Roseval - No Rosebud

I always gagged on the silver spoon. 
- Charles Foster Kane

Although Roseval apparently signifies some sort of potato, given that there wasn't a single potato on the menu, I'd prefer the allusion to Citizen Kane's 'rosebud' as the lead-in to this review of the new neo-bistrot in a quaint courtyard of the Menilmontant section of Paris.  With the damp stones glistening in the mid-October evening and the church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix looming just across from the pretentiously unpretentious facade of Roseval, who could resist?  A two-week wait for a reservation offered little impediment to Co. & I snagging a back corner table in the 20-seater platformed dining room. Once past the bar, we once again found ourselves initiating the evening as the first-to-arrive.  As we passed the bar, with waitstaff lingering, all eyes were on us - the welcome seemed genuinely friendly enough.

Rosebud . . . the symbol of the lost innocence of youth, and if anything, I couldn't get that reference out of mind during dinner at Roseval.  By the time our second dish had been served, the room was largely filled, with two two-seaters conspicuously standing unoccupied.  The procession of 20-somethings, each warmly welcomed like old buds, cheek-kissed, and greeted by the tag team chefs, Michael Greenwold and Simone Tondo, who both looking positively 20-something themselves, despite their pedigree of having served in the kitchens of the usual suspects, aka Chateaubriand, Rino, and Caffe dei Chioppi, all previously and copiously reviewed here.  Anyway, those 20-something patrons all looked so unlike anything I could remember of my youth, when neither myself nor my peers would go out for a casual dinner on a Friday evening and drop the equivalent of 40€ for a 4-course meal (already upped from July's 35€), or 47€ with cheese, or 65€ or 77€ accompanied by chef-selected glasses of wines, at one of the  aspiring trendier venues in the big city.  And given the no-choice fixed menu (see below), it's not like they could enact a 'why don't we take one plate and one dessert and share' policy.  No sled-riding for these young comers, probably sent off to the Alps by their well-heeled parents for indulgent ski vacations.

Given the lack of choice for food, I had extra time to peruse the wine list, and as I began my perusal, it was all Greek to me - actually, it was Italian, but you know what I mean.  At least the first four choices were Italian, and given our very satisfactory bottle last weekend at Vilia, Co. and I decided to continue with a good thing.  No Sardinian offerings this time, Roseval's Italian reds were from the Piedmont region and once again, I had no clue.  That's where our bouncy waitress, another exuberant Le Chateaubriand refugee, began to give advice, droning on in French to the point at which my addled brain was saying 'flip a coin.'  I was mildly admonished for leaning toward the two more reasonably-priced 'classical' bottles - whatever the hell that's supposed to mean - and not the heavily pushed 60€ bottle that seemed to be the bee's knees according to the waitress.  When the dust cleared, I ordered the 38€ 'classical' Langhe Nebbiolo 2010 (Babaresco), much to her apparent chagrin.  It was fine, but didn't turn out to reach the heights of Vilia's Sardinian.

The meal got off to a great start, albeit lacking a mise en bouche.  One of our neighbors, waiting for her gentleman companion, was brought a small plate of little white tidbits, likely some cheese, but perhaps some cubes of sugar that were never offered with my end of meal cafe, so if you want a mise en bouche at Roseval, tell your companion to circle the neighborhood for about a half hour before parking and you'll probably get one.  The great start was the dish of casserons (pulpe), poireau, and an egg yolk.  My photo is somewhat blurry, but this inky dish was terrific, with each ingredient making perfect sense in enhancing its overall Gestalt.  We greedily lopped up the vestigial ink with some very good country bread.

Talk about coming back to earth with a thud.  The cepes (enveloped in a single ravioli circle) - moelle - cresson follow-up didn't do much for me.  Served cold and very green, this one brought more pleasure to look at than to eat.

Ranked right in the middle in terms of pleasure-giving effect, the canette - betterave dish was pretty good, but absolutely smothered in betterave, both the red and white varieties.  Apparently the duo chefs knew better than we did how we prefer our meat to be cooked, because we weren't asked.  I had no complaint in that regard, but Co. was a bit disappointed the canette wasn't bloodier, although I'm not sure the dish could have gotten much redder.  The dish was half-eaten before it occurred to me that I hadn't photographed it, so here's what was left by the time the realization hit me.  If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you know I'm a big proponent of the potential wonders of cooking with betterave, but this one was a bit overwhelming.

At this juncture, our waiter brought us a freebie lead-in to the dessert, a very tasty cup of panna cotta.  I didn't mention the waiter yet, did I?  How could I forget.  This guy, albeit competent in serving, started grating on my nerves about halfway through the meal.  I don't know, there is something about a guy looking about 16 with that holier-than-thou smirk masquerading as a smile that seems to beckon 'hit me' that gets to me.  For some reason, he kept reminding me of Neil Patrick Harris's Doogie Howser, the precocious teen doctor of sit-com fame, which I guess is pretty funny.

Like frere Doogie, the dessert was competent, continuing the multitudinous sauce motif, though hardly spectacular.

With dinner done, I opted for a cafe and intoned to Co. that 'there will be no accompanying patisseries, mark my word.'  Little did I realize that there would be no accompanying sugar, either.  True, I never take sugar in my coffee - never - but how did they know that?  This just isn't done in a French restaurant.  To add insult to injury, once the credit card machine was brought to the table and I paid (total: 121€), frere Doogie brought Co.'s coat to the table and draped it over her chair.  No. 2 in things that just aren't done in French restaurants.  What is the message here?  Okay, you paid, now get the hell outta here.'  Sorry, here we pay and we linger - the French way.  It's not like there were customers waiting outside for a second serving.  I was a little taken aback when Co. beckoned the exuberant waitress to the table to point these things out, because Co. usually is pretty subdued, especially after half a bottle of wine, but the 'it happens' and 'he means well,' explanations definitely fell a bit short.

So what to make of Roseval?  Two talented chefs, no question (see Alexander Lobrano's photos of what appeared to be a more satisfying set of choices than we experienced, and from whence I borrowed the interior photo above) and a charming location, but the owners come up short with regard to customer relationship acumen.  It must be nice to pay one's dues at some successful venues in town and open up a spot where you can kibbitz with your 20-something friends, but the rest of us expect some respect.  Ultimately, you find more empty tables, like the one I don't intend to occupy again.  Rosebud, Rosebud, where art thou Rosebud?

Mr. Kane was a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it. Maybe Rosebud was something he couldn't get, or something he lost. Anyway, it wouldn't have explained anything... I don't think any word can explain a man's life. No, I guess Rosebud is just a... piece in a jigsaw puzzle... a missing piece.
          Jerry Thompson, Citizen Kane reporter 


1 rue D'Eupatoria
75020 Paris
tel: 09 53 56 24 14

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