LA GAULOISE, Bistro Blues: C-; and an Excellent Lunch at SPRING

July 9, 2010

Meeting friends for lunch, I was looking forward to a good meal at La Gauloise, a long-running bistro in the 15th arrondissement where I’ve had some wonderful meals in the past. On a very warm day, they were sensibly tucked away in a shady corner of the large outdoor terrace in front of the restaurant when I arrived, and our first order of business was to order a bottle of Bandol rose, which is great summer drinking because it has a lot more character than most other modish roses.

Studying the 28 Euro lunch menu, I dipped a soggy cucumber stick in a little pot of herbed creme fraiche, and quietly noted that it had no taste at all, a warning signal as it turned out, since the meal that followed was dishearteningly mediocre at best. I started with a dish that could have been wonderful–pot au feu vegetables with a coddled egg and a sharp mustard sauce, while the others went with gaspacho they judged disappointing, and marinated herring, which I found well cooked but underseasoned. Meanwhile, if the accompanying egg was perfectly cooked runny, my vegetables had almost no taste whatsoever. Next up, steamed salmon (bland), chicken (dry), and, for two of us, boeuf bourguignon, a dish I crave whatever the weather.

At its best, this brilliant standard bearer of French cooking is tender, redolent of wine and completely irresistible. Here, the sauce was decent but the beef was stringy and dried out, almost as though it had been cooked independently of the sauce, which even made me wonder if a) it hadn’t been assembled at the last minute, and b) if the sauce had been made on the premises.

I finished this lackluster meal with some Ossau-Iraty with black cherry jam, and had to send it back immediately, since the salad was a little clump of wilted, partially rotten leaves. When the plate returned, I ignored the new salad in favor of the cheese and found it completely tasteless. The others enjoyed their chocolate mousse, which was very good, but none of us would return to this restaurant before the kitchen starts to make a real effort in terms of the quality of both its produce and its cooking.

La Gauloise, 59 Avenue de la Motte-Picquet, 15th, Tel. 08-99-69-81-79. Metro: La Motte Picquet Grenelle. Lunch menus 22 and 28 Euros, Avg a la carte 45 Euros. Open daily.

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Yesterday, it was with a mixture of excitement and apprehension that I met friends at the newly opened and much anticipated Spring, chef Daniel Rose’s superb looking restaurant in the rue Bailleul. I’ve missed Rose’s cooking ever since he closed his little place in the rue de la Tour d’Auvergne near me in the 9th arrondissement, and have been following the birth of the new place with keen interest.

In the Metro on the way to lunch, however, I couldn’t help but hoping that the food would be as good, or even better, than I remembered it. Well, let me stop right here and say that you should pick up the phone and book here immediately: Spring, 6 rue Bailleul, 1st, (33) 1-45-96-05-72. springparis.blogspot.com. This place is going to be taken by storm and one of the best things about lunch yesterday was that I was able to make a dinner reservation in person for next week, which is when I’ll do a proper review.

Our lunch as privileged guinea pigs was sensational. Rose plans to build his lunch menu around bouillon with different garnishes (pigeon, grilled chicken, baby vegetables from Joel Thiebault), which you can then expand with a variety of small plates according to your appetite. As he explains, the bouillon is meant to be “restaurant,” or restorative, and also channel the fact that the original restaurants in Paris specialized in bouillon.

We started with melon with garlicky lomito (cured pork loin) and lime zest, a perfect summer palate teaser, and then ate smoked eel with gently pickled baby eggplant, flash grilled shrimp on a bed of baby fennel salad, trout with avocado slices and coriander flowers, and then the best bouillon I’ve ever had in my life–deep, ruddy, potent and profoundly soothing, with grilled chicken and tiny vegetables. Desserts were superb, too, including a brilliant preparation of raspberries in a light cool syrup of lemon verbena and white peaches, black cherries with fresh almonds (sublime combination), and a deconstructed lemon tart with chocolate shortbread crumbs. All told, it was damned good meal in a stunningly attractive space, and most of all, it was really fun, with a great soft soul soundtrack in the background, terrific wines–an Alsatian pinot noir (I was dubious about this one, but it was terrific) and an Austrian Gruner Vertliner, and the pleasure of watching the kitchen team work in their brand new open stainless steel kitchen.

A few weeks ago, Rose told me that he wanted to reboot Paris restaurants for the 21st century. Well, he has, and I can’t wait for dinner next Saturday night.

  • Hi Alex,

    Thanks for the heads up on Spring, and I can’t wait to read your full review on this restaurant. I loved Daniel Rose’s cooking when I went several times a year or so ago, and this new place sounds terrific.

    Bon App, Nancy Evans