After feasting at Michel Rostang for lunch and spending a long afternoon shopping it off at Printemps and walking it off at Centre Pompidou our dinner on Friday would remain in the 1st Arrondissement at yet another member of Paris’ Bistronomic movement; this time at the second iteration of Bruno Doucet’s famous La Régalade. Having initially considered the original location in the 14th but eventually opting on the Saint-Honoré setting based on recent reviews, location, and the fact that Doucet was spending less and less time at the original it was with minimal difficulty that we found the small storefront and having opted for the “early” seating at 7:30 when we called to make reservations a month prior it was no surprise that when we arrived the space was nearly vacant allowing for a swift greeting by one of four young females circulating the small room.
With reservations confirmed and coats hung along the wall we were led to a small wooden two-top midway along the wall looking into the small kitchen and moments later menus were presented and chalk-board specials described. With service certainly more abrupt than other meals on our trip I will note that our server, a cute British lass fluent in both French and English, was excellent throughout although the tag-team style of service did at one point lead to a substantial delay in refilling our carafe de l’eau. Left to explore the menu and browse the room it would be little time before decisions were made and although as it turned out Doucet was out of town and cooking at neither Régalade that night the meal that followed would represent the best “bang for the buck” we found in Paris.
With the 30-seats all packed by 8:00pm and the noise level steadily increasing to something between a hum and a buzz as we watched the young team work frenetically yet quietly in the open kitchen gleaming with copper pots and all sorts of shiny pipes and gadgets the first item to arrive at our table was the complimentary loaf pan containing the night’s “terrine du porc, veau, et canard” with a jar of cornichons and freshly sliced baguette. Instructed to “enjoy as much as you like” I’m rather certain that our server did not expect two diners of our size “enjoy” the whole thing, but with slice after slice full of meaty flavor and heavy aromatics including onion, pepper, garlic, coriander, paprika, and more it was hard to stop. While the entirety of the composition was not quite as complex or smooth as that at L’Ami Jean, the more charred top layer was absolutely fantastic and when paired with the warm baguette and semi-sweet cornichons it was a great start.
Eschewing the up-charged nightly specials as most were beef based our 33Eu three-course journey would begin perhaps twenty-five minues after seating with “Gambas sautees ail et persil, jambon d’Espagne, risotto cremeux a l’encre de seiche” for my sister. Served in a large both of impressive depth and vastly larger than one would expect for an entrée the base of this dish was an intense creamy risotto tinged with squid ink yet still maintaining its nutty essence topped with an admixture of chopped prawns sautéed in garlic and parsley and crisp cracklins’ of Spainish ham. Certainly more “Pan-European” than strictly French the quality of the risotto itself was one of the best I’ve ever tasted and while the garlic prawns may have been just a bit “too garlic” for my tastes they certainly did not obscure the flavor profile of the other ingredients leading to a plate my sister considered one of the best of the trip.
For my entrée the day’s selection would be one of my favorite foods in one of my favorite styles of presentation – “Oeuf de poule bio facon cocotte, epinard, pointes d’asperges et tomates confites.” Delivered in a screw-top glass jar and popped open tableside with the warning that it was very hot, this bubbly soup of poached organic egg in “casserole” was the very picture of early spring. With the smooth and creamy egg plus sautéed spinach forming the backdrop of flavors and crisp snappy asparagus speckling the each spoonful, the most interesting component of this dish was actually the duck fat confit tomatoes – intensely sweet and slightly leathery in texture providing juxtaposition to the otherwise vegetal and subdued flavor profile.
With entrees cleared the plats would arrive quickly on their heels as the steady stream of plates from such a small kitchen was a sight to behold. For my sister’s selection, “Filet de dorade dries sauvage a la plancha, legumes fins et croquants a l’huile d’olive, emulsion a la coriander et au gingembre” featured an imposing fillet of slightly over-cooked grilled sea bream that none the less flaked apart nicely and had a great flavor. Topped with bitter greens and resting on a bed of pine nuts and snappy vegetables including tomatoes, peppers, asparagus, and zucchini poached in olive oil the dish was finished with an aromatic sauce of coriander and ginger that although tasty was also slightly overwhelming of the fish.
For my main course the selection was easy – I simply can’t turn down duck and although “Margret de canard epais roti sur la peau, petites pommes de terres roties au jus de viande” was perhaps the most straight forward item on the menu it was also very well done. Yet another sizeable portion with the honey lacquered skin fatty and supple and the flesh pink and moist the flavor of the duck was quite good while the roasted fingerling potatoes intermingled with fibrous mushrooms in beefy gravy were a nice savory contrast. While I generally prefer the skin slightly more crisp than this presentation I had to tip my hat to the chef as the quality of this particular duck was actually quite distinctive and less oily than I’d expected and as such despite the skin being slightly “tough” the preparation preserved the quality of the flesh.
With our plats cleared it would take perhaps twenty minutes for desserts to arrive largely because of my selection; just when you thought my soufflé fix would have been satisfied by the double header at Rostang, Le Regalade offered a version of their own entitled “Souffle chaud au Grand Marnier.” For the third time following the assumption that if a little is good a lot is better, this towering soufflé arrived tall and teetering, a mountain of white topped with a snowfall of confectioners’ sugar. Simple, sweet, steaming hot, and punchy with notes of cognac and orange it was a classic done well and compared to previous experiences with Gran Marnier soufflés it was understated – a good thing for someone who doesn’t fancy too boozy a preparation.
Furthering her newfound love of Rice Pudding that began at L’Ami Jean, Erika’s dessert selection arrived in a latched jar and although I cannot be certain my gestalt is that pound for pound the portion may have actually trumped even that served to us by Jego. Titled “Riz cuit au lait et a la vanilla comme le faisait ma grand-mere, caramel laitier,” and served with a liquid salty caramel so buttery that it put those at Jacques Genin to shame, the pudding itself was thick, toothsome, rich, and heavily accented with vanilla. Again with the wooden spoon working slowly it was once again to our waitress’ surprise when she arrived later to find the jar empty and both of us smiling in a near comatose state. To be completely honest I can’t say whether the pudding at Jean or Regalade was better – but I’d gladly do a blind taste test again if only to have another chance to taste both once more.
Sitting and chatting (and trying to digest all those carbohydrates) after declining coffee it is notable that the tables seated to our left and right had both already settled their bills and been once again filled as a small line was developing in the street despite being 9:30 – even after eight days in town it still amused us how late Parisians choose to dine. With the bill requested, delivered, and settled our last bites of the meal would be a pair of perfect golden Madelines – warm and slightly tinged with lemon – a textbook ending befitting such a lovely day.
Making our way from Le Regalade St. Honore into a throng of Parisian youths out celebrating the impending weekend it was a quick walk to the Metro and with both of us quite stuffed I was glad to have my sister along as I fell asleep not once, but twice en route back to our apartment and with a mere 30 hours left on our trip I slept like a log for the first time in ove r a week. Having dined at five of the more notable “bistronomic” restaurants in Paris I can say without doubt that Le Regalade St-Honore was at least on par with Chez L’Ami Jean on that particular evening in terms of fun and while the food was not quite as careful or soulful at times, once you take into account price and ‘experience’ this is a spot well worth the reservation as the chef’s seasonal focus, liberal portions, and inspired flavors should command at least twice the 33Eu prix fixe.