About alfresco dining. I admit my feelings are mixed about eating outdoors. Back in tropical Singapore, it is perennially too muggy to enjoy a meal in the aircon-less state. And in more temperate climates, quality terrace spaces are in short supply. As a result, tables are often squeezed together, or worse, perched right on busy street curbs. Dust does not a good seasoning make. That being said, it is extremely pleasurable to dine on a gorgeous terrace, preferably away from traffic disturbances, and that experience is what Mini Palais provides.
While the rotunda whereby one enters the Grand Palais Museum to the restaurant is impressive and the indoor dining room modern and spare, the terrace is disarmingly charming and intimate, while retaining the stateliness of its address (Romanesque columns and etched ceilings tend to have that effect). Throw in live piano music and the stage is set for an elegant outdoor soirée.
The menu is also appropriately designed to combat the summer heat, packed with seasonal ingredients, often chilled or lightly cooked, with not a single braise or stew in sight. As we deliberated, delicious giant cheese gougeres and a selection of bread and crackers were brought to the table, alongside cute batons of high quality Bordier butter.
Skipping appetizers, we ordered 4 different main courses paired with a yummy, fruity Faugeres highly recommended by the sommelier. I kept to the summer theme, ordering an Italian Vitello Tonnato, the paper-thin slices of cold cooked veal drenched in a rich tuna flavored mayonnaise. Crisp lettuce, sharp parmesan and large capers added sweet, salty and sour dimensions to the dish, intensifying the flavors.
The fish dishes were perfectly cooked, the almond crusted merlan and St Pierre moist and flaky, with just enough seasoning to taste. And while I did not get a taste of the grilled poitrine de cochon, the clean plate suggested a pretty happy diner.
We then shared 2 desserts. The mini coffee profiteroles doused with hot chocolate sauce was tasty but standard, though the giant rum baba was a show stopper, both in looks and taste. Shaped like a giant donut, the airy cake soaked up the rum like a sponge, and the sinful mound of vanilla spiked cream was too tasty even for my cream-shunning husband to refuse.
The evening would have been perfect if only the service had been better. I had warned my visitors before dinner about the purportedly poor service standards at Costes Brothers’ establishments, and was disappointed to be proven right. Our server was really pretty but also haplessly clueless at her tasks (spilling wine, dismissing our rocky table situation with a Gallic shrug etc). But for a beautiful setting, beautiful and well-prepared food and lots of beautiful people to watch, I’ll consider returning.
Mini Palais: Grand Palais, Avenue Winston Churchill, 75008, Paris