February 8, 2010By Richard HesseArchive

Inspired Kitchen, Wonky Service

Inventive chef Gilles Choukroun gets the food right.

Dining with a friend the other evening at Louis Vins, I was forcibly reminded how hit-and-miss table service can be. The otherwise delightful young lady serving us managed to hit me three times during the meal, leaving a large smear of someone else’s purée on the back of my jacket. She also missed the glass as she sloshed out the wine for me to taste, making no apology and leaving me to clean up the mess with one of the pretty napkins.

The breezy quality of service is one of the first things you notice at Angl’Opéra, too. We had asked for the non-smoking section but were shown to a table in the smoking area. The waiter explained that it was a more pleasant location than the non-smoking table near the door and gave us the choice. We stayed put and in fact weren’t incommoded by anyone’s cigarette smoke all evening, as the restaurant was very quiet that night.

The decor at Angl’Opéra is fairly restrained, with lots of brown and orange (sooo Seventies). But paper tablecloths and napkins? Mind you, the stippled aluminum surface of the tables needs to be hidden by something.

Waiters hate a near-empty dining room as much as nature abhors a vacuum, which is possibly why several of the sharp-suited chaps came by to take our order after we’d already given it. And then offered to take our wine order several times as well, leaving us with the impression that left and right hands hands weren’t communicating.

The amuse-bouche was a toned-down version of a North African carrot dip, served with small rounds of toast that had been standing around long enough to have lost all crunch factor. That’s not something you would expect from a place that comes with high credentials. But it didn’t detract too much from the pleasure of sipping a cool glass of Torrontes, a sweetish Argentinian white (its promotional Web site says it is “the most distinctive stump of the Argentine wines, including white and red, since Argentina is the only place that produces it…a cepage absolutely Argentine”; there’s more in this vein if you care to Google the site).

The menu is short (chef Gilles Choukroun tells us on his own sophisticated Web site that his pet peeve is long menus) and fey. The limited number of dishes may explain the Olympic Gold pace at which they were served.

My companion went for the foie gras crème brûlée starter with peanuts and radish shoots, which to both our minds was a winner. It looks exactly like the dessert version, and even when you put your spoon into it, it looks and feels the same. But then it makes the taste buds do a double-take: in the mouth it’s unmistakably foie gras, admirably served by the scorched brown-sugar topping.

I chose the pastilla, another North African standard, revisited with coriander, risotto (misspelled on the menu, like several other items) confit lemon and crab meat. It was a satisfying, clean-tasting concoction, with little rounds of very, very thin brik pastry topping the perfect lemony risotto, with the shredded crab meat in between.

For my main course, I ordered the intriguing rôti,” which promised artichoke, licorice powder, raw tuna and fillet of pork. But it was not to be: the dish that arrived, and which I was too big-hearted to send back (I’m my own worst enemy) was the “braisée,” a large hunk of roast breast of veal, temptingly golden on top, that had spent a long time cooking slowly. It comes with cubed, spicy chorizo sausage, a fine gravy and, in its own dish on the side, an amazingly airy chantilly of chickpeas that was as addictive as a Dan Brown novel, but, even in this feathery incarnation, considerably more substantial.

For form’s sake, I tried some of my companion’s “snackées”: seared scallops and slices of homemade blood pudding with cocoa powder. It looked and tasted infinitely better than it reads on the page. Very little more than a snack, in fact, but one that left the taste buds chirping contentedly.

Did we have space for dessert? We did. I went for the cheese offered: bouchées de bleu d’Auvergne – dried figs stuffed with creamy blue cheese with a hint of verbena – a cheeky rip-off of the traditional stuffed date with marzipan. Make it at home with little effort and knock the socks off your guests. My companion had “tartapla”: a pineapple tart served with lemon, saffron and milk ice cream, which she put away with great satisfaction.

Choukroun is an inventive chef, a founding member of the “Génération C” group of young Turks, who are helping France to catch up with the leading-edge gastronomic trends elsewhere in the world. Although only in his 30s, he is already on his fourth restaurant. At Angl’Opéra, he’s got the food right, but his staff hardly put a foot right all evening. Their saving grace was the digestif we had in the bar – after they had all gone home. It was on the house: my reward for being bighearted about the mistake in my order.

Angl’Opéra: 39, avenue de l’Opéra, 75002 Paris. Métro: Opéra. Tel: 01 42 61 86 25. Open noon-11 p.m. Closed Saturday and Sunday. A la carte: around €50 (not including wine).

Richard Hesse

© 2007 Paris Update

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