Monday, April 13, 2009

Bread and Chocolate in Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Bread (Poilane)

Chocolate (Jean-Charles Rochoux)

An American Meal, with Americans, in Paris

Researching places to eat prior to traveling to Paris, I thought it might be interesting to book a reservation at the Hidden Kitchen, the 'secret' dining club owned by a young couple from Seattle with experience cooking in that city's better restaurants. 'Secret' implies that a supper club which has had gushing praise from food blogs such as this one, as well as a feature in The New York Times, is in fact hardly known to folks who enjoy travel and food enough to research where they will eat while in Paris. In other words, as it relates to HK, the word is out.

Perhaps that is why our dozen or so fellow diners were all Americans. While I had read to the contrary in the Times, apparently Braden and Laura now book evenings based on nationality. One night might be Parisian night, another one booked for travelers from Singapore, and of course there have been, and will continue to be, many more all American dinners.

Here is how it works. You email HK the date you would like to dine (dinners on weekends only), they let you know if it works, and confirm the date with you the week of your dinner. For 80 euros you get a 7 course meal with wine pairings.

The menu, though it varies somewhat, will probably resemble something like this one (not exactly the same as our dinner, but a few courses match and others are very similar). While I really enjoyed a few courses, particularly the toasted peanut soup with roasted eggplant and red onion salad and the seared salmon with toasted spinach, parsnip puree and watercress chimichurri, the others were not as memorable. There was a poached egg, fava bean and frisee salad with green goddess dressing, a somewhat dry pulled pork dish, pan fried mackerel (a strongly flavored fish best enjoyed as sushi, imo). Wines selected for each course were merely ok, no standouts. The one exception would be a wine which stood out for all the wrong reasons, an Argentinean Malbec paired with dessert (yikes!) which on its own was no good, let alone served with a fruit based dessert.

I was on the fence about writing a critical review of what was ultimately an enjoyable evening spent in the apartment of an adventurous, gracious, young American couple in Paris. However, given the merely decent quality of the meal and not inexpensive price tag, I felt as though some constructive criticism was in order.

Don't get me wrong, Hidden Kitchen is a great concept, and for about $110 is not overpriced considering that seven courses - as well as wine - are included. However, if you want better than average French wine, and food that is a bit more exciting, there are many, many other options to explore in Paris.