24 March 2011

...of the best: le chateaubriand, 75011

Having lived immediately nearby for going on two years now, it's slightly unconscionable that it took me so long to visit Le Chateaubriand, Restaurant Magazine's 11th Best Restaurant In The World, Le Fooding's 2006 Meilleur Table award, the subject of strange reso raffles at Paris By Mouth, etc. I think I just get a sort of jaded heebie-jeebies whenever I hear reservations are difficult someplace, preferring instead to get low-key Chinese, or simply cook and watch Twin Peaks.

It took a fairly remarkable event to inspire my visit during these past women's collections: a colleague of mine, my friend D, decided to actually plan a meal ahead of time during fashion week. It's something that isn't done very often, just due to the exigencies of work during that period. D, who is part of our New York staff, visits Paris 2-4 times a year, and I think it finally got to her that during these visits we always seemed to wind up at Irish pubs. This time, she and I coordinated an ambitious dining schedule in advance, and top of her list was, naturally, Le Chateaubriand.

It turns out the best way to get a res is just to meander by around opening time, before the restaurant fills up, and ask one of the similar-looking fellows at the bar.* As with 2ème bistro-on-fire Frenchie, calling will only leave you feeling burned. (Whatever. Time will judge the wisdom of the whole absence-of-phone-etiquette-as-marketing trend.) I was happy enough to get a Tuesday four-top a week in advance for the early hour - for France - of 19h30,** and it deserves mention that later, on the day-of, when the restaurant called to confirm and I missed their call and called back seven times until I got through to confirm the confirmation, they were totally cool about expanding the res to five people. That was nice.

It allowed my friends B and V from Grey Magazine to join me, the NC, and D for what was, finally - what else? A really slamming, high-five-worthy meal.

The convention in blog coverage of multi-mini-course fireworks menus like those served at Le Chateaubriand is to picture each delicate course, and to accompany each picture with a summary of ingredients plus an optional pithy judgement. Chef Iñaki Aizpitarte's nightly menus at Le Chateaubriand - in their determined inventiveness, in their snappy tempo, in their movingly calligraphic plate presentation - show so well under this type of coverage that one wonders whether they are constructed with it in mind, either consciously or not. Even the restaurant's lighting is kind to iPhones.*** Anyway, with the understanding that I can't really improve on this format, I'll refrain from using it, purely out of self-consciousness that it seems too apropos, in this case.

Instead I'll let my admiration for the first dish refer synechdocally to everything that came after it. It was a sliver of medium-rare duck heart encrusted with, and spiced with nothing more than, toasted aromatic seeds. Fennel, cardamom, and so on.

The NC avoids such things so I got to eat two of them, or probably a whole heart. Best not to dwell on that. Consider rather, as I did, the bold brilliance of presenting such a symbolically-laden meat with an equally allusive accompaniment, alone on a metal plate like a gauntlet thrown on the floor. The gesture was all the more graceful for how spare it was.

It was sort of like how Okkervil River employ a brief, sketched cover of the Tim Hardin song "Black Sheep Boy" as the intro to their album of the same name.

After that bit of simplicity, things get intense and complicated.

I'm mostly here to talk about wine, however.

The list at Le Chateaubriand is nowhere near as baroque as I was expecting - just a few printed pages.  It is more fleshed out than the simplistic natural wine primer available one door down at Le Chateaubriand's sister-wine bar Le Dauphin. But nevertheless there's something a little chaotic and inattentive about it, like someone has picked a lot of distinctive all-star wines, but presented them without quite enough context. On the one hand I admire the list's concision; on the other hand, concision without consideration looks an awful lot like impatience or ADHD on the part of the wine director.

Selections under 30€ are a little scarce, but that makes sense, considering the demand for tables. We began with Jean-Christophe Garnier's "Brut Nature," a sparkling wine from Anjou that was far off in the wilderness on the wrong side of natural.

Pic swiped from pipette.canalblog.com.
It may come as a shock to regular readers, but yes, there are wines too natural even for my own perverse filthy tastes. This was a sparkling Chenin that could pass for very dry cider, it was so murky, oxidized, and bitter. I can only assume Le Chateaubriand's wine director placed it on the list as a kind of "I told you so" revenge against tables who balk at the prices of Champagne.

Ah, well. In my book it's still conceptually very commendable for a highly visible restaurant with relatively high-rolling international clients to continue serving unctuous farmer wines that might gravely offend them. And later I looked over at the blackboard behind the bar and belatedly noticed that Domaine Belluard's superb (and whistle-clean) sparkling Gringet from Savoie was also available.

We followed the dead Chenin sparkler with a glowy, mineral 2007 Arbois Chardonnay by Pierre Overnoy, and later, we chose the unfortunate period as tables were turning to order Jean Foillard's 2007 Morgon "Côtes de Py" "3.14."

It took an eternity to arrive - 20 plus minutes, and several trips to re-request it from the suddenly besieged servers - but once it finally did, the delay, the evening's sole service misstep, was very much forgiven.

Jean Foillard, as I may have mentioned in previous posts, is to modern day cru Beaujolais what John Lee Hooker is to the blues: the co-founder, along with several other famed vignerons, of a primal, magnetic style that has since achieved (relatively) massive recognition. To me his wines are typified, among good cru Beaujolais, by their focus and intensity. I often turn to them, as to the blues, actually, when I'm seeking something with enough populist impact to please a non-geek audience, and enough grit and bite to please me.

This bottle was in magnificent form - chiseled, transportative, with thrilling dark red fruit and a deep bedrock minerality. Like a shockingly economical one-chord song that contains a zillion others.

Morgon is the 2nd largest of the ten Beaujolais crus, smack in the center of the appellation, known for yielding a richer, more Burgundian style of Beaujolais. "Côte de Puy" is its most famed vineyard, on mostly clay soils. "3.14," meanwhile, is Foillard's most coveted old-vine parcel within "Côte de Puy." And 2007 cru Beaujolais, for me, often hits a sweet spot between the accessible but somewhat unstructured wines of 2006 and the impressively built but somewhat inaccessible wines of 2005.

Our last wine that evening, Foillard's 2007 "3.14" wasn't cheap, but nor was it overpriced. And, like Le Chateaubriand itself, it's a heavy hitter in it's genre, a deserved candidate for best-of-the-best-of-the-best.

* It has been pointed out before that chef Iñaki Aizpitarte tends to hire people who look vaguely like him. I'm pointing it out again, because I find it very funny. It's an endearing twist on the more traditional "just hire babes" policy you see in a lot of establishments. (C.f. Café Verlet, on rue Saint Honoré, a great place to visit if you prefer your single-origin espresso served by nymphets.)

** I had to smile, recalling the legions of directors, producers, and their assistants who would accept tables at my old LA workplace at absolutely no other time but 19h30. Here that seems like a quaint, elderly hour. The alternative at Le Chateaubriand would have been to just show up and wait an indefinite length of time for a much-coveted table at the restaurant's second service. Life is too short, particularly during fashion week. 

*** It seems to me natural that restaurant's whose menus show well in the food blog format would get more and / or better coverage, and thrive accordingly. There's a paper waiting to be written about this.

Le Chateaubriand
129 avenue Parmentier
75011 PARIS
Metro: Goncourt or Parmentier
Tel: 01 43 57 45 95

Related Links:

Le Dauphin, the new overdesigned wine bar by the same folks juste à coté

A 2009 review of Le Chateaubriand @ MegZimbeck
A 2010 review of Le Chateaubriand @ BarbraAustin
A smitten entry on Le Chateaubriand @ LeFooding
A personalized summary of chef Iñaki Aizpitarte's Paris career @ JohnTalbott

A detailed, mostly readable 2010 tasting at Jean Foillard's estate @ WineTerroirs, at the end of which the author totally tops his standing record for "most bizarre aside" by mentioning, in the tasting notes for the 2007 "3.14," his appreciation of mural urinals.


  1. Hello, Aaron!
    fun reading your Le Chateaubriand dinner...Dave(my husband)and I were there same night and had a small chat with you and you gave us your card...remember? now following your blog at facebook! Dave still saying that he had one of the best wine pairing experience at Le Chateaubriand! food was beautifully cooked (or not cooked at all!)and those 3 beard waiters and sommelier were the nicest and most unpretentious people! great experience!
    as we regularly travel to Paris, try to do some homework before arrive in the city as far as restaurant goes...had to arrange Le Chateaubriand dinner 3 weeks prior!! and also super luckly to got in Spring for dinner very next day! another best of the best!
    *best experience made by people! Nick, the manager, Daniel, the chef -most friendly people ever in Paris!(Josh at the boutique was really nice, too...you guys know each other! we mentioned about you!)
    anyways, now i'm eager to learn more about wine!
    from Seattle

  2. hi nana! glad you enjoyed that evening too! i think we all chanced to arrive on a particularly great night; everyone else i speak to in paris always mentions something about the damnable inconsistency of le chateaubriand... in any case, i imagine i'll be back soon enough to put the criticism to the test. wishing you many happy returns to paris! and thanks for reading in the meantime.

  3. Le Chateaubriand is one of the places to be in Paris, if u visit Paris!!!