By Merv Hecht
I’m getting tired of Italian food, and slightly worn out from Mexican food, although I do love Chile Rellenos. So I was so glad to learn that my old friend Sebastian opened up his second French bistro in Brentwood. Even better news was that he took over an Italian restaurant (so one less!) I used to frequent his first one in Culver City, and it was always good food at reasonable prices.
Meet in Paris is about as close to everyday French food as you can get in the U.S. There’s a good steak frites, a nice selection of salads, a delicious grilled artichoke (enough for two), a typical duck paté, and, speaking of duck, the duck confit is excellent. And the desserts are very French — my favorite is the tart Tatin. I assume you all know the story of the Tatin sisters from the Dordogne valley. While making an apple pie they dropped it on the floor, and when they picked it up and reheated it upside down, it was so good they started to make it that way. (Not by dropping it on the floor, but by cooking it upside down like a pineapple upside down cake is made).
If there is one dish that Meet in Paris is known for, it’s the mussels. You can get them with various broths, and they are as good as anywhere.
The wine list is brand new, so the selection is a bit bare, but enough for now. My only objection is that the vintages are not listed, and I hope that’s corrected. I hate to have to ask to see 2 or 3 bottles before ordering my wine so I can see the vintages.
I read somewhere that Meet in Paris has a good bouillabaisse. The first time I went there, I asked for it and they told me that it’s not on the menu, it just shows up as a special from time to time. That makes a lot of sense to me since it’s very difficult to make and it wouldn’t pay to make it unless several customers were going to order it for sure.
But Sebastian made it for me specially that evening, and I enjoyed it. But there’s more to the story than that. The first thing to realize is that bouillabaisse is like sex—-even when it’s not done exactly right it’s still really good.
Around 500 B.C. A Greek philosopher said that you can never dip your foot into the same stream twice. When you dip it second time the original water has moved on and it’s like a new steam. That reminds me of bouillabaisse. You never get the same one twice. In France today you hardly can find it unless you’re in Marseille. It’s one of those dishes that is just too difficult to make.
Here is what I look for in bouillabaisse:
1. I prefer the bowl of broth separate from the fish. That way I can dip whatever fish I want in the broth in small helpings. And that prevents the fish from being over-cooked.
2. Naturally the broth has to have been cooked for a long time, and boiled down so it has a lot of flavor.
3. A lot is written about the specific kinds of fish that have to be included. Some of them are probably not available in the United States, and certainly not in California. I’m not that kind of purest. All I require is that there are at least three different fish, each one with a different texture. One should be firm, one flakey, and one soft but not flakey.
4. I don’t care if Mussels and clams are added or not.
5. And now we come to the coup de grace: the aioli and how it is applied. The aioli has to have a lot of garlic and enough saffron to make the aioli a nice orange color. It should be served with thin toast slices so you can spread the aioli on the toast and soak the toast in the broth. I like the aioli so much I spoon some into the broth, which is probably considered uncouth by the French.
So how was the impromptu bouillabaisse at Meet in Paris that evening, even if it’s unfair to talk about it when it couldn’t be prepared in advance? The broth was OK. There was only one texture of fish, and that one was OK but that makes the dish less interesting. There was no crisp toast or even bread cut appropriately to soak in the soup. The bread was way too big. The aioli was a bit disappointing, the texture was OK but it lacked flavor, and I didn’t taste any saffron.
As I’ve said, this is not a fair test of the dish, and I’ll be back to have it again when it’s on as a special. I’ve just used this one time as an excuse to discourse on bouillabaisse. I’ll report back after the next go-round.
Meet in Paris
11740 San Vicente Blvd #104
LA, CA 90049
ERROR CORRECTION TIME: In my last article I was confused about the location of the new Mason in Santa Monica Canyon. I thought it was opening in the old Hungry Cat space. But in fact, it has opened in the space previous occupied by Sam’s. What a loss! Sam’s was wonderful. The lamb ribs appetizer and the tiger shrimp in black pasta are memorable dishes. The tuna and the fish in general were very fresh. The service was great.
I stopped in Mason with some friends to look around and we ended up having dinner for 6 in the “back room” because the place was jam packed. I’m glad we were seated there because I couldn’t hear myself speak in the main room. The service was great. An expert deboned my fish at the table. It was very good, but priced about 20% higher than in other local restaurants. None of us tried the steak at $85, and I’m eager to see what makes it priced so much higher than comparable steaks at Meat and Boa.
We didn’t have our usual bottle of wine because the wines were a bit expensive for my taste.
Georgio Baldi’s Italian restaurant, almost next door, has been in business for many years. And the prices there are significantly higher than other Italian restaurants in town, so maybe that’s a good model for Santa Monica Canyon. Anyway, I hope Mason is successful because it’s a good addition to the canyon.
(Merv Hecht, like many Harvard Law School graduates, went into the wine business after law. In 1988, he began writing restaurant reviews and books. His latest book is “The Instant Wine Connoisseur” and it is available on Amazon. Or you might like his attempt at humor in “Great Cases I Lost.” He currently works for several companies that source and distribute food and beverages, including wines, internationally. Please send your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org)