I’m writing this now while the experience is fresh in my mind, despite my lack of wi-fi–perhaps more as a cathartic treatment to allow myself to move pass the experience.
Astrance was the second restaurant on my Paris list and we were lucky to secure a reservation for one of the 10 or 11 tables on a Friday night. It was pouring rain as our seating neared, so we had to catch a cab for the less than a mile walk from our hotel. Upon arrival, we were greeted and led into bright yellow dining room accented with colorful glass discs on each table, made especially “pour L’Astrance.”
The food was good. I know that’s not the most descriptive word, but it was good. My only eyes closed, savor the bite moment came with a delicate sole dish. I can’t really tell you more about it as our descriptions provided by the waiters in English were stilted (we also were not provided with a menu as we left). I wish they’d gone the route of some of the Italian restaurants and described the dishes in their native language (French) first then given the quick English translation. My French may be rusty and limited but it’s better than my Italian, and we muddled through those dinners just fine. Regardless, the sole led to a brief moment of surprise. The rest of the meal was mostly well-balanced, well-crafted, and tasted just fine; we had foie (of course) layered with mushrooms, a tomato consommé, fried Apple rolls with a spicy kick and what I believe was basil, shishito pepper with root vegetables, lamb, duck served with liver, Gorgonzola cheese, and dessert. Some of it was plated beautifully, other courses were unnecessarily fussy.
Overall the restaurant seemed chaotic as the staff of four, possibly five, served dishes, flitting from table to table. Our meal seemed rushed even though we did have a couple long gaps between courses; I made a joke to Artboy that if we weren’t there four hours I didn’t get my money’s worth. We had next to no interaction with the staff, although they did stop and chat with other tables, except for the food delivery and wine presentation. I expect it was the language, but have had great meals in countries where I don’t speak the language. I’ve had waiters who never said a word to us, but our meals spoke for themselves.
Artboy did try to engage the waiters, but they were having none of his muppet antics. He did manage to get the wine guy, I’ll assume sommelier, to repeat a little shimmy he had done for the table next to us. Artboy also asked for a more precise location than the center of France for the origin of the lamb. It was immediately assumed we knew nothing about France and the answer was just as vague, which I suppose is true for Artboy. That was our longest interaction of the night. The lamb by the way was tiny, delicate, and juicy.
The wine was paired well, and we were served sake for two of the early courses. It didn’t look like wine, although Artboy tried to convince me. As soon as I tasted it, I knew it was sake although Artboy held out for a moment. I enjoyed the surprise pairing, but it was pointed out to me later (by a Japanese couple) that I should never waste my time on anything but French wine while in France. Throughout our wine pairings, my glass was only refilled twice. Artboy’s glass, despite always having more wine in it than mine, was refilled almost every course. I started switching glasses with him.
For the Gorgonzola course, our red wine from the duck plate was refilled. Even mine. I commented that I thought it called for a sweeter wine and found it strange we were drinking the same wine after being presented the bottle. It didn’t pair well at all. As other diners were served the cheese, they did receive a different wine. I watched each table after us receive sweet wine with the cheese. We did finally get a dessert wine, a late harvest, with the almond ice cream dish. Oh well, right.
The standout for dessert would be the jasmine eggnog, which was served with a peppery cream, a plate of fruit, and a few tiny Madeleines. The Delicate eggnog played off the jasmine notes perfectly, making it the perfect refresher at the end of a meal. This is where everything made a strange and awkward turn. First a couple across from us made an abrupt exit without touching a bite of their final dessert. As our plates were cleared, we were offered coffee. I said no, of course, and Ricky asked if they had espresso. He was told yes and the wait began.
While we waited I suggested he just order coffee in the future as most restaurants have a special coffee they like to feature. But we waited. We picked at our fruit and stared awkwardly around the restaurant as the staff chatted with other tables. We watched as the table next to us was served two courses. We waited. Our wine glasses, empty, were cleared with our plates and our water glasses stood empty since before that. I texted a photo of the jasmine eggnog, which was served in an eggshell to a friend. We waited. We stopped talking as the wait became longer and longer. We watched another table receive their bill, chat with the manager for a while, pay, and leave. We stared at the staff. We stared at the table. I went to the bathroom. We waited.
We were starting to near on the four hour mark not through enjoyment of our meal and lovely interactions with the staff, but through awkward silence as we waited for coffee that was clearly never coming. I stopped picking at the fruit because I didn’t have any water. In the European way, which is usually appreciated during a meal, nobody came near our table at all. I suggested to Artboy he either go ask for his coffee or get the bill. Finally when we hit the 32 minute point, Artboy asked for the bill by waving his hands in the universal check signing signal. It arrived at the table with not a word. Oddly, after we asked for the bill, our water glasses were filled.
The departure was bizarre in itself, we paid, got out coats, and left. Sure we don’t need menus or a little sweet reminder of the restaurant, but I didn’t even feel as if there was a pleasant farewell or end to a meal, which made the last thirty minutes of waiting for coffee even more awkward. I grabbed, paid, and signed the bill (why America won’t do chip and pin is beyond me) without even looking at it–I truly didn’t want to be in the restaurant anymore. The manager did stick his head out the door, perhaps sensing something was wrong or wondering why I didn’t leave a tip, and asked if our meal was okay. We replied that it was great until the last thirty minutes we spent waiting with empty water glasses for coffee that never arrived. Our final impression soured the night.
I have not a single bad thing to say about the food, but the experience left a terrible final impression. At Osteria Francescana, we had a table next to us that marred the experience, but I still rate them as one of my favorite restaurants because nothing could overshadow the food. Unfortunately with L’Astrance, the food didn’t outshine the experience in such a way that I will ever think of it as anything other than that awkward meal in Paris. Next up is Sola, Jules Verne, and Arpege.
It was no longer raining so we walked home, past the Eiffel Tower lit against the dark sky. We worked our way through the hundreds of people gathered at the trocedero watched performers while enjoying wine and beer sold by the same guys who seek selfie sticks during the day. Perhaps the highlight of the walk home came just after we left the restaurant and climbed a short flight of stairs at the end of the block: a group of kids drinking and smoking weed in the middle of the stairs turned to watch us w
alk pass. They were dancing and laughing, probably at us, or not, so I danced with them as I neared. They then tried to get us to twerk! We hit the top of the stairs to shouts of “twerk.” Lost in laughter, we were able to shake off the awkward end to our dinner and enjoy the walk through Paris by moonlight.