Enjoy the Serge while you read…

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Last nights in Paris are tough. There is something about the city’s energy, its history, its sights and smells that make it impossible to leave. To soften the blow, last nights in Paris are overtaken by the consumption of delicious and innovative French Food. Last year was Le Verre Volé, a restaurant in a wine store serving up gentrified provincial cuisine–for this occasion Sanaë and I finished a bottle of Vouvray together. This year it was Paris’ newest “bobo” bistro in the 10th Arrondissement, Inaki Aizpitarte’s Le Chateaubriand, a chef and his restaurant stacked with all the hype the world can offer. Maybe by oblivion or sheer naivete, I was unaware that Le Chateaubriand, was just ranked #15 in the WORLD on San Pelligrino’s list of top 50. Without preconceived notions of perfection, Le Chateaubriand’s 60€, mercurial prix fixe exceeded our expectations and awoke the magic that emanates from Paris’ cobblestone streets on last nights.
Yes, we were exhausted from a day of travel from the South; yes, it was a bit too hot inside despite the cool air outside; yes the wine arrived a bit too late, and yes the clientele was a bit over the top. But these were only blips in a two hour, 5 course meal filled with warm service, chilled watermelon soup and mint ice cream, funky whites and juicy reds, and proteins from the land and the sea.

Le Chateaubriand looks out onto Avenue Parmentier from open windows paned with slightly rusted steel. The restaurant is decorated with chalkboards, typical of French restaurants–one for wines by the glass, one for liquors and another for ingredient sources. The tables, made of dark brown wood are the on the smaller side; the lights give off a yellow glow and are not dimmed. One server presents you with the wine menu and the other runs through the daily changing prix fixe menu. The menu, constructed by executive chef Inaki Aizpitarte, is born out of the Basque country like himself, bounded by French tendons though never constricted. When describing the corn dish the ambiguously french/spanish head waiter explained that the team had vacationed in Brasil bringing with them local grains and heirloom corns. The style of service is laid back but apparent. If brooklyn has a grade school education in hospitality and service, and manhattan elites have a doctorate, Le Chateaubriand falls in between, graduating college with honors.
While for some, the restaurant itself may leave something to be desired, for me the casual environment was spot on. And, serving Chef Aizpitarte’s food certainly helps their cause. Serve me his food on the streets of Paris, and I’d be happy. The meal started with a funky glass of white wine from the region we had just vacationed, the Languedoc, and a glass of crisp, yet rounded Chardonnay from one of the world’s most renowned wine growing region, Bourgogne. What accompanied those glasses was a most extensive and intricate selection of Amuses Bouche (complimentary small courses to get the pallet ready.) There was a watermelon soup with smoked eel, tiny langoustine dusted with tempura and pan fried, bite size cheese puffs and a raw scallop covered with a garden of microgreens and herbs. It was quite a beautiful, tasty and thoughtful spread of small dishes to get our minds, mouths, and stomachs ready for the 3 main courses.

The first and arguably the best course was a perfectly cooked piece of Atlantic tuna, Thon de L’ile d’Yeu (an island off the coast of Brittany,) paired with a smoked, fluffy potato salad, pickled spring onions and homemade potato chips to provide a crunch. Our wine server paired the dish with a glass of juicy wine from Bordeaux, the tannin and up front fruit component of this wine carried me through the rest of the meal. The second course was notable for its beautiful presentation; white fish–Brill, or Barbue in French–next to a salad of corn and Brazilian grains. The husks of the corn were elegantly laid on top although they needed to be brushed aside to fully enjoy the dish. The salad was crunchy, and the corn was an excellent compliment to the lemony, salty fish by its side.
Finally, the third course finished the evening off with meat; a small succulent portion of veal tenderloin, pink in the center moving towards shades of brown around the edges. It was paired artistically with French bitter greens and sweet spinach. Beneath the meat was a spoonful of spinach puree dragged across the bottom of the plate like a brush stroke. While there were a couple of small misses here or there, the three courses were balanced, thoughtful and technically excellent. The timing and sizes of the plates kept you on your heels, increasingly satiated and intrigued.

The most experimental course of all was the final one: dessert. Sometimes, I think exceptional new chefs go a bit to far with dessert, and this was no exception. I like my last course simple and sweet, but not too sweet. For dessert, Chef Iniapatki provided us with a scoop of ice cream made from three different types of mint, accompanied by baby white mushrooms. The second dessert was a raw egg yolk, with a slightly hardened exterior, nested on top of a sweet pastry. We were told to put the pastry in our mouth whole, and as was expected, the yolk exploded as we bit down. I would equate the experience to that of riding a massive roller coaster; as you slowly get pulled up to the initial drop, you can never be exactly prepared for the decline, and when it hits, it’s as disorienting as ever.
Avec l’addition, we were given small strawberries mixed with rose flower seeds and tiny candies—a nice final touch. As we left Le Chateaubriand, the cool Parisian air aided in digestion. A walk two metro stops down the line capped another last night and last meal in Paris, and the realization that a jetlagged week of work was hours around the bend.


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