Le Villaret - Mort's Pick

Yes, yes, I know, ‘Mort’s Pick’ is a pretty lame blog instalment heading, but as you probably know if you’ve been a regular follower of this blog, Le Villaret has long been one of my preferred bistrots in the French capital. And if you can think up a snappily witty twist on ‘Le Villaret,’ I will eat my beret. Le Villaret is all about the food, so who needs gimmicky teasers anyway?

At any rate, my last visit to this venue, just a short walk from the Parmentier metro stop on the unimposing and discreet rue Ternaux, was a little unsettling, as all the familiar faces – owner and staff – were gone. As I eventually was informed that the restaurant had changed owners, I was relieved to see the familiar chef Olivier poking his head from the kitchen as he always seems wont to do. Nonetheless, Co. and I arrived on Friday night with some degree of trepidation, not knowing what, if any, changes the V. had undergone. And, I am happy to report, the changes are few and positive. Standing out among the positives is an extremely affordable 32€ menu, featuring three or four choices for a 3-course meal. I always expected to pay a bit more than usual at Le V., primarily because a la carte was essentially the only choice. Now, in addition to the standard menu, there also is an affordable menu de degustation for 50€.

I’ve always found the V. to be comfortable and welcoming. The relatively small-sized interior is handsomely short of who gives a ratatouille, with some timber strips along the walls suggestive of an earlier life as ski lodge. If you arrive shortly after 8 p.m., as we generally do, you can expect the near empty dining room to be filled and convivial by the time you’ve consumed your mis-en-bouche, entrée, and one-third of your bottle of wine. But enough about atmosphere, as mentioned, the V. is all about food. I was immediately attracted to the 32€ menu, and had already decided on the following lineup by the time Co. had foraged her reading glasses out of her purse:
Entrée: Salade tiede de bulots et pomme de terre et vinegrette. Plat: Filets de rouget poeles et pancetta, fenouil a la grecque et olives de sicile. Dessert: Le baba ua rhum, crème vanillas, salade de mangue a la citronelle.

I was smugly satisfied at the alacrity of my decision making, as the ultimately accommodating waitress began to answer Co’s questions about whether it would be possible to order an entrée from the menu a la carte, from which it was mysteriously absent. And by the time I had drifted into contemplation about whatever lofty thoughts had drifted into my Bunnahabhain single malt-crossed mind, I was quickly lured into a discussion about the possibility of swapping the joues de porc offering on the 50€ menu de degustation (MEG), which I do not eat, for a fish alternative. (As is always the case, with the MEG, it is all or nothing – if one person orders it, everyone at the table must abide.) One glance in Co’s direction, and I realized that asking her to forego the MEG, with its promised langoustines and coquille St. Jacques would have serious repercussions during the remainder of the weekend, so the Mort abides, the Mort abides.

As I try to interpret my generally incoherent notes, please follow to the best of your ability my description of the 6-course meal (including two dessert courses), misspellings included. The festivities began with a mis-en-bouche consisting of a crème de courgette, a hint of pleasures to come. First up from the menu was another soup, this time a crème de rouget with small morsels of corizzo and croutons. This was a fish soup off the beaten path, yet without doubt it worked. Moving on to solids, the next entrée consisted of queues de langoustine with salade de mache, round baked potato chips (for want of a better term), and xeres vinagrette. This was excellent – the three meaty strips of langoustine (including two tails) were sweet and delectable, their flavor enhanced, not diluted by the xeres. This dish was followed by another winner consisting of the coquilles St. Jacques simmering in a sea of lentils au foie gras. I suppose these dishes were supposed to serve as entrees, but were uncommonly sized for a degustation menu, which more typical of Paris restaurants substitutes breadth for quantity. As Co. welcomed the arrival of her joues de porc with persil, I rejoiced at the arrival of my replacement fish, the rouget dish I had contemplated from the start. Neither of us found any reason to complain at this fortuitous turn of events. The two desserts represented odd and unanticipated choices. First up was a dish consisting of two ice creams (chocolate and guanaco) and a sliver of qumquat. Long before the finale, some sort of pear concoction with mint grand duque, Co. had grown pale before the quantity of food we were consuming. I was holding up fine, but then I hadn’t eaten a crepe stuffed with confecture before leaving home as had my lovely, but somewhat undisciplined dinner companion. Once again, my philosophy is as it has always been, single malt whiskey, oui, crepe, non, especially when a degustation menu awaits.

By the time I was busy draining the last two drops out of the excellent Corbieres La Pompadour 2007 Castelmaur (25€) and contemplating lofty thoughts involving the aforementioned langoustines, I noticed the elegant chap sitting at the next table offer from his finger (!) a taste of a white sauce that had accompanied his dessert to Co. The finger to finger swap left Co. in a bit of a flustered dilemma, but ever polite, she obliged, and upon tasting the truffle sauce agreed that it was more than inappropriate for a dessert. The sauce was quickly replaced by a more dessert-friendly white sauce which – all things fair in finger to finger combat – our neighbor obliged me to try, only this time it, thankfully, arrived by spoon. Le Villaret – it’s that kind of place. Friendly, subtle, and inconspicuous, but always surprising.

13, rue Ternaux
75011 Paris
tel. 01 43 57 75 56
no web site (too bad!)
Closed: Saturday lunch and Sunday

Note: Valentine's Day dinner at La Dinee, albeit two days before the actual event, was another great choice, as expected. While the meal didn't reach the heights of our visit last summer, it did not disappoint. What did disappoint were the numerous empty tables in the restaurant. A cold, unfriendly late Winter Friday night, two days before Valentine's Day may, in part, explain the lack of diners, but La Dinee definitely merits our support.
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