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Saturday
Feb212009

Entrecôte - Le Relais de Venise


271 Blvd Pereire, 17th
M° Porte Maillot
Tel 01 45 74 27 97 (no reservations)


www.relaisdevenise.com

The Secret Sauce is in The Secret Sauce
Review by Graham Cooper

The room rattles and hums. The clash of cutlery against plate rises above the babble of a pleasantly relaxed dining room in full cry. The air is rich with noise and smells. A heady aroma drifts from silver trays of food warming over candles on table stations around the restaurant. You’ve only just finished your plate of steak-frites. Now, your formally-attired waitress is already spooning yet more slices of beef onto your plate like a fussing mother-hen. Want more frites? Bam! Here comes another artery-load of french-fried earth-apples ready to be forked directly into your bloodstream.

Resistance is futile. Maybe you thought your hunger was sated after your first plateful. Maybe you were right - but this has nothing to do with hunger. Not any more. Go ahead, join the the throng of fellow diners just a few inches from your elbows and indulge (over-indulge?) in one of Paris longest-standing culinary orgies: Steak-frites at the Le Relais de Venise – L'Entrecôte.

Since 1959, L'Entrecôte as the locals call it, has kept it simple. One main course: Steak-frites in the ‘house-sauce’. No menu required.

For many years now, both Parisians and an ever increasing number of visitors have calculated that any restaurant that has thrived for almost half a century offering just one main dish is probably getting it right. More recently L'Entrecôte has opened other branches in London and Barcelona based on the same basic formula. Manhattan is also planned, but the dining room at Porte Maillot is the motherlode.

The food, relaxed ambiance and attentive service may indeed account for the success of L'Entrecôte over the years. But many other Paris restaurants have offered similar and have long since faded into memory. I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that the ‘secret sauce’ that accounts for the prolonged success of L'Entrecôte is quite literally - the secret sauce.

Seemingly compulsory, your meal is never served without it. Served direct from platter to plate, medium-thin slices already swimming in what at first sight it looks like a disappointingly thin pesto sauce. It’s not. I have no idea what the ingredients are, and my powers of description would fail miserably in describing the flavour or the alchemy that takes place when it mingles with meat, but to me, it tastes good. Nothing else matters.

A few years ago a food-journalist from Le Monde tried to break the famously mysterious sauce down into it’s constituent components and pronounced to be a mixture of chicken liver, thyme, cream, Dijon mustard and seasoning. Madame Helene Godinot -the indomitable grande dame of the L’Entrecôte - has since scoffed at this suggestion and the recipe remains a house secret to this day.

Full disclosure: Even though I have been to the L’Entrecôte many times, I hesitated before making this review trip. I prefer my steak hideously scorched and the delights of French wine are wasted on me. Give me a long cold beer with that singed animal-flesh. I realise therefore, that I’m hardly best qualified to pronounce authoritatively on the quality of the cuisine. So, in the interests of culinary investigation, I enlisted my regular partner-in-crime. A lady who has eaten in Paris finest and expertly navigated her way around a copious multitude of wine-lists. The woman who has born witness to my many shameful atrocities committed in the name of 'a good night out’: The Gape Monkey.

TGM prefers her beef almost completely uncooked. Forget, ‘bleue’, she’d prefer you just ripped the horns off, give the beast a rub-down with a damp cloth and walked it once through the kitchen on the way to her table.

The Gape Monkey had surely been to the L’Entrecôte before? Apparently not: "I have seen the lines outside and have no desire to queue like cattle to eat .... well, other cattle".

It’s true. The place is generally mobbed to the doors and out into to the street seven days a week, both lunch and evenings. And they don’t take reservations. But after persuading her that I’d never waited longer than 20 minutes for a table, she caved. Ten minutes later we were seated.

There’s no menu. Your waitress simply inquires how you want your steak prepared and what you’d like to drink. She’ll then scribble the details on your paper tablecloth and it’s ‘game on’. There’s a small wine list, all of which TGM pronounced to be 'utterly inferior' but she nevertheless chose a red that was later described as being in urgent need of a Boeuf Bourguignonne - to be added to. I expertly selected a charmingly impertinent cold Heineken. There were softer drinks such as Coke and mineral water also available - but we always pass on these.

To begin, you’ll be served a small salad of leaves, vinagrette and flaked walnuts. Throw this on the floor immediately. You’re here for the main course and this preliminary nonsense just takes up valuable stomach space. Likewise, the bread-basket. Ignore it.

A few moments later your main course will arrive. See above. At this point TGM’s general demeanor improved significantly. As requested, her meat arrived un-cooked to perfection. I watched amazed as after her first explorative fork-full, the normally too-cool-for-school Gape Monkey proceeded to tear into her meal with the exuberance of an frenzied shark attack. A second plateful received the same enthusiastic attention. So far, so good.

In the interests of journalistic thoroughness, we decided to order desert. Surprisingly, we were handed an actual menu. A reasonably extensive one at that. TGM ordered the ‘German Cake’ which she proclaimed to be ‘the real-deal’. She knows these things. The classic deserts are supposedly the sorbet or the vacherin, but you’re going to ignore these and order the profiteroles. If two full platefuls of red meat and fries saturated in secret sauce haven’t yet pushed your cholesterol levels well into the danger zone, then the concentrated dark-chocolate sauce gracing the profiteroles just might.

All told, including coffee, the short term damage to our wealth was just South of sixty Euro’s. The long term damage to our health..? I don’t care.

Hours Daily 12pm-2:30pm and 6pm-11:30pm
Reservations: Not accepted
Cards: American Express, Visa and Mastercard. 

Graham Cooper is bad people. His world-view is utterly warped and his opinions are highly suspect. Seemingly incapable of holding down a day-job, he has failed miserably at numerous professions including marketing, computers, event-production and has even worked as a bodyguard. Originally from Glasgow, he’s frequented most of the worlds worst places including several war-zones and has unpaid bar-tabs and outstanding warrants on at least four continents. Since 2000 he’s been in hiding from numerous debtors and angry ex-girlfriends in Paris, where both the language and culture continue to confound and confuse him. When he breaks cover, he does voice-over work for TV and is currently planning a series of short movies about Paris. His girlfriend, ‘ The Gape Monkey’, once tried shooting him in the face for Valentines day, but mistook blanks for live rounds. She too is a tragic figure.

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Reader Comments (1)

Well done, Graham, and so accurate! The only thing better than eating at that restaurant is eating there completely by chance, not knowing a thing about it, but just deciding to get in line and wait to see what the fuss is all about. The surprise of discovering that there is only one dish on the menu made it a true dining experience. I've come to the conclusion that "le grand secret de la maison" is...drum roll...a mix of many, many green herbs? God, it's the best....
March 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan O'Connor

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