Saturday, August 1, 2015

Feast in a Rustic Bistro

Chez L'Ami Jean was often quoted as a prime example of one can dine well in a restaurant in Paris without the bestowment of a Michelin star and without breaking the bank. And we went there for lunch on another sunny, super hot afternoon.
The restaurant is located on the other side of town from where we stayed, but only a short metro hop and a quick walk away. Chef Stephane Jego took over this restaurant a decade ago and since then has turned into a popular destination for people looking for a no non-sense, casual bistro dining experience with excellent food. We arrived at noon time, promptly for our reservation, and were seated straight away. Decor is rustic and cozy - a small bar on the right, then small tables in the middle and by the wall on the left, front and back.

Further at the back was the kitchen, where we saw Chef Stephane manning the team prepping and cooking, occasionally screaming at the front staff for not dishing the plates out fast enough when they were ready. He definitely looks like those kind of fearsome chef you don't wanna mess with in the kitchen. The table setup was simple - no tablecloth, no well-polished silverware - this is not the place for a quiet conversation or a romantic dinner if that's what you are looking for.

Lunch menu was simple - you can order a la carte, go with the 6-course prix fixe menu, or the "carte blanche" menu where you put yourself in the mercy of chef. We went for the prix fixe menu, not because we didn't trust the chef, but thought we didn't want to overstuff ourselves with too much food. The wine menu is short but filled with unusual choices. No English on the menu but the staff was happy to explain and translate, so no biggie.

Bouillon cremeux de viux parmesan, crouton, ciboulette (Cream of Parmesan Soup with croutons and chives)
We started with a cream parmesan soup poured table side from a jug with tomatoes, croutons and chives. It's served lukewarm which I thought was perfect for the weather, and while the soup looked ordinary, it's full of rich flavors. It's quickly followed by a few thin slices of grilled zucchini topped with grated feta cheese gratin and smoked eggplant puree smothered on the side. Once again, rich flavors filled the plate with excellent ingredients.

Poitrine de caille grillee, tomate, marinee (Grilled quail breast with tomatoes)
Third course was a couple pieces of quail breast, served with a substantial chunk of delicious tomato and an espuma made of carrot and tomatoes. The quail was well-prepared with tender and juicy meat, and the tomato and espuma was refreshing with the tart acidity and sweetness. The poisson course was probably my least favorite of the afternoon - it's probably just my bias against mullet - but overall the dish was decent, with the piece of pan-seared fish fillet served with pickled vegetables underneath and a brush of red wine reduction on the side.

Travaille de gourmandise, veau grille
Main course was another straight forward, rustic dish but perfectly cooked. The slow-roasted veal was tender like a stewed meat when I cut it through but retained much of the rich flavors. It's served simply with meat jus, radishes, peas and herbs, in an almost disorganized manner. But everything together worked just fine. The side of potato mash was not the creamiest I have tried, but was tasty with good potato taste instead of having a mouthful of butter. That's what a mashed potato should be like I reckon.

The famous rice pudding! Look at the portion in the top photo! That's for one.
Two desserts were served - first was a pot of cream with redcurrant and pomegranate, followed by their signature rice pudding with caramelized nuts and caramel. Their rice pudding was of ridiculous portion - can easily feed 4 in that big bowl - and ridiculously good. If it's the only dish I had for lunch I would still be a happy man. It's airy, creamy, sweet, and added to it the softest, richest caramel one could make. I was in sweet heaven, and it's something I still thought about every now and then ever since.

It's a great meal - my only regret was not going for the Carte Blanche with more dishes. That regret came immediately as we made a short walk towards Eiffel Tower, which was not far from the
restaurant. Guess we just have to go back some time then.

More pictures in my Flickr page:

When? June 30 2015
Where? L'Ami Jean, 27 Rue Malar, Paris
Menu Highlights? Grilled Quail Breast with Tomato and Foam
Drink? Le Duras 2013, Domaine Plageoles, AOC Gaillac

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