It was with great anticipation that we returned to David Toutain for lunch on the third day of our trip in Paris. This was our favorite meal when we were here this past summer and we could not wait to get back. What a disappointment! Upon reflection, I do not think that even if the meal had been well executed that would would have been as satisfying as our first time dining there as there was a sameness to the food/plating.
Things started off promising. We were escorted upstairs to a lovely table on the balcony which overlooked the lower dining room. We really like the aesthetic of the space – blond wood and clean lines. We were presented with the hand written menu which offered a 72€ option or a larger menu for 105€ (165€ with a wine pairing). The restaurant’s website also offers a 45€ (e/p/d) option for lunch (except for school and public holidays) but it was not on the menu either time we visited so I am assuming some sort of school holiday. Like last time, we choose the extended menu with the wine pairing. We also optimistically added the lobster supplement for €30.
So what went wrong? For the most part it was not the food. Like I mentioned above, there was a certain sameness to a number of the dishes such that a novel trick the first time was no longer novel this time around. That said, the majority of the dishes were quite good and visually very pleasing. A couple of exceptions included the lobster supplement which was disappointing. The three small slices of lobster that were served with a couple of potatoes and had an odd texture. I am a giant fan of raw fish but lobster generally should be gently cooked and this leaned more towards undercooked. The other dish that really fell down was the final savory course which was the chicken from Bresse. They have you theatrically choose a knife from a knife block that is carried around the dining room (your “weapon”) and then present you with the chicken dish. The knives, however, were dull and the chicken was overcooked.
The real problem, however, was the service. There were delays of 20 to 30 minutes between courses. I totally get that a kitchen can get overwhelmed but no one seemed to be on their game. A course would be brought out and enjoyed. We would then sit there with dirty plates and silverware waiting and waiting for the next course. A tray would finally appear with the next installment and they would carry it over to the table only to turn around because they had forgotten to clear the previous course. The food would sit while they reset the table. Maybe they would bring us wine. More often than not they didn’t. This happened repeatedly.There was no effort to apologize for the delays or the chaotic service. At one point I saw our waiter put a ski jacket on and leave the restaurant. He returned about an hour later. God knows.
It also was happening to everyone in our small upstairs dining room. The energy level was high when the meal began. It appeared that most people seated around us choose the extended menu as well as the wine pairing. As the meal dragged on, everyone seemed frustrated and the dining room got quiet and quite frankly kind of depressing.
Did I mention the wine pairing? It was a just a disaster. We started with two glasses of really nice Charles Heinsieck champagne (not included in the pairing). The actual pairing, however, consisted of a couple of really pedestrian wines (one was described merely as a “red from the South of France”). Each wine pour bridged 3-4 courses. Rather than a new wine they would just splash a little more of the same wine in your glass if you were lucky. The majority of the meal everyone had empty glasses in front of them. This does not make for happy diners. Unbelievably, there was no wine served with the penultimate savory course of the Bresse chicken. I would point out that we did the wine pairing this summer and it was a completely different experience — many different wines poured over the course of the meal with an explanation of (1) what kind of wines they were and (2) how they paired with the food. Basic stuff.
After nearly four hours we decided to cut the meal short before the dessert courses. It is interesting that in most Paris restaurants if I do not order dessert or worse don’t finish a dish because I am too full that I feel that I have somehow hurt the server’s feelings – “Madame did not enjoy her _______?” Here, we said we said we would pass on the rest of the meal after not eating the chicken course and no one cared a bit. We were brought our check for 440€ (the lobster supplement was 30€ each which I should have realized but 30€ for three slices of undercooked lobster??). We paid and left. I understand the service compris policy in France but when you have an experience like we did it can be a little hard to swallow.
The good news is that we walked out of the restaurant and were back on the streets of Paris. We had a beautiful walk through the Jardin du Tuilieres and visited Musée de l’Orangerie which is a favorite spot. The Monet’s and Renoir’s made all right with the world and I found myself really loving the Utrillo’s on display (foreshadowing for the next day). One tip is that you can buy a joint ticket to the l’Orangerie and the D’orsay and skip the line at the d’Orsay.
I debated whether to post photos of the meal because of my general disappointment with the experience. Also, I do not have photos of every course because my frustration was mounting and my enjoyment was diminishing as hour after hour passed with increasingly bad service. But – here they are:
Amuse of parsley foam in a crispy tube. This was beet flavored this past summer. Kind of fun but a little sticky on the teeth. (similar as before)
Brioche (same as before)
The egg – a custard with a sweet caramel (same as before)