I was surprised by how easy it was to get a reservation the very next day at Blue Valentine, supposedly the hottest new restaurant in Paris. In spite of its odd but poetic name, the title of an anguished song by Tom Waits, the ambiance is cheerful and lively in this small place with Fifties furnishings and a colorful Formica bar.
Although we were two, we were seated at a table for four, but we weren’t alone for long. The waiter came over and announced that a “lovely lady named Deborah” would share our table. Deborah turned out to be an American studying French in Paris for a few months, and she was indeed a pleasant, nonintrusive table neighbor. She had been placed with us because the staff had lost her reservation, and it was the only seat available (or maybe because they thought all English-speakers should sit together?).
The two servers, a man and a woman, were friendly but seemed a bit overwhelmed. It took a while to get things started, but once they did, everything went smoothly. Having arrived early, I ordered a glass of white wine – a Languedec called Mémé Jeanne – from the limited (three whites and three reds) wine list, which offers only glasses, half-liters and liters. The waitress warned me that the Mémé Jeanne was “amer” (bitter), but I told her to bring it anyway. Obviously a “natural” wine, it was more the color of rosé than white and was indeed slightly bitter and apple-cidery, but I liked it.
The meal began with an amuse-bouche of a slow-cooked egg (trend alert) with topinambour (Jerusalem artichoke) foam (another trend but one that has been around for quite a while) sprinkled with black-olive powder. Perfectly executed and tasty.
The food menu, too, offers only three choices for each course, at a price of €36 for all three. When my friend ordered the salad with Parmesan shavings, another warning came, this time from the waiter, who discouraged him by telling him that it wasn’t very interesting, so he asked instead for the stewed winter vegetables with Maltaise sauce (hollandaise with blood-orange juice) instead. I started with the cuttlefish salad with beets, adorned with
the cuttlefish ink. Both dishes were attractively presented and made with quality ingredients but were on the bland side, although the sauce did hike up the flavor of the vegetable dish.
The main courses were better. I had the lotte (monkfish), a big, juicy, delicious hunk of it,
served with more winter vegetables and “poudre violette,” which didn’t add much in the flavor department. My friend enjoyed his free-range chicken, “cooked two ways” and served with salsify.
We chose one each of the two desserts on offer (the other option was cheese). I had the chocolate served five ways, which was okay but didn’t leave me in a state of chocolate bliss. My
friend scarfed down his vacherin aux fruits rouges, a half-ball of meringue filled with not-exactly-seasonal raspberries and strawberries and topped with more meringue. For a moment there, I thought he was going to lick the plate.
The lively ambience turned noisier and noisier as the evening wore on, perhaps the fault of the cocktails the restaurant is known for. My dining companion was less than taken with the waiter, whom he found condescending and who at one point shoved my friend’s chair out of his way as if it were his fault that the chairs were placed so close together, making it difficult for the waiter to pass.
As for the food, while we enjoyed the main courses and desserts, and everything was nicely presented and made with good ingredients, I thought there was a palpable lack of excitement in the dishes made by chef Saïto Terumitsu, formerly of the Mandarin Oriental in Paris. As my friend said, the wow factor was missing.Favorite