Thursday, May 25, 2006

Chez Léon

Last night I ventured out of my usual 'hood to try Chez Léon, a "bib gourmand" restaurant in the Michelin guide (no, no, no, I'm not talking about the mussels chain, Léon de Bruxelles). A block away from the bustling market street, Rue de Lévis, Chez Léon is mentioned in the famous police novels by Georges Simenon. We were even seated at Table 5, above which a plaque is mounted, reading that this is the seat of the Commissaire (Inspector) Jules Maigret, "hôte gourmand de la maison."

There is a set 3-course menu at 26€, and à la carte you'd pay a bit more (click to enlarge):At first glance I knew exactly what I'd order for all three courses, and I think my boyfriend, R., felt the same way. He ordered the foie gras, which came with toast, and I started with canteloupe and jambon de bayonne. Unfortunately the melon wasn't ripe - it was still hard and had little sweetness or flavor, so it was disappointing. We also raised our eyebrows at the garnishings - we both had a sliver of tomato and a wilted speck of parsley atop our appetizers, which inexplicably topped our main dishes as well. I got the filet de lieu jaune avec légumes de printemps. I feel like no matter what the name is in French, when I try to translate it to English I end up with pollack, as is the case here. The fish was delicious, crispy on the top, with a light sauce that flavored the bed of carrots, snow peas, and green peas (which were hard and crunchy - yuck). R. had the Joue de boeuf braisée avec pommes boulangère, which came out piping hot, in a cast iron casserole. This was also great, the beef steaming away in a thick gravy, with sliced potatoes and onions underneath.

The desserts were wonderful. I know, I almost always say that, but I can't help it if it's true (or if I've got an enormous sweet tooth). Pictured on the left is an île flottante, one of my favorite desserts, sitting in a pool of crème anglaise. The last time I had one was exactly one year ago at Aux Lyonnais, so this was long overdue. The île flottante was heavenly: light and fluffy, it melted in my mouth. I didn't sprinkle it with the powdered pralines that came on the side that came with it because it was so good just plain. I had counseled R. against what was described as Framboises fraîches, crème marscapone (Fresh raspberries & marscapone) because he hates cheese cake or any heavy dairy products. The description did not do justice to the dessert, however, which was beautiful and delicious: topped with a swirly pattern of mango and raspberry sauce, the cream was lighter than I expected, with fresh raspberries hiding at the bottom. The tartness of the mango sauce and the fresh raspberries were excellent with the cream.

We had gotten a bottle of Bourgogne Aligoté for 21€, and most of the wines were in that price range. The food was solid, the waiter was hilarious, and we both felt like 26€ was about right for what we got, but I honestly expected more than just "solid" from a bib gourmand. All the other ones we have been to have been excellent and inventive - L'ami Jean, Aux Lyonnais, Le Buisson Ardent, Le Gallopin, to name a few. These restaurants might have had their own setbacks, but the food and the presentation were always beautiful and sometimes surprising (like the Carambar tart I had at L'epi Dupin). The dining room itself was also kind of shabby, with dirty walls and worn upholstry, so I didn't agree with the two "utensils" that Chez Léon received in the Michelin guide. This rates the building, the decor, the location, and the facilities, with two indicating "comfortable", but I would not put Chez Léon in the same category as Le Pamphlet and Le Gallopin, also two-utensiled. While I obviously contest the Michelin ratings Chez Léon has received, it was still decent overall, and again, the waiter was really nice. Not a bad choice if you are nearby, and perhaps even a must if you're a big fan of Inspector Maigret.

Chez Léon
32, rue Legendre
75017 Paris
01 42 27 06 82
M: Villiers
Closed Saturday & Sunday


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