Friday, July 11, 2008

Team fun and fair food at Paradou

This past week, my team at work threw M (the aforementioned cupcake-providing former boss) a goodbye dinner, as she has moved on to another project. In my role as team event coordinator, I selected Paradou as the scene of the crime. I knew M had tried to eat at Paradou one night during the June heat wave and has simply given up because it was so hot. So, while it was a steamy July evening, we ventured down to the meatpacking district to give some French food a try.

After wrangling with the hostess to get our incomplete party seated (we won), we were led to the back of the restaurant, where there is a lovely outdoor patio/garden. It was quite nice to be outside-- that is, until it started raining, at which point two of the waiters scrambled up the walls to manually pull closed the retractable roof (quite a sight, even though I did have a waiter's sneakers in my face midway through my meal). My only complaint about the ambiance was that there was French-ish music playing, and it was very loud-- too loud to hear someone two seats over at our table.

The French garden atmosphere

While we debated whether or not we wanted to order wine, we placed our appetizer orders. We went with a selection of apps for the table along with two cheeses from their short but unconventional cheese list.


After our appetizers were ordered and had begun pondering the main courses, a bread basket arrived. Usually, in French restaurants, you can expect really good bread-- and I must say, this basket disappointed. The interior of the white slices was chewy and delicious, but the exterior was soft rather than crisp. Butter was standard. They would definitely have been better off with a baguette.

Bread, with deceivingly un-crisp crust

I ate it. But I wasn't too happy about it.

We placed our entree orders, and soon our apps arrived. There was a salmon tartare with passion fruit mousseline and torched sea urchin; M found the sea urchin puzzling.

Beautifully presented

There was also a bay scallop confit with celeriac and whole grain mustard. I didn't try this (clearly), but I support their use of celeriac. While this dish looked interesting, M remarked that it was actually pretty bland.

One scallop overboard...

I tried the beet ravioli. It came with three large "ravioli" with thinly-sliced beets as pasta, stuffed with herbed goat cheese. There was also a tangle of raw golden beet, a few golden beet cubes, some beet coulis, and a few caramelized walnuts. This dish was very creatively prepared, but once again, it was not actually all that flavorful. Everything tasted just faintly sweet (uh, beets), but there wasn't much else there. The walnuts were tasty, though.

So many forms of beet...

The cheeses we ordered were quite interesting. There was a camembert, which was incredibly smooth and creamy, and a goat cheese. The goat cheese was washed in plum brandy, studded with peppercorns, and wrapped in a chestnut leaf, so it came to our table as a cute little package. It was a fascinating flavor-- sweet, peppery, and earthy all at once. Not necessarily something I'd order again, but I'm certainly glad I tried it. The cheeses also came with two spoons of jam, one of something strawberry-like and one that was indeterminate-- possibly apricot? Both were sweet and fruity. You know, like jams.

Cheese on slate

Goat cheese unwrapped

If you buy the jam separately, you get free lifetime refills! Seriously!

When we had finished the apps and the plates were cleared, we decided to order wine for the entrees. M went with their house Paradou red. Though I'm not a huge fan of red wine, it was actually pretty tasty and was definitely easy to drink with my salad.

The entrees arrived not too long after the wine. Two members of our party, Y and L, had ordered the rack of lamb. Y said it was good but too much to finish. It looked a bit undercooked to me as well, but as you well know I'm no meat conoisseur...

Rack of lamb, served very rare

B had ordered the fish special of the day, halibut (if I recall correctly). He was recovering from the flu so didn't eat it all, but he had no complaints.

Fish with spinach and other garnishes

M ordered what was certainly the most stunning dish of the evening: the salade nicoise. It was beautiful and incredibly ample, with roasted provencal tomatoes, hard boiled egg, kalamata olives, haricots verts, anchovies, and seared tuna, and she said most of it was pretty good-- except for the tuna. She did explicitly note that the tuna looked much better than it tasted.

My view of the miscellaneous ingredients...

...and M's view of the tuna showcase

I got the arugula and poached pear salad, dressing on the side. The arugula was fresh, but the pear was not as flavorful as I would have liked. The salad came with three "goat cheese brulee" croutons, which were little rounds of goat cheese, torched so they melted a bit on top, on pieces of toasted bread. Each goat cheese round was coated in a different spice around the outside-- one paprika, one provencal herbs, and one something sweet (not sure exactly what it was). That was a nice touch and pretty much the only interesting part of the salad. The dressing was completely, entirely flavorless. Overall, it was okay, but certainly nothing I'd write home about (and Pigalle, a bistro on 48th and 8th, makes a MUCH better version of the same salad).

Could definitely have used more pear. And more flavor.

It was time for dessert, and we looked over the amusing dessert menu. They had a few standard desserts and a selection of crepes. After some thought, nothing really jumped out at me. L and Y placed their orders, and the rest of us abstained.

I really hate it when my chocolate cakes have flowers

But, lo and behold, when the desserts emerged, there was a chocolate cake with a candle and a group of singing waiters. Happy birthday to me...again. Gotta love it. I tucked into the chocolate cake, which was very smooth and creamy, almost like a dense mousse rather than a cakelike product. As promised, it did indeed lack flowers. The passionfruit puree and the creme anglaise were very good, but the dessert could definitely have used some more dairy to offset the richness-- either ice cream or whipped cream would have worked.


Y ordered the seasonal fruit salad with chantilly cream and a basil madeleine; L ordered the chocolate crepe. Both looked okay, if standard.

Basic fruit, a bit of cream, and unadorned madeleine

Simple crepe, with trail of sugar

As we dug into our desserts, the waitress appeared at our table once again with a surprise: complimentary kir royales. I'm not entirely sure why they gifted us these drinks, which were quite tasty-- perhaps it was a birthday gesture, perhaps it was because they saw me taking pictures... who knows. They were good.

Can't argue with free booze!

So, while we had a truly lovely team dinner at Paradou, I wouldn't really recommend it as a place just to go for dinner with friends. The garden is nice, but the servers have a bit of Meatpacking District attitude (and I had to ask for water several times at various points during the meal before any was brought). And the food is, overall, pretty disappointing, especially for the rather upscale pricing. There are definitely better French places in the city. Overall, the restaurant wasn't terrible, but it wasn't particularly good, either, so I'll give Paradou a rating of two Offset Spatulas.

8 Little W. 12th St

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