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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