Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

We ate out last night at a nearby restaurant called L'Equitable. I can only describe the experience as... complex. The good and bad aspects of the evening went pinging off each other like so many BB-gun bullets bouncing off of the walls of a racquetball court (or some such image).

We started by walking the two-minute stretch from our apartment to Guy and Anne's around the corner. The four-year-old Arthur was hyperactive. As we walked in, Marc-André was repeatedly throwing him onto the sofa, from which he would jump back up, squealing with laughter.

Guy came in with flutes and a bottle of NV Pannier Brut and set them on the mantlepiece. He knew his tactics: he had Arthur calm down by asking him to bring each glass of champagne to each of us as they were poured. This Arthur did with the serious concentration of a candle-bearer.

Afterward, when the babysitter showed up - greeted with a glass of champagne; how urbane! - we left for the restaurant, a four or five minute walk away on a quiet little street in the Quartier Latin.

The décor was decidedly out-of-place for Paris. With large, rough-hewn white stones for walls, with thick dark wood beams and amateur paintings on the wall, the atmosphere was right out of a country restaurant.

We were served some gougères and ordered a bottle of 2004 Borgeot Puligny-Montrachet "Les Charmes." The sommelier came out with it and seemed taken aback that the others indicated me as the taster. Already on the wine front, the restaurant was off to a terrible start - the wine list was as patchy as a football field after a mad riot mob has run through it with cleats. Out of the five or six choices for each region, two or three were crossed out...

The Puligny was nice - good minerality, but not jazzy. Lovely nose, a discreet use of oak, all the right notes in all the right places. Decorous.

Our first courses came, and I had the highlight of my meal right there: tête de veau with a roquette salad. Now, this was the first time I have had a tête de veau with a piece of fried brain on top. Genius! The brain was soft and extremely flavorful beneath the crunch of the breading.

Things got a little more concerning with the main course, that said. Everyone had had well-prepared first courses, and as the others' mains came, I saw that they were both artistically displayed and, well, smelled good. We ordered a bottle of 2005 Prieuré d'Arras Saint-Joseph - for red Rhônes, it was either that or a 2005 Colombo Crozes-Hermitage. That was the whole Rhône list. Not to mention that all the red Burgundies were dubious 2004s from places like Santenay by producers I had never heard of...

The Saint-Joseph was varietally correct, but had no real sense of place.

Marc-André's duck breast with celery root blinis looked appealing.

And then... they brought out my main course...

It was billed as a marmite of salmon, dorado, and mussels, which I had seen in my mind's eye with a cream sauce.


Its broth was insipid, the fish hiding under the lashings of seaweedy leeks and spinach overcooked. As is clear from the picture, the only thing that saved me was being passed Arnaud's marrowbone, as he (inexplicably!) doesn't like marrow.

As we finished up the meal with warm thin apple tarts with quickly melting caramel ice cream atop them, paired with a glass of white Gaillac apiece (another run-in with the odious sommelier, who would not serve us the whole bottle, since the sticky wine list was by the glass only. "But there are five of us," Guy said, in vain.), we were well-fed, laughing but of course slightly confused by the sum of the experience.

I was also in something of a marrow coma. Yes, Anne had slipped me her bone marrow, too.

Pretty tasty, though.


peter said...

Omg, what are those red things on the sides of the dish?

Between your horror story and Brad Baker's about tete de fromage, when I make it to Paris, I might bring along my own food!

Bone marrow is a dish? (shivering) As I read your account of the seafood, I couldnt stop gazing at the bone.

Very odd that they wouldnt serve you the bottle!

Sharon said...

They're tomatoes! (Very unappetizing looking ones...)

As far as bone marrow goes - it's usually served alongside an entrecôte or other steak. At this meal, Arnaud was having veal shank, and they gave him a veal marrow bone; Anne was having steak, and she got a beef marrow bone. It is about, oh, 100% fat - like eating a big glob of tasty, salty, soft lard... You should try it some time, seriously...

As for the dessert wine - yes, that was one of the sommelier's many obnoxious moments. Another highlight: the Puligny was in an ice bucket near our table. We'd all pretty much finished our first glass of it. He walked by (the restaurant was by no means busy) and said with a kind of sneer, "I suppose you want me to serve you." !

peter said...

Unreal! I guess it's true what they say about waitstaff in Paris, that nationality doesn't matter, they treat everyone with disdain.

I might be able to eat the marrow if it were fried :)

Nancy Deprez said...

What a great account of your meal! A joy to read!

Sharon said...

Thanks, Nancy!

Sean W. McBride (a.k.a. slaked) said...

That is some of the absolute strangest food I have ever seen in my life, and brings back very painful memories of my first, and last, sweetbreads experience in Paris.

Ciel said...

Good words.