Le Chateaubrand and Rock-Star Chef Inaki Aizpitarte: Bistro Rollin Goes to Paris

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Small Bites readers: This is Paul Bratone, owner of Bistro Rollin in Pelham, reporting on his culinary trip  to Paris last week. Sorry the delay in posting!

It is Friday night and our dinner tonight is at Le Chateaubriand, probably one of most anticipated meals of the trip. The anticipation has been aroused by the reputation of the place due to the rock-star status of the chef, Inakii Aizpitarte, a young Basque who has garnered high praise for his daring and inventive cooking.

Raw scallops with tamarind powder and purple potatoes.

Like most of the “bistronomiques” we have visited this week, the dining room was small, about 40 seats, maybe 45, and completely lacking in décor – clearly these chefs have decided to make the food the focus. This was the only restaurant with a totally fixed menu: no a la carte choices whatsoever. The only choice whether to take the wine pairings or order your own bottle (we went with the pairings). The staff was young, knowledgeable, affable and English speaking, each dish the menu was explained to us in detail.

To confirm the status of Le Chateaubriand as “hot” suffice it to say that chef  Rene Redzepi was there that evening as well, so we were in the house with the chef of the  No. 1 restaurant in the world!  His place,  noma. in Copenhagen bumped El Bulli from the top spot after a 10 year run.

There were four, count ‘em, four amuse bouche, and a “pre-amuse-bouche” which, interesting for a cutting edge restaurant, were a proto-typical traditional gougeres, the classic pate choux cheese puffs. These were lovely and excellent.

Then on the real amuse-bouche! The first was described as “live” baby shrimp quickly pan fried and served without adornment, they were tasty but nothing really special.

The next amuse was a small dish of haddock ceviche, clean and refreshing indeed but once again….just good, nothing GREAT about it – (thought as you will see from the empty bowls – we were so wrapped up in this food we forgot the picture until all three of us had downed them!)

Our thought was maybe this multi-course extravaganza was going to be a slow build that culminated in culinary fireworks – and besides, these were just the amuse bouche. Next and last of this first wave was a small piece of burrata with a few dried capers….and once again, meh….

The first course was raw scallops with tamarind powder and purple potatoes. The dish was outstanding, the texture of the potatoes melding perfectly with the scallops, the tamarind powder providing a bracing finish.

But as quickly as the meal took off, it stalled. The next course of steamed turbot with a jus Iberique was gorgeous, but when it came to taste – just OK – but nothing memorable. The blandness was continuing, not at all what we were anticipating!

And the final course of a take-off on veal blanquette that’s was flavored with smoked hay (huh?) and a foam of some sort fell completely flat. We all had to add salt and then it picked up. I think something went seriously wrong with this preparation in the kitchen!

The cheese course was classic and very good.

And the desserts were tasty (by this time we were so disappointed that we were trying to figure out what was going on a forgot to take pictures of the desserts!) But, it is hard to describe this meal as anything but a letdown. ……I wonder what chef Redzepi  thought? In a conversation with another chef in Paris about our meal, he agreed that as much as he liked chef Aizpitarte, he didn’t like what he was doing at Le Chateaubriand.

The wines, although very unusual were paired extremely well with the dishes. A couple of times we remarked that although we didn’t love the wines by themselves when we first tasted them, once we had a bite of food they made a lot of sense.

For you oenophiles;

Cuvee’ Prestige (Savignin) Jura, J.F. Ganevat

Ribolla Gravener (Ribolla Gialla, Sauvignon Blanc), Francesco Josko

Chambolle Musigny (Pinot Noir), Fred Cossard

So although I believe its unfair to judge a restaurant by just one meal, La Chateuabriand would rank towards the bottom of our experiences this trip, we’ll see what Inaki is up to next time we are in town – maybe we just caught him on an off night.

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