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Bistros in Paris: Merged topics


Simon Majumdar
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I make no bones about the fact that Paris is not one of my favourite cities.  Grubby, grey and atrophied in all its theme park splendour.  So when business took me there for a few days, I thought I would tack on a few days "pleasure ‘ to try and prove to myself that all my friends who use words like "magical" and "romantic" were not speaking complete tosh and if they were , I would at least get a few decent meals out of it

Unfortunately, the city was exactly as I remembered it from my previous trip, except more so.  The streets have gotten grubbier, the bars more expensive and, if such a thing were possible, the French have become even more of a caricature.

Ho Hum.  I at least got some great Parisian cooking out of my visit, right?  WRONG.  You couldn’t be more wrong if you had taken a course in incorrectivity ( is that a word?)  

Eschewing the high end places such as Tour D’Argent and Taillevent  as I didn’t want to think I was in Manhattan we  decided to try Paris at the level at which it is almost universally claimed to excel, the bistro’s and brasseries.  I had some recommendations from this board from people whose opinions I value and trust, so I was really hoping to get great food at reasonable prices in a pleasant environment.  WRONG AGAIN.

With one exception the food was, at best ordinary, at worse woeful.  Here we go

1) La Regalade – I had been strongly recommended this bistro as a venue for Robin’s birthday and was really looking forward to it after the descriptions I heard from Magnolia and Sam & Scott F.  To say it was a huge disappointment would be an understatement.  It stank.  

First of all I now  know  where the cast of Starlight Express have gone now the show has closed.  They are the wait staff at La Regalade.  That is the only reason why they all move so fast.  So fast in fact that we were processed, and that is the only word for it in just over an hour.

All of this would have been fine ( well no it wouldn’t have been – but I am trying to give them a break ) if the food had been what we expected.  It was not.  A terrine which abused the term ordinary was followed by starters of a bland boudin blanc and, in Robin’s case, a house special of shrimp which were so lacking in flavour and flesh as to be pointless.  Main courses of veal and canard were OK but no more.  Desserts were also just about the right side of pointless.

With a bottle of Cahor ( well priced at £8) and two glasses of champagne, this meal set us back about £87 which on a cost per minute is right up there with MPW.  This is a stopping off point for Hyrams on their "if it is Tuesday, it must be Belgium tours".  AVOID AVOID AVOID!!!

2/10 – deserves to be bombed

2) Bistro D’hubert – Again, I got this recommendation from Egullet and from people whose opinions I respect, so my lunch there was doubly disappointing because of that

It was certainly more restful that Regalade and we chose the EU37 menu discouvert which is supposed to show the skills of the chef.  If really showed them up

Starters of nougat of confit du canard were flavoursome but lacking in texture.  Robins main of salad of Boudin Noir was bland and measly  as was my veal, served cooked to almost leatheriness.  Pudding was an ok chocolate fondant

With a bottle of Bergerac and coffee, this came to a whopping £97.  That is on a level with London and it was far below that standard.

4/10

3) Café Tango  De Paris – In need of something gutsy after the disappointments we went to this Argentinian inspired beef place on the rue Mouffetarde.  It was fine and reasonable value at £51.

4/10

4) Il Barrone – a work lunch with French publishers .  Not my choice and the sort of 1970’s grim Italian places that seem to be Paris forte in all its "veal in Lemon sauce glory"

3/10 – may god have mercy on their souls

5) La Cigalle – by far and away the highlight of the trip.  This is a delightful restaurant near Bon Marche which specialises in Souffle dishes.  The room was welcoming as were the owners ( Mother serves, Father cooks ) and the food was delicious.  Three courses of a goats cheese souffle, a bacon and parmesan souffle and a chocolate and Almond souffle were shared between us and with a great bottle of Medoc came to c£65.

7/10 – so this is what Paris should be like

6) Café Esplinade Des Invalides – Another business lunch at what wanted to be an achingly trendy place but fell way short. The greeter had obviously never got over the fact she didn’t get the part of Betty Blue and pouted at every question.  The waiters were almost comically snooty and inept  and the food tried so hard but just wasn’t there.  A soup of crevettes was over salted and a cote de beouf, while perfectly cooked was lacking in any flavour at all.  

5/10 – Nose bleedingly  expensive and could have been in London or Manhattan

So, along with innumerable  Tabacs offering half decent  beer, En Zinc and some memorable food markets, that was my Paris.

Give me Memphis or Kansas City anytime

S

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Wow! Harsh experience at La Régalade - either they had a really off night, or you and I just have totally different opinions and expectations - which could be, but we've agreed before...I have been there three times and loved it every time.

I won't defend the food, as I wasn't there. But I am sure I mentioned the noise, crowd and frenetic service - by no means a relaxing atmosphere, but there are no 'sittings' so you *can* take as long as you like.

Also £87 for two three course meals, a bottle of wine, two glasses of Champagne & whatever - including service - is by no means outrageous by London standards. If the food was horrible, as you say, then of course it was a waste of money anywhere in the world.

But in general you could spend that on a horrible, stingy meal in London any minute of the day whereas that little for a good meal would be a very rare thing indeed. But again, if the food and service were not to your liking then this is not up for debate.

Tant pis. Perhaps one day we can plan an Egullet junket to Paris and we Paris-ophiles can get you to see things our way!

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Maggie

I do blame my experience at Regalade squarely on your shoulders.  You are a charlatan madam and should be banned from the boards!!

Seriously, perhaps we were just not in the mood for their keystone cops variety of service and, as I said if the food had been wonderful ( perhaps it can be but I can only judge on this one visit ) then £87 would not have seemed so stingy, but for such a laughable experience and laughably bad meal, then it is, as I said piss pauvre.  

BTW - they did have two sittings although they said they never move anyone on.  However, if you are being processed at such a speed it is hard to slow down and take your time.  They were practically hovering as we took each mouthful.

I make it my life's mission to never go to Paris again., although unfortunately I think I have to go back later in the year.  Why does God hate me so?

S

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It would appear that your last sentence in your third post to this thread is the most telling of all you've posted. Just as I cannot smell the aroma of fresias, and many people are unable to distinguish between certain colors, you have been cursed with an inablility to appreciate Paris and its charms and glories. You have my pity.

The last time we were in Paris (one phrases it this way even if one has only made two visits of a day each because it lends a certain sense of authority), as I was saying, I had a long telephone conversation with an American cookbook author and contributor to various publications on the subject of food in Paris. She spoke of recommending La Regalade to some Americans with a claim to an interest and understanding of good food. At the mention of the name "La Regalade" I said "oh, my favorite restaurant." It's not really my absolute favorite, but the fact is that my one meal there is almost as fondly remembered as any multistarred meal I have had in Paris, or elsewhere. She went on to tell me that they hated the restaurant. I just told her she had recommended the right restaurant to the wrong people. It's possible that La Regalade has changed, or that it's success is now being capitalized upon and that it's only a shell of its former self, but then again, I rather enjoyed Paris as a city, as recently as last November.

I don't know any of your other places except Hubert. It has it's pluses and minuses, but overall an interesting place at the price and open on Sunday to boot. I think we all understand your rage. To be offered by a sensual pleasure and not be able to rise to enjoy the occasion is the base fear in all of our hearts and minds.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

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"I make it my life's mission to never go to Paris again., although unfortunately I think I have to go back later in the year. Why does God hate me so?"

If it's realy that painful, I will happily go in your place. I would be a worthy representative for your fine business, and my expenses would probably be lower than yours!

God loves those who love Paris...

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Magnolia, even an old atheist such as myself, thanks God that he was born with the gene necessary to appreciate Paris. From what I can tell it is a dominant gene, although from what I read, it seems the gene necessary to appreciate Parisians is recessive. Once again I thank God I have both of those or whatever it is that makes Parisians take such good care of me.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

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You and your recessive genes.  You come of London with all that fancy talk and we'll bloody well take good care of you.

Actually, I do wish I could appreciate Paris more.  It is one of those things, like coffee.  Everyone adores it and goes on about it and it leaves me cold. give me a nice cuppa anytime

La regalade was a particular disappointment as it was recommended by someone whose views are normally 100% spot on ( Magnolia, that is ) so the fact it was so awful just made me whither like a salted snail.

I could cope with D'hubert, it was just ordinary.  Regalade was actively nasty.  A horrible environment, tiny tables, appalling service and food which was considerably the inferior of something I can ( and will throw together tonight )

I think it is just the child like enthusiasm of Americans that makes them seem so breathless for Paris and France in general.  Whereas we have centuries of enmity to leven our enthusiasm for the non soap users

S

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I found the point of La Regalade to be gutsy cooking in an environment where close tables, low budget decor and rapid (but friendly) service are compensated by the prices. A year ago the menu was £20 and a (small) glass of champagne under £4. If the bill had been £87 for 2 I would be somewhat less enthusiastic.

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Close to four years ago, the set menu at La Regalade was 170 francs. It's possible that an overwhelming popularity and an invasion of tourists has ruined it, but I rather doubt it, at least to the extent described by Simon. But, you have to love that style of food and you have to love Paris and the idea of Paris. For me, and for my wife as well I believe, this was a revisit to the Paris of our younger days. I have to note that revisits to restaurants we both loved in the sixties has only served to point out the deterioration of French food to us and that La Regalade is the revival.

As for London, I shall have to return someday if only to wipe out the memory of eating on a student budget. When I make my plans, I will be sure to ask Simon for a list of the places he avoids.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

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It is interesting how my opinions of Regalade have been dismissed as inability to appreciate or lack of taste.  slightly presumptious as people have not eaten what we ate or been treated as we were treated.

if people hate some of the places I suggest, I don't dismiss them, I do say that I have had good experiences but they may have been there on an bad night ( can restaurants be allowed to have a bad night- that's another discussion )  I certainly wouldn't suggest a lack of taste or knowledge as, despite my brusque style, I have slightly more respect than that.

I guess that is the danger of suggesting the heresy on a US based board that some places in La Belle France may not be that good.

Bux - I will gladly give you a list of places I avoid in London, but they are easily found as they are full of people called Elmer who wear that strange mix of South Dakota Farmer's Union baseball caps and Burberry raincoats :raz:  

S

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they are full of people called Elmer who wear that strange mix of South Dakota Farmer's Union baseball caps and Burberry raincoats
I would have trouble distinguishing them from the folks who operate the wonderful kitchens in Memphis or Kansas City.  :confused:

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

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Their clothes don't clash at home, or in London? How does a Londoner tell a South Dakotan from a Missourian or a Kansan in London?

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

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Oh, trust me, our American cousins can be spotted a mile off as I am sure Brits can in the US ( blotchy pale skin is the usual give away.  Oh and we are usually drunk )

The last time I encountered such an american group, the baseball hats which actually did say "South Dakota Farmer's Union" gave it away.

That is unless they are a big seller at Kennedy airport :raz:

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Judging by the quaint shops I see around the world, I shouldn't be surprised if those hats weren't a big seller in some shop in London or Tokyo, but my question was not how to spot a South Dakotan in a London crowd, but how to tell him apart form the guy from Missouri. In South Dakaota the cap would be a freebie fromt he local feed store, while in London some young urban gent would probably shell out a few pounds for it.

I am however surprised that you don't have more of an upbeat appreciation of folks who come visiting in their colorful native garb. Would an Austrian in lederhosen suffer the same rebuff.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

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Simon-Prior to reading this post I thought maybe our difference in opinion about restaurants could be chalked up to having different palates but now I am pretty confdent that it is because you don't know anything about the kind of food they serve at places like La Regalade.

But first, calling Paris grubby lacks credibility. They actually wash all the streets every night. In fact, the French invented special street cleaning devices that wash the streets under parked cars. So I don't understand the comment because it happens to be a clean city. And the place is always glowing. The quality of the light there is better than any other city I know of, save for maybe New York. In fact, as I was walking around the 17th arr. last Tuesday at dusk and I was noticing how low the sky is, and how they were smart enough to make the streets wide, and keep the buildings low enough to allow the natural light to flood most every street. And that is only the daytime. I do not know of any other city that is as well lit as Paris in the evening. One of our more pedantic members should try and find out how many kilowatts they expend lighting up their buildings and bridges compare to a place like NYC that lights nothing up and pretty much depends on office buildings to keep their light in the interior offices on for effect.

So it is clean and well lit. I don't understand how you can argue against it. Unless, you want to call clean dirty by switching the meaning of the words.

As for La Regalade, hey, sometimes I have to chalk up somebody's opinion as they just don't know and all arguments about subjectivity have to be stricken from the possibilities. It would be like you telling me that Van Gogh wasn't a great painter, or Pavarotti doesn't sing well, or that the Empire State Building isn't "really" tall. In order to make those types of criticisms one has to establish that they understand those things to begin with. One has to get it first. And what is even odder (or less credible depending on your point of view,) is that what they do at La Regalade isn't so earth shatteringly different. They just execute it particularly well. I mean what is so odd about serving Shepherd's Pie with Blood Sausage as the meat instead of chopped meat? There is't anything to "hate" about it. And just to show you how far off I think you are, I think La Regalade is 10 times better than La Trouvaille, and I am not exaggerating.  

As for the rest of this thread about appreciating Paris, that's a topic worthy of another thread that I will try and post on when I finally get home from Europe.

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I do not know of any other city that is as well lit as Paris in the evening.

When people ask me about the best time to visit Paris, I usually start off by pointing out har far north it is and how long it stays light in the late spring and early summer, but then I remember how beautiful Paris is at night. They don't call it the city of lights for nothing. Even on the dark streets where my wife and I often find ourselves wandering after a simple bistro dinner in an outer arrondissement seem a counterpoint to higlight the brighter districts.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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My opinions on food, restaurants and Paris are pretty different to those of my brother (apart from our love of products porcine) but we were unanimous on La Regalade – it failed big time.  

I suspected the worse when I asked for a glass of house champagne and was immediately recommended a glass of Krug.  Hardly bistro-style.  The rest of the meal went by in a blur.  Ok terrine, whipped from the table a couple of minutes after it had been placed.  Much heralded ecrevisses that should have been sweet morsels, tasted of nothing.  Braised leg of veal tasted  one-dimensional and stewed.   Dull desert.  Six dishes between us, not one good one.  The mediocrity of the cooking reminded me of a long forgotten UK chain (Pierre Victoire) except that a meal there cost £5 and the service was better.  It was especially telling that we were never asked how our food was - perhaps they didn't have the time or the inclination.  

I looked around the room,  nobody was smiling.  We left, nobody said goodbye.  I felt I had just been through some sort of machine which parts undiscerning tourist from their money but without the consolation of a  Mickey Mouse or Jimmy's Stratocaster to gawp at.  Comparisons with La Trouvaille are laughable.  There is a honesty to their cooking which shames the places we visited.  The quality of their ingredients  is light years ahead, the steak tastes of beef, the pork  tastes of pig.

Unlike my brother I have no problem with France (or Paris).  I was in Champagne not too long ago sampling the delights of the menu at Les Crayeres chez M. Boyer.  A few years ago I spent two blissful months in Paris sampling the delights of bistro and brasserie.  But on this occasion I found the cooking had deteriorated (at this level) and that the prices had risen inversely.   I did have good food during my visit.  Oysters, Crepes and Gaufres purchased from street vendors, exquisite Marrons Glace ice cream from Berthillon, a slice of ham from a charcuterie , a hunk of cheese from one of the many Fromageries.  

I still like Paris as a city.  The days I visited were clear skied, the quality of the light is terrific and the architecture still looks great.  However, I found much of the city centre dirty.  This was especially the case in the Metro stations – much worse than London.  It is true that they wash down the streets every night but this doesn’t seem to shift the piles of dog crap that mottle the pavements.  Ultimately it appears to have surrendered much of it’s self respect to the lure of the tourist dollar and I think it’s cooking has suffered as a consequence.

Time for some posters to wake up and smell le pain grille.

Robin

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I'm even more inclined to suspect the Majumdar brothers share a genetic flaw similar to my inability to smell fresias.

:wink:

First I should extend a welcome to Simon's brother before making my less than supportive reply. I can't overlook the possibility that success has ruined La Regalade. A little fame, a few reviews send the wrong person and before you know it, everyone is treated like the wrong person since the proprietor has little reason to feel he's attracting the diner who cares.

I might suggest that asking for a glass of the house champagne may have sent a signal that they were dealing with the wrong tourists. Can any "old Paris" hands tell me if that's what a local might order. I suspect they offered Krug in an attempt to make a rosbif feel at home. Not having dined with you, I can't say much about the actual food you ate. I suspect they were not too interested in what you thought about the food. It remains to be established why. Why would you have expected anyone to smile. The French, as a rule, do not smile. Americans smile and it's taken the French a long time to accept that they're not up to no good because of that difference. The ladies on the rue St. Denis may smile at you and the staff at a three star restaurant or luxury hotel may smile at you, but they all share a professional trick of their trades. This is not to imply they are common trades.

I'm heartened that you enjoy Paris. I certainly do even with its imperfections. It lends some credence to your claim that La Regalade has declined, although I would need some corroborating opinion before I was inclined to worry.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Robin- I write this admitting ahead of time that I think it is indeed possible that you had a poor meal at Regalade. I mean every kitchen is bound to mess up. But as I said earlier, what they serve there isn't all that complex. How can you screw up a pork terrine that badly? I mean I was there with you guys at La Trouvaille and they screwed up the food pretty badly there. And blind, I would wager that the food is better at Regalade than Trouvaille even if on the night we visited there they brought in substitute chefs. I mean what they start out with raw is better than what they end up with at Trouvaille cooked. So I am having a hard time buying this one.

I think there is a difference between visiting a restaurant and not liking it for personal reasons (too many to elaborate on here) and not liking it because you don't get it. And in fact, many times people write about food and wine and their palates are clearly oriented a certain way and it becomes obvious that one needs to calibrate what they say against one's own personal preferences. However, sometimes, over the long run, the position(s) they take make it obvious that the problem is not one of calibration, but one of either not knowing good from bad or because their palate is oriented in a way that makes their opinions unreliable.

All I can say is that it is too bad because Paris is a place one can love if one knows how to like it. For me it was love at first site. You (as well as Simon) should keep trying. It is well worth the effort.

Bux-I highly doubt that Regalade has declined. I was there last May and it was super, better than the meal we ate at L'Ambroisie the night before. And my main Paris wine dealer who is a big fresser still goes there all the time and claims it the 3rd best place to eat in Paris after Gagniare and Pacaud. I suspect that any decline last week had to do with the fact that French schools were on holiday and many people in France were away skiing etc., and possibly the cook staff at Regalade wasn't at full force. In fact a number of places I wanted to eat in last week were closed for the holidays

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Steve: How can you screw up a pork terrine that badly?

Robin: whipped from the table a couple of minutes after it had been placed.

This is the familar old the food was terrible and such small portions routine.

Steve, what do you order as an aperatif at La Regalade. Any support or denial that ordering a glass of house champange might just mark them as tourist swells from the UK?

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I can't overlook the possibility that success has ruined La Regalade. A little fame, a few reviews send the wrong person and before you know it, everyone is treated like the wrong person since the proprietor has little reason to feel he's attracting the diner who cares.

You're right the place was full of Americans :raz:

I'm even more inclined to suspect the Majumdar brothers share a genetic flaw similar to my inability to smell fresias.

We like to think of it an asset enabling us to sniff out bs  :wink:

Can any "old Paris" hands tell me if that's what a local might order

I checked with an aquaintance of mine and he assures me that ordering a glass of house champagne is permitted in a Paris bistrot (although the laws were only changed very recently) and only a complete rube would order a kir or Pineau des Charentes.

Why would you have expected anyone to smile

Cos that's what people do when they're having a good time

The French, as a rule, do not smile

What was your sample - mine was about 95% of the restaurant.

How can you screw up a pork terrine that badly?

The pork terrine was ok.

I mean I was there with you guys at La Trouvaille and they screwed up the food pretty badly there

My meal was very good.

I think there is a difference between visiting a restaurant and not liking it for personal reasons (too many to elaborate on here) and not liking it because you don't get it. And in fact, many times people write about food and wine and their palates are clearly oriented a certain way and it becomes obvious that one needs to calibrate what they say against one's own personal preferences. However, sometimes, over the long run, the position(s) they take make it obvious that the problem is not one of calibration, but one of either not knowing good from bad or because their palate is oriented in a way that makes their opinions unreliable.

My thoughts exactly.

And my main Paris wine dealer who is a big fresser still goes there all the time and claims it the 3rd best place to eat in Paris

Wow - restaurant cooking in Paris is in an even worse state than I imagined.

This is the familar old the food was terrible and such small portions routine.

Now you come to mention it...

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