Not So Frenchie

Given the effusive reviews and significant buzz about Frenchie dating back to 2009, I finally was able to snag a table for two last Friday night. That magical triumvirate of Spring, Yam' Tcha, and Frenchie, three of the most talked about contemporary bistrots on the Paris restaurant scene over the past couple of years, makes for a heady challenge just to get through the door. To date, I still haven't succeeded at getting a reservation at Spring, although I haven't been trying too hard after the last phone conversation I had while trying to book - 'Table? You want a table? At Spring? Do you think we actually allow diners into our sacred batiment? Ha! surely you jest monsieur.' Or something like that.

Long story short, it wasn't that difficult to get that table at Frenchie, at least when asking for the reservation a solid two months in advance. Viola, nothing to it. The problem is, I expected a very special experience (only a week earlier L'Agrume's chef Monsieur Marchesi-Grandiand included Frenchie among his preferred Paris venues), but what I ended up getting was, 'uh, not so bad, actually pretty good.' Voted the Fooding 2009 du meilleur cuisinier (best cook award), chef Greg Marchand, from Nantes to New York City (including a stint at Gramercy Tavern) to Paris kept peering out from the spatially-challenged kitchen in the back of the diminutive stone and red brick duplex dining area, as if to get some sort of confirmation that he was on the right track. A couple tables away, I gave him a polite nod and smile, which seemed to satisfy him enough to send him scampering back to the kitchen.

Frenchie is one of those places - at least on the basis of me and Co.'s Friday night visit - where you hear English being spoken as soon as you pass the threshold, where waitresses answer in English even though you ('you' being me with my pitiful accent) make an effort to speak in French. The menu was printed on a sheet of paper, which self-destructs in one week - that is, different menu every week. Here's what was on tap (click on the menu if it isn't totally readable):

The foie gras torchon, agrumes was a 14€ addition, served as a fine start to the meal, a savory wedge of foie gras with accompanying dollop of citrus fruit jam and toasted bread. I don't know, this must be the period of the mackerel in France, with that otherwise unappetizing fish serving prominently in various guises as an entree, the night before at Le Villaret (as a mackerel press with far too many carrots), and at Frenchie with cauliflower and pickels. Monsieur Marchand's maquereau fume elevated the lowly status of that fish, although I'm not sure why he chose to call two miniscule circles of marinated carrots as 'pickles.' Meanwhile, Co. pondered where on earth the lardo di colonnata was hidden in her salade tiede de legumes. Her assessment of the papardelle, ragout d'agneau was similarly less than inspired. I couldn't fault my well-prepared, fresh pieces of merlu de ligne - the flavor of the two halves of a walnut rounding out this round pretty effectively. No complaints around the table for the panacotta, avocat, chocolat dessert, which was satisfyingly orgasmic. All washed down with a Penedes Indigena red, priced at a reasonable 30€.

In short, the meal was very good, but far short of memorable. Marchand eschews rigorous sauces, and his dishes are Italian and, to lesser extent, American inspired, with the addition of variously subtle ingredients. Although the room is satisfyingly urban/rustic, I could have done without the buffoon at the next table who was opining at a relatively constant rate at a decibel level that was more appropriate for a football match, in some bizarre language that I pegged as Eastern European and Co. dubbed Danish. But that was the rare exception in the largely English-speaking dining area. Strangely enough, when we arrived on time for our 7:30 pm reservation, the dining area was nearly full, something you rarely see at the notable Parisian bistrots. Given the 38€ three-course ever-changing menu, there's no reason not to give Frenchie a second chance, but I have a feeling I won't be trying too hard to get that elusive reservation next time.

5 rue du Nil
Paris 75002
tel. 01 40 39 96 19
Video (with Greg Marchand interview)
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