Monday night, and it has stopped drizzling long enough for us to admire the arc-en-ciel as we listened to the taxi driver praise our New York cops and American justice for not being reached by an "arrangement" in the matter of M. Strauss-Kahn. He had not yet heard that the entire staff of the "maison prisonne" -- including cooks, cleaners, gardener -- is male, and the discussion of whether this was the idea of the defense attorneys or of Mme S-K was spirited.
Jean-François Piège is one of those talented cooks of whom it has repeatedly been said that he needs the right showcase. This tiny hideaway, up a secret twisty staircase into quiet opulence with an immaculate open kitchen, may be that place. We were seated under that part of the ceiling that is glass, and a good thing we were - there's very little lighting in the dining room other than a candle on each table and a few sconces. In mid-June, happily, it stays light till after a little after 10, and then it's dark. We were glad for the natural light while it lasted. There's some rigamarole in getting a reservation, you can't book more than 15 days ahead, no fax, no internet, and the menu doesn't tell you much about what to expect. My suggestion: man up, deal with the quirks (and those stairs), and go!
We recovered from the climb with a kir for me, bubbles for himself (I'm getting bubbled out! Hard to believe, non?) and a display of charming crunchy things that were very edible indeed, some fish, some veg, some hammy.
A selection of breads (gorgeous!) sustained us as we navigated the menu, which arrives looking a little like a shower invitation,
complete with embossed, perforated and scalloped-edged pea-green envelope (another quirk, deal with it).
On the carte itself, there is a short list (four) of ingredients which will be used in the evening's dishes. You choose up to three of them, and the number you choose determines how many courses your meal will have and what it will cost. The chef then makes what he's inspired to make, adding what other ingredients are appropriate. These are a surprise, as will be your desserts. There's also a chef's tasting menu, where he makes all of the choices including the wine. We weren't up for that many surprises, so after staring (not too obviously, I hope) at what others were eating, we chose:
Here's what came to the table:
- A wonderful salad of chunks of lobster tail, foie gras, tiniest tomatoes, girolles, slivers of morello cherry, parsley leaves, mint leaves, baby coriander leaves, in a cherry juice vinaigrette. Perfect balance of flavors and textures.
At the last minute someone (ahem) changed his first choice from lobster to vegetables/egg, and this was his first course. The perfectly poached egg is hidden under an almost transparent handkerchief of pasta. Someone at a neighboring table had the same thing and described the surrounding wreath of young spring vegetables as "a Noah's Ark of the gardens of France." OK, I stared in that direction. Dear friends, I may finally have seen the Copywriter from Space! Hope she was not on an expense account...
OK, the turbot:
As you see, the camera's not always faster than the speeding fork. Perfectly done, turbot is not a fish that benefits from being served rare, and a classic sauce, cream, white wine, and I may remember this spring as when cilantro (which is what we call fresh coriander in New York) came to Paris. just a touch here; chef knows when to stop.
It was getting dark when the sweetbreads arrived. They were crusted in fine crumbs of spekulaas, which for you non-bakers is a shortbread-like Christmas cookie, flavored with mild seasonal spices and generally baked in overpriced picturesque molds and displayed on mantels with holly. This is a much better use for the cookies. We loved this dish.
Cheese. Cheese itself: a small selection. Quality - excellent. Taste, temperature - also excellent.
Cheese was served balanced atop tall natural wooden chunks, reminded me of the Wall in Game of Thrones. I haven't read the books, but was watching the TV series before we left. Could this be the secret of what lies Beyond the Wall? Fromage? didn't stop us.
And dessert, in a by now very very dark room. We each had all of the following:
|Vacherin, standing on edge, with strawberries in filling|
cherries had been pitted), the custard was delicate and the disc of pastry at the bottom of each was crisp.
We will definitely come back - not because it's a novel experience, although it was, but for the food. Most definitely for the food.