Tastiness Factor: 8/10
Locavore Approved? YES- Just like several of the other restaurants that we enjoyed on this European foodie adventure (Septime, Hedone), Chateaubriand surprises its guests with a new menu EVERY SINGLE DAY which is a hallmark of a true locavore restaurant. Most of the fresh and seasonal ingredients were very simply prepared, albeit often in very unique and unexpected ingredients (samphire, elderberry) and ingredient combinations (capers with sorbet and cherries!). Our farewell plate was about as simple as it gets- a dish of unaltered freshly picked strawberries.
We first discovered Chateaubriand on Anthony Bourdain's televsion series "No Reservations" and we decided right away that this place had the potential to be one of our favourites. Its daily-changing menu, infamous no-nonsense chef Inaki Aizpitarte, "off the beaten path" location and 27th spot on San Pellegrino's 50 Best Restaurants's list had us intrigued from the get-go.
Chateaubriand was a 30 minute walk from where we were staying in Marais. It was a great to stroll through the hip Republique district which was alive and jumping even on our walk home at 10pm. The street around Chateaubriand itself is certainly nothing special, but you will know you are almost there when you spy groups of people spilling out onto the sidewalk waiting to get in. Because Chateaubriand is in such high demand and reservations are only taken for the 1st seating at 7:30, Aizpitarte built a bar next door called Le Dauphin where guests can grab a drink (or, more likely, multiple drinks) while they wait or their table. When we were leaving just after 9:30 on a Thursday night, Le Dauphin was jam-packed with eager customers so I guess the second seating must go until the wee hours of the morning!
The atmosphere is very casual, which goes along with Aizpitarte's revolt against fussy classic French dining.. I quite liked the multi-color tile floors, wood tables and even the tilted lights on the chandeliers. If I did not know better, I would have thought I was back home in Vancouver at a hip new spot in East Van rather than in Paris!
We arrived just before 7:30 for the reserved early seating (reservations can be made 2 weeks ahead of time). The service started out well, with a server coming to sit himself at the table next to us, explain the menu and ask about allergies/restrictions. He kindly agreed to honour my pescatarian request, which on that evening, required only 1 dish to be switched out. We then had another server recommend us a bottle of wine to go along with the tasting menu. So far, so good. But as the evening progressed, the service went downhill. I actually felt bad for the servers who looked like they were running around like chickens with their heads cut off. We would have a dish practically thrown in front of us, described in a few hurried words that we could not understand and then the server would run off to the next stable. I have never been one to like overly formal service, and did not mind having to pour my own wine or own water, but I would have really appreciated a bit more personality from the waitstaff of a restaurant that has garnered such wide acclaim.
Chateaubriand offers a "degustation" (tasting) menu, which includes several amuse bouche (5 on our visit), 3 mains, and either a cheese course or 2 desserts. All of this is reasonably priced at 65 euros (125 euros with wine pairings). There was quite an interesting assortment of cuisines throughout the meal, with a surprising number of Asian-inspired dishes especially in the amuse bouches. This is about as far away from classical french as it gets!
Here is a rundown of our meal, with descriptions of our favourites marked with asterisk.
Wine- We opted not to do the wine pairings so one of the servers (not sure if he was sommelier?) assisted us in choosing a wine that would pair nicely with that evening's seafood-heavy menu. The very nice (and also quite economical) bottle of wine was left on our table on ice for us to pour for ourselves to during the meal. We were not shown the bottle before it was poured which we found a little odd, but that seems to be the way it works here so we went with it.
Bread- Hubby, the bread lover and connoisseur, felt the bread deserves special mention. He loved the soft, chewy texture.
Broth with Thai flavours:
***Crab and carrot salad- This Thai-inspired amuse, with its very forward Thai flavours (a good dose of sesame oil and fish sauce) was really quite special considering how simple it outwardly appeared.
***Chilled pea and tarragon soup- I am not usually a chilled soup fan but I could not help but love this light cream soup that was bursting with summer flavour.
Squid, almonds and samphire:
Turbot, sesame and elderberry:
***Secreto, salsa verde and onions- Hubby had the dish as is with the secreto (a Spanish ham) , while they kindly substituted cod for me. Accompanying the pork/cod was a refreshing salsa verde, and then the whole dish was served topped with a generous heap of crunchy fried fennel fronds. It was unbelievably good and was by far the standout dish of the meal. Hubby maintains that it was one of the best of the trip for him.
Cherries and capers:
"Tocino de cielo":
Although we appreciated Chef Aizpitarte's departure from classic french cuisine and his use of very unique flavour combinations, we really didn't feel that this place lived up to the hype. While I totally understand their desire to create a casual, non-pretentious dining experience, I do expect a minimum level of service and they fell short. While one of mains was admittedly beyond delicious, there were few other dishes that really blew us away.
I really wanted to love you Chateaubriand, but to be honest, you let us down.