Playtime offers a refined version of 1950-60s design.
Pros: Everything just right
Cons: Everything just right
The name of the restaurant Playtime is a reference to the 1967 film of the same name (spelled Play Time) by French director Jacques Tati (1907-82), a great original with an eye for the absurdities of modern life.
We did not find any absurdities at all in the food, service or decor at Playtime, however. The pleasing, sophisticated modern interior, with hints of 1950s and ’60s design, has none of the sterility and coldness of modern life that Tati was implicitly criticizing in his film, and we found some play, but not too much, in the dishes, which displayed a restrained creativity that was highly pleasing, without blowing us away with bliss.
The three of us were seated comfortably at a high table, something that is très à la mode in Paris restaurants at the moment. Chris, who loves beets, started with the raviole de betterave rouge, fraicheur de haddock et l’oseille sauvage. The thin slices of beets that formed the “raviole” left him wanting more, but I found the light, creamy, salty, fishy (but not too) filling to be delicious and, as promised by the name, fresh, with the blander beets providing a nice (and colorful) foil.
The tartare de veau I shared with Nathalie was impeccable – perfectly fresh chopped veal served with a marvelous crème brulée of creamy peas lightly flavored with curry leaves, and a crunchy tuile made of aged mimolette cheese and walnuts.
All the main courses we ordered – saddle of rabbit stuffed with green olives and wild garlic, served with braised cabbage; skate with a mousse of vitelotte potatoes, sweet-potato chips and a coulis of yellow beets with cardamom; and pollack with clams spiced with saffron, served with green and white asparagus tips – were delicious but somehow not memorable.
I was terribly disappointed that by dessert time the kitchen had run out of the crème au chocolat noir, croustillant du riz soufflé, parfait glacé à la lavande, but I found the creamy Granny Smith apple-based dessert with lemongrass and almonds that I had instead to be a refreshing substitute. Chris enjoyed his mango and banana smoothie, which came with a delicious, coconut-flavored soft meringue, while Nathalie found her avocado and basil espuma (a frothy foam invented by Ferran Adrià of El Bulli; now a common word on menus in Paris) to be original and refreshing.
Playtime could perhaps be just a tinier bit more playful in every respect. I have no real criticism of the place – we had an excellent meal of thoughtfully composed, carefully prepared dishes in a lovely setting served by friendly, prompt staff – but I missed that touch of nuttiness you’d find in a Tati film.
Playtime: 5, rue des Petits Hôtels, 75010 Paris. Métro: Gare du Nord or Gare de l’Est. Tel.: 01 44 79 03 98. Open Tuesday-Friday for lunch and dinner, Monday for lunch only. Fixed-price menus: €28 (two courses), €35 (three courses).
Reader (and contributor) Colin Eaton writes: “I completely agree with your review. Spot on! When I popped in the last time, (admittedly too late for lunch) it was exactly that – too perfect! They even politely offered me a coffee .. AND a table – so polite – so perfect. I had a quick espresso at the counter so I could take in the surroundings… and have an excuse to visit the toilets, again very proper and perfect. And yes – you’re so right – the nuttiness and quirkiness of the Tati films is sadly not evident. How strange to criticize something for being normal and perfect, but I think if you use someone like Jacques Tati as your inspiration, and indeed name your restaurant after one of his films, that you should carry elements of that through, and not just in the visual sense, but also in the food, the atmosphere and staffing. Enjoyed reading the review. It has made me hungry.”
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