Since it was recommended in an article in The New York Times recently, I was sure that – after rather disappointing meals in the past few weeks at La Canaille and Le Cotte Rotie – my friend Connie and I were in for a good meal when we went to Semilla.
We couldn’t get a reservation, but I was told when I called that if we dropped in at around 9:30pm, we could probably get a table. It was a bit risky, but we took the chance. Connie was having a glass of rosé at the bar when I joined her. We had to wait rather longer than the promised 15 minutes but eventually got a table and began studying the menu.
We were happy to see that half portions were offered for many dishes, which meant that we could order and taste more of them, but we were a bit surprised by the international rather than French flavor of the menu, which includes a selection of dishes cooked a la plancha, not always the best way to test a chef’s talents. They were out of the most interesting-sounding one, lieu jaune (pollock) with a watercress and ricotta sauce and girolles.
We finally decided on two starters: ceviche de mulet noire (flathead mullet) with citrus jelly, and tartare of veal with fennel and lemon, followed by half-portions of poulpe (octopus) and blanquette de veau.
The ceviche, enlivened by bits of grapefruit,
was all right, nothing more, but the bland veal
tartare really let us down in the taste department.
Connie described the octopus with cilantro served in the same dish with chanterelles and gingery pea shoots as two separate dishes in one: “Marseille meets Shanghai.” While the
two had little to do with each other in this unhappy marriage, she enjoyed each one on its own. I was less enthusiastic as I got the rubbery one of the two pieces of octopus; hers had been perfectly tender. I did enjoy the flavorful mushrooms, however.
Of the main courses, the blanquette de veau, prettily smothered in fresh peas and broad beans, was the big winner. The meat was meltingly tender and the white stock light and flavorful. We weren’t as enthralled with the lamb chops, which we both felt we could do better ourselves at home, though the tomates Grand Mere (tomatoes stewed with onions, thyme and bay leaf) were quite tasty.
The clafoutis we ordered for dessert to see how the chef would interpret this French classic,
which can sometimes be rather heavy, was another disappointment. It was light but the unpitted cherries in it were completely tasteless. The best was yet to come, however: a chocolate cake sprinkled with crushed cocoa beans and topped with gianduja ice cream, one
of the greatest chocolate desserts I have ever tasted, and I am a chocoholic.
In general, we were not impressed with Semilla. It was sometimes deafeningly noisy, and, although there were plenty of Americans there (probably attracted by the piece in The Times), they weren’t the guilty parties for once. The French people at the tables on either side of us were uncharacteristically loud.
While the bartender was a sweetheart with a sense of humor, the other waiters, all handsome, with modish short beards, were not particularly friendly. The international menu had no focus, and the quality of the dishes was uneven. This is the kind of trendy restaurant you might find in any big city in the world, and I don’t see any particular reason to seek it out in Paris. Or rather, I see only one reason: the chocolate cake.