Monday, 18 June 2007

Thursday a Go Go (Part Deux) - Paris Go

Forgive the cheesy Frenched sequel of the title but the excuse is that it's quite apt since the final restaurant in our series on Thursday dining ventures happens to be a French bistro known enlighteningly, as Paris Go. Paris Go is one of those places that we'd been meaning to try for awhile as whenever we'd gone past it in the evenings, the restaurant always seemed to emanate a bright and cheery light in an otherwise relatively dark and quiet section of Rathdowne Street (it's a couple of doors from La Contadina). It has the vibe of an inviting and cosy refuge, almost always packed with chatting or otherwise engrossed diners cocooned within its large glass frontage. Actually not unlike a celebratory scene from a Renoir Impressionist canvas, with participants within seemingly oblivious to the world outside. It wasn't surprising then that when we finally chanced to give the place a try, I had some preconceived expectations.

We didn't get a good start. Any early anticipation on our part was all too quickly lowered a notch as we followed the waiter to our table. Despite having rung earlier (albeit only an hour before) and assured a reservation, we found ourselves allocated to that restaurant patron's most dreaded of table locations...yes you guessed it, that little afterthought-for-two situated at the fartherest nook of the room right next to the toilets! Aww heck, guess we had only ourselves to blame for not having provided sufficient forewarning of our visit. As expected the place was pretty busy, though there were a few larger tables still empty when we were seated. However, these were promptly occupied by subsequent groups of more than two so there was little chance of an upgrade. Before I move on though, okay we could handle the cold draught that rushes in whenever someone opens the door to enter or exit the hallway leading to the restrooms but if the Management insists on locating tables so close to the doorway, they really should do something about the tendency for that same door to slam with a bang whenever someone lets it go! We longingly gazed out at the rest of the room, confirming a casual bistro brimming with full tables and surrounded by cheerful walls sparsely decorated with Parisian themed prints and posters. Wait-staff were all male on the night and two of them circulated the floor wooing customers with their stilted French accents and the restaurant Menu. Our non-existent grasp of French was incapable of revealing whether their Gallic roots were truly genuine or part of the show but they did look the part with maitre d'-style white aprons tied around waists.

The Menu was quite extensive although held no surprises, offering a range of fare one would reliably expect from a French bistro. Fancy a taste of the ubiquitous snails in garlic butter? There was Escargots a 'la forestiere ($13.50), their version over roasted mushrooms. Feel like a winter warming onion soup, or a cassoulet, or roasted duck? It's all there. Their Plat du Jour (Dish of the Day) on the Specials board was even Coq au Vin! The wine list offered an intriguing variety of French labels of which we were largely ignorant about, but we were abstaining anyway due to it being a weeknight. A basket of nicely chewy baguette slices arrived together with a small dish of butter molded into cute rosettes. However this little attention to detail was juxtaposed with the butter being hard and unspreadable and likely straight from the fridge. It didn't take long for us to decide on the Soupe du Jour of Crab Bisque (of course) and a half-dozen of Huitres Paris Go ($13) (oysters served three ways, with garlic and herbs; topped with a cheesy sauce Mornay; and natural) for our starters. The bisque which arrived with a dollop of cream was thick and savoury though nothing mind blowing, but we especially enjoyed the oysters. The six on half-shells were plump and fresh, as evidenced by the sweetly salty natural duo. The grilled offerings were pretty perfectly done with their meat heated through enough to be aromatic but not overdone, and the herbed and savoury toppings complimented without overpowering the natural juices. The half dozen were gone in a flash and shells were definitely slurped clean!

For mains we had the Canard a la Montmorency ($28) a roasted duck dish in a port, red currant jus with wild baby figs, and the grilled Poisson du Jour (Fish of the Day) which was fillet of barramundi. We had to wait a long while before our dishes arrived, but the duck consisted of tender, medium-rare slices of breast and roasted leg over a flavoursome red wine/port reduction. The little wild figs were a curious addition, no larger than cloves of garlic and slightly tartish but served as interesting points of contrast to the sweet roasted meat juices. The grilled barra fillet was laid over ratatouille of roasted vegetables and surrounded by a bevy of small scallops (no coral). The fish was moist and tender with nicely charred skin and quite tasty. However although the fish was fresh enough, we didn't think that the barra lived its life in the wild by any means. There was just that slight weedy tint that gives farmed fish away. All in all though, both main dishes were cooked well and suitably enjoyed.

Service was not all that intuitive and we were left alone for much of the time but we concede it was quite busy. The food was good but the whole experience wasn't quite up to my romanticised expectations. Paris Go's desserts selection was actually quite tempting but we were not prepared for another potentially long wait and so decided to seek our sweet fix elsewhere. Not a problem, as a quick and simple relocation only a few blocks away found us ogling at the always eye-popping array of treats displayed at Brunetti pasticceria. But that's exactly why we all love Melbourne for food!

Food: 3.5 spots - Nothing mind-boggling but everything nicely done.
Service: 3.5 spots - Serviceable but minimalist and maybe even a touch haughty.
Value: 3 spots - Some prices leaving casual bistro behind and approaching fine restaurant.
Returnability(R) Factor: 3.5 spots - We'll have to do the rounds of French bistros about town first.
Spot Score: 14/20

Paris Go Bistro
116 Rathdowne Street, Carlton, VIC.

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