Why is it that the places closest to home are often the last ones we go to? So it was with Chameleon, which I have been hearing good things about for some time but have managed to avoid until now even though it is practically around the corner from me.
Our first impression was a good one. The big space, decorated in red and white with wooden tables and a few bookshelves and pictures one the walls, has a pleasantly casual, laid-back atmosphere, with jazz playing discreetly in the background. The eager-to-please young woman waiting on us was all smiles.
Things started to go sour, however, when my friend Mary pointed out that the glass in which my red wine had just been served was dirty. Unable to catch the eye of the other server, I took it up to the counter and asked him to change the glass. He did, grudgingly, but pointed out that it was the same glass I had had white wine in. He had taken the trouble to come over and take away the white wine glass, carry it across dining room to the bar and then, instead of giving me a fresh glass, used the one with my lipstick on it. As we say in Paris, “Ça ne se fait pas” (“It’s just not done”).
Our starters were fine, if not the height of gourmet-dom. I had tête de veau (calf’s head), the kind of dish many people (including me) avoid because of its gelatinous texture and unpleasant association with the sight of rows of staring baby bovine heads in butcher’s shops. The server assured me that in this case I would “never know that it was calf’s head.” She was right. What I had resembled in no way the tasty but hard to swallow tête de veau, homemade by a
grandma, that I once ate out of politeness while helping out with a family grape harvest in the Loire Valley. The restaurant’s dish was breaded and fried to disguise the ingredients, which were spicy and not at all gelatinous.
Mary had the barigoule, a kind of stew of
braised artichokes and other vegetables in a white wine sauce. For her main course, she had maigre (meager), a fish I had encountered with
some other friends recently at Dilia, where the preparation was considered divine by my friends. Mary found it rather insipid, but she loved the baby fennel that came with it, just crunchy enough and nicely seasoned.
My main dish was pork shoulder, which was
tasty but a tiny bit on the dry side. The potatoes that came with it, served in meat jus, were delicious.
Things went downhill once we finished the main course. We sat talking for a long time in front of our dirty plates. Finally the young man came over, not to clear our table and give us the dessert menu, but to clear the table that had just been vacated next to us, which no one was waiting for. He finally brought the dessert menu after I asked for it, but still left the dirty plates in front of us (we eventually put them on the empty table ourselves). We regretted that the smiley young woman was no longer taking care of us.
After another long wait, we decided to give up on dessert and went up to the counter to pay, figuring that as the forgotten customers, we wouldn’t be getting the check anytime soon. The young man acted surprised. “What, no dessert?” he asked. “We got tired of waiting and waiting,” I said. He was unconcerned and offered no apology or explanation as he handed us the rather hefty bill.
We found refuge down the street at the bar/restaurant of the Hôtel Providence, where the friendly staff was happy to serve us dessert – rapidly!
As you can imagine, I am not eager to go back to Chameleon. Too bad, it could have been my neighborhood canteen.Favorite