Tuesday, May 6, 2014

La Fontaine de Mars (Paris, France): "So nice we did it twice"

For dinner on the first of the two nights we would be spending in Paris, prior to our Burgundy jaunt, we acted on the recommendation of the George V concierge and had dinner at La Fontaine de Mars. We were not disappointed. As a matter of fact, we were so pleased with the outcome that we arranged on the spot to revisit the locale on the following Saturday night on our scheduled return from Beaune.

Cassoulet from first visit to La Fontaine de Mars
View of the ET on the walk from La Fontaine
back to our hotels

La Fontaine de Mars is located in Paris's 7th Arrondissement at the intersections of rue St. Dominique and rue de L'exposition in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. On our first visit, we thought that the taxi driver had brought us to a small theater by mistake because there was a crowd standing around outside. We soon discovered that these were no art patrons; they were waiting around in the hope of getting a seat at the one of the small number of tables on offer.

The restaurant is small, with three Lilliputian seating areas on the ground floor and a cramped eating space on the level above. In addition, there is outside seating along the front and the side of the restaurant. There is a small kitchen at the back right of the restaurant and that is even more crowded than it is on the floor. Our preference is to sit on the ground floor adjacent to the kitchen so that we could feed off the energy inside the kitchen and out as the staff worked frenetically to deliver excellence in a submarine.

This is not a place that you go to for a nice, quiet, romantic dinner. The wait staff is engaging and engaged, flitting from kitchen to table and back, all the while keeping up lively banter with fellow waiters, patrons, and kitchen staff. This fun, happy mood is picked up and reflected by the customers.

The menu has  number of French standards that are complemented by a "specials" board that is brought to the table when you are ready to order. The wine list is establishment-appropriate with offerings from all of the major French wine regions. The clientele seems to be a mix of tourists (I was aghast on my first visit to see a group of US where the females were decked out in berets of different colors. Somewhat ancien caricature.) and locals.

On our first night at the restaurant, the food and wine clicked on all cylinders (except that the wives did not like our Gangloff blanc and ordered a Sancerre for themselves). On our second trip, most of the food was spectacular (except in the cases where Ron placed himself in the hands of the waiter and could not come to terms with the results).

We started off with a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé. Paul, our waiter, brought over some bread and thinly sliced sausage to accompany our ruminations on the wine list. The Billecart had a nice pale strawberry color and its freshness and bread notes were great stepping stones back into the ring after our extended lunch at Willie's Wine Bar.

I ordered the Bisque de Hommard as my starter while Ron "ended up" with a "leg of Salmon." The soup was presented at the right temperature and was accompanied by a garlic aioli and toast. It had a slight saltiness, was not too creamy, had great texture, and a rich, full flavor without being cloying. It went swimmingly with the Champagne. Of course Ron had soup envy and sent his hunk of Salmon back to be replaced with a soup.

For the main course I had a Black Pudding Sausage on a bed of cooked apples and my wife had the Duck Confit. The duck was truly amazing. It was the DOTN. Each of us sampled. Ron's sample was largest because he had mis-ordered again and so had to have a bigger piece to keep his spirits up. My dish was a contrast in flavors with the savoriness and coarse-grained character standing in stark contrast to the sweetness and fine-grained texture of the apple. The weight and size of the meal ensured that the plate would not be empty when I took my bib off.

We paired the main course with a 20101 Henri Boillot Pommard, a study in red berries, toast, and spice. One of the areas where La Fontaine de Mars definitely needs improvement is in the quality of glassware provided for customer use. We noted the thimbles they used on our first trip and got them to promise they would have better glasses for us when we came back. They did not deliver.

I closed out my dinner with a Creme Caramel while my wife had some kind of a space capsule. By this time Ron had settled on drinking only so I didn't have to try to capture his mishaps. The Gangloff Côte Rotie exhibited jammy fruit, spices, and black olives on the nose and was deep and rich on the palate.

Chef Pierre with my sposa

If you visit this restaurant, ask for Paul. He epitomizes the shift in Parisian waiters from the curmudgeonly garçons of the '80s and '90s to a smiling, personable, service-oriented waiter. Where have all the bad boys gone?

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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