Pros: Great food, good wine list
Cons: Noisy, cold interior, space at a premium
I like marble. I do. A lot. It’s supposed to be cooler than the ambient air. Saint Mark’s in Venice is covered in the stuff. Gorgeous. But eating in a cube of it? Brr.
Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his associate Clément Blanchet were responsible for the chilly design of the new restaurant opened by chef Inaki Aizpitarte right next to his acclaimed Chateaubriand. The one wall that isn’t marble is glass, looking out on to the street.
Marble doesn’t exactly absorb the noise of 50 happy lunchers at Le Dauphin either, but since most of them had grown up with earphones jammed in their ears, they were unaware of the racket they were making.
The lunchers were happy, I’m sure, because the food was so good. The fact that we were all eating basically the same thing doesn’t detract from the fact that it was really, really good.
If you lunch with a companion, as I did, you can taste everything on the menu, as we did: a choice of two starters, two main dishes, and cheese or a dessert. We had been attracted by the idea of Aizpitarte’s take on tapas, but (and I’m not complaining) there ain’t no tapas at lunchtime, just the set menu.
One of the starters was a dish of deconstructed shredded carrot mixed with pieces of smoked fish, whose flavor bounced off the sweetness of the carrot, sitting in a tomato-based sauce. The other starter was seared scallops with some perfect vegetables. The touch of cédrat (citron) in the mayonnaise on top was a sophisticated version of the humbler lemon juice usually squeezed on fish. Superb execution.
The crafty thing about the main dishes was that only the protein changed. The menu offered either beef cheek or cod (not sustainably sourced; the Aizpitarte lookalike waiter seemed bemused by the question – why doesn’t Aizpitarte care about the criminal overfishing of cod stocks?). Both were served with the same celeriac purée and red beets. Again, the cooking, execution and presentation could hardly be bettered.
The cheese was a good camembert, served at room temperature, and the sweet dessert was an apple or pear crumble: the fruit had been caramelized to within an inch of its life, so I wasn’t quite sure what fruit we were eating. But that wasn’t going to stop me: again, absolutely no complaints.
Inaki Aizpitarte is not only a good chef, but also a good restaurateur: He knows how to get people through the door and show them a good time. This is no hushed temple to the great French gastronomic tradition, in spite of all that marble (it’s even on the ceiling: I wouldn’t like to be underneath it if one of those slabs broke loose). Le Dauphin is a humming foodie paradise.
Le Dauphin: 131, avenue Parmentier, 75011 Paris. Métro: Goncourt. Tel.: 01 55 28 78 88. Nearest Vélib station: 140, avenue Parmentier. Open Tuesday-Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner only. Fixed-price lunch menu: €27 (three courses). Tapas in the evening: €5-€12 per serving.
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© 2011 Paris Update