Pardon my FRENCH: Paradou

TA 10.11.12

RER 10.11.12
There were only a few things that I desperately wanted for my birthday; good company, good food, and foie gras. My birthday weekend (starting Thursday the 11th at 7pm and ending Sunday the 14th at noon with cake) was quite a success, because all of my requisites were met, and most everything was beyond my expectations. I am a really lucky girl.

The first phase took place at Paradou, in the Meatpacking district of the City, as per the suggestion of one of my good foodie friends. After seeing the five varieties of foie gras at Paradou, the decision was already made for me...Paradou for the fat duck insides.

The little insert menu listed the five varieties (1 for $19, 2 $29, 3 $39, 5 $49... a deal). So our party indulged in all of the foie gras that the restaurant offered, according to my wishes. Our waiter gave us a very specific way to eat it, starting with the mildest pairing to the most intense. It was only a suggestion, but it felt stronger than that. We got the full rundown, from the spices to the cooking technique employed. Each foie came with another component to pair with it; sometimes fruity and sweet, others acidic, or meaty nuts, but each harmonized with the foie to create a kind of different experience.

We went according to the structure in place prescribed by the waiter, which was difficult because each of the five different styles looked alluring, and we (I) wanted to pounce.

Though foie gras is comprised of the innards of fattened duck or geese, there was something light about some of the different varieties. The last, explained as the least mild, felt light and almost fluffy, whipped to the texture of a mousse, and was draped in a luxurious red wine reduction, dubbed caramel. It was so aerated it even melted in our mouths like a dessert would. It was paired with honey-glazed almonds and fennel for a crunch that the foie gras custard was missing. The savory element was almost forgotten, because of the light texture, the caramel like reduction, and even the sweet almonds, but somehow the light fennel flavors and the meaty innards of the almonds brought it back.

The first was mildest, salty, thinly sliced, and flat. Crusted with fennel, and was accompanied by candied fennel and a red wine reduction. It felt like butter, smooth and almost sweet, almost like it would smear on the toasty French bread.

Paradou’s second foie gras was another one of the table’s favorite. This was much thicker, almost meatier. This variety was stuffed with a pistachio mixture at the center, blanched in red wine then air-dried and then rolled in a pistachio dust, really encapsulating the flavor of the pistachio. The two meaty flavors, the foie and the pistachio, created a feeling completely different than the first. The tiny dollop of cherry tomato and coriander jam was just a little sweet, but the pairing maintained its savory heaviness.

The third, was a foie brûlé, topped with sugar and caraway seeds, and brûléd. The top of the foie gras was toasted, and crunchy, sweet and burned. To me the idea felt inventive and intriguing, but unfortunately I did not enjoy the flavor combination. The burned flavor overtook what the fattiness and the mixture of sweet and savory was not successful in this endeavor. The complementary pairing was macadamia nuts soaked in Lillet, a French aperitif wine. They felt like they were candied and overbearing. Their strong flavors competed with the intense tastes of the foie gras. Though the crunchy and meaty texture of the nuts, countered the soft, almost spreadable foie gras.

The fourth, a marinated foie gras, was not high on our list of favorites. It was dry, and almost like pate (though there is nothing wrong with pate). This one felt too separated, though the onion and chestnut marmalade that went with it was delicious, even with the other creations.

I liked the play on desserts and sweet things that Paradou employed with several of their foie gras selections. The foie gras brûlé was an obvious take on the classic French dessert. And the last variety dubbed “foie gras flan,” with its mousse like texture, really indulged in the feelings that accompany custards. Not only were these two outright dessert mimickers, but also the other three pairings had elements that implicated dessert and sweetness to counter the heaviness.

RER 10.11.12
Despite all the delicious duck fat we consumed and enjoyed, the question of service came about. Initially everyone was great; they let us occupy the whole bar while waiting for the last two of our party arrived.

The space is very small and separated into two dining areas. The front was sweet, with a big window looking out onto the street, white, and simple. We were first seated in the front, but when my foodie friend arrived, she asked if we could move to a table in the second seating area. This was an enclosed patio that was reminiscent of indoors and outdoors at the same time; foliage and light fixtures, fence and night air. It was pretty, and I could understand why she wanted our party to sit there.

Our server was very attentive and he had tremendous knowledge of the menu, as well as the wine list. In general he was just friendly, but professional at the same time, like he was there to help us through the French adventure.

I ordered the fillet steak that was listed to us as the evening’s specials. It sounded delicious. I always love steak, but this came with truffled purple potato mash, so it was necessary. Unfortunately, the steak dish did not turn out to be the happy fairy tale I was hoping for. Though the chef’s suggestion was medium rare, I opted for medium rare on the rare side (per usual), though our waiter said that medium rare would be perfect. When the entree came it looked delicious, stark and subtle. However, cutting into the end furthest from the bone, the meat was cooked to a startling medium well. I tasted it and was unhappy, as my mouth was ready for pink juiciness. We all inspected the meat, and deemed it not medium rare by any stretch. We sent it back, with some explanation.

Just a few minutes later, a man who was not our server returned with my steak. Only this time they cut the meat closer to the bone, to show how it was cooked there. He explained that it was actually the same cut of meat, and in fact it was medium rare. He ended up telling me what I already knew; that the meat closer to the bone was less cooked than the extremities of the meat. I frowned and tasted it after he walked away. I was still disappointed and dissatisfied, especially since I was under the impression that medium rare, should be medium rare throughout the majority of the cut, not in a small percentage. At that point, it just didn’t taste good; the cut, the execution, the attitude, so we sent it back again. We asked for the same man who brought it out again, and explained the situation to him, each one of us piping in a little. He was less than polite and mildly belittling, inferring that I did not know what I was talking about. In the end, he took the dish.  

This event aroused discussion, that night and the next week. It was unfortunate customer service by that man, while our server tried to make everything right, and pick the mood back up. Rather than giving me another fresh piece of meat, I was given the same piece with an attitude. Paradou, is not the kind of place, apparently, that relies on regulars, because if it was, there would have been more of an effort in the vein of customer service with my steak. It is the kind of place where people go for the name and social standing, so extensive customer service is not necessary to build a relationship. I wished the situation was handled differently, because now I do not know if I would return, even for the long list of fatty foie gras or the sweet little atmosphere.

The cast of characters at my birthday dinner was perfect. They all stood up for me, and agreed with me during the steak debacle, but chose my wines, kept it pouring, and made me laugh far too much. They also indulged in the decadence of foie gras with me (troopers). They were the best part of the meal. This time it was my company that overtook the food, creating the great birthday experience that it was. 
RER 10.11.12

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