8 Little West 12th Street
New York, NY 10014
Since I took Speeds out to dinner for her birthday back in April, it was her turn to take me out to dinner this time around. We chose Paradou, a French wine bar/bistro in uber-trendy Meatpacking. Everywhere you are in Meatpacking are businessmen and foreign millionaires, their miniskirt wearing dates, and the luxury convertibles that they drove there in. Everywhere except at Paradou, a veritable oasis of non-trendiness. That isn't to say that it's cheap, but it's more comfortable if you're not looking to go clubbing, schmoozing, doing lines of coke, or whatever it is that cool people do these days.
The inside of Paradou is divided into two sections. The front area is a small, intimate wine bar. The rear patio is more like a restaurant or, more accurately, an enclosed beer garden. Seating is technically tight, but on this particular weekend, no one was there. Even though every other place in three blocks was filled to the point of pouring out into the street, we were able to not only get seated right away, but choose whatever table we wanted. Eventually, things did pick up, but the restaurant never got more than two thirds full.
Being a wine bar, sorta, we started with a couple of glasses of wine. Wine costs about $12 per glass and, much to our surprise, we were allowed to sample the wine before we selected our glasses. Each sample pour was about a quarter of a glass. Three hearty sips. When the wine we chose arrived, they filled that glass about as much as you could hope for. "They don't shit around with dishing out the hooch here, do they??" I said to Speeds, who simply nodded giddily. "Our waiter is awesome!"
However awesome our thickly French-accented waiter may have been, the food was pretty disappointing, especially given how much Paradou charges. Is it bad that I was expecting Paradou to be mediocre the very second we sat down? I mean, what restaurant has entrees averaging the upper $20s, and hands its patrons a fois gras menu but then gives them the same paper napkins you'd get at a Chipotle?
Speeds' appetizer was the Heirloom Tomato Tarte Tatin, a halved heirloom tomato with goat cheese on some sort of pancake, with a beet drizzle and a couple of candied walnuts. This appetizer, while fine, never made it past fine. It was completely meh. My appetizer wasn't as good. I ordered the Grilled Octopus with corn, polenta, and diced heirloom tomatoes in a mild tomato broth. I love octopus and I order it whenever I can, but I can't recommend this dish. Actually, everything except the octopus was pretty good. The problem is that the whole point of this appetizer was to have octopus which, is this case was fishy and mediocre.
The best hot dish of the night was Speeds' Poulet de Paradou, a lemon and sage marinated roast chicken in a white wine sauce with saffron braised fennel and a teeny bit of watercress. The chicken was perfectly cooked with tender meat and a nice fatless crust of skin. While I'm not enamored by fennel, I don't hate it, but I also don't think that a strongly licorice-flavored vegetable fennel worked very well with the otherwise subtle tastes of the chicken. I was looking forward to my Venison Brochettes, having recently had an amazing venison entree at Public just the other week. Sadly, this enthusiastic hope was not to be realized. The venison was cubed, skewered, and grilled with zucchini over a bed of quinoa and under a drizzling of "forest berry" (blackberry) sauce. This could have been, should have been, amazing. It had everything going for it. Everything paired well, the sauce was good, the quinoa was good, the marinade was good. But the venison itself was so tough and sinewy that it was nearly impossible to take down. I gave Speeds a piece which she chewed for about thirty seconds before eventually giving up and spitting it into a napkin. The venison at Public was like butter. It practically didn't need to be cut. The venison at Paradou was like biting into a stress ball.
But at least dessert was good.
Paradou offers a small menu of traditional desserts and a larger menu of dessert crepes. Speeds' dessert was the Flan de Grand-Mere, a light and pleasant flan under a berry compote. My dessert was the Rosemary and Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee. I honestly couldn't taste any rosemary, but the creme brulee didn't suffer for it. We topped it off with some coffees before heading home. All in all, my advice for those considering Paradou is to go for the ambiance, go for the wine, go for the dessert. Take a pass on the dinner.
Two appetizers, two entrees, two desserts, a few drinks and some coffees, plus tax and tip cost about $200.
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