Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 15:16
Since this particular meal would not only include the discovery of an impressively pedigreed new restaurant but a reunion with Roger and Adelyn, two wonderful friends from Australia who have a huge knowledge of and enthusiasm for good food and wine, I was really looking forward to dinner at Les 110 de Taillevent the other night. This just-opened brasserie de luxe has replaced Taillevent's first off-spring, L'Angle du Faubourg, just around the corner from la maison Mere, and it was conceived with the specific vocation of pleasuring vinophiles by pouring some 110 different bottles of wine from the Taillevent cellars by the glass in 7 or 14 centiliter pours.
Arriving, I loved the new look of this always rather awkward space by omnipresent interior designer Pierre Yves Rochon, who seems to have designed almost every new hotel to have opened in Paris during the last five years. Here, it looks as though he may have been channeling the great Alsatian marquetry artist Spindler, since the room radiates warm wood tones, has golden lighting and clubby leather upholstered chairs. Roger, Adelyn and Swiss friend Maeggie were already seated and sipping Champagne when Bruno and I arrived, and happiness and hilarity reigned as Roger and Adelyn gifted me with two different types of Sarawak pepper--doctors both, they'd been at a medical conference in Borneo on their way to Paris. It took a while--an unfortunate foreshadowing of the service to come, but Bruno and I finally received our glasses of Champagne, which no one bothered to ID, a surprising slip up in a restaurant dedicated to viniferous connoisseurship.
When I opened the menu, my heart sank a bit, too, since prices were hefty, and Roger had already gallantly insisted on taking us all to dinner. Still, I thought, at least the food will be good in a restaurant under the aegis of Taillevent, especially since I've always loved chef Alain Solivérès's cooking (the actual chef at Les 110 de Taillevent is Emile Cotte, who previously worked at Le Pre Catalan, Meating, and several other Paris tables). A different selection of four wines by the glass had been selected to accompany starters, fish, meat, cheese and desserts, but off the menu, a much larger number are available by the glass and the bottle. Studying the different possible wine pairings, I immediately realized how hard it would be to make this restaurant work properly. Unless you're serving experts or confident know-nothings, wine by the glass at high prices needs a fair amount of cheerful and patient explanation--why, exactly, is one wine perhaps a better choice than another, etc., an exercise that be both fun and elucidating if the staff have both the personality, expertise, and time to carry it off. Given the very diverse starters at our table, I quickly decided we'd be better off drinking by the bottle, however, and so ordered a lovely white Bellet to go with our first courses. Alas, our first courses arrived before our wine, and the special glass of Jurancon that Roger wanted with his foie gras required further prompting.
I loved my sauteed squid with gently smoky sun-dried tomatoes on a bed of salad leaves, and the bone-dry Bellet paired perfectly with this starter, too. Bruno's smoked salmon was pleasant, but not very generously served; Adelyn described her dressed crab with fennel and dill as "timid," which, knowing her, really meant, slightly disappointing; Roger wolfed down his foie gras with apricot chutney, and Maeggie seemed pleased with her cold pea soup. As the cruise director for this meal, however, my enthusiasm was rapidly waning. The food was pleasant but undistinguished, and it was completely maddening to have to keep asking for our wine to be poured. No serious sommelier should ever have allowed that 90 some odd Euro bottle of Bellet to get ice cold in a bucket, either.
Our main courses continued the debuting theme of the meal, too--good quality produce prepared with admirable professional precision but no noticeable signature, a point-blank absence of creativity, and a deflating lack of generosity in terms of garnishes and side dishes. An up-market restaurant spinning on an axis of sophisticated food-and-wine pairings should practice a reflexive abundance and aspire to an ambient joyousness, both sorely lacking here. Knowing how much the Aussies love good wine and wanting them to drink things they might not easily find in a small town down under, but also respectful of the melting point of Roger's charge card, I chose a Saint-Péray as our next bottle. And it was delightful. Never once, however, did the truly charmless sommelier engage with me or anyone else at the table about what we were drinking, although he needed to be reminded three times before the long-suffering Roger finally got the stiffly priced glass of Pommard he'd wanted to drink with his rack of lamb.
Adelyn was happy with her sole meuniere, which cost something like 60 Euros; Bruno had a dainty little vol au vent (and some soup when we got home); Maeggie went with the merlan Colbert (breaded whiting with a nice caper mayonnaise and fried parsley), and I ordered the ugliest dish of the evening, which was steamed cod with a stingy morel or two, several spears of asparagus and what I think may have been the same jus de viande sauce that garnished Bruno's vol au vent.
Since the desserts weren't particularly interesting, we shared two different cheeses--an organic Sainte Maure and a superb 26 month old Comte, and called it quits. Because of the lively conversation and some good wine, I think everyone enjoyed the evening, but regretted having chosen this expensive and joyless place for a very special occasion and would be disinclined to return.
Les 110 de Taillevent, 195 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 8th, Tél. 01-40-74-20-20. Metro: Courcelles or Georges V. www.taillevent.com. 39 Euro prix-fixe menu, Average a la carte 75 Euros.