Thursday, August 07, 2008


A fellow patriot was in Paris recently, and, knowing my love for Lafayette, he kindly invited me to lunch at 1728. Located at 8 rue d'Anjou, 1728 is a restaurant with the kind of historic karma that I adore. It is in the same building that housed my hero, the Marquis de Lafayette, in his twilight years, and where he died in 1834.

I'd been to 1728 once before, and was looking forward to giving it a second try. Or, rather, a second chance.

Really, though, what's not to love about a Paris restaurant theatrically staged to a tee in ancient grandeur, in an artfully restored -- or is it re-created --18th-century setting?

The décor is sheer sumptuous splendor. Richly panelled wood, velvet-topped Louis-something armchairs, exquisite silk curtains. I felt as though I were stepping back in time, an honored guest in Madame Recamier's salon littéraire.

Glittering, imposing crystal chandeliers.

Books and bibelots on the etagères make a homey touch.

And bien sûr, busts of the dear boy himself, the Marquis de Lafayette.

I have to admit, this oversized contemporary Lafayette bust made me snicker. Not polite of me to do so in such a genteel setting. Of course I was quiet about it, for Pete's sake. But it seemed kind of surreal, and dominated the room.

Kudos, though, for the restaurant's top-notch staff, so courteous and attentive. The tone is hushed and polished. The service is impeccable.

I just wish the cuisine were better.

You know, I wonder sometimes if in Paris there is an inverse function between interior-décor effort and food quality? It seems that some of the most delicious food comes from the humblest settings, or in fact, from some real dives. And vice versa. You do the algebra: in my book, 1728 ranks 9-1/2 stars for excellent décor, so the food is... well, you catch my drift.

I'm not an epicure, a foodie, a gastronome or any of the other monikers applied to people who dine and critique. I just know what appeals. Maybe it's something about 1728's modern fusion Japanese-French cuisine in such an ornately antique French setting that caused an eye/palate disconnect.

My first visit to 1728, two years ago, was an eye-opener. I was lunching with an American friend who has lived in Paris for 25 years. We ordered a cheese course after the plat principal. The cheese arrived: chilled and stone-like. Firm as jello. Horrors, cold Camembert! We sent it back, and requested room-temperature fromage. A new platter -- again of well-refrigerated cheese --was delivered. Were they banking on the fact that as American women we might not know the difference -- or care? My friend politely chided the waiter. "Ce n'est pas acceptable," or something similar.

Next the maitre d' swooped over to our table, apologizing profusely. They simply don't serve much cheese at lunch, he explained, so it is taken out of the fridge before lunchtime in order to hit perfect, oozing, room temperature by dinnertime. Would we like something else? Well, no, we really had wanted some delicious French cheeses.

Fast forward to my recent lunch. For an entrée, there was an appealing-sounding coquilles St. Jacques item on the menu. Uh, it arrived with a flourish: four slivers of a bland scallop atop a molded bed of bean sprouts. Supposedly a terrine?

So, I add a new cuisine corollary: maybe there is also an inverse function between glowing food description on menus and actual palate-pleasing dishes?

The rest of the meal was forgettable. As in, I forget what I ate.

And that, my friends, is a very bad sign. I'm no gourmet, but I remember good food. I can recall each mouthful of a creme brulée that I ate in 1990 in a local restaurant on Ile de la Jatte. I can remember every mouthwatering scoop of a half a melon with Pineau de Charentes that I savored one evening the summer that I was 18. I cherish the memory of the sweet and tart tarte aux fruits rouges that I shared this week after a perfect lunch at my neighborhood hangout, Au Pied de Fouet. The buttery crust!

(I even remember really bad meals, like the canned tomato soup masquerading as minestrone in a Dublin pub.)

No, this meal was simply and utterly forgettable. For me to forget much of an entire meal in Paris requires a great deal of blandness and boredom coming from the kitchen.

But what do I know? Apparently other Paris denizens are great fans of 1728: lots of Elysée and other dignitaries in the neighborhood apparently use it as their cantine. Go figure.

Fortunately, 1728 does have a luxurious WC.

Well, maybe a third time would be the charm, but somehow I don't think I'll ever get invited back.


Isabelle said...

Looking at the link for 1728, I noticed that the chef is a woman. She was probably on vacation or on her day off the both times you ate there Polly!!
In my family, when we have a bad meal at a restaurant, the joke is to say that it was "le plongeur" (the guy who washes the dishes) who prepared the meal!
Another thing is that it seems that some people in France don't care about the quality of their meal, as long as they eat in a prestigious place.
Another of my family's saying is "les gens ne savent pas bouffer!!!"

paris parfait said...

I, too, have often found the food lacking when the surroundings are rather grand and historic. It's as though they think they don't have to make the effort, because their reputation carries them forward. Very disappointing. And not having cheese at room temperature when requested seems strange for a renowned Paris restaurant. I can understand them not having a wide selection of cheese at lunchtime, but not even a couple at room temperature? Perhaps they rely largely on a regular clientele and don't worry about "walk-ins."

expat said...

>>what's not to love about a Paris restaurant theatrically staged to a tee in ancient grandeur?<<


BJ Lantz said...

My mother and I ate at 1728 last November. She had read about the desserts and just had to try them. I'm not much a dessert eater myself, but thought the restaurant was beautiful. I agree with you completely - the meal was forgettable and overpriced. My mother enjoyed her dessert (and part of mine), but overall... eh. We were amused by a couple seated in front of us that seriously need a (hotel) room to themselves...

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Maybe it was an "off" day. The restaurant has SO much going for it, it just seems a shame to have the food so boring. I have better meals in local cafes! Or at least meals that are more to my liking.

Of course there are restaurants like Le Grand Vefour which have it all: superb decor and cuisine. But it hasn't changed in a century.


L'addition, indeed! At least I wasn't footing the bill.

Yes it can be a romantic setting. It was kind of bright and empty when we were there, though.

Once I had lunch at Le Voltaire, and there was a couple just like the one you described. They didn't stay for coffee...

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