Le Relais de L’Entrecôte (Paris, France)

After wrapping up our business activities at the Paris Air Show, we headed into downtown Paris to meet up with our hosts for dinner. Our hosts were staying at a nice hotel in the 6e Arrondissement (we were staying at a Comfort[sic] Inn out by CDG; a word of advise for anyone wanting to do the Paris Air Show: reserve your hotel room months in advance!), which is one of my favorite parts of town (twice before I’ve stayed at the nearby Hotel Quai Voltaire on the banks of the Seine in the 7e Arrondissement for a quite reasonable price, but not during the Air Show). The 6e Arrondissement has a nice selection of cafés, chocolate shops, and even a really good rum bar. As we rendezvoused with our hosts, it was just few minutes before 17:00, so our host recommended we see how the line was for the nearby Le Relais de L’Entrecôte.

One location of a smaller chain, Le Relais de L’Entrecôte roughly translates as “The Relay of Porterhouse”, and that’s basically the deal: they bring out several “relays” of steak frites, served up with their house sauce. It’s quite popular, so people start lining up around 30 minutes or more before they open; in our case, the line was down the block (although the estimation of our host was that we were likely to make the first seating; then the line slows greatly as tables finish slowly). Compared to most brasseries in Paris, it’s a bit brusque, since, like my previous review of Chartier, they are trying to get a rather large number of customers through the place in several seatings over the evening. While there wasn’t as much of the “Bonsoir!” and light, friendly chatter that I love about French brasseries and cafés, I did find our server quite friendly and helpful, especially discussing how the service worked and what wines were recommended.

As far as main courses go, the menu at le Relais is simple. Really simple. You have one choice: do you want the entrecôte, or not (I’m not sure why the menu says “aujourd’hui” (Today), since that’s always the menu). I always love when a restaurant has that level of dedication to their craft. The entrecôte served up in relays; for each, the server rolls out a cart (hard to see if you have a nice outdoor sidewalk table like we did), carves up the roasted entrecôte, and serves it up with a pile of frites and their house sauce. You do get a bit of a choice on how it’s cooked, and they simply ask “Bleu? A la point?” As I have mentioned many times before, the entire normal French range of meat doneness falls between waht we’d call “extra rare” and “medium rare”, and everyone at our table opted for “la point” (on the rare end of “medium rare” for us Americans… I think, especially if American, you may be able to coax something more done out of Le Relais, but I enjoy a nicely done rare steak).

Well, I lied when I said it’s all entrecôte. It’s not all entrecôte and frites, they do also bring out some bread for the table, and start you off with a nice vinaigrette salad (France has reminded me I need to work on my basic vinaigrette skills) so you can at least pretend that you ate something green and leafy. Then it is off to Le Relais!

Next up, our premier relais (Round 1) of entrecôte and frites arrived, nicely plated and ready to eat. While the sauce hides the meat from the camera, it was a really, really good entrecôte. Carved from both halves of what us Yanks call a porterhouse (well, that’s our closest cut), each slice of meat was extra tender and flavorful, having both a good amount of fat and a really good sear on it. Not sure exactly what is in the sauce, other than cream, butter, a lot of pepper and mustard, and a few herbs. It is quite good, and is another reminder that I should work on my basic sauces a bit.

For subsequent rounds, the server periodically comes buy and offers you up another round of food from two gigantic platters, one of entrecôte and sauce, and one of frites. hey just pile it on the plate until you tell them you’ve had enough. Aside from the plating now being a bit sloppy since it’s literally piled on the remnants of the first round, this was just as good as the first.

While the main course menu is a single item, the dessert menu is an entire page of classic French brasserie desserts. I was going to eschew dessert (if you were paying close attention, the majority of my weeks’ meals before this were some variant of a big slab of meat), but changed my mind when I heard “profiteroles”, one of my favorites (cream puffs stuffed with ice cream, topped with chocolate sauce and almonds). And I’m glad I did, this was a perfectly-executed profiteroles: crispy cream puffs, good ice cream, and an outstanding chocolate sauce.

Yes, the lines are long. Yes, it’s a tourist destination, and the service is a bit perfunctory. But I actually enjoyed the multiple rounds of entrecôte and frites, the wine, and particularly the desserts. I would love to come back to this or one of the other Relais locations in Paris, Geneva, or Zurich, although if the line was too long, there are uncountably many other great places in walking distance as well. It was quite a good time, and the price quite reasonable for the amount of food (26.50 Euro on this visit).

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