114 Rue Amelot (11)
Experience has taught me to avoid the hype on new restaurants until the serious reviews come out. Good word of mouth can be created by skilled PR. (In the U.S., even before the restaurant opens, complete with photos of “delicious” dishes which will be served.) And if the new restaurant occupies an historic space, the hype is magnified.
So we took the drumbeat about Clown Bar with detachment. We were wrong.
In the out of the way 11th Arr., the name derives from an original painted circus décor inspired by a real circus next door. Nice, but not worth the trip. What is, is the food. Two Japanese chefs cooking highly refined versions of classic French dishes.
The space is small. 22 seats inside, plus a seasonal terrace. The original bar dominates the small room, with the tables filling in the rest of the space; modest, spare and lacking additional decorative touches. Don’t dress up, but do go for the food.
At lunch and dinner, all a la carte. No formula menus, and not cheap, except by Boston or New York standards, where neither menu nor the plating or execution can be matched – at any price.
22 – 30 covers, a surprisingly long menu covering the range of snack-like entrees through more complex executions. A number of tables seemed to be enjoying self-created tasting menus. For the space, an extensive wine list.
Cold beets with pear and burrata, a caramelized onion and parmesan buckwheat crepe; photo-worthy turbot wrapped in an herb-decorated cabbage leaf with a light cream sauce; duck and foie gras pithiviers (solid duck breast and a slice of foie gras in a duck pate baked inside a pastry, served individually as two half-spheres), accompanied by a green salad. Too much food for one of the four more simple desserts. The menu evidently changes daily.
Hard working waiters take orders and run the food, but clearly the kitchen takes precedence.
All a la carte. With one glass of wine, water and coffee, 111€ for two. Main courses 34€-36€ in a city where two and three course lunches are routinely available at that price, but well worth the splurge.
When I wrote up my very positive lunch at Clown Bar last October, I expressed a strong desire to return. I tried upon my return to Paris in January, but no luck. Fully booked. In April we succeeded. Worth the wait.
As described above, the décor is mixed, part historic art nouveau-like décor; part cramped and scruffy. Small tables here and there, plus a crowded bar and terrace on the street. Clearly the space was not designed as a full service restaurant. It is part of its charm and the surprise, but may not be for everyone. Don’t dress up.
That said, the food is the draw, plus unusually attentive, caring, intelligent service. Bilingual. Lucky for that, because plenty of young English-speakers. What they have discovered is an unusual a la carte menu of well-executed, carefully plated dishes, several measures ahead of seemingly comparable places. This is much more than another 39€, 3 course meal. A la carte doesn’t mean necessarily higher cost, but a wider range and greater sophistication. An extensive wine list characterized by young makers and bio wines, with a wide range of modest choices. (Our Rhone wine was 32€, and delicious.)
Sliced charcuterie to go with our first glass of wine. A buckwheat crepe filled with caramelized onions and cheese, and raw scallops with parmesan and arugula as entrees. White asparagus with sliced turnips and garlic cream as an extra in between course. Sea bream with romaine and an enormous pithiviers as mains. A rare, but well known preparation, duck breast and foie gras surrounded by duck pieces are wrapped and baked in pastry. The softball sized disc is sliced in half and served open, along with a fruit sauce.
For dessert, molten chocolate over vanilla ice cream.
All in, 157€. A significant restaurant.