Years ago, I tried le Chateaubriand and had an okay – nothing more – meal. I was later shocked to read reviews heralding this as one of the best restaurants in the city. Edgy, inventive, and over-the-top delicious – none of the adjectives matched my own experience there.
I eventually figured out that Inaki Aizpitarte, the Basque chef from la Famille and Transversal, had taken over shortly after my visit. The old-school bistro setting hadn’t changed, but the acrobatic food was altogether new. I returned to see/eat what all the fuss was about, and experienced a four-course show so delicious that I was able to remember and (drunkenly) recite it when I met Inaki at a friend’s wedding.
Now, with rumors circulating about the chef’s possible departure, I decided to revisit le Chateaubriand. Booking is still hell. The phone was answered after fifteen attempts, which saved me from the usual pain of walking over to beg in person. I was told they were full until I used the name of my visiting boss and then voilà, a table fell from the sky. The same thing happened, incidentally, when I called to book le Comptoir de la Relais. There really is an alternate universe beyond the one that we plebians see.
If you can make it past the gates, le Chateaubriand is a surprisingly sweet and convivial place. The all-male waitstaff provides plenty of eye-candy, and the crowd is always interesting to watch. Cross-town foodies arrive early, while the well-paid hipsters who make up the core clientele tend to show up after 10pm.
The menu, despite its daily reinvention, hasn’t much changed. It’s still a four-course menu unique (no choices, no subs) for €45. Printed on simple xerox paper, the dish names are deceptively simple. For example, “tranche de boeuf, aubergine, faiselle” was much more than the sum of those components. The beef was cooked rarer than I usually like (they don’t ask), but its bloody character contrasted brilliantly with the other flavors. Dressed with snowflake-thin slices of raw cauliflower, it mingled on the plate with faiselle (a mild and light fresh cheese) and smokey eggplant. Like most of Inaki’s creations, it was a surprising combination of elements that I would never dream of putting together.
At this price, le Chateaubriand is still one of the most compelling dining experiences in Paris. It’s perfect for adventurers who can appreciate both spirited cooking and rumpled waiters. It’s not the right choice for anyone who has food issues or is unwilling to jump through those reservation hoops.
Here’s the run down (€45 for four courses, plus amuse):
129 avenue Parmentier, 11th arrondissement, 01 43 57 45 95?