By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
The people are just as vivacious as the autos: lots of tight shirts, aerodynamic shades in tints that seem lifted from Dennis Rodman's head, chains, precious stones and metals, dresses shorter than Danny DeVito, plunging necklines and heels jutting under sandal soles in every size and shape imaginable. And some not imaginable. One woman, in a slinky black dress with a back plunging deeper than Tyco stock, wore the steepest heels I've seen off of a stage with fire poles. But these heels had one striking difference: They were made of bamboo. Think of the havoc these must wreak on Ferrari floor mats.
Paris Vendôme has a lot of style, flash and sizzle; so much so, it seems, that the whole thing might pop like a strip of griddle bacon. Two of its most closely linked bistro/brasserie predecessors did, Alberto Lombardi's Bizu and Phil Romano's We Oui. Both French derivatives were highly stylized, sexy and drew scene addicts like poop draws flies (Paris Vendôme allows dogs). But these two examples had one notable flaw: underachieving food.
Belgian endive salad: $7
Mussels mariniŤre: $7
Steak tartare: $11
Crisped duck confit: $9
Pork diable: $16
Coq au vin: $14
PV burger: $16
Grilled sterling salmon: $15
Apple tart: $6
Paris Vendôme doesn't have much of that. In fact, it almost sort of winks at the sticky libidinousness (hiding behind compulsive cell-phone fiddling) that infects the place and pretends to be more interested in meat and pomme frites.
Simple things can take on extraordinary postures at this place. Such is the Belgian endive with chopped egg and watercress, a dull-sounding pile of upscale mulch if there ever was. And it's delivered that way, attractive though it is. White endive foliage is neatly arranged next to manicured lawn-green supple folds of stemmed watercress for maximum visual contrast. The white leaves are juicy and sweet, tender and delicate. It was dampened in a bumpy (from the chopped egg) milky champagne-vinaigrette emulsion. The watercress, heavily but not overly seasoned with salt and pepper, was pimpled with halved sweet cherry tomatoes. This is an elegantly simple, tasty graze, one with balanced seasonings, appropriate but engaging contrasts and freshness--easily the best salad we've had in recent memory.
Mussels are offered in two versions: marinière (white wine) and poulette (white wine and cream). We tried the marinière variant, a glaring disappointment, and not because the bowl of gaping bivalves wasn't pretty; it was stunning, with jet-black jet shells piled in a pale yellow puddle with a pixie dusting of searing green parsley specks on top. But the meat pearl inside those shells suffered, from what it's hard to know. Most of the time mussels come in easy-to-peg piles: Either they're tasty from top to bottom, or they suck (the kind of suction that has you scrambling for the bathroom, or at least a napkin) with the same thoroughness. Vendôme's mussel bowl accomplishes the impossible task of straddling both piles simultaneously. Some had mushy meat nodes that lacerated like fried egg white with the slightest pull of a fork tine. The flavors were unpleasant, not bad enough to get your hands flailing, but certainly corrupt enough to feel the threat of green coming across your face. Others were near flawless: sweet, firm, chewy and freshly briny. The broth was fine, but there's little even a good broth can do with these unruly children.
We didn't stop to mop up with the bread, so afraid were we of reliving a few of the more pointed wince-inducing flavor episodes, which is a shame. The fine runt of a baguette has its butt stuffed into a little Paris Vendôme paper bag, a touch to presumably give the restaurant that Paris street market feel in this faux urban neighborhood. (Butter is delivered as thin slivers of yellow imbedded with a tiny thyme sprig neatly framed on a small white saucer.)
Steak tartare is an attractive mound of bovine flesh lodged on the forward edge of the plate while a carpet of champagne-vinaigrette-dressed greens sprawls on the other end. The chopped meat is clean and rich, and the brightness of the dressed greens cleans the palate between bites. Thick, latticed potato wafers that have been fried in butter are provided so that there is something to smear the raw gore on. Delicious.
Meat gets even more lecherous in the PV burger, a raunchy assimilation of foie gras, shredded braised short rib and ground tenderloin all forced between a puffy brioche. To create such galling decadence, short ribs are braised and the meat is pulled from the bones. Then the foie gras and truffles are made into a patty, over which the short rib strands are wrapped. This bird and meat muffin is then plunged into the center of a ground beef patty before it is cooked. Cooking tends to melt the foie gras, spreading its sweet richness throughout the ground beef patty--a true Big Mac attack. The result, not surprisingly, is incomparable sweetness and richness in a paunchy meat Danish.