Of all the restaurant reservations we had in Paris, Le Chateaubriand was the hardest to get, and the one I was most looking forward to. It’s the darling du jour in the food world: Anthony Bourdain called Basque chef Iñaki Aizpitarte a “genius” on “No Reservations”; any Paris article from the New York Times in the last year mentioned it in the first few sentences; and the restaurant was ranked 11th in the world in 2010 (skyrocketing up from 40th the year before), beating New York’s Le Bernardin (15) and (say what?) Napa’s the French Laundry (32). Adding to the fever pitch was the general consensus that Chef Aizpitarte is part of a new food movement among French chefs who are looking to cook Michelin star–quality food, but in a relaxed bistro environment. We were reserved for the first night we arrived. And then it started to snow in Paris. And then the airport started canceling flights. And, yes, then our flight—sob—from Los Angeles.
But my brothers and their wives managed to make it out of Tokyo and San Francisco, so the following reporting is all thanks to my sister-in-law, Yuko, who took pity on me and knew I was at home passing the time drinking wine and refreshing the departure times on Air France’s website.
The verdict? Surprisingly, not that great (I know, I’ve already had some back-and-forth on Twitter with people who supremely disagree with me, er… my relatives). The consensus (among my brothers; Yuko was more generous with her critique) was that it was a great restaurant to have in the neighborhood, but not of a “world class” caliber. Mostly they seemed confused it would be lauded so highly (darn hype). The only person I could find to agree with my brothers thus far was my California-born friend, Blaire, who lives in Paris and took issue with its foam obsession in 2008. And side note: Is it just hipster irony that such a progressive restaurant would be named after a decidedly historic French cut of meat? Am I missing something? But let’s have a look:
Chalk on a blackboard added to the laid-back bistro atmosphere
Gougères with poppy seeds: “A nice start with Champagne!”
Ceviche of black tiger shrimp in lime juice: “This was not my favorite because we don’t eat black shrimp raw in Japan, but the lime juice was tasty.”
Squid, endive, and passion fruit: “Great combination! My expectations were rising at this point!”
Pictured at top: Boudin noir, or blood sausage. “I don’t usually like blood sausage but this had a rich and creamy flavor.”
Beef broth with daikon radish: “This was not so special.”
Squid, trumpet mushrooms, and beans: “A wonderful and delicate taste; the lemongrass was a nice accent.”
White fish with watercress sauce: “The fish was tender and juicy, and perfectly grilled.”
Steak with root vegetables: “This was my favorite. Coriander, cumin, and fennel seeds added great crunch and an exotic flavor to the beef.”
Cheese plate. Anyone else think that looks like a lot of cheese for a tasting menu? (Not complaining, mind you…)
Apple sorbet: “The texture was more fragile than a sorbet and melted instantly in my mouth. Very refreshing!”
“Chocolate something. It was not so special.”
By 9:30, the bar is bustling with walk-in hopefuls.
Yuko sums up her thoughts: “I thought it was really good. The chef is presenting very challenging ideas—unexpected combinations of ingredients, spices, and textures. And the cost was just 50 Euro, unbelievable!”
Matthew, her husband, my brother: “This was an old school bistro, with a young staff that is trying to reform the menu into something more modern. Fifty Euro for this meal is pretty good price performance, but this versus a 38-Euro Frederic Simonin lunch? No contest. A lot of the food was rough around the edges to me taste-wise; that is, it was not expertly blended, more like it was just thrown together. This is a nice neighborhood place, but given all the choices to eat in Paris I would not go out of my way to eat here relative to everything else.”
Thank you for being my new Let There Be Bite reporter, Yuko! (I hope she likes to be paid in pasta.)
Other Paris restaurant reviews:
Joël Robuchon’s 3-week-old L’Atelier Etoile
Frederic Simonin: An Excellent Secret
Nomiya: Art Installation or Lunch?
Christmas Eve dinner at Taillevent
Christmas dinner at Le Cinq
Casual Paris: Le 404 (Moroccan) and Café de l’Alma
Passage 53: We’re going out with a bang