Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Dinner @ Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie, Paris

I was in Paris for a full week before I finally had foie gras.  Yes, sad but true.  Clearly, my complete and utter obsession with foie gras from the days when it was banned in California is over.  Amusingly, Ojan, who never wanted to partake in my foie gras adventures back in the day, had foie gras two times before me (he was going to different business dinners than I, and his went places with foie).

Anyway, when planning my Paris adventures, one place I had high on my list was the restaurant at  Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie, known for ... the foie gras.  It will come as no surprise to you that it was recommended to me by Emil, although, it isn't a 3 Michelin star, or a 2, or even a single star.  Yes, he recommended somewhere not Michelin rated! (Of course he also told me to go to all the crazy expensive 3 stars too ...)  But he wasn't actually the first to mention it; two of my other friends, who dined with me in Mallorca, said it was their favorite place of all their time in Paris.

So I quickly made a booking for 4 people one night early in my trip, knowing that I'd be able to fill the seats.  And then ... Ojan, and the other two folks who wanted to come, got pulled away into a business dinner, and couldn't come.  They begged me to re-schedule, and two more people wanted to join, so, I rescheduled for later in the week, for a party of 6.  We set out to (finally) get foie gras.

Sadly, I didn't love the meal.  The food was all fine, but not memorable in any way, and flavors were very bland.  Prices were reasonable.  I guess that sums it up, everything was just lacking any real flavor.  Of the 9 different dishes we ordered, only one (the seared foie), would I even get again.  Maybe it was an off night?  I really trust the folks who recommended the place to me, and Yelpers and TripAdvisor folks also love it ...  The ambiance and experience were nice though, and it suited our group well.

The Space

Duck!
As we approached, it was easy to know where we were going ... they had a big duck sign out front!
The Shop.
The restaurant is actually attached to a gourmet food store, selling all sorts of products, specializing in foie gras.  It was open when we first arrived, but closed up while we were there so I didn't get a chance to browse around.  Next time, I'd be sure to do some shopping BEFORE my meal, or perhaps visit the restaurant at lunch time.
Outside Seating
We entered through the small outside seating area, with only 4 or so tables.  Since it was pouring rain and quite cold, the outside area was enclosed in a plastic awning, and heat lamps were on, so it was quite cozy out there.

But, we were seated indoors.
Interior.
Inside, the restaurant was quite small.  The decor was really hard to describe.  The tables and chairs were wooden and kinda battered, with red velvet seats.  The lighting was ... chandeliers.  The back wall housed a open wine rack, and ... mirrors.  There was a random ladder for folks to hang jackets on.  Charming, in its own special way.

Staff were dressed casually, in T-shirts bearing the restaurant name and logo.

Service was ... ok.  They were friendly, and spoke English with us, but were a bit lacking in attention.  It took a long time to order, and absolutely forever to have someone even glance our way so we could aggressively flag them down to get the bill at the end.

We asked for share plates for our party of 6, and received only 2.  We asked to have things coursed in a particular way (soups and salad to start, foie courses next, then mains), and we got the soup and salad course and then ... everything else.  They weren't rude though, and did change out our silverware between courses, so, that worked.
Wines.
Since we were ordering red meat as our mains, and plenty of foie gras, we needed two wines.  I suggested a Sauternes to go with the foie, and our group was easily able to split a half bottle.  Amusingly, when the server came around to pour it, she really mis-portioned it.  She knew she was pouring for 5 people, and started with me.  I got a huge pour.  As did the next two people.  The fourth got a reasonable pour, and the last?  Uh, a dribble.  She realized what she'd done, and asked if we wanted to get another bottle.  I love Sauternes, but, no, one can only drink so much of that sweetness.  I volunteered to give some of mine away, as it was a really insanely large pour of such a sweet wine.

The Sauternes was fine, nothing remarkable, sweet and syrupy, as you'd expect.  It was the first time several in our group had Sauternes.

For a red, someone else in the group picked it, so I don't even know what it was.   I was busy ordering food for the entire table.

Both wines were served in the same generic glasses.

Menu

The menu (given to us in English), confused everyone, except me, since I knew what to expect.
Classics.
The first page contained the Classics, dishes they are known for, and are always available.

This section had all the foie gras (4 different preps!), plus their heavy hitting main dishes of roast duck, duck shepherd's pie, and cassoulet.  It also had french onion soup, cheese and charcuterie plates, assorted smoked salmon preps, and caviar.

The dishes weren't really listed in an order that made any sense, which lead to everyone's confusion.  I knew the roast duck was a main, but why did it come before the french onion soup on the menu?  Before the caviar?
Seasonal Menu.
The next two pages were the seasonal menu, and were  broken down into starters, mains, and salads, in a more reasonable way.

I proposed that I just order for the table, sought out specific requests, and took care of ordering.  3 of the 4 foie dishes, plus a few things they all wanted, and it was time to get going.

Starters

As I mentioned, we asked to have the meal coursed out, because the server asked us if we wanted it all at once when we ordered.  We assured here that no, we didn't.  I suggested the soups and salads to start, followed by the foie dishes, followed by the mains.

We did get the intended starters first, although it took quite a while, and no share plates were provided, even though we made it clear that we were sharing.

The starters were fine, but not memorable.
 La tomate confite farcie aux legumes croquants et mozzarella. 11€.
"Slow cooked tomato with crunchy vegetables and mozzarella."

We felt a bit guilty that our meal was all highly decadent and heavy, so we opted for some vegetables to get started (you know, vegetables with cheese).  None of the salads jumped out, so someone suggested the tomato and mozzarella from the seasonal menu.

It was not a standard tomato and mozzarella, which we somewhat expected given the description, but I still didn't expect this.

I was really surprised when it arrived, as I knew this was a very rustic restaurant, and wasn't anticipating the plating.

The mozzarella was standard mozzarella, not much to say there.

The tomatoes were downright adorable, cut open, stuffed, and then their tiny little lids put back on.  The tomatoes were cooked, and fine, but not particularly flavorful, they didn't scream "fresh seasonal tomatoes" to me.  Inside was chopped up vegetables, including zucchini, but I'm not sure what else.  These veggies were either raw or lightly cooked, still quite crunchy.

I really have no idea what the sauce was on the side, it had no distinct flavor, wasn't mentioned to us, nor listed on the menu.

This was all fine, but not particularly interesting, flavorful, nor memorable.  Cute plating, nice to see tomato and mozzarella offered in a different way, and ordered just to get some veggies.  Wouldn't get again.  11€ price was fine.  Probably my second to least favorite of the night?  Hard to say, when there are so many I wouldn't get again.
Soupe à l'oignon gratinée. 8.50€.
"French Onion Soup".

When I read reviews of the restaurant, there were many, many mentions of the french onion soup.  Not something I really care about, but others really wanted it, so I got a couple for the table.

One person, who really wanted the soup, took his first few bites, and declared, "I'm going to punch someone in the face over this soup."  Apparently, that means he really liked it (incidentally, he was also with me in Mallorca).

The soup was topped with copious amounts of melty cheese and bread, and loaded with soft cooked onions.  It was fine, but honestly just like any french onion soup to me, and I actually had better french onion soup the day before in my office cafe.  The others all loved it though.  Probably my third to least favorite of the night.

Foie

Next, we were expecting our course of foie dishes.  I opted to get 3 of the 4 preps: seared, carpaccio, and stuffed in pasta, so we could really experience the range.  They got delivered with the mains, in a pile of chaos.  There was absolutely no way to fit it all on the table at once, so we had to get creative.

Anyway, I'll still review them first.

These all came from the classics section of the menu, and, frankly, were the reason we were there.  The foie preps were the highlight of the meal for me, but, none were better than what I've had many other places.
Carpaccio de foie gras de canard cru au miel et caramel balsamique, sel de Guerande. 19€.
"Foie gras carpaccio with honey sauce and sea salt"

I laughed a bit at the translation.  Our menus said "honey sauce", the french menus said "au miel et caramel balsamique", aka, honey balsamic caramel.  Of course, I didn't have the french menu when I was there, I looked it up afterwards, so only then did I realize why my "honey sauce" was dark brown.

The platter of foie carpaccio we ended up saving for last, since it was a cold dish, and everything else was hot.  Not as intended, but we had no other way to tackle the massive amount of food before us.  I still wish they had coursed this properly, or that I had opted to have this with the soup and salads, as that could have made more sense.

Anyway, the carpaccio was super thinly sliced, laid out in sheets.  The flavor was very mild.  Drizzled on top was the sauce, sweet and a bit sticky, and a good compliment to the foie.  I didn't find the salt anywhere on the plate, which is sad, as it is needed with foie.

I didn't try the bread, but it was just toasted white bread.  The others were grumpy with the bread, originally concerned that there was no good way to share it, and then not even touching the final slice.  They really wanted something more interesting, like a rye.

The final components were very odd, a pile up in the top corner, not listed on either version of the menu.  It was ... pickled soft cooked onions and pickled ginger.  Both were harsh, sharp flavors.  I really didn't think they made for a good pairing.  Caramelized onions I can see working, but pickled ones?  You don't pair harsh things with foie ...

Overall, this was fairly lackluster.  Bad pairing of the pickled stuff, boring white bread, mediocre foie gras, and no salt.  The 19€ price I guess was fine for a large serve of foie, although it was so thin that there wasn't tons of substance.  My third pick of the night, but I wouldn't get it again.
Escalope de foie gras de canard poelee sur son pain d'espices et mesclun. 17€.
"Pan fried foie gras with ginger bread."

I again laughed at the translation.  What happened to mentioning the mesclun?

Next up was the dish that should always be the star of the show.  Seared foie gras.  I got the carpaccio just to try an assortment of foie preps, but this is the one I was eagerly awaiting.

The serving was large, a huge lobe of foie.  It had a nice sear on it, was decently creamy, but it too was pretty mild flavorwise.  It hade some stringiness to it as I cut it into 6 pieces.

The pairings here, unlike the carpaccio, were actually quite good.  Served on top of a slice of cooked pineapple and a thin slice of gingerbread.  The sweet pineapple and the sweet and spicy nature of the gingerbread really did make for a perfect bite.  Seared foie, sweet elements, and a bit of crunch from the bread?  Delicious.  Of course, the menu didn't mention the pineapple, so it is a good thing Emil wasn't with us, as he hates pineapple, and this would have ruined the dish for him.

We didn't really touch the mesclun, it didn't seem dressed in any way.

Overall, a good dish, nicely composed, all aspects of it worked well together.  Generous portion for 17€.  My favorite dish of the night, and the only one I'd get again.
Ravioles de foie gras de canard a la crème de truffe. 19€.
"Foie gras ravioli with a truffle sauce."

And again, dropping things from the translation.  Truffle sauce ... hello, this was truffle CREAM sauce.

But I knew this would have a cream sauce.  This dish, hands down, is the most reviewed.  Everyone goes nuts for it.  So we ordered two.  I expected it to be amazing, given the rave reviews, and, well, the fact that it had foie gras and truffle cream sauce.

Each dish had 6 large, free-form pasta pockets, not traditional ravioli shapes, with a chunk of foie inside.  The foie flavor was basically non-existent.  It was mild in the previous two dishes, but absent here.

While I was excited for the foie pasta, I really was excited for the truffle cream sauce.  I'm such a sauce girl, particularly creamy sauces!  It was ... completely boring.  No real flavor.  Including, no truffle flavor.  Ojan, who is insanely truffle-adverse, couldn't taste any, and he can detect truffle in just about anything, even when it is subtle, subtle, subtle.

I was pretty disappointed.  The pasta was cooked fine, but it was really, really boring.  This should not be a boring dish.  I expected we'd want to keep that sauce around to lap up with our bread and sock up all the deliciousness, but no one did.  I tried a few times, trying so hard to like it, but alas, it never happened.

Still, it was my fourth pick of the night, only because I honestly didn't like anything else.

Mains

The main dishes we picked were all from the seasonal menu.  The three from the classic menu were roasted duck (which no one seemed excited by), cassolet (which I read negative reviews of), and duck shepard's pie (which we would have ordered if we needed one more dish), but everyone wanted the beef specials instead, so, beef it was.
Bread Basket.
Bread seems to always be served with the main dishes, in a basket.

The bread was not typical french baguette.  It was soft and not crusty.   It was replenished for us several times.

It was fine, fresh bread, but not remarkable.
Tartare de bœuf charolais préparé, pommes rattes sautées. 18€.
 "Charolais beef tartare and sautéed potatoes"

The person who really wanted the onion soup, also really wanted the beef tartare, not something I ever order, because I just don't care for the texture of raw beef, nor the raw egg.

I wasn't even planning to try the tartare, since I don't like tartare (and nothing else in the meal was great so why would this tartare be any good?), but everyone encouraged me to, saying it was great.

And I'll be honest, for tartare, this really was good.  The beef was nicely chopped, there was no egg (unless it had been mixed in for us, but it wasn't the traditional style where it is sitting in the middle), and it was actually nicely seasoned.  The entire rest of the meal was flavorless and poorly seasoned, but this was actually flavorful.

I didn't try the simple sautéed potatoes, but even our potato eating Australian didn't care to finish them.  The greens on the side also went unfinished, as again, totally undressed.  Who wants just plain greens?  At least put some oil, salt, and pepper on?

Somehow, my second favorite dish of the night, because it had flavor, but I still wouldn't get it again, because I still don't actually want tartare.
Côté de bœuf de Salers (500g) à la poêle, gratin de gnocchis au jus, véritable Béarnaise. 29€.
"Salers beef rib (500g), gnocchis gratin and Béarnaise sauce."

Again, with the leaving details out of the translation!  Given the English description, I was expecting a "gnocchis gratin and Béarnaise sauce" ... thinking perhaps the gnocchi would be in a Béarnaise, but even if not, that they'd be ... gratin?  Doesn't gratin imply that they should be baked, with a crispy top of cheese or breadcrumbs?

Anyway.

The steak was impressive in its size, which we expected, since the menu did warn us it was 500g.  We were told that the chef recommended medium, but we could cook it more if we wanted.  More?  We were going to order medium-rare, but opted for medium, since she told us this.

The steak was ... chewy.  I'm not a huge steak lover, but Ojan does like steak, and said this wasn't very good.

I wasn't really planning to eat the steak anyway, I went along with ordering this dish mostly for the others, but also for the promised gnocchi.  I was obviously sad by the lack of cheese and cream sauce on the gnocchi, and wished they'd given us a French menu.  "gnocchis au jus" I understand ...

Anyway, the gnocchi was not great.  Not a gratin, or at least not what I think of as a gratin.  Just potato dumplings, in jus.  No one wants gnocchi like this, do they?  Ours went unfinished, even though the portion was small, and there were 6 of us.

The Béarnaise sauce stumped me.  It was served in a ramekin on the side, and was ... solid.  It was more herbs than sauce.  It didn't pour, it didn't spread.  Is this what Béarnaise sauce is in France?  It also just wasn't very good.  Honestly, it seemed like just cold herbed butter.  So strange.

Overall, nothing very good here, my least favorite dish of the meal.

Desserts

Desserts all came from the seasonal section, and were another part of the reason we were there.  Yes, I love desserts in general, but there were some stars on the menu.

The dessert menu had 5 options, plus sorbet and ice cream.  One was a lemon/lime based, so we ruled it out immediately, since neither Ojan nor I like these flavors in desserts.  Another was just a poached peach with chantilly cream.  The warm chocolate pudding cake with vanilla ice cream got a vote or two from the group, but it takes a while to prepare, and neither Ojan nor I would be indulging in that due to the caffeine, so we skipped that one two.  The final two options though were winners: crème brûlée and a giant eclair.  Ojan loves eclairs, and these eclairs are known for being special.

Our group opted to get a crème brûlée, too, just to try something different (and perhaps to please me since I love crème brûlée), but really, we had all eyes for the crazy eclair.

We also ordered a few drinks to go alongside our desserts.
Coffee, Decaf. 2.50€.
I opted for my classic dessert pairing, a decaf coffee.

I forgot to say I wanted an Americano though, so was a bit surprised when a decaf shot of espresso showed up.  Oops, my bad.

It was fine, but nothing remarkable.  Served with brown sugar cubes, a stick of regular white sugar, and a speculoos cookie.
Porto Blanc. 5.50€.
Everyone else went for port.  They had a red and a white on the menu, with no other information.  What winemaker? What year?  What grape?  Who knows.

I had never had white port before, so I tried a few sips.

Very similar to a red port, except a bit more ... maple-y?  Interesting for sure, and the price of 5.50€ was fine for the pour.
Cardamom Crème Brûlée. 8.50€.
So to start, the crème brûlée, one of my favorite desserts.  I love puddings, and I love crème brûlée, so I looked forward to this, even though it was cardamom flavored, which is not a flavor I gravitate towards.

The crème brûlée clearly was not made to order.  It was cold.  -1 point, I like the contrast of the hot top and cold pudding.

The top was fairly thin, a decent caramelization, but not as prominent as I'd prefer.  Not bad though.

But the pudding was ... just pudding.  The texture was nothing remarkable.  And yes, it did taste like cardamom, so I didn't really like it.

Not my thing, and even though we only had one, no one else took more than a second bite.  The 8.50€ price was fine for the size.
Vanilla and Red Berries Eclair. 11€. 
And now for the eclair.  I knew what to expect here.  These were HUGE!  And of course we ordered multiple.

I was shocked by how light this dish actually felt.  Yes, it was huge, it was pastry, and it was cream, but it felt light somehow.

The choux pastry in particular was very light and airy.  It wasn't too eggy, which is always the main reason I don't like eclairs or cream puffs.

Inside were actually two different layers of filling, in addition to the berries.  One was a thick vanilla custard, a basic pastry cream filling.  The texture was a bit thicker than I expected inside here, and there was more of this than anything else inside, so it did somewhat overwhelm the rest of the flavors.  Slightly less would improve the overall eating experience.

The other filling was basic sweet fluffy whipped cream.  I think this helped contribute to the lightness.  Yes, it was just whipped cream, but it combined nicely with the other filling and the pastry.  It was also fun to have two different fillings inside.

Berries were not as dominate of a component as I expected.  They were displayed on the open portion of the eclair as you can see here, but didn't fill the other side.  There were a few raspberries and chunks of strawberry, but mostly red currants.  The fruit wasn't particularly interesting, and I don't really like currants, so these didn't add anything to the dish.

But on the plate was a few dots of berry puree, that no one else touched.  And since they all devoured their portions rapidly, rather than taking their time, decomposing it, and taking notes like me, it was all left behind.  None of them thought to use it!  I however ate my chunks of eclair with my fingers, dragged them through the sauce, and really enjoyed the sweet sauce with the custards.  And I got all the sauce, not just the one from the plate I took eclair from.  Yes!

Overall, this was good enough, and I enjoyed my chunk of eclair, particularly when I scooped out a little custard, removed the currants, and added the berry sauce, but I wouldn't go back for it.  11€ is pricey for a dessert at a casual place like this, but, it was enormous.
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