Mid-Summer’s Night Dream

June 19, 2008


From May 2 through September 30, Le Bristol, the superb two-star restaurant at the Hotel Bristol, moves from its elegant Hungarian oak-paneled oval dining room to a tented pavilion that overlooks the hotel’s beautiful interior courtyard garden, and on a warm summer night, they’re few better places in Paris for a really special meal.

Granted, it’s very expensive, but I’ve been following talented chef Eric Frechon’s cooking ever since he first went out on his own with an eponymous bistro in the 19th arrondissement, and on the basis of dinner the other night, he’s never been better. Everything about this meal was superb–setting, service and food.

Dining with a television producer friend from LA who wanted to splash out for her birthday (wasn’t I lucky!), we started with a sublime "Tourteau de Roscoff"–Breton crab in a tarragon-flavored green tomato gelee, and "Homard Bleu," lobster with a "canelloni" of avocado mousse and a delicious side of gaspacho that was a perfect seasonal riff on lobster a l’amoricaine, or lobster with tomato sauce. Both of these dishes were as pretty to look at as they were delicious.

Main courses were magnificent, too. "Lapin Rex" was a boneless saddle of rabbit cooked tandoori style and served with a "sausage" of smoked octopus and a puree of fresh peas with Austrian pumpkin seed oil (a great summer ingredient, by the way, since it livens up any salad or vegetable dish with a nutty, toasted flavor), while "Turbot Sauvage" was a thick piece of perfectly cooked turbot that had been larded with Spanish ham and was garnished with baby clams wrapped in lardo di colonatta, the salt-brined Italian fatback that’s become a trendy ingredient in Paris.

Desserts have either a seasonal fruit or a chocolate theme. I loved my poached rhubarb poached in hibiscus and strawberry juice with a spoonful of homemade fromage blanc, and the birthday girl flipped for her "Precieux chocolat Nyangbo," runny chocolate in a crunchy carmelized pastry cylinder served inside of a perforated chocolate dome. Nyangbo may sound like the name of a big-game hunter, but is actually a type of chocolate.

Drinking by the glass meant that my friend didn’t have to take out a second mortage on her West Hollywood home (assuming that anyone can even get a second mortgage these days), and also discover some terrific wines, since Jerome Moreau, the sommelier here, is an able charmer who really loves coming up with unusual and affordable wine and food pairings.

The Bristol has a real buzz these days, too, since it’s emerged as one of the favorite tables of French President Nicholas Sarkozy, but it’s also a great place to do some star spotting. The best stars I saw the other night, however, were those overhead, since we dined right at the edge of the dining room, and so could listen to the fountain pattering and the doves cooing in the huge old magnolia tree in the middle of the gardens. A superb choice for a special occasion.

112 rue du Faubourg Saint Honore, 8th,