culinary cliffnotes : “le chateaubriand”

Le Chateaubriand; 129 avenue Parmentier, 11e

Epuré turn of the century bistro with ever-changing fixed-menu serves up surprising new parfums;
the verdict? rafraichissant.

Le Chateaubriand is a restaurant that has been on the Parisian foodie radar for a while now.  It’s even been added to the renommé Michelin Guide Rouge – and any food critic worth their salt in town has added their two cents.

But sometimes the most interesting thing about a restaurant is what happens when people move on to other more “newsworthy” topics.  Does the chef lose interest?  change directions? leave his former sous-chef to run the place while he opens another restaurant?…the possibilities are rather endless, and often, (with the exception of the installment of a new chef) undocumented by the stylo-wielding, trend-following gastronomes.

Mardi at Le Chateaubriand.  Things were already off to a good start, as the maître d’hôtel had graciously re-located our party of 3 (restaurants hate seating 3 diners) – originally squished at a table for two- to a comfortable banquette spot for 4.

The menu, as for all evenings at Le Chateaubriand, was a fixed, five-course meal : amuse bouche, entrée, plat, plat, dessert/plat de fromages.  The menu, like the winelist, was imprimé on plain white computer paper – just one of the small details soulignant the restaurant’s personality : clean and straightforward, but undeniably improvised.  If chef Inaki Aizpitarte was a traveler, he’d show up at the airport without a ticket – packing nothing but the essentials – and if a vol wasn’t available to Rio de Janeiro, he’d glance calmy at the flight board and remark, “Hey, I’ve been meaning to go to Reykjavik”.


Upon “placing our order” (which essentially consists of confirming that you are not allergic to anything on the menu), a plate of egg-y, dense but fluffy “poufs” arrived on the table.  If I had to describe them – I’d say they were a textural cross between a coconut macaroon and a brioche, minus the coconut flavor.  This was a promising début.

amuse bouche & egg-y macaroon

Next came the amuse bouche : a crème marscapone citronnée, decorated with oeufs de poisson, then dressed with a cold soupe de cresson.  (lemony marscapone cream, fish eggs, “soup” of watercress).  Salty, tangy, and refreshing – it almost tasted like the plage meats the potager.  The surprisingly complimentary flavors collided and burst, literally washing your mouth clean to properly receive what came next.

The entrée was “asperges blanches – ‘pil-pil’” – white asparagus, quickly blanched and served with a mild, tangy cream sauce and “pil-pil” a crunchy, green half-sprout/half-salad oddity.  Yet my favorite part of this dish was the cubes of celeri pomme vert (green apple celery), which I have no idea how they make – but it literally tasted like the perfect fusion of crisp green apple and edgy celery – with a texture in between the two.

Plat number 1 : “Limande sole, pomme de terre cerise, oignons, oseille sauvage” (Limande – a white fish, cherry potatoes, onions (tiny, succulent shallot types), wild sorrel leaves – and also, some mild, but flavorful olives).  The fish was really remarkable – cooked in a light butter sauce- and perfectly flaky, in that moist, melt-in-your-mouth way (as opposed to the over-cooked, dry flakiness that one often achieves when scared of undercooking proteins).  But the real star of this dish was the pomme de terre cerise – it was just so fun to eat.  Without being mushy, it kind of squished down naturally in between le palais et la langue, the salty skin underscoring the perfection of the sauce.

Plat number 2: “Agneau, betteraves, shizo” (lamb, beets, shiso (Japanese ingredient)).  This is where Inaki lost me.  Though visually the most stunning, (one would say modern art), the lamb, radishes, shizo were all just okay – and in a remarkable restaurant, to eat something unremarkable is well, bad.  (See the French expression : tout ce qui n’est pas bon est mauvais (anything that isn’t good, is bad)).  On the positive side, the gorgeous “swoosh” of beat paste/sauce that made the dish so visually striking was delicious.  I just wish the meat had been equally tasty.

For dessert : “Faisselle de chèvre, fraises, rhubarbe/chocolat, piquillos” (soft goat’s cheese (like a “farmer’s cheese) with strawberries and rhubarb, alongside a little dish of melted chocolate and roasted peppers).  This was a fun combo.  The faisselle was so cold and refreshing, almost like a yogurt-flavored sorbet, and underneath that and the strawberries was a crunchy slice of rhubarb, which almost tasted lightly pickled.  The little bowl of chocolate – which looked quite uncomplicated at first glance, held a world of surprises within.  In addition to roasted poivrons, there were little granola-like crumbles and a little cocoa-bean tasting morsel.  While not the best dessert I’ve ever eaten, it was, like the entire experience, enjoyable in its unexpectedness.

All in all, a restaurant I would certainly recommend.  The menu du soir is 45€, with which a bottle of excellent wine (the wine list is quite interesting, in fact – we had a bottle of Les Bonnes Blanches from Anjou) comes to around 60€ par tête.  A rather affordable way to dabble in modern haute-cuisine, without over-the-top luxury of many restos étoilés which (in my opinion) could almost seem bothersome on a weeknight.

Final note? Obviously not a restaurant for picky eaters, as the menu changes nightly, but si on a de la chance those egg-y, macaroon delights are something the chef will make more than once.

Want more?  Get a glimpse of the Aizpitarte in action, this clip from the 2009 New York Omnivore festival.

—vocabulaire—

Epuré > Purified/refined

parfums > flavors

rafraichissant > refreshing

renommé > renown

sous-chef > 2nd in command in the kitchen (literally “under-chef”)

stylo > pen

gastronomes > foodies with power (food writers, etc.)

mardi > Tuesday

maître d’hôtel > head of service

banquette > booth/wall seat

imprimé > printed

vol > flight (airplane)

soulignant > underlining/underscoring

brioche > an egg-y bread-like pastry

début > beginning

le palais et la langue > the palette and the tongue

poivrons > peppers

menu du soir > dinner menu

par tête > each, literally “by head”

haute-cuisine > high cuisine

restos étoilés > restaurants that have received Michelin stars

si on a de la chance > with any luck, literally “if one is/we are lucky”

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