November 19, 2010

Following an epic Champagne tasting at the Grand Hotel with a friend, we were not very hopefully stalking the rainy streets around the Opera for a quick, tasty, inexpensive meal, when we found ourselves standing in front of a nice looking Vietnamese place neither of us had ever heard of before, Entre 2 Rives. Since neither of us can eat Vietnamese food often enough, we decided to give this slick looking little dinette with a cute coffee shop decor of white chairs and tables, suspension lamps and tomato red walls a try, and we ended up being very glad we did. Not only was the food delicious, but the service was charming and it turned out to be a very good buy to boot.

We started with Ha Kao, steamed shrimp dumplings that were light and full of flavor, and Banh Bot Loc, which were delicate rice flour crepes garnished with dried shrimp and steamed inside of a banana-leaf wrapper. Main courses were terrific, too, including Banh Xeo, a crispy omelette stuffed with bean sprouts, shrimp and pork and served with a garnish of lettuce and aromatic herbs, and a superior pho, or rich beef bouillon with rice-flour noodles, thin strips of beef, bean sprouts and herbs. The brief wine list has some stand out bottles at very good prices, too, including a Guigal Cotes du Rhone at 22 Euros. We didn’t get to dessert, since my pal was aching to head over to Harry’s Bar for one of their very good Manhattans, but they’d looked good, too, and since this place is so handy and so good, I know I’ll be trying them soon.

Entre 2 Rives, 1 rue de Hanovre, 2nd, Tel. 01-42-65-15-11. Metro: Opera. Open Monday-Friday for lunch and dinner. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Average 25 Euros.


2010_thoumieuxVG01The dining room at Hotel Thoumieux @ Vincent Leroux

Ever since I first encountered his cooking when he was chef at les Ambassadeurs, the sublimely elegant restaurant of the Hotel de Crillon, I’ve loved the artfully playful cooking of chef Jean-Francois Piege, one of the most important and gifted chefs of the new generation of French talent which will succeed and ultimately upend the the top of the French food chain as such greats as Michel Guerard, Guy Savoy and company retire. A deeply trained classicist from the ecole of Alain Ducasse, Piege doesn’t need liquid nitrogen or any other of the cliches of molecular cooking to create excitement as the table. Instead, with a serene modesty, he invites you to meditate on and find pleasure in the remarkable produce he cooks with at his new “restaurant gastronomique” at the Hotel Thoumieux by parsing out traditional recipes with the miniature skills of a watchmaker who knows exactly how everything fits together perfectly or by gently jolting them with unexpected but delightful contrasts of texture or flavor.

Though I’ve not been a real fan of the brasserie address at Thoumieux that Piege’s first venture after leaving the Crillon–the food can be good, but the prices are too high and the service over-influenced by the disdainfully diffident waiting style pioneered by the Costes brothers in their woefully omnipresent and unfailingly dull chain of restaurants, I love Hotel Thoumieux, his new place, which has twenty covers in a dining room with a tongue-in-cheek decor that looks like it might have been inspired by Dean Martin’s batchelor pad.

It’s expensive–you chose from one dish at 70 Euros, two at 90 Euros or three at 115 Euros, but all meals are bookended with a fabulous assortment of hors d’oeuvres that show the chef at his best and a cheese course from Xavier, an affineur in Toulouse, dessert, and petits fours, but given the generous serving sizes and the superb quality of the cooking, it actually works out to be good value for the money, even if it’s still too pricey a a place at which for me to become a regular.

Piege is intelligently produce-centric, so the brief menu the night I went ran to a relatively anonymous line up of five ingredients–scallops, lobster, beef, sea bass, and poularde, which were commented on in greater detail by the waiter after he eventually showed up to take our order (a tiny bit of the Costes attitude that’s such a problem at the brasserie downstairs—this place is up a flight of stairs and a door down at the same address, seems, unfortunately to be rising through the floor boards). And then we were out the gate with a puckish and playful assortment of hors d’oeuvres (please don’t call them tapas; these aren’t tapas, they’re hors d’oeuvres) that included a cute riff on a baguette jambon beurre, that favorite French sandwich, that was a chunk of good ham topped with a tiny slice of cornichon and walled into a fragile pen of nearly transparent, Melba-toast-like wafers.

Happily, we went with two courses, since three would have been too much, and of the four, the two stand-outs that night were the post-modern paella, a succulent tidal feast of tender shellfish in an exquisitely refined saffron-brightened fumet, and the poularde, which came with a reduction of aged Xérès and Parmesan and crosage of white truffle shavings. The later dish especially fascinated me, because of the way these three ingredients so elegantly interacted (I’d have thought that the vinegar might have bruited about the truffle, when in fact it was a superb mixture of tastes).

Jean-Francois Piege himself served us dessert, his own very elegant take on a tarte aux pommes, and the meal concluded with a generous assortment of beautifully made sweetmeats that neither of us could do justice too after such an abundantly served meal. Though the service could use a bit of fine tuning–prompter and a little more customer-centric and would be nice, it was thrilling to find Piege in such fine form again, and this was a truly excellent meal.

Hotel Thoumieux, 79 Rue Saint Dominique, 7th, Tel. 01-47-05-79-00. Metro: La Tour Maubourg. Open nightly for dinner only.