Hot and Cold Reception,
Pleasure on the Plate
|The Maison du Jardin doesn’t have its own garden, but it is located near one of Paris’s most beautiful, the Luxembourg Garden.|
If you are welcomed to La Maison du Jardin by the maître d’, you will be treated to a sunny smile of galactic proportions, which may be offset by the icy reception from the waitress, whose whole attitude seems to say that she was born for better things. But even she loosens up toward the end of the evening, when she puts her feet up for a smoke after most of the contented diners have found their way back to the street.
On my second visit, we were seated in the oddly shaped back room, closeted with a group of a dozen or so gentlemen of a religious persuasion, who were enjoying themselves quietly (and not smoking). If and when you book (and book you must), make sure to specify that under no circumstances are they to put you in this cramped and somewhat stifling back room. The front room is more pleasantly spacious, with red-ocher walls decorated with small black-and-white photos of Paris monuments alternating with same-size mirrors (more tasteful than it sounds). The animated talking heads of the other diners appear in the mirrors, creating an entertaining TV-like effect.
I began the meal with a diaphanous carpaccio of tuna with assorted herbs and shavings of Parmesan. It wowed my taste buds, even though the reasonable part of me said that the Gatling gun approach to herb and spice use completely overwhelmed the taste of the tuna. It looked very pretty on the plate, too. Other starters included a cream of asparagus soup and a buisson (“bush”) of string beans and foie gras, one of the freshest and most refreshing starters known to woman.
The signature dish of the Maison du Jardin (so-named because of its proximity to the Jardin du Luxembourg, not because it has a garden) is its pastilla of lamb with apricots. An idea borrowed from North African cuisine, it is a package of brik (filo) pastry enclosing a melting piece of lamb that has cooked for an age without losing any of its flavor. It rests on a layer of braised eggplant that has soaked up as much olive oil as it possibly can. On my previous visit, I had tried the calf’s liver served with “fruit bonbons”: twists of the same brik pastry filled with a tart fruit compote that exploded with flavor when I bit into them, offering a dream companion to the rich taste of the liver.
Although the main menu was the same on both visits, the chef always adds a couple of daily specials for each course. We tried the flavorful chicken waterzooie, a Flemish stew made from a properly aged bird, another success.
Dessert was poached apricots with almond cream and ice cream under a crispy nougatine biscuit for my companion. Its pleasantly bitter edge was a perfect foil to the dish’s sweetness. Predictably, I went for the cheese, as I had the first time around. Many restaurants seem to serve cheese cold these days, killing its flavor, but this was not the case here. The cheeses, supplied by the classy Rouge Crème wine and cheese store across the street, had been allowed to develop their full aroma. I was particularly impressed with a chunk of perfectly ripened fourme d’ambert, a cylindrical blue cheese from the Auvergne, which was creamier than any I have ever tasted. These people know and respect their cheese heritage.
The wine list at Maison du Jardin is short but well-chosen, offering particularly good value for money. If you have lunch here, you can walk it off with a stroll on the shady paths of the Luxembourg Garden. There are worse things to do in life.
La Maison du Jardin: 27, rue de Vaugirard, 75006 Paris. Métro: Rennes or Saint Placide. Tel.: 01 45 48 22 31. Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday. Fixed-price menu (three courses): €30.
© 2007 Paris Update
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