Thursday, May 17, 2007

Le (TRES) Grande Venise

My cousin, during her visit to Paris, was recommended by a friend for a visit to Le Grand Venise. Having been advised by her friend that this was a particularly popular restaurant, it was booked as soon as she had her flights confirmed, which was two months before the meal was going to happen.

I was well excited that she was going to take the boy and I out as a thank you but this turned quickly to doubt and hesitation as none of the (many) food books I had so much as mentioned this apparently fabulous restaurant. A quick search online found quite a number of reviews which mentioned the poor service but huge portions, which did not sound commendable at all. I never did understand how restaurants can "make up" for the lack of quality with the quantity of food. If I wanted a huge plate of mediocre food, I can stay home because even I can produce mass quantities of crap food. Needless to say for the three of us, expectations were a low but hopes and mood was high so off we went.

We arrived at the restaurant a little late but still the first guests of the evening. We were greeted by the staff and the little Italian woman who made a huge fuss over us. Mamma, as she was known throughout the evening, immediately demanded that our waiter, a young man dressed in a slightly too large a suit, bring over our menus.

Scarcely had we sat down when a huge basket of vegetables put between us, a small plate with olives and salt, two bottles of olive oil, two types of butter, a plate of fresh basil stalks, a slice of mascapone and blue cheese and freshly toasted bread. As we stared in awe and a little bit of confusion, I asked Mamma to help describe what we were to do with it all.

First of all, we were to try her self-made starter made of marscapone cheese, triple cream and blue cheese on the toasted bread. As it had gotten slightly cool, she sent the waiter off to get it re-toasted. Then we were to split open the vine ripened tomatoes, douse them in either the rosemary or chili olive oil, sprinkle on the fleur de sel and top with a basil leaf from her garden and pop the juicy aromatic thing in our mouths whole. Then the salted and sweet butter for the radishes and the olives and other pickles to snack on. While we perused the menu.

As I was reading the menu, I noticed something quite odd. There were no prices in the menu. i started to get quite worried... even though my cousin was picking up the tab, I was starting to wonder what type of place doesn't list prices. I'm too Chinese not to want to know. So I asked my cousin, who also didn't have prices. Then it dawned on me. I asked the boy. Of course HE had the menu with prices! How old fashioned and yet how funny! My cousin was slightly outraged at the sexist assumption. I must admit, I was a little worried... after all, Italian dinners usually go through the whole spectrum of courses and foods and I wasn't all that hungry after eating a few radishes, tomatoes (sublime), some fennel and of course the olives, bread and cheese. Luckily we were saved yet again by Mamma, who came over to introduce the dishes of the day and take our order.
As she introduced her speciality, tete de veau sauce gribiche, I knew that was the dish for me. She told me how Jacques Chirac comes in especially for this dish of stewed veal head bits but I was already sold. She also introduced the seafood lasagna, which the boy choose and the duo of pasta, freshly made tortellini and cannelloni for my cousin.

First to arrive, much to our surprise, was a huge bowl of sugared and candied fruits. Figs, apricots, cherries, in their bright, shiny sugar syrup was laid down on the table, then a plate full of what the boy terms, 'grey wobbly bits' was presented, before a huge bowl of sauce gribiche, made up of mayonnaise with tarragon and chopped pickles, was slathered over the plate and laid down in front of me with the recommendation of eating them with the candied fruits. Which I found strange at first but it did help balance the richness of the dish.

Then, platter by huge, oval platter, descended on the table. There was the fried to a fragrant, chewy crisp onion rings, with eggplant, beautiful big, creamy perfect white beans, smoky chargrilled oily tendrils of red peppers and toothsome, flavorful lentils, for the table to share.

It was a huge quantity of food and while no one was keen to try my veal head, I did manage to try some of my cousin's pasta (yum with paper thin pasta sheets) and the boy's heavenly, heavenly seafood lasagne.

As for my own dish, I very much enjoyed the tongue and while the taste of the brain was a little strong and the texture slightly disconcerting, I was more troubled by the fact that there was so much rich sauce over the top of a very rich dinner. By the end, I had done well enough but could not manage the final two bits of skin and gelatin from the head.
As we sat in our plush seats, hand folded over our distended and abused bellies, the waiter came over to tempt us with dessert but first, he put down a dish of brandy snaps and caramelized nuts. In case we were hungry while deciding. I was done. Very much done and couldn't possibly eat another bite.... after polishing off most of the nuts.
My cousin and the boy heroically soldiered on, ordering their caramel ice cream, said to be their specialty. The gentleman came over with a small plate and a thimble of limoncello for the two of them before setting down a huge pot of cherries, stewed prunes, stewed figs and stewed apricots, the latter three of which were stewed with citrus fruits, cloves and cinnamon sticks, lending them a sweet, spicy aroma. This was all accompanied by the thickest, most decadent and deadly bowl of whipped heaven, cream so thick you could stick a spoon straight up in it and which the boy was seriously worried would kill him. I couldn't eat another bite but trust me, you cannot NOT eat it.

Just when we began to wonder if we had mispronounced the words for caramel ice cream, this came out of the kitchen....

That's right, its a FREAKING GIGANTIC BLOCK OF ICE CREAM COVERED IN CARAMEL! Sorry but I almost shrieked! It was the hugest block of ice cream I had ever seen! It was immense! The waiter patiently carved out chunks for the boy and my cousin, dribbled the caramel over and plated it with some of the thick cream and served it. It was unbelievable.

When we finally staggered out of the restaurant, having had coffees to help us digest (wishful thinking), I didn't know whether to thank my cousin or hit her for having shown us a fabulous but over-indulgent time. I finally mustered up the energy to hug her.
So finally, yes, huge amounts of food but luckily, good food. The final bill came to approximately 80 euros a head with 1 bottle of wine between the three of us.

Le Grand Venise
171 rue de la Convention
75015, Paris
Metro: Convention
Tel: 01 45 32 49 71


Anonymous said...

Jess, this is TOO funny. Oh my goodness - did you pass out from surfeit??
I've only experienced the no-price thing at a couple of three-star places - and even then it's not that common. It's sweet in an old-fashioned way. But it doesn't really work anymore because rather than giving us the freedom to let us ignore how much something is going to cost, it makes us much more aware of the price - how can a person NOT know the lobster or foie gras is going to cost less than the grilled chicken breast (unless it's poulet de Bresse covered in caviar).
I guess there wasn't the option of sharing dishes and then taking home the left-overs in doggie bags? (do the French *do* doggie bags?)

Robyn said...

That first dish sounds way too confusing.

And the whole experience sounded a little confusing, but also...very an "I'M GONNA SPLODE" kind of way? :] That block of ice cream is incredible. I. Want. That. [sob]

Sui Mai said...

Hi Susan,

I almost DIED coming out of the restaurant. Let me just say here and now, mint tea is my friend! No, the French don't "do" doggie bags. I enquired (gently) once and the waiter looked at me with such a horrified expression I thought I was going to sink into the floor in shame.

Hi Robyn,

Yes, it was an odd thing but that ice cream was freaking AMAZING. It was definitely and experience to remember!


Su-Lin said...

WOW. That's an ice cream. Reminds me a bit of the blocks of ice cream in Singapore that would be sliced and served between bread or wafers. Only fancier.

Sui Mai said...

Hi Su Lin,

What is this you speak of? An ice cream sandwich? You must let me know whether this still exists!!


SteamyKitchen said...

Just reading through your older posts and OH MY GOD that ice cream is crazy!!!