Première Etoile

September 16, 2008By Heidi EllisonWhat's New Potpourri

Delivering the Gourmet Goods

premiere etoile, paris
The media-savvy The ingredients and the recipe finally arrived around 9 p.m. Photo: R. Hesse posed for the cover of her own book.

Some time ago, I bought an exquisite takeout lunch salad at a fancy deli called Première Etoile and was intrigued by their offer of home delivery of all the ingredients for a homemade gourmet dinner, complete with recipes created by “Génération C” chefs (the acclaimed Gilles Choukroun of Angl’Opéra is a partner in the enterprise).

Last week, I finally got around to taking advantage of this clever idea with a friend, Chris, who offered to lend his apartment, do the ordering and collaborate on the cooking. We invited three other friends.

From Première Etoile’s well-presented Web site, we learned that only the main courses were available do-it-yourself style; starters and desserts had to be ordered readymade.

We had a choice of four main courses with mouthwatering descriptions: marinated salmon “façon Souiri” with “snackée” (a “Génération C” term for anything prepared in bite-sized pieces) zucchini and a condiment of grapes and raisins; rump steak with a pistachio crust, little Touquet potatoes and a condiment made with olives, clementine, mint, basil and coriander; chicken confit à l’orange with steamed vegetables flavored with cinnamon; or sandre (pikeperch) studded with pistachios with a basquaise of peppers and almonds, and purée of broccoli.

I immediately vetoed the salmon, not being a fan of the fatty farmed variety available today, and we finally settled on the sandre. Chris reported that the order was painlessly placed on the Internet a day ahead of time. For the starters and desserts we ordered one each of those available, along with three orders of cheese to share among us. (Wine and bread can also be ordered, but we chose to supply our own.) The total cost per person for what we ordered was about €20.

Then we sat back and enjoyed the pleasant feeling of expecting friends to dinner on a weeknight without any of the usual panicked menu planning and shopping.

Wrong! The panic began around 5 p.m. the next day when I turned on my cellphone and found two messages from Chris. “Call me right away. They don’t have the sandre. Let me know what I should do.” In the next message, he said that since he hadn’t heard from me, he had gone ahead and ordered four portions of the salmon (the only do-it-yourself choice he was given) and a portion of readymade tuna for me.

That wasn’t the end of it, however. Chris later received yet another call saying that they couldn’t get the salmon and that one of the starters and one of the desserts weren’t available either. He agreed to take the rump steak and whatever they could give us as replacements. Then they called back again to ask if they could deliver before the requested 8 p.m. No, said Chris, he might not be home yet.

The delivery person came a little early anyway (luckily, Chris was home), and the food was already there when I arrived at 8. Just one glitch: they had forgotten the main courses.

We joked about having to order pizza for our gourmet dinner if the delivery guy didn’t come back, and he took so long we were convinced he wouldn’t. He finally showed up around 9 p.m., however, and everything seemed to be in order except that there was nothing to accompany the sad-looking hunk of cooked tuna (in all the confusion, the single tuna order had not been replaced by steak).

Finally, we were able to jump into our aprons and get cooking. The rump steak recipe, which differed from the description on the Web site (the poor excuse was that the recipes had been changed but they hadn’t gotten around to updating the site), was easy to follow, and all the necessary ingredients were included (except the parsley) in the right quantities.

The recipe had clearly been designed so that it could be made by just about anyone, but some basic knowledge of cooking is assumed – cooking temperatures and times for the eggplant and steak were not specified, for example, which would leave a rank beginner at a loss. The 30-minute preparation and cooking time announced on the site was accurate.

When we finally sat down to eat, the readymade starters got mixed reactions: everyone liked the salad of fennel, pumpkin, cucumber and cumin, while the taboule with chives was either loved or hated. The salmon tartare was uninspired.

The consensus on the main course was that the steak was a fine piece of meat, but that the pretty purple Vitelotte potatoes served with it were gimmicky and lacking in flavor. The “condiment” of pink peppercorns, raisins, coriander and lemon was fine in itself but seemed all wrong with the steak. My piece of tuna was overcooked and dry.

The cheese course – brie, goat cheese and tomme – was deemed to be of fine quality, as were the desserts – especially the unanimously appreciated fig tart.

To sum up: fabulous idea, extremely poor organization, uneven execution.

We learned from the delivery guy that Première Etoile does most of its business delivering prepared dishes to offices at lunchtime and that not many people order the do-it-yourself meals. Too bad; if the idea caught on, the results would certainly be more impressive.

Heidi Ellison

Editor’s note (Sept. 19, 2008): After reading the above article, Jérôme Taïeb, founder of Première Etoile, had the good grace to write to Paris Update with an apology and a promise of improved service.

Première Etoile: Lafayette Gourmet, 40, bd Haussmann, 75009 Paris. Tel.: 06 17 62 80 88. Free delivery for orders of over €40.

© 2008 Paris Update

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