Clarence Hates Mystery Meat: H.A.N.D.

First of all, I don’t even understand what I’m supposed to call this place.  H. A. N. D. (39 rue de Richelieu, 75001 Paris, Métro: Palais Royale) stands for Have A Nice Day, but I don’t particularly want to call a restaurant a conversational pleasantry: “Do you want to go to Have A Nice Day for dinner tonight?” At the same time, it feels odd to spell out a recognizable word: “Do you want to go to H. A. N. D. for dinner tonight?”  So I’ve been calling it Hand, which I also kind of hate, because who wants to eat a restaurant called hand?

So I was skeptical about the name from the very beginning, but my friend BC won me over with talk of a duck burger, slick interior design, and a good review in Le Fooding.  I love duck! I love burgers! I love slick interior design! And Le Fooding is how I plan my week! But our attempts to eat at H. A. N. D. were foiled during BC’s final week in Paris, as it seemed to be either closed or too far out of the way every night we contemplated going. I’ve been pretty fixated on going since then, especially since B and I walked by the restaurant on our way to see the Rose C’est Paris exhibit at the BNF (resounding “eh” and I haven’t felt this bad about my boobs in years) and the slick interior design was resoundingly confirmed. H. A. N. D. is really darling inside with indigo walls, bare bulb light fixtures, antique globes, and stacked Campbell’s soup cans. The menu, a spare list of yummy-sounding burgers and a few other French bistro and American diner classics, was intriguing.  I’ll admit that despite having eaten some good ones, I’m still on the search for the perfect burger in Paris. Despite their ubiquity here, burgers just aren’t quite what my good little American self wants them to be.  As an aside:  damn you, SoCal residents, for getting another location of The Counter within throwing range of my old abode.

All this is to say I had high hopes for our visit to H. A. N. D. on Tuesday night.  B and I had met up with M at the Palais de Tokyo to take in their newest exhibit Dynasty. I keep going back to the Palais de Tokyo because I bought an annual pass during my initial museum-pass buying frenzy when I moved to Paris.  We then discovered that if you have a student identification card and say you are an art history student, admission is free, a fact that never fails to piss me off when we enter the museum.  On Tuesday night, our entry went something like this:

Ticket office employee:  Eight euros.

B:  Actually, I’m a student.  An art history student.

Ticket office employee:  Really?  What kind of art history do you study?

B:  Medieval art history.

Ticket office employee: (sighs) Okay.  You’re free.  Next?

M:  I’m an art history student too.

Ticket office employee:  Oh really!  How convenient!  And what kind of art history do you study?

M:  (flustered)  Uh, the same.

Ticket office employee:  Are you kidding me?  You also study medieval art history?

M:  Uh, yes.  I mean, no.  Photography.

Ticket office employee:  Medieval photography.

M:  Yes.

Ticket office employee:  Okay.  Here’s your ticket.

Obviously technological development and art history are not strong subjects at the American Apparel College for Future Hipster Museum Employees.

I have no idea why they decided to call this haphazard amalgamation Dynasty, as all that unites the work is the fact that it is new work by emerging young artists in France. Moreover, I seriously think that the Palais de Tokyo is actually trying to make me hate contemporary art entirely. The last several shows there have made me to nothing more than hit my forehead with the palm of my hand in frustration. While B carefully made his way through the exhibit, reading each unnecessarily cryptic description of each unnecessarily obtuse piece (you should see this guy in a museum that actually interests him!), M and I turned into ADD kindergarteners, taking silly pictures and making fun of our fellow museum goers. I can’t believe she’s leaving me for a month.

After a frustrating visit, I convinced everyone that H. A. N. D. would be the salvation of our evening. What couldn’t a duck burger improve? So we strolled into the first arrondissement for dinner, something we really never do unless we are getting Japanese. At first, everyone was happy with our choice. The restaurant is so cute! The staff is friendly! The menu is on a chalkboard! I chose the Super Duck, an anatine patty topped with sautéed mushrooms and melted chèvre. B chose the Cheese + + +, a regular beef burger with three different kinds of cheese. M chose the steak tartare as she is leaving Paris for a month and wanted a final fix before she left.

I’ll start with the good news.

B’s burger wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t the best burger in Paris, but it certainly wasn’t the worst (that honor goes to Café Francoeur in Montmartre). H. A. N. D.’s burger was at least properly cooked!  The fries were soggy and the bun was stale, but hey, it was edible.

Less edible was my “duck” burger.  First off all, let’s be frank:  it wasn’t made of duck. Lamb, possibly. Or maybe a strange cut of beef. But waterfowl never even got close to that burger. The mystery meat was dry, dense, and strangely mealy. The cheese and the mushrooms were good, however, and after drowning the whole operation in mayonnaise, I got it down.

But then there was this:

Let’s just say I didn’t want to have to do this, H. A. N. D.

When we told you, H. A. N. D., that the steak tartare was “pas correcte,” what we actually meant was:  “This steak tartare was completely inedible.  It is at once mushy and sinewy, and it is dark brown!  Frankly, it looks like someone defecated on the plate! That this dish would be served at any restaurant in Paris is an insult to French food! You should immediately fire your chef and your beef supplier. Short of this, you should at least remedy the situation and remove this atrocity from our bill, as my poor friend only ate two gracious bites before turning pale, quivering slightly, and setting down her fork for the rest of the evening. Shame on you! Make this right!”

I have to say that here is a difference in ethos between French and American restaurants. You say something is gross or inedible in the States and you can pretty much expect that it will be taken off the bill. H. A. N. D. even shocked me by French standards, as saying something is “not correct” in France is basically the most significant objection you can make to a dish. I almost hit the roof when we discovered that they still charged us for the steak tartare.  I wouldn’t have even written this review if they had adjusted the bill properly. But they didn’t, so here we go:

Please don’t patronize this restaurant. They will lure you in with their kitschy décor and their cute typeface. You’ll make stupid American assumptions, like “How could they mess up a burger?” But something is not right here, people.  Something is not right with the meat. Off-putting meat is the place where even I, devoted patron of sketchy taco trucks and guys who sell things out of coolers outside of nightclubs, draw the line. One of the best things about France is that meat is of such better quality across the board (largely because Europe has outlawed such terrifying practices as the use growth hormones in factory farms). So a place like H. A. N. D. that should specialize in high-end beef comes as a complete shock and something that nobody should put up with (especially not for a 14 euro hamburger – at current conversion rates, that’s $18.26). Frankly, I’m surprised and relieved that no one got sick from our visit. You might not be so lucky.


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