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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Mon Vieil Ami, a new old friend

April 29th, 2004

042804beforedarkWhen I was at Le Buerehiesel in February, the maître d told me about chef Westermann's new venture in Paris, Mon Vieil Ami. He highly recommended that I paid them a visit next time I found myself in Paris.

I was very happy with my dinner in Strasbourg, so it didn't take much to convince me to try the new place. The young chef in charge of the Paris operation, Antony Clémot, was previously sous chef at Le Buerehiesel.

We had an early reservation at 7pm, and were asked when we made the reservation to give back the table by 9.30pm. I didn't mind that so much, as they were quite polite about it, and I was just happy to get a table without much advance notice.

Mon Viel Ami is on the adorable rue St Louis en L'Ile on the fancy Ile St-Louis. I had expected a jovial bistro, in the style of La Régalade or L'Entredgeu, but what I found when we arrived was a modern, highly designed place that looked more like a fancy restaurant in London than a “bistro” in Paris.

We were shown to our table, well, our “end” of the long communal table lining one wall of the space. I must admit I didn't like it much, but then I reminded myself that if Robuchon could serve his food, and did it well, in a sushi bar, who am I to doubt Antoine Westermann's choice of décor?

Our waiter spoke perfect English, but was good natured enough to put up with my mediocre aptitude by addressing me in French anyway. The menu looked quite interesting, and I also liked that they offered a Pinot Blanc, from chef Westermann's native Alsace, as apéritif.

The three of us ordered white asparagus and foie gras, spring vegetable and chanterelles, and a paté en croute for our entrées, and duck, veal kidney, and cod for our plats.

042804whiteasparagasfoiegrasThe first dish I tasted was my entrée, asperge blanc en vinaigrette dés de foie de canard poêlés (white asparagus in vinaigrette and pan fried foie gras). I was slightly skeptical of the pairing of the rich foie gras and the delicate white asparagus, but I adored the dish. The asparagus was fresh and perfectly cooked, with a very tangy vinaigrette balancing nicely with flavorful pan sauce from the foie gras.

042804pateencrouteThe second entrée at our table was the paté en croute de Mon Viel Ami, salade à l'huile de noix (pate in a pastry crust, and salad with walnut oil). This was amazing from a technical perspective. I don't know how the chef managed to keep a layer of aspic under the crust. It should have melted away when as the pastry shell baked. I really couldn't restrain myself and ended up sneaking a bite before I managed to snap a shot. Sorry.

042804veggienageThe third entrée was gorgeous, legumes printaniers en salade tiède, mâche et petites girolles poêlées (spring vegetable in cold salad, with mâche—which doesn't rhyme with squash, by the way—and chanterelles). I didn't much like how it tasted, however. It was a bit bland, especially next to the other two strongly flavored dishes.

042804fivespicedduckMy main plate was Carottes et navets étuvés aux épices, canard de barbarie braisé et caramélisé (Spiced carrots and turnips, braised and caramelised Barbarie duck). This came in a pretty cast iron Staub cocotte. The first scent that hit my nose as the waiter lifted the lid was Chinese five spice powder. I didn't think it was such a good sign, actually, as I normally don't like “fusion” things. Luckily, this time my first reaction was proven wrong. The dish itself was quite nicely flavored. The somewhat overwhelming scent of the five spice powder dissipated and left only a nice trace of the spice in the meat. It was quite pleasant.

The Barbarie duck was much less fatty and has a much more concentrated flavor in the meat than regular ducks, and the spice powder and slight sweetness from the caramelization complimented the meat quite well. The cous cous and carrots and turnips were also very nice, though I found the bit that soaked in sauce a bit too overpowering.

042804rognondeveau042804fishandspringvegMy dinner companions Doug and Tamar had the Pommes de terre rissolées au oignons et à l'ail, rognon de veau poêlés au Pinot Noir (roasted potatoes with onions and garlic, with sautéed veal kidney in Pinot Noir sauce) and Carottes étuvées aux raisins et dates, dos de morue rôtie, vinaigrette aux épices (roasted cod with carrots seasoned with raisins and dates, in spiced vinaigrette).

Doug wasn't too happy with the veal kidney, so I ended up swapping with him after I finished half of my duck. I'm not normally a fan of kidneys in general, but that dish was extremely well done I couldn't help but liking it quite a bit. The kidney was impeccable, without the usual objectionable stink, in an extremely flavorful sauce. And those potatoes, oh dear, they were dreamy.

I had a bite of the cod, finding it to be very fresh. Unfortunately, I couldn't comment much beyond that as it was quite bland next to my duck and kidney.

We had a bottle of a red something that was rather nice. Unfortunately, I lost the note so I couldn't really tell you what it was. I remember liking it rather well though.

042804rhubarbnage042804tarteauchocolat042804briocheperduecompoteFor desserts, we had Rhubarbe and fraises fraîches, glace verveine (fresh rhubarb and strawberries with lemon verbena icecream), tarte au chocolat (chocolate tart), pommes et raisins de Corinthe marines au Grand Manier, brioche perdue et glace aux épices (apple and raisins from Corinthe marinated in Grand Manier, with a classic French dessert pain perdue (but in this case the bread is brioche) and spiced ice cream.

The rhubarb and strawberries were fantastic, and the verbena ice cream divine. What a lovely expression of Spring? The tarte au chocolat was a very nice as well, but I was getting a bit jaded on chocolate tarts so I didn't think it was all that. The brioche perdue, I'm not sure how to explain brioche perdue. Well, you take a piece of extremely rich brioche, dip it in an ultra rich mixture of cream, sugar and egg (all the good stuff!) and fry that baby in lots of butter. Sounds good now? And the brioche perdue here was just fantastic, eggy, rich, and not too sweet. The accompaniments, the spiced ice cream and apples/raisins were also great. I mean, the apples and raisins were marinated in Grand Manier, how could they not be good?

I had a glass of lovely Auslese to accompany the dessert course, and then a nicely pulled shot of espresso to finish. Before we left, I sneaked a look in the kitchen to see the young (and cute!) chef at work. I even managed to snap a quick shot, after asking permission first, of course.

We ended up staying at our table far later than 9.30, but were never at all bothered or made uncomfortable by the very pleasant staff. I actually asked our waiter before ordering the coffee to see if we needed to give back the table, but he brushed me aside very gently and told us to enjoy ourselves and stay as long as we wanted. That was nice.

All in all, I think this was quite a lovely place. The dinner was 38 Euros for three courses, with excellent quality ingredients, paired with very nice technique. Though I wouldn't give them a rave review, as there were a few things that I didn't enjoy too much, but I must admit that the quality to cost ratio was excellent. Mon Viel Ami clearly has higher inspiration than other bistro-ish places in Paris, from the attentive service to the luxe settings and well conceived dishes. I am quite interested in seeing them develop over time, who knows what else chef Westermann et son vieil ami, chef Clémot, have up their sleeves. Whatever it is, I wish them very well indeed.

Mon Vieil Ami
69 St Louis en l'Ile
01.40.46.01.35

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