Relying on a rave review from a food-blogger friend, I went to the Michelin-ready restaurant La Condesa (The Countess) in the ninth arrondissement with Paris Update’s former humor columnist David Jaggard and his wife, Nancy Li.
This is a new (six months old) restaurant with an ambitious (and charming) young chef, Indra Carrillo, who obviously wants to do things right. He hired a decorator, Camille Flammarion, to create a pleasing, sedate interior with pale gray-green walls, deep-blue upholstery and wooden tables that match the parquet floor, all reflected in a mirrored wall. This sober, minimalist setting is joyfully set off by the shock of a hallway painted in acid-yellow.
The serious/fun approach also applies to the food. You take what you get here: the chef decides what to serve each day on the various menus: three courses for €38 at lunchtime, four for €62 at dinnertime and six for €78 for either meal. Wine pairings for these three menus are, respectively €20, €30 and €40 extra.
The amuse-bouche was a winner and a good portent of things to come: a sort of flan of parsley root dotted with chicken-liver mousse, parsley-root mousse, balsamic vinegar and a tiny salad of fresh herbs. It was served with a sandwich of house-made crackers and squash-seed mousse filling.
That was followed by a fine piece of salmon and scrumptious organic baby potatoes in a stunning green sauce made with crème fraîche and nettles with a subtle hint of shallots, so good it begged to be sopped up with the delicious bread supplied by restaurateur Thierry Breton.
The main course was poularde (fatted hen) with wonderfully crispy skin, its richness offset by a gastrique (sweet and sour) sauce with Mexican chilis (the chef is from Mexico), served with celeriac prepared three ways: a silky purée, marinated in red wine and port, and as a crumble with no flour or butter (I have no idea how this was accomplished, but it tasted good).
The finale was a sort of chocolate mini-cake with a dollop of ganache in the middle, perfectly complemented by a mandarin-orange sorbet. Wow. And wow again for a little pistachio macaroon that was delivered in a wooden box along with a soft meringue.
Everything was elegant, delicious and perfectly prepared and served. The background jazz music, playing softly on a quality sound system, was pleasant and unobtrusive.
I have no complaints or regrets, except perhaps paying for the wine pairings, which seemed a little overpriced at €20 per person for one-and-a-half glasses. But the wines were all excellent and perfectly chosen for the dishes they accompanied: a Goisot biodynamic white Aligoté from Burgundy; an organic Crozes-Hermitage from Laurent Habrard; and a Pineau des Charentes, a fortified wine usually served as an apéritif, with dessert.
Sadly, we were the only customers there at lunchtime on a Thursday. It made us wonder if the price of lunch wasn’t a bit steep for this neighborhood. Considering what we ate, it was certainly worth the price, but it’s not a good bet for the restaurant if they don’t have enough customers. Let’s hope that changes soon.