THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED (Note: chef Simone Tondo now works at Racines)
A highlight of my recent trip to Paris was tagging along with Heidi as she reviewed restaurants for Paris Update. Doing so involved adapting to the unscientific Laws of Culinary Fluctuation. To wit, after soaring to gastronomic pinnacles at Fulgurances and plummeting back down to Earth at Bonvivant, I was ready for the pendulum to swing back up.
Expectations were great when Heidi reserved a table for four at the recently opened and already vaunted Tondo. The kitchen is presided over by 28-year-old Sardinian chef Simone Tondo, who trained under chef Petter Nilsson at La Gazetta, the restaurant’s previous, and much celebrated, incarnation. (Tondo recently shut down his tiny, trendy restaurant Roseval in the 20th arrondissement).
Initial expectations were met when we arrived at the elegant space on Rue de Cotte, in the 12th arrondissement. Breaking with the Parisian trend toward tight spaces tricked out in pseudo-Scandinavian blond wood, Tondo’s sprawling dining area is awash in light, some of it filtered through Mondrianesque panes of stained glass.
Glossy red marble tables are generously distanced from one another, allowing diners to be pleasantly distracted by the intricate mosaic tile floors. If the soundtrack seemed a little loungey for lunch, we were mollified by a charming waitress who broke into a Gallic Moonwalk while explaining that “It’s dancing Friday!”
The four of us thrilled at the minimalist, minimally priced lunch menu. For €25, we were promised three small appetizers each, followed by one of a choice of three main courses. However, despite a bottle of a minerally red bio wine, our collective enthusiasm began to flag as we dug into our trio of appetizers.
A small bowl of potato soup, decorated with a juicy tidbit of shrimp, was pleasingly frothy yet not at all potato-ey. Thimble-sized cubes of raw tuna were intriguingly paired – but not integrated – with halved cherries; the result was a little too generically sushi for our collective tastes. High hopes for the tempura pleurotus were dashed when the lone mushroom was all but obliterated by a granular polenta-like batter whose insipidness depended upon a small smear of piquant green bagna càuda sauce (made with garlic, olive oil and anchovies) for flavor.
After ordering a second bottle of wine, we rallied for the arrival of the main courses. Heidi and I won the sweepstakes with a breast of poularde (“hen spayed for fattening,” according to the Collins dictionary). Accompanied by a silky zucchini purée, the bird was cooked to perfection with a crispy crust of golden skin, but verged on blandness, as did the sprinkling of al dente zucchini slices.
Sue’s merlu (hake), with identical accompaniments, was pleasingly tender, but fell prey to the same timidity when it came to seasoning.
Poor John, who had gallantly opted for gnocchi after the rest of us had made our choices, was unimpressed with his bowl of pale and embarrassingly naked dumplings. An emergency rescue team of freshly ground pepper and grated parmesan added to the butter/hazelnut sauce did little to save the dish from drowning in gustatory oblivion.
By the time dessert rolled around, we certainly weren’t expecting the belated sweet redemption that came in the guise of a delicate clafoutis with strawberries and a nutty-textured, intensely citrusy orange cake (listed on the menu as mere “orange”). Nor were we expecting our final bill to come to €50 each (wine, dessert and coffee took their toll). Our much-anticipated lunch ended with a sweet bang and a slightly bitter aftertaste.Favorite