Clockwise from top left: Dix Vins in Paris; Avocado Terrine; Lavender French Toast; Grilled Tuna
RESTAURANT: Le Dix Vins
LOCATION: 57, rue Falguiere, Paris, France
DATE: September 12, 2005
FOOD: Terrine d’avocats aux herbes; Steack de thon et la crème aux poivrons doux; Lavender French toast
PRICE: 26.40 Euros
It was like dining in a cliché. Dinner at a Bistro in Paris – what more could a foreign tourist crave? The Eiffel Tower at night? Already seen it. Timeless works of art? Already examined courtesy of the d’Orsay and Pompidou. So what was left of the stereotypical Parisian experiences other than bistro fare?
So the first of our four great meals was upon us (one for each month we would travel). With meals in Amsterdam, Rome, and Barcelona still to come, Dix Vins, voted as the best bistro with a menu under 30 Euros by a leading Parisian food magazine, heralded a break form the cheese and meat sandwich diet we’d been surviving on for weeks on end. For once, we’d throw expenses to the wind and indulge in Dix Vins’s 24 Euro, three course menu.
Located in Montparnase, south of the Latin Quarter on the city’s Left Bank, Dix Vins interior exhibited the same simplicity French bistro cuisine is known for. There was a small wine bar and a scattering of baskets and paintings on the walls. Nothing flashy, nothing to indicate this was one of the city’s most affordable gastronomical pleasures.
The menu was written on a chalkboard. Five selections, including three terrines, pate and a vegetable flan for the appetizers, while the main courses consisted of three varieties of steak and a grilled tuna. Dessert was a choice of a lemon tart, chocolate mousse, or lavender French toast. Aside from the beef dishes, the menu was thoroughly appealing and I would have been happy ordering anything.
I started with a terrine of avocado and herbs. While not a bad decision, Danny’s peppery house pate and the beautiful vegetable flan would surely have both been better choices. The avocado terrine was like a refined guacamole. Nicely matched with quarter sized tomato chunks, the avocado was pert and tender, hinted with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. And though the medley of herbs crowning the terrine blended mild parsley with the more forceful bliss of fresh cilantro, in the end, the terrine was too simple for its own good. More robust spicing, from the basic pepper and salt it lacked, would have helped make the dish something greater than ordinary. As it was, there was nothing remarkable, nothing to suggest the heights of French cuisine.
By appearances alone, the tuna entrée promised better results. The steak was thin, seared to the appetizing off-white color of grilled chicken. Accompanied by potatoes au gratin and a sea of red pepper cream sauce, the plate barely made it to the table before my fork sliced into the fish. For the most part, my excitement was justified by the taste. The cream sauce was magical, lighter than lobster bisque but sharing that soup’s velvety richness. And the potatoes were by far the pinnacle of the meal’s savory courses. Firm, yet in the same instant miraculously pliant, the potatoes dazzled, along with the creamy cheese coating them. The slices were as smooth and mouthwatering as fondue. I especially appreciate the bold pairing of fish and potatoes, a combination I’d only seen once before at King Louis' in St. Louis. Yet the tuna itself was a tad dry and stringy, the result of overcooking. The course had come so close, but like reading Moliere in translation, there were just some elements that would never be perfect. Again, I had to add pepper and salt, something I’m not in the habit of doing. Thus, while I respect the fundamental simplicity of bistro fare, it shouldn’t give a chef carte blanche to dramatically under-season.
Only with dessert did Dix Vins finally present a taste both distinctly French and universally spectacular. In the lavender French toast, everything worked. The bread consisted of two thick baguette slices, grilled so the ends had an attractive char, while the interior retained a cushy chew. This wasn’t your IHOP French toast and they were far superior to even Wylie Dufresne’s French toast dessert at WD-50. Resplendent syrup was sprinkled over the bread, like a superior French honey. Full lavender seeds added an unusual flavor that was less about sweetness than about the garnering the same satisfaction one gets from the smell of fresh flowers. All in all, the dessert was exactly what I’d hoped the entire dinner would be.
If I lived in Paris, I’m certain Dix Vins would be a favored haunt of mine, the ideal restaurant when gourmet is too much and grab and go too little. The menu changes daily and no doubt, I’d have many a memorable meal. But strictly on my one visit, the restaurant was far from perfection. There were promises everywhere but to be truly satisfying, a meal must have more than unfulfilled potential.