Chateaubriand: Affordable Haute Cuisine

When Chateaubriand was nominated the number 11 restaurant in the world by the World’s Best Restaurant Awards 2010, sponsored by San Pellegrino, I was shocked. It was the first restaurant on the list for all of France, let alone Paris. Not even any of Alain Ducasse’s brainchildren could top this small restaurant in the 11th. I have walked by Chateaubriand on several ocassions and not noticed anything special. What was this nondescript typical french restaurant doing on a World’s Best list?

Thursday night my curiosity finally got the best of me and led me to Chateaubriand. I had tried earlier on in the week to get a reservation, but to no avail. I was told to try for a walk-in table around 9:30. So my friend and I showed up around 10.

Every seat was filled and a good portion of the bar was occupied by hungry “stand-bys”. The handsome man behind the bar assured us that it was only a half hour wait. So we decided to order a bottle of wine and simmer.

We ordered a light 2008 Bourgogne and proceeded to watch the inner workings of this curious place unfold.

As it turned out, the handsome man behind the bar was one of five handsome men (tall, dark, scruffy, shaggy haired, and with a distinct French swagger) who appeared to run everything outside the kitchen. They worked the bar, they sat customers, they waited tables, they assembled the cheese plates, and were probably sous-chefs as well for all I could tell. The kitchen, which was visible from most of the restaurant, was packed with chefs and waiters gesticulating wildly and conducting gastronomic experiments like mad scientists all in sync with whatever hard rock or techno anthem that blasted from their ipod speakers. Too cool.

While we waited at the bar, we were given a menu, presumably to salivate over not to deliberate over since it was fixed. I love that it was printed on simple white computer paper. Notice the top right corner where someone got a little too excited envisioning the looming feast.

We were soon seated by the window, the best seat in the house as it afforded a view of everything going on inside as well as all the interactions outside, (particularly when the stupidly handsome waiters took moody cigarette breaks. sigh.) Cheese pastries were brought out right away; puffs of fluffy, crispy, salty, cheesy goodness.

The amuse bouche was a veal carpacchio with radish and a ground fish egg sauce resembling mustard. A very exciting discovery for the palate.

The next course was so good I forgot to take a picture of the dish in its virgin form! The burrata, petits pois and verdena salad were strange, surprising, and wonderful. The burrata, which is a mozzarella infused with cream, was at once so buttery and flaky. It had the texture of a perfectly cooked piece of white fish drenched in a creamy sauce. The monkfish and asparagus made for a symbiotic textural combination. The firm white asparagus, and the tender monkfish, laid abreast in a sort of phallic modern art installation, were drenched in a buttery vendace sauce, otherwise known as Kalixlöjrom, a regional delicacy of fish eggs from Northern Sweden.
The main course featured thinly sliced duck breast in a citrus salad, paired with the tiniest potatoes you’ve ever seen and crispy chips á la Maison. Succulent and refreshing.

Once again I could not resist taking a bite before I snapped a photo. This desert duo was a most bizarre and unexpected combination of flavors. The chèvre ice cream, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with strawberry, mint, rhubarb, and chunks of sea salt was beautiful and the flavors were totally unexpected. Suffice it to say that this dish tasted like summer. We were instructed by our waiter to finish with the chocolate mousse. To my surprise, the frothy chocolate concealed a layer of piquillos, sweet red peppers from the Basque region. Again, a bizarre but sensational pairing that rounded off an invaluable lesson in how to eat, and how to expand the palate.

So it appears that chefs Inaki Aizpitarte and Fred Peneau have truly created something special with Chateaubriand. They have challenged their clientele to try new flavors and culinary combinations while still guarding their authenticity as a laid back, informal Parisian resto. And at just 45 euro a head, this is affordable haute cuisine at its best.

Practical Info: Single menu at 45 euro a person. Menu changes daily. Reservations accepted for the 7:30 seating then walk-ins are seated according to availability. Call 01 43 57 45 95‎ for a reservation.

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