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Friday, June 03, 2005

Le Comptoir: Yves Camdeborde's new bistro

Paris sky is all somber and gray today, luckily I have a memory of the lovely, sunny yesterday to sustain me. Besides the truly wonderful lunch at L'Ambroisie, of which I will write more soon, I had a super fun dinner with Clotilde, Louisa, and a new friend Andrea.

The night began a week ago, really, when Louisa and I went romping around Saint Germain after yet another lunch with our Clotilde at L'Astrance. After a stop to finish off our lovely yet inadequate dessert course at the lunch with a couple of Miss Gla Gla ice-cream sandwiches chez Pierre Hermé -chocolate for L and, of course, Ispahan for me- we decided to go check out Yves Camdeborde's (of La Régalade fame) new operation by the carrefour de l'Odéon. We got to see a couple of rooms, all of which enchanting and remarkably noiseless -entirely surprising considering the location. We also managed to reserve a dinner table for the following thursday, which was yesterday.

So I went, appropriately and fashionably late, to meet les girls. My metro decided to take its time arriving, letting three trains going other direction passing me by before the one I wanted made its tardy appearance. Luckily I was in a cute little flowery and summer-y number or I might have died of heat before I got to dinner. Also lucky for the three german boys standing nearby, they might have died of boredom perhaps(?)

By the time I finally arrived everyone was already there, all in remarkably good mood, with Miss Clotilde announcing that she was in even better mood than usual -quite impossible mind you, but so she claimed. She blamed it all on a few accidental purchases of a new dress, shoes, and sunglasses, and she certainly was glowing in them. I adored accidental purchases. I also adored the fact that my glass was immediately filled with lovely Chenin Blanc. This was really turning out quite well despite the bad start.

The restaurant -oh, right, I do need to write about it some- is an annex to Yves Camdeborde's new hotel Relais Saint-Germain. I must admit that when I found it quite dubious when I first heard that he was to open right there, by the crazy and touristy carrefour de l'Odéon. But now I can see why. The hotel is in a great area that is very convenient to get to things, and the restaurant next to the hotel is such a cute little place. The front of the restaurant can be opened completely, turning the room into quite a breezy and lovely place to sit in a beautiful night like yesterday.

Le Comptoir is a brasserie by day, serving simple food and drinks, and a petit-gastro restaurant by night. There is one menu that changes daily. There are no choices, not even a couple of them for each course like at La Régalade. Here, everyone eats the same things, which must make it quite easy for the small kitchen to do service. The food last night was true to Camdeborde's style, that is to say delicious and hearty, with a little twist to keep things interesting. I wouldn't call that dinner Camdeborde at his best yet -he seems to need a little time to adjust to that kitchen and that staff still, especially the service staff- but it was certainly a delicious meal.

The meal began with a lovely soup of green peas and mint, with a chunk or two of foie gras hiding inside, served with two paper-thin cumin wafers, which was cool, refreshing, and perfect for the warm weather. The second course was zucchini puree with crab meat and caviar of herring. It was a few pleasant mouthful of cool gelee and crab meat, punctuated by a few drops of sweet pepper puree. For the meat course we had lamb from the Pyrenees, served with favas, peas, and carrots. The taste was intense and delicious, heavily perfumed with thyme, though the meat itself was somewhat sinewy.

I recognized the same generousity of spirit from La Régalade here, the one that embodied a full-size terrine de campagne with a knife stuck on top which used to land at every table at the beginning of the meal so any diners could have as much of it as they wanted. Here at Le Comptoir, the spirit is in the form of a cheese tray, which was place at the middle of our table for us to help ourselves with anything we pleased. There was some nice époise -the raw milk one is already out of the season unfortunately-, some bûche de chèvre, camembert, brie, and other usual suspects. All lovely and affinaged by P.Boursault.

With the meat and cheese courses we looked in the very small and inexpensive list, and chose an Irouléguy -from some vineyard with lots of Xs in the name. I didn't know anything about the wine really, except that it's from a nearby region to the poor lambs on our plates. It turned out to be dark and a little spicy, and quite a lovely match to the food.

The dessert, the only one we were served, was a tarte nougatine of chocolate with poached pear, and served with a vanilla icecream and pistachio sauce. The tart crust was crispy and sweet, reminding me a little bit of thin sesame-caramel wafers, though this doesn't have any sesame in it.

As we were having dinner, the chef was out and about around the dining room, greeting and chatting to people whom he obviously knew. At one point he dragged a table out to the sidewalk and put out a bit of food and wine for friends who showed up but couldn't be accommodated inside! What fun indeed!

By the time we were on our dessert course, the chef sat down with yet more friends to eat. Gluttony we all were, despite our dainty appearances, we couldn't help but gawking at the stuff they were eating that we didn't get to eat. There was a plate pâté en croûte that looked distinctly delicious, I've got to get myself some of that at one point.

We had been able to contain ourselves to just a few stares and snide comments, but all bets were off when the next table got something that looked like a pot au chocolat. There was no pot au chocolat at our table! How dare them short us on chocolates! We, um, ended up stealing one off that next table. We actually did. Seriously. "Have you no shame?", the chef asked, indignant. We giggled and replied, um, no, not when it came to chocolates, which ended up getting us another pot to share. Well, the story didn't quite end here, but I think I will. There were just a few more blurry details which I won't really get into, like Louisa in a gorgeous red number saying something about a stip tease somewhere, one which the super model Andrea nearly followed suit. Go check out the entire story on Miss Louisa's blog, I guess. That girl has got some explaining to do. Ha....

(Click on the photo above to get to Flickr slide show of the meal.)

Le Comptoir
Hôtel Relais Saint-Germain
9, carrefour de l'Odéon
Paris 75006
phone: +33 (0)1 44 22 07 97
fax: +33 (0)1 46 33 45 30

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