The terrace would be perfect if it weren’t for the music and the lighting.Last week’s foray into the Parc des Buttes Chaumont for dinner at the Pavillon du Lac was less than a success cuisine-wise, but we enjoyed eating in the park on a hot evening so much that we decided to take another stab at it, this time at Vincent Cozzoli’s restaurant in the Pavillon Puebla, which a friend had recommended.
We arrived early (8pm) and were warmly greeted with a handshake by Cozzoli himself. When I told him that I had eaten long ago at his former restaurant in the neighborhood (he moved to the park eight years ago), the warmth only multiplied.
Our emotion turned to dismay, however, when we saw the prices on the menu. A house salad: €18; spaghetti alle vongole (clams): €25. There were three fixed-price menus, at €35, €40 and €50, but they didn’t appeal to us. To cut costs, we decided to share a fry-up of fresh sardines as antipasti, then go halvsies on the spaghetti alle vongole and scaloppine alla bolognese.
The first course turned out to be more of a fried-sardine salad with some fried calamari
thrown in for good measure. It was fine, but I can’t say I found it very exciting. The spaghetti came with nice fat clams and was very garlicky,
but the garlic tasted slightly burnt. The scaloppine was comfortingly cheesy and tasty,
and there was a fine tomato sauce on the accompanying fusilli. The best part of the meal in my book, however, was the free amuse-bouche: four delicious mini-pizzas (there are
no pizzas on the menu).
The waiter informed us that there were only two desserts available: tiramisu and ice cream. We ordered one tiramisu, which came with a
couple of scoops of ice cream, kitschily plopped on top of blobs of whipped cream. Both met with our approval, especially the tiramisu, which was not too sweet and drenched in alcohol.
A word about the original Chez Vincent: 15 years ago it was considered one of the best italian restaurants in Paris (along with Da Mimmo, which I returned to recently and found to be mediocre and overpriced), but in those days there was precious little to choose from. Now we have other good Italian restaurants like Procopio Angelo, where we can get fresh, authentic, creative Italian cooking, so it would behoove the elders to stay in tune with the times.
That said, we did find a certain charm in the restaurant’s old-fashioned qualities. What could be more comforting than veal scaloppine and spaghetti? If the prices had been more reasonable and if we hadn’t been subjected to classical music played on tinny speakers (why not let us nature-starved urbanites listen to the park’s birdsong?) and to bright spotlights glaring in my eyes once darkness fell, we would have reveled in it and in the wonderful, secluded terrace.
If we had eaten as real Italians do – antipasti, pasta, meat or fish, salad – the bill would have run to at least €100 per person. We thought it was a miracle when our check came to only €100 for both of us. In fact, it was because the waiter (or owner) had been amazingly generous with us. Not only did the waiter insist on giving us two free glasses of limoncello at the end of the meal, but I realized later that he hadn’t charged us for the aperitif either. Perhaps Vincent has a policy of compensating for the high prices with special generosity?