Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Le Clos Montmartre, Kagurazaka

This Kagurazaka bistro project has me regretting one thing: that Brasserie Gus wasn't last on the list. All of these other lunches would have been much more enjoyable if I didn't know there was better food available at half the price down the street. Le Clos Montmartre is of course named for the only vineyard within Paris, the tiny block on the slopes of the Butte Montmartre across from famous cabaret Au Lapin Agile, planted in 1929 and still producing limited amounts of wine. In Kagurazaka, the setting is picturesque by Japanese standards, but not much on the real thing.

You're perhaps thinking "Aha, I went to this place before Jon!" but in fact I went once for dinner, around 2005, long before blogging was fashionable. A lot of things haven't changed - the environment is still terribly French inside and out (they've even imported a small Frenchman to occupy the corner table!), owner/sommelier Janick Durand still paces about looking white-haired and beardy, and the food is still timeless bistro plates. In the intervening fiver, Durand has perhaps put on a little weight, no great sin for a Frenchman who loves wine, and the food has become perhaps 5 years older, no great sin from a restaurant with little aspiration. Dinner could well be much better, especially with the benefit of expert wine sourcing, but effort was not lavished on this lunch.

In honor of the 1,800 bottles produced annually by the Clos Montmartre vines (I'm not making that up), the lunch set costs Y1,800 plus tax (that's true too, but the correlation is ficticiual). The options for the two courses are positively excellent, with a broader range than other places and a fair representation of everything you'd like to see. I had the 'charcuterie plate'; I'm not clear if that meant 'two terrines' or if there was a delivery fail. The terrines were OK, on the simple and soft and meaty side. My dinging companion was Ding, and the stuffed mussels that he had were possibly the best thing about our whole lunch - garlic and butter and parsley and yummy. And no picture. Oopsie. It's hard to go wrong with garlic butter though. I read something recently about how important it is to open the mussel and stuff it and then tie it with thread before cooking so that the stuffing and meat really get together; this was certainly not that. Call it 'mussels escargot' if you like.

Here's Ding's main. I tried a bite of the beef cheek and also a noodle; I can report that the cheek was good, tasty but not too soft or gelatinous. The noodles may have been fresh, but regardless they were very overcooked by my tastes (have you heard that the French like their noodles soft?). The sauce was less deep than you might hope for something this brown.

My main was the cassoulet. I can't go past a cassoulet. This one I could almost go past since it was so small. On the other hand, with bread, it was totally sufficient. Many of the elements were in place - white beans, reddish sauce, sausage. There was some very soft and very tasty lamb. No duck, I think no breadcrumbs or effort to bake a crust onto it. I get that this is lunch-course food and that's why it's dipped out of a vat and heated to bubbling in the crock, but even that approach oughta have a bit more flavor. If this is the same taste as their dinner cassoulet, I shudder to think what a French quality inspector would make of the place (dinner mains start at the same price as the lunch course, but must be larger quantities).

Ding is a good man, and he didn't hesitate to say we should have dessert. This was unfortunate, because I totally didn't expect that, and had eaten too much bread. We had a piece each of the interesting-looking tarts, this pear one which was heavy on the marzipan-y filling (colored bright pistachio green, but just almondy in taste, and in a decent way) and light on pear flavor,

and this chestnut one, which tasted like the whipped cream on top. That's a damn shame too, because it was beautiful when they showed it to us, all snowy white and fleckled with pistachio nubbins (this was the first piece cut from the whole). We had an enjoyable lunch, but the flavor and value just weren't there, and in writing this I've become bitter. Let's close on that.

I ain't gettin' clos to this place again.

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