Okay, let’s get it out of the way immediately. Most Americans are familiar with the Yiddish meaning of “schmuck,” but in German, it means “jewelry” or “decoration,” so no need to giggle or gasp when you hear that I went to a Left Bank restaurant called Le Schmuck for dinner the other night.
I went there because I wanted something a little different from the “bistronomic” restaurants I eat at so often. While I love them for the quality of ingredients, the care they put into their preparations and the friendly attention they give to their customers, they do tend to copy each other’s menus and decors and begin to seem a bit samey after a while. I knew that Le Schmuck had a posher, more Saint-Germain-des-Prés-style interior, and I had read some rave reviews of the food, so it seemed like just the thing for a change of pace.
My friend Connie and I were suitably pleased with the charmingly quirky decor of the high-ceilinged dining room when we arrived, with its plush seating, mismatched antiques, crystal and wrought-iron chandeliers, faux 18th-century wallpaper with cameos and flora and fauna, elaborate mirrors, tapestries, heavy draperies and so on. Connie saw it as a sort of invitation to an aristocratic fête champêtre.
The festive ambiance quickly soured, however. The pretty but less than personable waitress came over to take our order only a couple of minutes after we sat down, even before we had opened the menus. When we said we weren’t ready (obviously), she went away but came back just a few minutes later and had to be sent away again.
After we did order, our first courses came within minutes, even before our glasses of wine, which could mean one of two things: 1) they have incredibly speedy service at Schmuck or, 2) the starters had been sitting around in the kitchen pre-prepared. While my generous helping of green and white asparagus was
cooked just right and served warm, there was something strange about the way it looked and tasted that told me it had been pre-cooked and just warmed up in the microwave. The hollandaise sauce on the side was all right but didn’t taste fresh and could have used more lemon. Connie had the crab millefeuille on a
base of gazpacho. The crab was fine, but the “feuilles” turned out to be extremely sweet almond tuiles (very fine cookies) that overwhelmed the flavor of the delicate crab (which contained, for good measure, some of the crab shell).
The main courses also came in generous servings. I had a big veal chop, lots of little
roasted potatoes, mushrooms “in season” (they weren’t), and some type of mini-cabbages. The grenailles potatoes (the only thing advertised, in capital letters, on the menu as organic—what’s the point?) were the best thing on the plate. The rest was dry and fairly tasteless, with the exception of the mushrooms, which were mushy and tasteless (the waiter had said they were morels, but they were really chanterelles). Connie enjoyed her bass with another
millefeuille, this time of zucchini and tomatoes, which she described as a “deconstructed ratatouille.”
The desserts did not redeem either the food or the service. By the time the waitress brought my pain perdu, the ice cream it came with was almost entirely melted. It still tasted delicious—at first; after a few bites I found it sickeningly sweet and couldn’t finish it. Connie’s salad of mandarin oranges with orange blossom water and cinnamon was, once again, fine, but less than exciting. All this at prices that demand perfection, or close to it.
By the end of the evening, I felt like a bit of a schmuck (Yiddish meaning) for going to Le Schmuck and was longing for one of those little bistros with high-quality ingredients and super-friendly servers. I hope they’ll take me back after my disloyal foray into this trendy and not totally horrible but decidedly not gourmet eatery. If you go, just have a drink to enjoy the setting, but then have dinner across the street at Yves Camdeborde’s Le Comptoir or L’Avant Comptoir, where you can count on quality food.Favorite