Le Jules Verne – Paris
Until now we really didn’t have a reason to see the Eiffel Tower up close.
In our past visits, we had studiously avoided dining at its famous restaurant, Le Jules Verne. We were deterred by comments like “tourist trap”, “mediocre food” and “sky high prices”. Were we not better off at Au Bon Accueil, a (then) reasonably priced restaurant only steps away from the landmark that was getting raves from the locals?
Well, a lot has changed in ten years. After Alain Ducasse took over management of the Jules Verne in December 2007, the negative reviews seem to have abated. This time, we didn’t hesitate. Before even setting foot on the plane to Paris, we already signed up for lunch through their website.
The entrance to Jules Verne is built right on one of the Eiffel’s “feet”. Since the sole elevator can only accommodate around ten people, we wait in line and watch the blinking light traverse up and down the replica of the Eiffel’s “leg”. Just like in a theme park.
As we soar past meters of trusses and rivets, I marvel at how a 120 seat restaurant could wrap itself around this skeleton of a tower. This takes me back to days in engineering class, furiously calculating resultant forces and load bearing weights on my Texas Instrument. Designing this must have involved a lot more math than I’d care to see in a lifetime.
We are seated by the window with an unobstructed view of the Trocadero and the River Seine. Unfortunately, it’s a dreary day and the drabness of the scenery rivals the taupe in the table linens. More interesting is the place setting in front of us. The plate seems to have developed a nervous system on its back (don’t they look like dendrites?). The utensils are equally whimsical, if not impractical. I don’t know whether they were meant to be used as chopsticks or as fork and knife. Thankfully, before the meal begins, they are replaced with ones that can actually spear and slice.
Our amuse bouche is a smooth egg custard with a layer of fig “catsup” topped by cubes of smoked duck breast and a brunoise of apples and gingerbread. An interesting mix of salty, crispy, and sweet.
OEUFS COCOTTE AUX CEPES MOUILLETTES de pain de campagne. Oeufs again! I’m ambivalent about this one. The yolk seemed like it had stayed a little too long in the cocotte so instead of oozing out and disintegrating into the dish, it broke into clumps.
FOIE GRAS DE CANARD ET VOLAILLE. These alternating squares of duck foie gras and poached chicken came with a demi glace peppered with bits of black truffles. A nice change from the usual pairing of foie gras with a sweet tart sauce. The salad of raw shaved fennel, endive and radish are refreshing and cut through the richness of the duck liver. I think this is typical Ducasse; his restaurant in Monaco served something similar a few years ago.
AIGLE BAR à la plancha, écrevisses et champignons à la Riche. The broth has an intense salty shellfish flavor. One can imagine the mountain of ground shrimp, crayfish and lobster shells that went into the stockpot.
VEAU DE LAIT en blanquette, légumes de saison, vrai jus. A modern rendition of the classic blanquette de veau features a frothy cream instead of a thick velvety sauce. Meltingly tender chunks of veal are paired with baby turnips. Deliciously understated.
Carré gourmand CARAMEL/THÉ, marmelade et granité orange. Frankly, I didn’t even get to taste this dessert, except maybe for a spoonful of the orange granite. I was too busy trying to make room in my stomach for the savarin.
SAVARIN À L’ARMAGNAC de votre choix, Chantilly peu fouettée. This dense cake is drizzled with armagnac to form a moat around it. A swirl of chantilly cream completes the dish.
How does the meal compare with the view? Given the fog-obscured scenery, it wasn’t even a contest.