Sometimes when I have mixed feelings about a restaurant, I like to submit it to a time test. To wit, will I remember what I ate a week later? Over a week after my meal there, the much lauded Le Passage 53 in the hip Passage des Panoramas didn't stand up very well. To be sure, I have a huge admiration for Hugo Desnoyers, the superb butcher who is one of the main backers and who furnishes the restaurant's sublime meat, but overall, I found the service mannered and the cooking pleasant but timid and rather self-conscious. A perfect example was an amuse bouche of broccoli creame garnished with a crunchy hail of raw broccoli buds. Tasty enough and not a bad idea, but if the point of an amuse bouche is to tantalize you for what's to come, this little cameo was underwhelming.
To be fair, I was more than distracted by my friend La Mime's enchanting conversation and also from the fact that my long legs couldn't find a comfort zone on the low, metallic chairs in this over-lit, under-decorated and very badly ventilated space (the "side walk" smokers from Le Passage 53 and several other restaurants stepped outside as required by law, but the draughts in the passage meant that their second hand smoke was sucked right back in the door). The first half-memorable dish of the evening was a tartare of cameo pink veal tartare with chopped razor shell clams and Granny Smith apples, a sensual but deja vu meeting between mer and terre, with the veal struggling to be anything more than a sweet mineral-rich foil to the potent iodine of the clams. A twiddly portion of turbot was good enough, and a thin strip of guineau hen was beautifully cooked and full of flavor, but overall our six or seven course tasting menu lacked real passion and was way overpriced at 65 Euros. So would I go again? Probably not.
53 Passage des Panoramas, 2nd, Tel. 01-42-33-04-35. Metro: Grand Boulevard. Closed Sundays.
Whether you live in Paris or are just visiting, Reims, the Champagne capital has always been a great day out. And now that this bubbly ville is only 45 minutes from Paris on the new TGV Est, it's more appealing than ever. They're the Champagne caves to visit, bien sur, but the locals museums are superb, too, as is the cathedral that so fascinated Monet. And with the opening of Le Jardin, the new brasserie at the famous Les Crayeres hotel-restaurant, the city also has a truly enchanting place for lunch. Le Jardin is also under the supervision of chef Didier Elena, the Monaco born chef who cooked chez Ducasse for several years, mostly notably in New York City. It's a great way to get at his cooking without spending an arm-and-a-leg, too, since the average bill at Le Jardin is about 45 Euros a head as opposed to 200 Euros a head at Les Crayeres. During a recent dejeuner a la campagne--it was such a pretty day that four of us jumped on the train and went to Reims just for lunch, we loved the superb charcuterie starter, which include some sublime jambon de Reims, red tuna and avocado tartare, and a terrific Caesar salad to start (Romaine with chicken, shrimp, a poached egg and a dressing with a perfect anchovy-Parmesan bite). Main courses were very good, too, including an excellent and very generously served gratin of crabmeat, rotisserie roasted pork belly, a textbook perfect sole meuniere, and boudin blanc with apple-onion compote. A tempting array of side dishes, a very American concept, included Parmesan-rosemary frites, haricots verts with toasted almonds, and a French take on onion rings, and in this arena, only the gnocci fell short of mark--texture all wrong and very bland. We finished up with one of the best lemon tarts any of us had eaten in a long time and also a wonderful nougat glace with caramel au beurre sale. Mark my words, someday scientists will discover that regular consumption of caramel au beurre sale (caramels made with salted butter) had been incontrovertibly proven to significantly improve the human life span.
Weather permitting, Le Jardin also has a charming terrace overlooking the park-like setting of Les Crayeres, and if it's cool or rainy, a hip Soho inspired dining room by interior decorator Pierre Yves Rochon--think exposed brick walls, an open kitchen behind plate glass, factory lamps and big picture windows. The menu of 21st century comfort food has taken Reims by storm, too--many Champagne execs eat here every other day, so be sure to make a reservation. 7 Avenue du Général Giraud, Reims, Tel. 03-26-24-90-90. Open daily. Average 45 Euros.