Listless Spring

May 30, 2008

During the last two weeks, I’ve been to the two restaurants that are making the most noise in Paris this Spring–the oddly named Etc. and L’Agape, and I’ve come away underwhelmed. Normally, I don’t review restaurants that I’m not at least reasonably enthusiastic about, but having noticed that both of these two new and rather expensive places seem to have done a very good job at insinuating themselves on to the To Go lists of Paris hotel concierges, I thought I might lean on the horn here to save you a meal.

It’s not that either restaurant is bad, rather they both lack passion and have fallen into a style-over-substance trap that I find wilting when it comes to good food. As anyone who has read HUNGRY FOR PARIS knows, I am passionate about good food and quite willing to excuse a dreary decor and even the occasional service error or two if the food’s really good.

In the case of Etc. and L’Agape, the decors are quietly chic, even rather elegant, and the service is all kid gloves. What’s lacking at both of these addresses, however, is real passion and daring in the kitchen. At L’Agape, young chef Betrand Grebault comes fresh from Arpege, Alain Passard’s staggeringly expensive Left Bank power table, and if his training is evident in such dishes as green asparagus wrapped in fine ribbons of lardo di colonatta (a starter), a few days later, I remembered almost nothing else about the meal aside from the fact that it was blood-curdling expensive. And perhaps, yes, that I’d had a succulent veal chop for two with a garnish of nicely cooked Spring vegetables. But this is a dish I could handily have made at home, and the baldly self-important service at this place put me off to no end.

Etc., one of the worst names for a restaurant in Paris in a longtime, I think, is the luxury bistro of very talented chef Christian Le Squer of Ledoyen. Le Squer isn’t around, of course, but rather has put chef Bernard Pinaud in charge. Arriving on a Friday night, we had to wait for almost 25 minutes before we were seated, and though I rather liked the funky James Bond film-set decor–butt-end wood parquet tile floors, beveled brown tile walls, and adonized aluminum looking stainless steel cutlery from Christoffle, I was indifferent when it came to the house-smoked salmon–a shy riff on gravlax, and only a bit more impressed by room-temperature gnocci served in an a la grecque (vinaigrette) sauce with asparagus. Fascinated to see if their take on a boudin aux crustacees (shellfish sausage) would be any different from that of Joel Robuchon’s, I took the plunge, and if my coral colored shellfish mousse lozenge with chunks of lobster was pleasant enough, the small slabs of pistachio ice-cream that accompanied it were mannerist and uninteresting. Seared marinated cod steak topped with salad and garnished with currants and raisins was likewise pleasant but not something you’d remember a few days later. Ultimately, the best dish of the meal was a deconstructed tarte fine aux pommes–a miniature apple tart cut into quarters and served with diced, cinammon seasoned apples.

If both meals were good, neither restaurant is likely to see me again, especially at such vertiginous prices, and I can’t help but wondering if these cautious perfomances aren’t a sign of the times, i.e. a response to economic anxiety around the world–it’s almost as if the respective chefs were holding themselves back too much in the hopes of being uncontroversial and discreet.

L’Agape, 51 rue Jouffroy-d’Abbans, 17th, 01.42.27-20-18

Etc., 2 rue La Perouse, 16th, 01.49-52-10-10

  • Sharon HIghman

    Bonjour Alexander,

    I wish we’d read your very accurate review of L’Agape before we made the expensive mistake of going there. As you said, it’s not that the food is bad, but rather it’s pretentious, too expensive and joyless.

    On the other hand, we loved Au Vieux Chene, which we found in your book! What an excellent little bistro–many thanks! Sharon

  • The chef of L’Arpège is Alain Passard. Another of Passard’s interns has opened Racines. Have you tried it yet? Pretty good.
    I’ll be sure to pick up your book soon.

  • Alexander Lobrano

    Hi Carrie and Adrian,

    Bien sur, Alain Passard, not Alain Ducasse, is chef at Arpege. Thanks for the hawk-eyed copy-editing!

    Alec