Pros: hearty, unpretentious food; great, crusty bread; big wine list; warm ambiance
Cons: cooking times need attention
After a stroll through Paris’s Parc des Buttes Chaumont on a recent Indian summer evening, a friend and I were wondering where we could eat in the neighborhood. The standardized pizzerias and dull-menued bistros we passed were not appealing, but a quick look at the iPhone app Around Me revealed that a place called Quedubon was just a short walk away. The cute name, which means roughly “only the best” was appealing, and it sounded vaguely familiar (not surprising: I realized later that Paris Update’s former restaurant critic Richard Hesse had given it a rather less than rave review in 2009).
Even before we went in, we knew it was for us. Through the big industrial-style windows, we could see a wall of wine bottles and another with a huge blackboard listing them. It was early, and the friendly waitress was standing outside smoking a cigarette. When we asked if we could have a table, she said, “Of course,” and gave us a choice of three.
This was quite a contrast from the treatment we had received the night before, when the same friend and I had tested out a Groupon restaurant coupon (he had had good experiences with Groupon in Britain and wanted to see how it worked in Paris). After booking a few days earlier on the phone with a young man who rudely continued to converse with someone else while I was talking to him and kept insisting that we should come at 7:30pm instead of the requested 9pm (he finally agreed, reluctantly, to 9), we arrived to find the large restaurant nearly empty. The young woman who “greeted” us asked for our coupon and led us to the worst table in the house, a rather smelly spot next to a freezer and a pile of miscellaneous stuff. She then handed our coupon to the chef, shouting loudly and dismissively, “Groupon.”
This treatment made us feel very small and did not incline us to order extras, although the waitress pushed us to add a first course, extra wine and dessert, none of which were included in the deal (which was for a côte de bœuf for two with side dishes and two glasses of wine). The côte de bœuf, which was acceptable, was served so quickly that we wondered how it was possible. It came with a small dish of soggy French fries and another piled with an unattractive mess of overcooked vegetables.
We ate quickly and actually considered ordering dessert out of pity, but the waitress kept us waiting so long in the empty restaurant that we changed our minds. When she finally came and was told we were leaving, she suddenly sweetened up and said, “I hope you enjoyed it and will come back.” We said that we hadn’t and wouldn’t and let loose with the complaints listed above, notably about the way we were treated when we arrived. She took it surprisingly well and seemed to want to clean up her act. I won’t give the name of the place here, since it is obviously doomed to failure anyway, and I feel rather sorry for the incompetent young people running it.
Back to the very different welcome from the young waitress on the sidewalk at Quedubon We took a seat, noting the encouraging signs of a pepper mill, box of fleur de sel and big dishtowel-like cloth napkins on the table, and chose from the blackboard menu.
We learned that the bottle of Crozes Hermitage we had ordered was not available when the mischievous-looking owner came over and rubbed it off the blackboard with his finger. There followed an amusing conversation as he helped us choose a similar bottle at about the same price (around €30). He gave us a taste of Domaine des Terres Promises Abracadabrantesque (a word introduced by Arthur Rimbaud and famously used by Jacques Chirac when he was president) from the Coteaux Varois in Provence, to see if we liked it. We did.
The food, much like the meal at Le Bien Décidé on the other side of town, was good, simple and unpretentious. I started with a tasty purée of watercress topped with a soft-boiled egg, followed by joue de bœuf (beef cheek) with mashed potatoes. The latter, very basic, dish was somewhat enlivened by fresh herbs. My friend’s Salers faux-filet (sirloin steak) was full of flavor but cooked slightly more than the saignant he had requested. He had started with the excellent quail escabeche (a preparation involving an acidic marinade) with onions.
For me, the highlights of the meal were the delicious, super-crusty white bread from a local bakery, the extremely generous platter of fine cheeses (Iraty d’Ossau, Tomme de Savoie, Brie, Mont d’Or and bleu des Causses) and the luscious apple tart in crispy filo pastry with a perfect caramel sauce.
Another highlight was the warm ambiance of the place. Most of the customers were obviously happy regulars, many of whom kissed or shook hands with the waitress and owner, and joked around with them on arrival, while other locals waved enthusiastically as they passed by outside. They were visibly pleased by the addition of this welcoming bistro/wine bar to their neighborhood four years ago. Next time you are in the area, give it a try.