Many of the pools of aioli had little tiny herbs sticking up in them.

The cod was well cooked, very moist, very mild, very flaky, and, uh, drizzled with oil and red powder.  This restaurant clearly knows how to cook fish, and really likes oil and whatever that powder is.

The vegetables were laid out behind the fish, mostly baby veggies, lightly cooked.  We had baby carrots, leeks, artichoke hearts, parsnips, red torpedo onions, saffron potatoes topped with more aioli, and kale chunks.  I really liked the sweet onions, Ojan liked all the veggies.

The red beet sauce added a vibrant color, but I didn't think it went very well with the dish, flavor-wise.

It was served with a little pitcher of oil on the side.  Our server explained that we should pour it on.  I really can't say I understood this.  Where would we want the oil?  The fish was already lightly covered in oil, and we had the aioli to dunk it in.  We tried the oil, and it was good quality, but, we didn't find ourselves wanting to use it with the dish.

And finally, the aioli.  I saved the best for last.  The aioli was perfectly creamy, and incredibly garlicky.  It was awesome.  Seriously, the best aioli I have had in my entire life.  I wanted to dunk anything and everything into it.  The cod obviously went well with the aioli.  As did the firmer vegetables.  My favorite though?  The pieces of kale, just absolutely slathered in aioli.

The plate, as you can see, really had a ton of aioli, far more than we needed, but I loved it so much that I didn't want to give it up.  After we ran out of things that made sense to dunk into the aioli, aka, everything that came with this dish, I started seeking alternatives.  I salvaged my last bit of oily focaccia, and used that.  I finally resorted to just, uh, my fork.  Really, this was incredible aioli.

So, overall?  Another beautiful dish, more food prepared really well, and in this case, the winning element of the aioli made it a standout.  Seriously, that aioli!  I really enjoyed this dish.
Dessert: Raspberries and mint, pistachio financier, bora bora panna cotta. 12€.
And finally, dessert.  The online menu was not particularly appealing: a cheese course, a chocolate dish (not for me in the evening), poached pears (one of my least favorite things), a lemon pie (again, not something I like), and a soufflé, which was promising, except that it came with passion fruit in the center and mango sorbet, not things I hate, but, not things I was particularly excited about.  Luckily for us, the menu was out of date.  Our options still included a cheese course, the lemon pie, and a chocolate dish, but the soufflé was replaced by a far more exciting sounding fig soufflé, with a "bitter almond heart flowing" and fig sorbet, and the poached pears were replaced with this dish.

If we were more hungry, I'm sure we would have also gotten the soufflé, but as it was, we really weren't hungry, and, to be honest, I was pretty satisfied by all that aioli.  Still, you know me, I love to finish on a sweet note, and can't ever really skip dessert, particularly when there is a panna cotta on the menu.

Once we ordered, it took another 20 minutes for the dessert to arrive, and, well, as expected, it too was beautifully presented.  There was no palate cleanser offered before moving into dessert, and no mignardises afterwards.

We didn't really know what we were ordering.  What is a "bora bora" panna cotta?  I still don't know.  And how a financier and a panna cotta belonged in the same dish I also wasn't really certain of.  I certainly wasn't expecting sorbet, yet this came with a scoop of raspberry sorbet perched on top.  Speaking of perched on top, there was also a sugar decoration, with a flower inside of it?  And fresh raspberries.  And a crumble.  And puffs of cream.

There was a lot going on here.  It took a lot of digging into it to try to understand it.  While I pondered it, Ojan dug in, and declared it "very refreshing", which is certainly not what I expected from panna cotta.

The base was the "bora bora panna cotta", which was a thin layer of a thick custard, with some sort of subtle flavor that I couldn't quite figure out.  The texture was great, but I really wanted a deeper bowl of panna cotta to dip my spoon into.  The cookie crumble gave a nice crunch and another textural component.  The puffs of cream were super rich and fluffy.  The fresh raspberries were nice.

I didn't care for the financier, as, meh, cake, but it did have a strong pistachio flavor.  I also didn't care for the sorbet, as I don't tend to like sorbet, and it was just very sweet.  Ojan mirrored my thoughts, saying, "If this didn't have the sorbet or the financier, I'd really like it."

Overall, I liked the pudding, the crumble, and the fruit together, and enjoyed it.  And like all the dishes, I appreciated the crafting of it and the aesthetics, even if all the elements didn't quite add up for me.
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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pascade by Alexandre Bourdas, Paris

On our first night in Paris, I didn't plan an epic dinner.  I know this isn't my style, but I had no idea if we'd want to crash early.  If we'd have the energy to go out.  But of course I had a list of easy options ready to go.

So when dinner time rolled around, and we deemed ourselves not up for grand adventures, but wanted to sit and eat a light meal (we snacked at the office all day long), I had a no-brainer suggestion: Pascade.
A light meal.
Pascade was on my list for a couple reasons.

The first is simple: it is a Michelin Bib Gourmand, within 5 minutes of our hotel, and 10 minutes from the office.  This means it was likely decent food at a reasonable price and conveniently located.  Good.

Next, I knew it was casual.  We could go without needing to return to the hotel to change out of our "engineer" clothing.  We really didn't have the energy for dressing up.

Next, it was already on my list due to its Bib Gourmand rating and close proximity, and when I asked  local colleagues for recommendations, not one, but two, immediately suggested Pascade.  If locals like it, that is a good sign, right?

And finally, it sounded unique.  Pascade serves pretty much one thing ... pascades.  What are pascades?  Yes, that is something I was trying to understand myself.  I read, and was told, that it was like a cross between a crepe and a souffle, except shaped like a bowl, and filled with things.  Savory or sweet.  While I don't love crepes or souffles, the unique nature of it drew me in, plus of course the promise of sweets.

Overall, I'd say our visit was a success.  I didn't love it, but I'm glad I tried it.  The concept seems solid.  Service was polite and tolerant of our non-French speaking (English menus were provided).  The atmosphere was pleasant, simple.  We weren't under dressed, and felt comfortable.  The meal was fairly efficient, it probably only took about 15 minutes for our order to be ready.

The Setting

The decor is casual, modern, clean, simple.
Tables for two.
Almost the entire restaurant is tables for two.

The tables, the floor, and the chairs are all wooden, but different types of wood, with different styles of grains.
Long Table.
The center of the space is filled by a long table.  I imagine this is communal seating, but when we were there, it was never occupied.  The restaurant only had 3 other tables filled the entire time we were there.  We were clearly on the early side for Parisian dining.

The back wall was stonework, which integrated nicely with the wood tones.
Silverware.
When we first sat down, these wells in the table held paper menus, rolled up.  Once the staff realized we were English speaking, the menus were taken away as they were in French, and we were provided English menus.

After ordering, the holes were filled with metal tubes.  I must have looked very confused, as the server quickly removed the lids on one of the tubes.  Inside were cloth napkins and cutlery.  We each had our own tube.

I don't think this is normal in France, right?  I thought it was fascinating at least.

Along with the cutlery, a small bowl of cherry tomatoes was brought out.  I was too busy photographing and being amused by the cutlery to get a photo of the tomatoes before Ojan ate them all.  He really liked them, saying it was a refreshing starter and something quite different.

Our experience was starting out as unique as I hoped.

Food & Drink

Menu.
The menu at Pascade is fairly simple.

For starters, there is a meat plate, cheese, a single salad, and a simple pascade drizzled with truffle oil.

The main attraction is obviously pascades, and there are 4 savory and 3 sweet available, and the varieties rotate out seasonally.

On our visit, our choices for savory were: pollack, calamares y chorizo, green risotto, veal chopped parsley, and shrimp.

I didn't want veal, neither Ojan nor I were interested in risotto, and Ojan vetoed the shrimp.  I was fascinated by the shrimp, as the description read "roasted shrimps with garlic, penne, coconut milk & citronella, aubergine dip".  Penne ... in the pascade?  I guess not much different from risotto inside?  But ... aubergine dip too?  It sounded crazy.  But alas, Ojan vetoed it, thus the other seafood option is what we went for.

For sweets, our choices were: lemon cherry, citrus fruits chutney, and "only chocolat", or a tasting platter.  The dessert pascades were 11€ each for a full size version, or, 15€ for a 2 person mini tasting.  I really only wanted the citrus fruit chutney one, and Ojan really only wanted the chocolate one, and we had no idea what would actually come on the mini platter, so, obviously, we had to just get that and make no decisions ourselves.
Coteaux d'Aix en Provence 2013 Chateau Revelette. 8€.
To go along with my selections, I opted for a glass of red wine.  There were 3 choices by the glass, one for 5€, one for 8€, and one for 11€.  With no other real signal into what they were, I just opted for the middle choice.

I didn't care for it.  It was too tanic for me, but, this isn't the fault of the restaurant, I had no idea what I was ordering.

I did appreciate that the full bottle was presented to me, a small taste was poured first, and then my glass was filled.  Of course, I guess I could have said no at that point, and almost did, but I really didn't want to be complicated.

Ojan opted for sparkling water, served in a Pascade branded bottle, for only 3€, not bad.
 Pollack, calamares y chorizo.  21€.
"Roasted pollack, squids, celery purée, chorizo and riquette."

Our main pescade really was lovely.  I had seen photos online before, but it still looked even more dramatic than I expected.  Almost too pretty to break into!

It also didn't taste anything like I was expecting.

I loved the dough.  It was ... sweet.  Yes, this was our savory main course, but the dough was sweet.  Not sugary exactly, but certainly sweet.  It was crispy, but light and fluffy.  I suddenly understood the descriptions I had read.  It was not just crispy and chewy like a crepe.  It had the airiness of a souffle, except, well, it was thin.  Really fascinating texture.

Inside was a generous amount of seafood, 3 large chunks of pollack and assorted pieces of squid, plus slices of chorizo.

The seafood was ... ok.  The pollack was nicely cooked, tender, moist, but just wasn't a fish I was interested in.  Ojan also didn't really care for it, and one chunk went unfinished.  The squid was also ... ok. It was kinda chewy, not particularly great.  But I liked it more than the pollack.  The chorizo was good, flavorful slices of meat.

I didn't find "celery purée", but there was a cream sauce.  It was orange in color, mild in flavor, and quite creamy.  What it was, I honestly have no idea.  But I love cream, and it went great with the crepe-like base.  A little arugula, "riquette"?, was on top.

Overall, it was all fine.  It was a unique thing for sure, and I liked it more than a crepe or souffle.  The crust really was quite good, but the fillings just weren't quite for me.  I would consider trying another savory one sometime, although none on the current menu really appealed.  I think I'd really like the simple appetizer one just drizzled with flavorful truffle oil.

The price of 21€ seemed ok, higher than a crepe obviously, but there was a lot of seafood.
Les ''minis'' – dégustation pour 2 personnes. €15.
The mini platter was presented on a wooden board, one each of 4 types of minis, so 8 total.  This meant we got to try all 3 from the regular dessert menu, plus a bonus one!  Yes!

The presentation was quite cute, I must say.

All had the same shell, crispier than the main savory pascade, and caramelized.  I imagine if you get the full size ones the shell winds up similar to the savory one, just with more sugar in it.  Personally, I really liked the mini size since it was crispier and seemed more like a kouign amann.  The bite (ok, two or three) bite size was also enjoyable, just as finger food.

Starting from the front, we had:

Lemon Cherry:
Butter & lemon cream, toffee, cocoa biscuit and cherries".
This was my least favorite, and even though tiny, I didn't finish mine.  I would have never ordered this one though, as I don't like lemon flavors in dessert.  It was like a creamy lemon meringue pie filling, just not something I ever want.  Topped with a cherry half.

Coffee Cream:
This was the bonus one, so I don't have a full description.  My second favorite.  I avoid caffeine at night, and planned to only take a single bite of this, but, well, I couldn't resist finishing it.  The coffee cream was smooth and a lovely flavor, and it was topped with even more whipped cream.

Only Chocolat:
"A slightly hot soufflé of dark chocolate mousse."
My third favorite.  This one was quite different from the others, in that it didn't have a cream filling.  Instead, it was molten chocolate!  I wish I had taken a photo, but it was too messy to do so.  The moment I bite in, I had to quickly put the rest in my mouth, as it exploded molten chocolate everywhere.  This was Ojan's favorite, but only my third pick.  Interesting, but I preferred the cream flavors.

Citrus Fruits Chutney:
"Mascarpone cream & biscuit with passion fruit juice, citrus fruits chutney."
My hands down favorite, and, predictably, the one I would have ordered if only ordering a single full size dessert.  I didn't really taste any particular citrus fruit, but it was full of creamy, delicious mascarpone.  I love mascarpone, and the crispy shell, the creamy mascarpone, and the sweetness of the fruit chutney was a wonderful match.

Of the four, I would gladly get the mascarpone one again, and would share the coffee one, but the others I'd skip.  Again, I'd love to see what other flavors rotate though though, because I really liked the concept behind them.
The Bill!
The bill came rolled up and presented inside a metal tube.  The little touches of the decor really were quite nice.
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