The Rotonde de la Villette, one of Paris′s architectural bijoux, has finally been renovated after sitting sad and forlorn and unused for years. The lovely round Neoclassical tollhouse designed by Claude Nicolas Ledoux just before the French Revolution has been beautifully transformed into a restaurant, a much-needed one, I might add, for those of us who like to dine well after seeing a film at the nearby MK2 Quai de Seine and Quai de Loire cinemas on the Canal de l’Ourcq.
The building looks gorgeous as you approach it across the esplanade, with its arches and portico illuminated with changing colored lights. It looks gorgeous when you enter and glance up at the spoked wheel of a window topping the windowed three-story rotunda. And it looks gorgeous while you are eating and watching the light change color in the arches around you. The designer went all out on the details; even the restrooms, reached via a spooky curving stone corridor in the basement, are handsomely fitted out, with wooden doors, piped-in music and framed prints on the walls. In the dining room, the lounge-style music was played on a quality system at a low-enough volume so that it wasn’t obtrusive. We had no problems hearing each other in the spacious dining room, especially since only about a quarter of the tables were occupied.
With such a fabulous setting, is it fair to expect great food and service as well? Yes! The good news is that the restaurant almost – but not quite – lives up to its potential. The service, provided by a number of young people, was pleasant but slightly lacking in professionalism. The waitress, for example, had obviously told the kitchen to fire up our main courses too soon; she kept walking by and asking if she could take away the dishes from our starters before we were ready and finally did whisk my friend Bill′s away before he was quite finished.
And the food? The promise is there: the menu was designed by Gilles Choukroun of MBC , the inventor of the delicious and much-copied crème brûlée de foie gras, the dish poor Bill
Gilles Choukroun′s signature dish: crème brûlée de foie gras.
did not get to finish. That was a winner, with its contrasting creamy foie gras, sweet brittle crust and crunchy topping of chopped peanuts, but my first course, poêlon d′œufs cocotte, crème de cresson et pleurotes (poached eggs with watercress cream and wild mushrooms), while not bad, was slightly disappointing. The green sauce was a nice counterpoint to the egg (only one, not the promised plural) and was rather watery. The whole thing had stayed a bit too long under the grill, overcooking the egg white to a rubbery state.
The chef was redeemed by the main courses. Bill′s scallops were perfectly cooked and served with a creamy, citrusy sauce and crushed potatoes. He enjoyed it, and I loved my veal flank steak, seared on the outside and tender on the inside, where it was rosy pink, just as I had requested, but the ricotta-stuffed ravioli that came with it were cold and bland. The purée of mango alongside the meat was a nice touch, however.
Onward to dessert: Bill opted for the macaroon
The apple macaroon.
with cooked apples and apple/Calvados ice cream, while I had the rich, creamy, chocolatey gianduja (chocolate and hazelnut) tart. They were both delicious, though we had to grab knives from a neighboring table to cut through the otherwise unbreakable macaroon and pastry.
The meal was accompanied by a very nice bottle of Les 3 Garçons Côte du Rhône, at only €20.
By this time, the waitress had forgotten about us. She never asked if we wanted coffee (we didn′t, but it would have been nice of her to ask). We left feeling that something was missing. It′s a shame, because the place is so close to being really great and has so many advantages – besides the wonderful setting, it is open seven days a week.
I′ll go back anyway the next time I see a film at the MK2, but I might opt instead for the bar area, where sandwiches and tapas are available at any time.