The 19th-century Pavillon du Lac in Paris’s Parc des Buttes Chaumont.
When it’s 34 degrees C (93 degrees F) in Paris at 7pm and you’re going out to dinner, you have one priority: find a restaurant with a leafy terrace. One would hope that the food is
decent and the prices are fairly reasonable, but, to a certain extent, you are willing to sacrifice your standards in exchange for that holy grail.
After a good deal of research, I settled on Le Pavillon du Lac in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. The location and prices were right, and the reviews seemed to indicate that the food was pretty good. Perfect! Well, almost.
Set in a pretty 19th-century pavilion with terraces on either side and in front, it certainly has the required leafy setting. The air seemed 10 degrees cooler than in the baking city streets.
I got off to a bad start with our youthful waitress, who wouldn’t let us have the table we asked for and then replied snippily to everything we requested. When she heard us speaking English, however, she suddenly became sweet and charming for some reason. The other servers seemed to be naturally so.
The restaurant has some pretensions to offering fine dining, but the results were
mixed. It was a nice touch, for example, to bring every table an amuse-bouche, but the little round of eggplant with some kind of paste on top was oily and flavorless.
For the first course, my friend ordered the “Label Rouge” marinated salmon with teriyaki
sauce. The fish had a strangely dense texture and didn’t taste super-fresh. It was all right, but he was far more interested in my raw-milk burrata with Andes horn tomatoes, which
actually had some flavor. It was such a large serving that I was happy to share it with him.
For the main course, I ordered langoustines with ginger and coriander, which seemed like a nice, light choice on such a hot evening. That turned out to be a mistake. The skinny legs and
claws were served in a big mess with the green sauce sticking to them here and there. The flesh was overcooked and unappetizingly mushy. On the side was a bowl of pasta, not overcooked as it usually is in French restaurants, but with no sauce. I can make a bowl of plain pasta at home and am really not interested in eating it in a restaurant, where the chef should have a bit more to say for him- or herself.
Also in the interests of lightness, Nick ordered a big salad: mesclun with chorizo and lomo
iberique (Iberian acorn-fed pork). It was fine, but lacking in the slightest touch of creativity.
He had some good goat cheese and a rather ordinary Cantal for dessert, while I tried the
“twist,” short-crust pastry topped with salted caramel and raspberries, which was quite tasty. (I noticed around then that everyone seemed to be ordering the two dishes we had enjoyed the most, the burrata and the “twist.” They must have been regulars who knew what was good.)
I give the Pavillon points for trying hard to offer a good dining experience in a pleasant setting, but it falls down in too many ways that are signs of a lack of rigor in its management and in the kitchen. Our table had been set with napkins and cutlery without being wiped down first, as attested by a number of rings on it. Glasses of white and rosé wine were delivered warm. There were no pepper mills, just grubby salt-and-pepper shakers with ordinary table salt and pre-ground pepper. A bottle of rosé was served in an ice bucket but with no towel to catch the drips when it was served. The food needs attention, too.
Still, if the temperature hits 34 degrees C again, you might just find me back there again, if not in one of the other pavillon-restaurants in the park.
Note: Like many Paris restaurants with terraces, Le Pavillon du Lac does not take reservations for outdoor tables, so get there early.