Eating Down Below
|Al least the basement is brightened with colorful murals.|
The French trade newspaper L’Hôtellerie Restauration, which advertises such well-known and admired produits du terroir as vacuum-cooked, ready-to-serve poached eggs, ready-made steak tartare preparation, and deep-frozen tutti quanti, recently ran an article instructing restaurateurs on how to answer the telephone. Among other nuggets of insider wisdom, it suggested not snapping at callers and noting people’s names when taking reservations. The chap taking reservations at Le Pré Verre was clearly the sort of person this sterling advice was written for, but it was also clear that he had not read it, or if he had, he had not taken it. I shall say no more.
I did not turn tail when I turned up to claim my booking, which I might have done under other circumstances, being left stranded in the doorway with no one to meet and greet me as all the staff seemed to be running in a number of conflicting directions. Nor even when I was offered one of the few tables for two either wedged between a pillar and the stairs in the basement dining room or next to the scullery where the busy-busy waitress stacked the crockery, next to the loudspeakers playing loud guitar blues.
And I’m glad I didn’t, because the food at le Pré Verre is inventive and unpretentious, fusing East and West in interesting combinations that while not in the highest spheres of the chef’s art, help one to pass a pleasant evening out at reasonable cost.
My companion’s oysters marinated with ginger were original and tasty, although I thought that the bivalve would have been better complemented by the mindblowing mix of spring onion and ginger that used to be served with crispy chicken at the Pacific, one of my old Chinese haunts in Belleville – or perhaps I was just missing the traditional pairing of oysters with chopped shallots in vinegar. My own starter was a satisfying, soupy plate of nicely grilled scallops with lemongrass on puréed dried peas. Odd-sounding, but it worked well.
For the main course, my companion had a daurade royale, risotto de riz rouge et girolles – gilthead bream with a risotto of Camargue red rice and chanterelle mushrooms. An Italian purist might take issue with calling anything not made with Arborio, Baldo or Carnaroli rice a risotto, and gourmets might object to its being slightly mushy in the plate, but the well-cooked bream and tasty chanterelles made up for this slight failing.
The bite-sized bits of partridge in my pastilla de perdreau à l’oriental came on a bed of eggplant. The phyllo pastry that normally encloses the pastilla like a purse was here minimized almost into nonexistence: the dish was all about the tender partridge and its discreet coating of sauce. Throwing manners to the wind, I ate the tiny legs with my fingers – an unintended benefit of being tucked away in the basement, mostly out of sight.
A truffade au chocolat, mélasse glacée (rich chocolate truffle cake with a molasses ice cream) and a banane rôtie au piment d’espelette, mousse de fruits exotiques (roast banana with espelette pepper from the French Basque country, and a fruit mousse) then followed. I may have been too far gone by this point, but I didn’t notice the espelette, and the mousse was not memorable, but the application of heat brings out the best in bananas and this one made a fine conclusion to the meal. The truffade was pronounced satisfyingly rich and chocolatey.
Le Pré Verre is busy and doesn’t need your custom. The food is not bad at all, but the once-winning formula of the owners, the brothers Delacourcelle, now feels a little jaded, a little je m’en foutiste (“frankly, I don’t give a damn”). Book at least a couple of days in advance if eating in the basement is not your idea of a fun outing.
Le Pré Verre: 8, rue Thénard, 75005 Paris. Métro: Maubert Mutualité. Tel.: 01 43 54 59 47. Closed Sunday and Monday. Fixed-price dinner menu: €30.50. Nearest Vélib stations: 20, rue du Sommerard and 9, rue Dante. www.lepreverre.com
© 2007 Paris Update
Click here to respond to this article (your response may be published on this page and is subject to editing).