Le Chateaubriand: An Epicurian Uppercut

*If you want to skip to the food pictures, they are after the jump.  I mean, if you want to.  Just Saying.

On a recent trip to Paris, I began calling for a reservation to the famed bistro weeks before my departure date.  Only to be met with a large french sigh of nothing.  Not one table for any of the days were were in the city of lights.  Not easily swayed I continued calling to check for cancellations, the person on the phone enventually took pity and informed me that if I show up at 9:30pm there are a few tables on a first come first serve basis for a second seating.  Ex-squeeze me? Baking powder?   Also, in that second seating we would still be able to order the full tasting menu.  Merci Beau-cu-yah!  Done and done. Upon arriving in Paris, we still tried to weasel a reservation through friends and our hotel concierge but fell short…again.  Taking the phone advice in hand, a decision was made to just go for it.  Or as an old coach so eloquently put it, the ‘F##k It’ technique.   We were going to get into the ever impossible Le Chateaubriand, sans a reservation, on a Saturday night.

We showed up at 9:20, ten minutes early, highly recommended to do so because 20 minutes later there was a line out the door and people being sent away.  Talked to the bartender about the second seating and were put in a visual cue for the few tables they were making available.  We ordered wine at the bar,  struck up conversation, eavesdropped a bit and waiting in anticipation to see if we made the cut.  It all depended on how long the tables before decided to stay.  Too long? No tables.  But one by one around 9:40 a few were wrapping up and then we were informed that we were one of the 5 tables they were going to seat.  Jackpot!  As the relief set in, I  finally started to take the place in, small space, high ceilings, dimly lit and a crowd that was comprised of the full spectrum of cultural aesthetics.  Old, young, families, button shirt uptowners, loose collar downtown types, the fashionable and the demure.  All elbow deep in something good, something special.  In this casual atmosphere something great was happening.  Good food and great technique no longer had to come at a hefty price with a three piece suit.  It was exactly what it set out to be, chef/owner Inaki Aizpitarte said that he wanted to create a place where all his friends could afford to eat.  This is that place.  Natural in its mood and presentation.  It tells you before you sit down that this is going to be good.

When seated, the server immediately picked up on our, “We have no idea what you’re saying”, faces and promptly switched to speaking English describing the details of the five course meal we were about to embark on.  The menus given were just for a reference guide and before we knew it champagne was poured and we were ready to go.  While waiting anxiously for the first tastes, the boisterous table of 15 next to us was a mix of fashionable 20-30 somethings, speaking in a mix of French and English, pouring wine and filling the restaurant with laughter.  Here we are, in one of the top 15 restaurants in the world and there’s a table of young people in jeans, laughing, going in and out for smoking breaks, drinking wine and just simply having a damn good meal and a damn good time.  This, is what it should be like. Accessible. Comfortable. Fun.  Without a care if you are doing things right, or using the right fork or pronouncing menu items correctly.  No worries and just the best damn food possible for the money paid.  Simply, food tastes better when you are comfortable and having fun while eating it.  That energy put our table at ease, we dropped the pretense of all the hype surrounding Le Chateaubriand, the anxiousness, the worry if it was going to meet expectations and just let go. Loosened the tie, sat back in our chairs, exhaled and then and only then we were truly ready.

The Amuse Bouche:

There were five amuses.  Yes, five.  It was like a mini-meal before you even got to your first course.

Cheese puff pastries with poppy seeds.
Cockles with coffee salt.
Ceviche Shooter.
Broth with Soy Sauce and Pear.
Grilled Hamachi with Cauliflower.

First Course:

Squid Salad with Horseradish and Chlorophylle.

Second Course:

Atlantic Pollock with Jerusalem Artichoke, Kumquat and Trompette

Third Course:

Beef Cheek with Herring, Radish and Pickles in Broth

Fourth Course:

Endive, Orange, Olive and Sorbet

Fifth Course:

Was a choice between the cheese plate or the chocolate.  We asked for one of each.  Funny Sidenote: The order for the last course was actually taken by one of the chefs who was walking through the dining room.  He saw we were finished with the previous dish, scooped up our plates and asked us our preference for the last bites.  It should also be mentioned that he had a glass of wine in his hand.  Awesome.

Fromages du Jour
Chocolate in many forms. One was made to look and crunch like celery.

It was amazing.  Simply amazing.  One of the top ten meals of my life.  To sit down and describe each dish would simply be an injustice.  I can only say, “Yes, it was all as good as it looked, if not better”.  But, if I had to say one thing…the fish course tasted like they caught a pollock with a flesh made of butter.  Literally.  Melted.  The journey from course to course was brilliant, you were being told a story, a damn good story.  It flowed from dish to dish seamlessly and almost without effort.  At moments the meal hit you with a delicious uppercut of an unexpected flavor or texture, knocking your head back in surprise and pulling forward with eyes wide with excitement.  The meal moved through the twists and turns, but never lost its way.  It just made sense, even within the surprises.  That’s all I can really say and it’s also one of the best compliments I could give.  Le Chateaubriand is worth the hype.  This world class meal, in one of the top restaurants in the world, guided by a young hero of a chef, with 11 plates in total put in front of us was just 50 Euro a person.  Amazing, especially when you could easily be paying twice as much for a meal less perfect.  A place where his friends could afford to eat, you win chef…you win.  Thank you.

This pretty much sums it up.  So full.  So good.

Le Chateaubriand

  • Address: 129 Avenue Parmentier, Paris 75011, France
  • Telephone: +33 (0)1 43 57 45 95

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