This weekend, Paris celebrates les Journées du Patrimoine, showcasing its proud heritage and cultural lineage through architecture, history, arts and of course gastronomy. Amongst some of the long-standing restaurants listed on the official event website is a La Petite Chaise, which, dated since 1680, wins the distinction of being the oldest surviving restaurant in Paris. To this date, the restaurant remains in operation on its original site, still displaying the iron wrought gates of that era. Inside, the decor is quaint and antiquated, the room a tad stuffy on a warm late summer’s night. I guess 17th century ventilation conditions were not that great.
The menu line-up is one that caters to the guidebook toting tourist crowd, including a mix of traditional crowd pleasers such as French onion soup and escargots, as well as some lighter, Mediterranean influenced picks such as gazpacho and melon with prosciutto. And unfortunately, the cooking on the evening we dined reflected this sensibility, that the restaurant survives not from regular patronage but one-time visitors, and thus could make do with mediocrity.
I picked this restaurant as Ying’s first meal in Paris on the back of favorable onion soup reviews, so expectations were naturally high. But while the soup arrived with a very promising crust of blistered cheese, the flavors were not savory enough, nor was the onions adequately caramelized. The toast underneath was also a tad too thick, soaking up too much soup. Not the worst bowl of onion soup I’ve ever drank, but certainly not worth the superlatives either. I had the terrine of canard, which was fine, not too memorable, and my mother-in-law, usually very generous with her praise when she eats something she enjoys, was silent while she tried the overly oily and grassy tasting escargots.
We did not fare much better with our mains, the common observation being overly cooked meat, perhaps again to satisfy tourists who tend to prefer their meat well done. My sister-in-law wanted her lamb chops well done, and the kitchen indeed complied. But both my pork chops and P’s lamb chops were overcooked and devoid of juices, making chewing a chore. The duck legs were also unfortunately too dry, though the complementary orange sauce helped to disguise the stringiness of the meat.
In contrast to the middling savory courses, dessert was actually quite good. The large dish of creme brulee was smooth and custardy, the rich taste of vanilla coming from real vanilla beans. A sliver of dense flourless chocolate cake also brought much pleasure to the table.
Overall, an underwhelming dining experience though there were some saving graces: 1. a great location in the 7th arr.; 2. decent pricing for that expensive neighborhood (32E for 3 courses); 3. friendly and efficient service. Still, oldies are not necessarily goodies as our dinner evidenced, and until a La Petite Chaise rejiggers their menu, I’ll probably seek someplace new.
a La Petite Chaise: 36 rue de Grenelle, 75007, Paris