|The lobster with sweetbreads was pricey but
Pros: Pleasant decor and buzz, good service
Cons: Square plates, limited wine list
Believe it or not, when Bertie the Gastrohound and I turned up early at L’Ardoise Gourmande for a fivesome the other evening (I naturally include Bertie, although he disappeared under the banquette for the duration as soon as we were all settled), he was offered a drink before I was. That is symptomatic of the attentive service we received all evening in this nicely turned out (slate-gray walls, black-velvet banquettes, snazzy chandeliers) restaurant across the street from Chez Michel and just round the corner from the Gare du Nord.
“Ardoise” means “slate,” which is now much used as tableware in Paris restaurants. It also refers to the chalkboard touting the day’s menu, and, if you stretch it a little, to the check at the end of the meal. For “gourmande,” read “gourmet,” which is the spot the chef is aiming to hit. Judging by the full house he played to, he’s certainly convinced his audience.
We toasted our get-together with a very pleasant white burgundy from Vézelay, which was better than a lot of mid-range Chablis. A €28 Brouilly was a discreetly pleasant companion to the rest of the meal.
The €22 fixed-price two-course menu is by all accounts extremely good value. We chose some items from the main menu and some from the day’s specials. Nothing disappointed except, perhaps, the desserts. This is traditional French restaurant fare at its very best: unpretentious, four-square, with an obvious desire to fill people with good food. It will be in the guides – it probably is already, since it has been open for almost a year – but it won’t be in the Michelin anytime soon, and it (and we) will be all the better for it, if only for the health of our wallets.
Not that it’s cheap: the complex “duo” of sweetbreads and lobster, which was superb, topped the bill at €30. At the other end of the scale, no pun intended, the fish soup was positively unctuous and had the crustacean bite of a very good base, perhaps because of all those lobster shells going into it. One of my dinner companions got off to a rocky start with the sole meunière because no one had warned her that it had been cooked with its rather bitter roe; the rest of the fish was fine, but uninspired.
The Normandy veal chop was, mercifully, from a very small calf. It was satisfying but lacked the wow factor we experienced with the veal at Passage 53 last week. To my jaded taste, the rice in the langoustine and asparagus risotto was well past al dente. That said, the components were excellent and generously proportioned.
The dessert menu offered a crêpe suzette, but who wants a crêpe suzette that isn’t made at your table and doesn’t silence the restaurant as the Cointreau whooshes? No thanks to kitchen-made CS. Pain perdu (French toast) with chocolate and mint ice cream was unappetizingly flabby and gooey in the center. My flambéed banana was well up to expectations, as were the rich chocolate cake and the crème brûlée dotted with raspberries (raspberries in April?), but I’m starting to think that what we Brits call pudding is a waste of time if it isn’t masterly.
All in all, L’Ardoise Gourmande is a very safe bet and looks set to go from strength to strength. It’s safe haven in a part of town where good places to eat are rare.
L’Ardoise Gourmande: 12, rue de Belzunce, 75010 Paris. Tel : 01 48 78 40 03. Métro: Gare du Nord. Fixed-price menu: €22 (two courses, includes wine or water and coffee) . A la carte: around €45*. Open Monday-Friday lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner.* ardoise-gourmande.com
* three courses, not including wine
© 2009 Paris Update
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