Monday, January 18, 2010

Paris: Les Bouquinistes

For our last dinner in Paris, we were at a bit of a loss, having uncharacteristically not planned ahead. I had neglected to call our first choice, Chez Josephine, on arrival and since they are closed on weekends, I wasn’t able to call them until Monday afternoon – only to find that they were completely booked for that evening. Suspecting that perhaps our rejection was due to my request being made in English, I called back a couple of hours later and asked again in French, but with the same result.

In any case, we settled on Les Bouquinistes, an offshoot of the Guy Savoy empire and within walking distance from our hotel. It was a bit pricier than we really had in mind but no attractive alternatives presented themselves and we were open to a little bit of a splurge for our last night. Besides, they could take us at our preferred time of 9 pm.

After a stroll through St Germain, we arrived at the dining room just about on time. The décor – a modern idiom with shades of faux-distressed plasterwork -- seemed a bit dated but we were there for the food.

And we did find the food, in general, excellent. We both had the menu degustation, which seemed like a good value at 75 euros. We started with an amuse-bouche of lobster puree thickened with cream, then the fun began. The first course was a few coins of foie gras, just the right amount, rich and creamy with good coarse bread on the side. It was followed by a lobster and crab salad, a small oblong of sautéed sea bass with uncommonly crispy skin (Michael passed on the skin), a creamy chestnut soup with wild mushrooms, sauteed chicken breast, and a melted chocolate cake with a vanilla shooter and pistachio ice cream. None terribly innovative, all very delicious…with the one notable exception of a tasteless and mushy stalk of artichoke heart accompanying the crab salad, which had no obvious reason for being there.
With the meal we drank a 2007 Gewurztraminer Grand Cru from [ ] which was rich, unctuous, slightly sweet, and an excellent pairing with the food.

Service was friendly but somewhat off. The wine wasn’t immediately available (the captain had to go fetch it from the cellar down the street, he explained) but he was nice enough to pour each of us a glass of the same wine from a bottle standing on a nearby table (leftovers from another group? It was never made clear) while we waited. The first three or four courses came out very rapidly, then there was a long pause before the chicken course and an almost interminable wait for dessert, this despite the fact that the dining room was more than half empty at that stage. Our very young waiter seemed a little overmatched, as though perhaps some of the staff hadn’t shown up when expected or perhaps if every table came at once, which didn’t seem to be the case.

All in all a delicious experience, but not a particularly polished one. Of course one doesn’t expect 3 star service at one star prices but this suggested a lack of organization uncommon in Paris in our experience.

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