I have a sad tale to tell today. Last night I went to a restaurant called Coude à Coude near the Forum des Halles. The first time I went there a couple of years ago, our table was the only English-speaking one in the restaurant. The rather gruff waiters served us simple bistro food with the emphasis on beef and offal. It was simple and delicious, and we felt we’d had a surprisingly authentic Parisian experience in the city’s former butcher’s quarter, where a few other meat-heavy restaurants like Le Louchebem still survive.
When a friend told me that her father was in town and that he loved offal, we made a reservation at Coude à Coude. Although the place looks exactly the same as it did the first time I went there — a wooden bar, arch-shaped mirrors and red-checked tablecloths — I immediately knew that something was wrong when I walked in and heard English being spoken at nearly every table. My suspicions were confirmed when I was handed a laminated menu that listed, among other dishes (none of them offal), a variety of — quelle horreur! — dinner salads. In the Coude à Coude of yore, the menu was on a blackboard, and anyone who asked for a salad probably would have been shown the door. In another innovation, English translations are now provided on the menu: “frites salade,” for example, becomes “fried salad.”
It took quite a while to place our order, since the place was manned by only one waiter, a rather sweet white-haired man who cheerfully accommodated all the requests of the one fussy eater at our table. We shared two starters among the four of us. One was a generous serving of foie gras, icy-cold from the fridge and certainly not made in-house, served with toast made from inferior white bread and a peremptory salad of lettuce and a couple of tomato wedges. The other was a big lump of tasty rillettes with the same salad and a couple of cornichons.
The big disappointment, however, came with the main courses. Gaby, a connoisseur of meat, ordered the côtes de boeuf, which was cooked to perfect rareness as requested, but had a strange flavor. She pronounced it over-aged. I had the escalope normande, which was not bad but was served with limp, greasy French fries. Chloé’s sole — not the freshest-tasting fish that ever came out of the sea — was miraculously served with steamed potatoes after she had been informed by the waiter that the kitchen had run out of them. Apparently they had been recycled from a plate of uneaten potatoes she had seen going back into the kitchen. Her father’s cassoulet was acceptable.
For form’s sake, we ordered a couple of desserts. The mousse au chocolat was ordinary and topped with a squirt of factory-whipped cream. One of the best dishes of the meal turned out to be — of all things — a lime sorbet.
I wasn’t expecting gourmet food, but I was expecting good food, and especially good meat. How sad that Coude à Coude, which indeed has new owners, has become just another restaurant for tourists looking for an authentic Parisian bistro experience and not realizing that they aren’t getting it.Favorite