I often wonder how gastronomy guides keep up. Not the Michelin, of course, with its army of inspectors. Nor Zagat, which is fed by hordes of hungry foodies. I would even venture that a great many of my own reviews are out of date, so from time to time, it’s worth going back to have another look and see how they are doing.
Les Côtelettes has become something of a canteen for my girlfriend and me. So much so that last time I went I got my ear chewed off by Gérard, the delightful waiter with the gorgeous shirts, for neglecting them for three months.
I can report that it is as good as ever: the €16 two-course lunch is pretty unbeatable value for money, and it’s still a great place to eat in the evening. The vegetables follow the seasonal round, and are always market-, if not garden-, fresh. The meat and fish are generously portioned and superbly cooked. It’s French bistro food and atmosphere at its comforting and friendly best.
I lunched with a couple of my clients recently at La Régalade, the one on the outer limits of my known universe, which chef Bruno Doucet left in a new and equally capable pair of hands when he removed himself to La Régalade St. Honoré, in a more central location, last year.
The food was tremendous, as usual. We were wary of eating too much of the pâté that stands in for an amuse bouche and went on to a fresh and zingy beetroot salad, in my case, while both of my guests went for the triple oysters with parmesan and a basil sauce. They loved them, but struggled to deal with them with an ordinary knife and fork, as the mollusk had not been separated from its shell.
The cod on creamy potatoes went down a treat, and the pork belly with lentils wowed the other two. Everybody happy so far. Well, mostly happy. It was the usual thing: quality of service. Or rather the lack of it.
The Maître d’ just stared me in the face when I arrived, with not so much as a bonjour, and only opened her mouth once I had established that I had a genuine reservation.
During the rest of the meal, she recited the menu mechanically to us and the other lunchers, staring at a point across the other side of the street, a perfect picture of enraged boredom. And then there were the interminable waits between dishes, which, when they came, were served by any of the three staff who were working the shift: that confusion of roles would, I think, largely explain their dismal performance.
One of my guests had to leave before his dessert had been served, so I got to taste all three, which were, again, magnificent: traditional rice pudding with caramel, a poached pear with chocolate ice cream and an orange cream pastry.
On the other side of town, at Wen Zhou, you get service with a smile and no hanging about. I tried this hole-in-the-wall on the Rue de Belleville after shopping on the market on Boulevard de Belleville last Saturday, paying €27 for four generous dishes and two beers, which must be a record. And we were delighted with the food: lovely greens, and meatballs that were lighter and tastier than any we had ever sampled. Not to mention the freshly-made fried ravioli, deemed the best she had ever eaten by my companion, who cut her teeth in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Now there’s a recommendation! But be warned, it’s hugger-mugger, wham-bang, no-money-spent-on-decor, and you don’t want to go near the restrooms. But quite an experience.
Next week, we’ll be trying pastures new.
Les Côtelettes: 4, impasse Guéménée, 75004 Paris. Tel.: 01 42 72 08 45. Métro: Saint Paul or Bastille. Nearest Vélib’ stations: 11, rue de la Bastille, 105-109 Terre Plein Saint Paul. Open Tuesday-Friday for lunch and dinner; Saturday for dinner only. A la carte: around €35. Fixed-price lunch menu (two dishes): €16. www.lescotelettes.com
La Régalade: 49, avenue Jean Moulin, 75014 Paris. Métro: Alésia or Porte d’Orléans. Tel: 01 45 45 68 58. Fixed-price menu: 32 euros. Open for dinner Monday-Friday and for lunch Tuesday-Friday.
Wen Zhou: 24 rue de Belleville, 75020 Paris. Métro: Belleville. Tel.: 01 46 36 56 33. Inexpensive: depends on how much you eat.
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