THUMBS UP: There's something almost poignant about the number of foreigners who stalk the streets of Saint Germain looking for the type of bistro they first saw in "Funny Face" (Audrey Hepburn as an ingenue in Saint Germain when it was still bohemian). You know, a cosy little spot that smells delicious when you open the front door and where the wry owner seats you at a table with a checked table cloth and pours a complimentary glass of white wine. A place where you then feast on such Gallic dishes of anthology as boeuf bourguignon, blanquette de veau, coq au vin, etc. Unfortunately, however, it's now easier to find a plate of spaghetti in Saint Germain than it is a good, decent French meal. Why? The locals, professional types who watch their waistlines and their wallets, don't do restaurants per se during the week. Instead, they'll stop somewhere for a plate of smoked salmon and a glass of white wine, some pasta and a bit of rouge, etc. High rents and heavy tourist foot traffic further explain this conundrum--what many restaurant owners want is turn over in front and easily assembled dishes in the kitchen. And so many of the neighborhood's bistros have become clothing stores or Italian places, which is why I treasure L'Epigramme even more.
Just steps from the Odeon, I've had one excellent meal after another in this tiny little place with exposed stone walls and an amiable host in Stephane Marcuzzi, who previously worked in several Guy Savoy bistros. After stints at Guy Savoy, Alain Ducasse and the Hotel de Crillon, young chef Aymeric Kraml has really come into his own with an excellent and reasonably priced chalkboard menu that runs to clever dishes like potato soup with vieux Comte cheese, pig's feet croquette on a bed of lentils with red peppers, braised duck with sauerkraut and pollack with a fennel bulb compote. If the kitchen suffers from an occasional imprecision, one is more than forgiving for a prix-fixe menu of 28 Euros, especially when the overall quality of the cooking is so good.
9 rue de l'Eperon, 6th, 01.44.41.00.09. Metro: Odeon. Closed Sunday dinner and Monday.
Oh when will I ever learn to give up once and for all on Italian food in Paris? Just after I got back from New York, I was paging through the latest edition of a popular local restaurant guidebook and noticed that an Italian place with an odd Catalan name, Commerc 7, had won a special "favorite places" award. Normally I'd never go to an an Italian restaurant in Paris, but this was just after the holidays, and the idea of antipasti and some pasta sounded good on a cold night and I was having dinner with my friend Nadine, who lived in Milan for many years and loves Italian food, too. So off we went. The first sign that something was wrong was that the place was empty on a Friday night. But we'd both shlepped across town to get here, so we settled in and ordered a glass of very good Sardinian Vermentino. The waiter stopped by the table every two minutes to take our order, but we succeeded in ignoring him until we'd finished our apperitif. Then we decided to split an antipasti, plus a plate of prosciutto, and Nadine had eggplant parmigiana and I chose the risotto primavera. Though it took a lesson in logic to order a bottle of the Vermentino--the waiter insisted that it was only served by the glass even though it was listed by the bottle on the wine list, so I suggested he sell us all of the glasses in a bottle, but for the price of a bottle, and though this clearly left him deeply perplexed, he agreed (tortured logic, no?), we were having a good time until the food showed up. Rolled eggplant, artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes had been ruined by being marinated in a shockingly astringent vinaigrette, and the plate of ham was two transparent slices for almost 10 Euros. The risotto came drowning in cream, a horror, and the strange chewy texture of the eggplant in Nadine's parmigiana led me to guess it once had been frozen. This was my ultima cena Italiana a Parigi, so if you ever spot me going into an Italian restaurant in Paris again, please stage an intervention, i.e. grab me by the collar and bring me to my senses.
7 rue Bayen, 17th, 01.47.66.12.71.