You can always tell when a chef who leaves a great house to set up on his or her own has Michelin stars in the eyes by the amount spent on the decor. A very new restaurant, ETC, which its card enigmatically says stands for “Epicure Traditionelle Cuisine” is a designer cross between Eurostar and the Tardis, except that unlike Dr. Who’s time-traveling callbox, ETC is cramped and, in spite of the high prices, you have to put up with the waffle of your neighbors, and they with yours.
As befits a scion of Ledoyen, however, chef Christian Le Squer turns out impeccably prepared food. My dining companion’s jardin de legumes frais à l’eau de radis was bursting with the flavor of lightly cooked new-season vegetables and prettily displayed on the plate, encircled by the “radish water” (“eau de radis” is so much more poetic).
My admittedly imperfect knowledge of the French language left me grasping at straws of meaning when it came to a dish called fantaisie voyageuse: terre et mer. It took the waiter as long to explain it as it took me to eat it. And most enjoyable it was. Imagine a thin slice of smoked haddock rolled spring-roll-style around chopped chicken livers bound with the gelatinous finings of lamb hock. Perhaps you don’t want to imagine that at all, but believe me, it was a very successful surf-and-turf combination of tastes and textures, especially with the added delight of a slather of possibly the best mayonnaise I’ve ever tasted, plus almond-sized bits of very finely chopped capers and gherkins, all fetchingly got up to look like an abstract De Stael painting.
Main courses were a Provençal duck stew, cocotte de canard (those Staub people, makers of trendy cast-iron cooking pots, must be raking it in) façon daube provençale, and noix d’entrecôte “Hereford” laque de soja, ciboulette – a.k.a. rib steak with soy sauce and chives. I had thought of ordering the cod, but the only information I could obtain about its provenance was that it was “from Brittany,” meaning that it was not sustainably fished. Thanks, but no thanks.
The duck was unctuousness itself, and the steak – a whole plateful – was everything you could wish for in a steak, which is not a lot really, except that it be tender and flavorsome, and cooked the way you like it, in my case bleu, which it was. Deliciously so. The little side dish of tiny new potatoes, halved and sautéed in their skins, was also an outstanding take on the humble tuber. We drank a Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Red, not exactly a bargain at €52, nor a particularly memorable bottle.
We then shared a caramel au gout de carambar glacé, which was fine, but which I have altogether forgotten.
We were among the last to leave, not because ETC invites you to linger, but because we were not seated until well after 10 p.m. for our 9:30 p.m. reservation. No one bothered to apologize for the inconvenience or press complimentary drinks on us, and the drinks we did finally manage to coax out of the harried staff were duly charged. And when we were invited to take our seats, we were awarded the worst table in the house for our pains, not four feet from the dirty dish pass, with waiters stampeding all around us during the first part of the meal.
For a restaurant that had only been open for a couple of weeks, however, the operation ran very smoothly, and I’m sure the front-of-house problems can be fixed. We even warmed to our waiter, who insisted on speaking English to us because “he needed the practice.”
Whether the steep price tag (€225 for two, including two glasses of champagne, a bottle of wine and one of mineral water, but only one dessert) is good value for money is another thing altogether…
ETC: 2, rue La Pérouse, 75016 Paris. Tel.: 33 1 49 52 10 11. Métro: Kléber or Etoile. Nearest Vélib’ stations: 60, rue Lauriston; 2, avenue des Portuguais (The “golden triangle” of Paris is not an area with a great deal of use for public transportation; if you can flag one of Paris’s rare cabs you can get there without a long hike.) A la carte: €80-€100*.
* three courses, not including wine
© 2008 Paris Update