Le Square Gardette is the kind of restaurant where you feel right at home – your grandparents’ home, perhaps, but a home – amid its witty and charming flea-market decor, which suggests a lifetime of accumulation of beloved objects. Mismatched lamps with old-fashioned shades provide pools of golden light in the gloom, assisted by candles on the tables. Bookshelves curve around the corner of one room, and cleverly placed objects and artworks of all kinds provide plenty to attract and entertain the eye: a stuffed fox, a (tasteful) painting of a nude woman, an antique clock, little crystal chandeliers, mirrors in various shapes and sizes, and so on. The accumulation even continues in the roomy bathroom, where the toilet and sink look totally out of place among the books, antique radio, stuffed animals, dolls, old sports equipment, etc. It looks like a place where you could comfortably hang out if it weren’t for the sanitary facilities.
There was nothing antique about the youngish group of attractive servers, however. They offered a friendly greeting, but the implied warmth of the nice welcome and cozy setting was belied by the actual chill in air of the spacious restaurant on the frigid night I went there with two girlfriends last week. My friends were freezing: Mary had to put a coat around her shoulders, as did the man at the table next to us. And the efficient air of the bustling servers was belied by the inordinate amount of time they took to take our order and serve us the first two courses. Dessert came quickly, however – we had been there so long that the restaurant had emptied out by then.
The food was as mixed as the decoration. We all chose the €36 fixed-price menu over the tempting but rather pricey à la carte offerings (e.g., €38 for sweetbreads in Cognac). Only three choices were offered for each course. Terry’s carpaccio of sea bream was rather strangely paired with shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano (fish with cheese? a major no-no in Italy). That combination didn’t bother her, however, and she enjoyed the touch of vanilla on the perfectly fresh raw fish, but found the dish to be rather bland overall. My starter was another strange combination: tiny poultry wings in barbecue sauce on a bed of risotto. The risotto was nice and creamy (no sign of the mushrooms promised on the menu), but the rice didn’t have the requisite bite to it, and, while the little wings were tasty, the combination of the two was just plain weird. Mary had the winner: a rich lentil soup with crispy bits of pancetta, but it arrived tepid and had to be sent back to be heated up.
Terry and Mary lucked out on their main courses, the former with a nice, firm piece of cod with crispy, flavorful skin, served with finely sliced carrots and bits of cured ham in a buttery, lightly creamy foam with a hint of garlic, and the latter with a rich, fatty pork belly served pot au feu-style in a bouillon with toothsome, full-flavored root vegetables. They were both delighted (and very pleased to finally fill their own bellies after the long, long wait). I was not displeased with my entrecôte, which came with tiny, round grenaille potatoes (our neighbor explained that grenaille means lead shot, as in ammunition), but neither was I jumping up and down with excitement. Both were fine, but the only flourish was the watercress accompaniment, deliciously soaked in the meat juices. I had to ask for salt to liven up the unadorned lead-shot potatoes. Our wine, a 2010 Côte de Py Morgon from Dominique Piron (€29), was excellent.
Desserts were satisfying all around. I finished the meal as I had started it: with rice, this time in the form of a creamy but light riz au lait (rice pudding), which Terry pronounced one of the best she had tasted. It came with a superfluous orange-caramel sauce on the side. Mary loved her deconstructed Mont Blanc: chestnut cream with a touch of rum, crunchy meringue and a couple of squirts of perfect whipped cream. The big hit, though, was Terry’s poached pear in a buttery (this chef certainly likes his butter and cream) honey sauce and gingerbread ice cream.
At the end of the meal, the servers were full of attention for us, winning us over as they chatted away about the food and wished us foreigners “a nice stay” in Paris. The chill that had set in was dispelled, warming us up again before we went back out into the arctic Paris night.Favorite