L'Auberge de la Brie - A Tale of Two Critics

Goin' up the country, east of Paris to Couilly-Pont-Aux-Dames and the Michelin starred L'Auberge de la Brie, via word of mouth and nothing else, except true to its name, Paris Restaurants and Beyond is obliged to check out the beyond from time to time. 'Beyond' in this case means heading east along the N34, past the Marne, and just after the first toll booth (2.10€), at least I think, as I was not doing the driving. I need full concentration on the meal to come and find oncoming cars a tad too distracting. Not far from the center of town, and given the size of Couilly, the center is about all there is, on a quiet street, sits the Auberge, very country-ish.

Chef Alain and Celine Pavard hold court at their unpretentiously pretentious restaurant that seats about 25-30 at mostly round tables in a finely appointed, bright room.

Always a good start, the evening quickly got off to a good start with two tasty amuses bouches - four spicey millefilles, followed by a small bowl of fois gras covered by asparagus soup, the latter of which truly caught Co's fancy. L'Auberge is not cheap by usual Paris Restaurant and Beyond standards, especially if you plan to order ala carte, although there is a very reasonably-priced 46€ four-course menu that had me tempted, with dishes like a starter of Bonbons crousti-fondants de chèvre servis tièdes,Gaspacho et dés de betteraves rouges, pointe de mascarpone (that's all one dish, by the way) and a plate of Suprême de pintade farci et gratiné au comté Asperges vertes, pommes dauphines, sauce champagne among the choices.

Instead, we compromised and opted for the 5-course (69€) and 4-course (60€) menu gourmands, me opting out of the meat course, with Ris de veau braisé au jus réduit Marmelade d'oignons au jambon Ibérico,Macaronis farcis et gratinés not my cup of tea nor the pigeon alternative: Poitrine de Pigeonneau rôtie au foie gras poêlé, Craquant de charlottes, épinards frais, rouelles d'échalote. Now even with my more psychological than physiological aversion to pigeon, I was clearly ready to take a few bites off Co's dish, and when this became evident to Mme Pavard, well, what do you know? When course three arrived, we found that two individual and copious preparations of the pigeon dish had been prepared - what turned out to be a kind of breast of pigeon sandwich - sandwiched between two rounded and thick crepes (think American pancakes) and stuffed with spinach, a very elegant dish that, sorry, wasn't exactly my cup of tea, but which really caught Co.'s fancy. Have to admit, that was a pretty classy act by M. Pavard.

As for the other courses, starting with the entrees - Co. was wowed by her foie gras dish (Foie gras de canard aux artichauts, Tube de pain de mie croustillant et émincé de Bresaola),the foie gras enhanced as it was by a terrific honeyed crust, artichoke and ham). I enjoyed my Carpaccio de lotte fumée à l'huile d'olives Picholines,Tomates séchées, caviar d'aubergines, pignons de pin - the pignons a nice touch, the thinly sliced lotte, but I don't know why, it just didn't send me to the stratosphere. Entrees followed by the fish plates: Filet de Sandre et poêlée de girolles, Ravioles de Carbonara et jus réduit de volaille for Co. and Filets de Rouget-Barbet en croûte de viennoise, Confit de fenouil aux olives de Kalamata et galettes de risotto moelleux for your's truly. Once again, Co. found her fish transplendant, whereas I was more impressed by the preparation than the memory of my rouget, the very tasty olives confit notwithstanding.

Following the pigeon(s), came the cheese, and I must admit, halfway into the fish, I think we both were already well sated, but onward we pressed! Co.'s long strip of Le Brie de Meaux farci aux noix was truly impressive, as was the cheese tray, from which I selected. Dessert was preceded by a candy store interlude as a row of varied colored marshmallow concoctions and patisseries were brought to the table (that's Michelin star territory right there), as well as a large glass sundae bowl of individually plastic-wrapped bon bons, of which I could never imagine an adult imbibing. I went the chocolate route for dessert, selecting from the Dessert menu the Tarte sablée au chocolat guanaja Servie tiède, crème glacée, chocolat liégeois "à boire" and Co. opting for the Framboises et chaud-froid de crème brûlée à la vanille, neither of which I found particularly enchanting, although I am sure Co. once again would disagree.

So there you have it, an elegant change of pace in a room that warmed up as the evening progressed. The tale of two critics should be pretty obvious by this juncture - Co. was thoroughly impressed by the whole Gestalt, whereas cranky, jaded old me ended up satisfied, having spent an enjoyable and at times surprising evening out, despite not being particularly wowed by my selections. Lest I forgot, the copious helpings of food were ably washed down by a tasty Haut Medoc Chateau Peyrabon 2001, reasonably priced at 36€. Excellent wine list, with enough under 45€ choices to keep one within budget.

14, avenue Boulingre
77860 Couilly-Pont-Aux-Dames
tel: 01 64 63 51 80
Website: aubergedelabrie.com

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