First there was Velly, a neighborhood bistro in Paris’s ninth arrondissement that was good enough to attract gourmets from all over the city. When Velly’s well-liked owner sold, it became Villa Victoria, which, since the chef stayed on, continued to serve very good food but lost some of its luster. Sold again, it is now Les Saisons, which has been getting some good press.
When we walked in, I was pleased to be greeted with a smile by the waitress and to see that a coat of white paint had brightened up the previously dark, cavern-like small dining room. But then we were ushered upstairs, and I was less pleased by the low-ceilinged room where the only attempt at decoration was a few modern light fixtures, which seemed gratuitous in the otherwise bland room.
I was pleased again when the waitress immediately (and unasked) brought us a basket of bread, some butter and a carafe of water. I was doubly pleased when I tasted the famous crusty bread that has been a trademark of the house since it was Velly, so good that you could make a meal of it alone. The fact that a few pieces were dry, though, was not a good sign.
We noticed that most of the daily specials on the blackboard were more expensive than the dishes on the menu, so we stuck to the latter, with one exception: I had the couteaux (razor clams) as a starter. Excellent choice. They were cooked to a tender turn, without a hint of rubberiness, and had barely a grain of sand in them (always a problem with these clams). They were topped with a delicious pistou (garlic, basil, olive oil) that mixed beautifully with the fishy juices.
My friend was equally delighted with his ceviche of lime-marinated sardines with a “revisited” sauce vierge (normally made of olive oil, lemon juice, tomato and basil), with its fresh, clean flavors. He pronounced it to be like a “solid gazpacho.”
So far, so very good. And we were not disappointed by the main courses. My friend enjoyed his braised gigotin (leg) of lamb with coco beans and chorizo, although the lamb was rather dry, while I was more than happy with my veal steak with oyster mushrooms, baby potatoes and green asparagus, which, like the razor clams, had a sauce that begged to be soaked up with that delicious bread.
Dessert: I had a lovely chocolate cake that turned blissful when tasted with the caramel sauce served alongside it. My companion had the sabayon (zabaglione) with strawberries. The foamy zabaglione was delightful, but the flavorless strawberries were not ripe enough.
The wine we chose, a Costières de Nîmes from Château Mourgues du Grès, at a reasonable €25, was a treat and complemented the main courses nicely.
Verdict: overall a high-quality meal. Once a few hiccups are smoothed out and the decor is revisited, this could almost be the new Velly. I say “almost” because, although the service was efficient and superficially friendly, there was an impersonal feel to the whole experience. Still, definitely worth a return visit.Favorite