Front and Back
May 9, 2007
Gordon Ramsay, known for his 15 restaurants and very bad language, has an occasional TV series called “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares,” in which the ubiquitous überchef is invited into a failing restaurant to find out why it is underperforming and turn it around. It apparently makes for great TV.
I thought of this as I approached Pramil the other night, because it’s just two or three doors down from the Clos du Vert Bois, reviewed here last year. The Clos was again desperately empty, and the looming second round of the French presidential election couldn’t have been the only reason. Here’s a guy who cooks great food, as I said at the time, but can’t get people to come and eat it. A suitable case for the full Gordon Ramsay treatment, I reckon.
My own pet theory is that front-of-house (a major failing at the Clos) contributes decisively to the success or failure of a restaurant. This conviction was bolstered when I walked into Pramil without a reservation with my girlfriend Katherine and Bertie the gastrohound. Bertie was welcomed and fussed over by the Maître d’, and we were given the kind of table he loves, where he can see everything going on and be cooed at by the other diners. This is a place where you know you’re in safe hands as soon as you cross the threshold.
Pramil has only been open for seven months, but should do well in this unassuming street that is going places. The décor is understated, and chef Alain Pramil does his own understated but original things with some of the old Les Halles favorites. His current menu offers a choice of a half-dozen each of starters, main courses (evenly split between fish and meat, but nothing for the strict vegetarian) and desserts.
We polished off a complimentary appetizer of potted sardines with some excellent bread while casing the menu and the wine list, which features bottles from quite a variety of small producers and appears to offer great value for money.
The starter of the day was a plate of pied de veau (calf’s foot) with a lamb’s lettuce salad that was strong on shallots. Although I like liver and kidneys, I’m not usually very adventurous when it comes to the rest of the “variety meats” (surely one of the greatest euphemisms in the English language), but, I thought, why not? While I can’t say that this was a life-changing experience, the gelatinous texture was superb and was complemented by the intelligent, vinegary accompaniment. Katherine had the unlikely-sounding cauliflower cake (cake au chou-fleur), which proved an out-and-out winner – the beautiful, light, moist batter was punctuated with perfect bites of cauliflower.
She moved on to a navarin d’agneau (lamb stew) with spring vegetables. The amount of time and loving attention – at least 24 hours in several different stages – that had been spent on it was immediately apparent. The gravy was light, without a trace of oiliness, and bursting with the taste of young sheep, indicating slow cooking and a long reduction, while the bite-sized bits of lamb were perfectly textured. It was served with al dente, market-fresh vegetables, including petits pois and peeled baby fava beans. My own dish of choice was a pan-fried hanger steak (onglet) of veal, cooked with morel mushrooms, my favorites. The meat’s superb taste and texture was enriched by the heady, earthy taste of the morels. The delicate Sancerre red we had ordered went down very well with both dishes.
Alain Pramil is also a whiz with desserts. Katherine was intrigued by the émincé of strawberries, served with a cucumber and olive oil sorbet, and was sublimely rewarded for her curiosity. My white figs with zabaglione and orange-blossom ice cream tripped lots of enjoyable childhood memories.
Pramil is a great addition to the eateries on my doorstep – good news for my taste buds, but not for my waistline (which is starting to attract comments from my entourage). This is the kind of place I would dearly love to patronize very often.
Pramil: 9, rue du Vertbois, 75003 Paris. Métro: Arts et Métiers. Tel: 01 42 72 03 60
© 2007 Paris Update
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