Too Much of
A Good Thing?
Have you seen this Paris bistro before?
When I walked into L’Office the other evening, I had the impression that I had been there before. I hadn’t, but the new wave of “neo-bistros” in Paris are all starting to seem the same: a simple, stripped-down decor with wooden tables, lots of mirrors and low lighting provided by hanging designer light fixtures (usually shiny chrome ones); a warm greeting from the youthful staff (usually an attractive man and woman); and a blackboard menu with just a few choices for each course.
I’m not complaining; I love this trend, with its emphasis on fresh, high-quality food at reasonable prices and friendly (it’s about time! – thank you, younger French generation) service. I just don’t like the idea that it is turning into a formula that leaves little room for deviation or originality. They even seem to have the same wine list.
Like many of the others, L’Office has two services every evening, which means that you either have to eat at the ridiculously early hour of 7:30pm and be hurried through your meal or arrive at 10pm and risk having to wait for your table if the early birds are lingering over their meal. This practice is understandable, since it must be hard to make a living while keeping prices down in these often-tiny restaurants, but it’s a drag for customers.
L’Office did not particularly stand out from the pack cuisine-wise. My first course of calamari in a tomato sauce was bland, only slightly enlivened by a few pieces of fresh marjoram and strangely accompanied by two random pieces of what seemed to be deep-friend dough. My friend Aline did much better with the nicely seasoned beef carpaccio with greens and spring onions, which came with deep-fried bone marrow that melted like butter in the mouth.
She also enjoyed her more original main course: big homemade ravioli filled with chestnut purée and a sauce containing big, tender hunks of beef. I ordered the squab (€4 supplement), whose meat was appropriately tender and flavorful, but the non-crispy skin had an unpleasant taste. It was served with nicely cooked root vegetables.
Once it had had a little time to breathe, our spunky bottle of 2010 Le Temps Est Venu Côtes du Rhône from M&S Ogier d’Ampuis, was a fine accompaniment.
For dessert, Aline had an excellent pannacotta: creamy, firm and flavorful, but served with chopped mango that wasn’t ripe. Craving chocolate, I chose the deconstructed, reinvented s’mores. I have never tasted the original of this very American kids’ favorite – a graham-cracker sandwich filled with marshmallows and chocolate and toasted over a campfire – so I can’t compare, but this version, made with speculoos (Belgian spice cookies), good but still sickly-sweet marshmallows and squares of not-the-best chocolate wasn’t enough to win me over.
It turns out that the cooking here is done by Kevin O’Donnell, yet another American chef in Paris (hence the s’mores). While he is on the right path, the results were uneven and not up to the high standards set for every single dish served by his compatriots Daniel Rose at Spring and Braden Perkins at Verjus. I was surprised to learn that Figaroscope had named L’Office one of the 15 best Paris restaurants of 2011. Maybe we were there on an off night?
Editor’s note: The chef has since changed, so a return visit is in the offing.
L’Office: 3, rue Richer, 75009 Paris. Métro: Bonne Nouvelle. Tel.: 01 47 70 67 31. Open Monday-Friday for lunch and dinner. Fixed-price menu: €33.
© 2012 Paris UpdateFavorite