By Ann | July 9, 2013
I think I’ve said before that I don’t like writing negative reviews. My theory is, there are so many great restaurants, why focus on the bad experiences? But sometimes there are meals so unpleasant they stick in my craw, refusing to leave until documented. My dinner last Monday at Frenchie Bar à Vins was one of those meals.
My husband and I arrived at 6.50pm and joined the long queue waiting for the restaurant’s doors to open. The crowd was completely Anglophone and very friendly — as we Anglophones tend to be — with strangers striking up conversations about their recent Paris travel experiences. At 7pm, the doors opened and everyone was seated at long communal tables of six or eight.
We waited about 25 minutes for our order to be taken, but I didn’t really mind. The staff was small — two serveurs? — the dining room crowded and, in the rhythm of a Paris restaurant, it’s not unusual to wait for attention. Eventually, we placed our order for truffle mortadella (€14), white asparagus with a poached egg (€14), tortelli with peas (€12), cod (€17), and a glass of Alsacian pinot noir (€9) for my husband.
The mortadella came out first and was almost as good as I remembered, heady with the scent of truffles (though lacking the decadent truffle shavings of my last visit) and scattered with tiny pickled girolle mushrooms. The tortelli emerged next, a small saucer of mint-scented, goat cheese-stuffed pasta. As we waited for our next dishes, I began to pick up on the kitchen’s system — it seemed to be producing only one type of dish at a time. For example, all the plates of squid “coleslaw” were prepared at once and delivered in a flood. Same with the pigeon. Same with the lamb. Same with our asparagus, which arrived nicely grilled, topped with melted cheddar cheese, a quivering egg nestled beside it. It was pleasant and tasty — though I found the cheddar a bit of an odd overkill — a dish I could have made myself at home.
As we waited for the cod, I watched Frenchie’s chef/owner, Gregory Marchand, mingle among the diners, pausing for photos.
Eventually plates of cod began to emerge from the kitchen. Cod here, cod there, cod everywhere. Except for us. We waited — I’m used to waiting in Paris restaurants — in fact, we waited so long our waitress finally approached us to ask if we wanted to order anything else. “We’re still waiting for the cod,” I told her. She blanched a bit and disappeared into the kitchen. A few minutes later, the other waiter told us the cod would take at least ten minutes to cook: “Do you still want it?” he asked. In retrospect, I realize this was a sign. But I was still hungry — we had shared everything, so my dinner had thus far consisted of: a few slices of mortadella, two ravioli, two stalks of asparagus, and half an egg — and we agreed to wait. The waiter offered us a glass of wine as “un geste.” My husband accepted; I could not.
I’m not going to keep you in suspense. It took an hour for that plate of cod to come out. One hour from my last bite of asparagus to my first bite of cod. It took so long that we actually paid the bill while waiting.
And here’s the kicker — the cod, when it finally arrived, was raw.
At this point, I’d had enough of Frenchie Bar à Vins. I told the waitress about the raw fish — she asked if we wanted the kitchen to remake it, to which I could only emit a hollow laugh — and as we left, I told the waiter, too. He wanted to offer us another “geste,” but I just couldn’t sit in that stuffy dining room and allow the high stools to cut off the circulation to my legs any longer.
Later, my husband pointed out that we were the only French-speaking customers in the entire restaurant. And that’s really why I’m writing this post. Because it kills me to think that tourists come to Paris with high expectations, queue up at Frenchie wine bar, and spend a fair bit of money on pleasant but nondescript, sloppily served food. Perhaps it was just an off night. Other friends certainly love the place. But as we walked home, I saw evidence of Frenchie’s colonization of the rue du Nil — wine bar, restaurant, take away shop — and I began to suspect that Frenchie is a victim of its own success, expanding too quickly while neglecting the details. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details.
But let’s end on a positive note, d’accord? Here are a few other wine bars that I’ve enjoyed:
1bis Passage Saint-Sébastien, 11e
43 rue des Petites Ecuries, 10e
Verjus Bar à Vins (wish they’d give you real forks, though)
47 rue de Montpensier, 1e
Le Verre Volé
67 rue de Lancry, 10e
(Photo from eat live travel write.)