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Diner's Diary

The best 102 Paris restaurants are reviewed in Hungry for Paris. Since the Paris restaurant scene changes constantly, I regularly post new restaurant reviews and information on the city’s best places to eat on this site. I also review selected books with various gastronomic themes and comment on favorite foods, recipes, cookware and appliances. In addition to the reviews and writings here, I'd also invite you to follow me on Twitter @ Aleclobrano. So come to my table hungry and often, and please share your own rants and raves in the Hungry for Paris readers forum.

There are many ways to move around the reviews, which are categorized by grade and location. Click here to see the index. Lookout for the tags at the bottom of each post to guide you to more restaurant choices. You can also share any article directly with Facebook, Twitter and email, and there's a print button if you'd like hard copy. Enjoy!

Sunday
Jan032010

Keste--Brilliant Pizza in New York City, and Le Concert de Cuisine--Superbly Subtle Franco-Japanese Cooking in the 15th: A-/B+

To anyone who envies me the fact that I live in Paris, it may sound boorish to admit that one of the reasons I love visiting New York City is the chance to eat a really good pizza. Yes, I know, I know, they're people who insist you can find a good one in Paris, but I've never landed one in Paris that was any better than average. Why? Most Parisians just don't have the bulging vein passion for pizza that New Yorkers do, and many consider it as a drole street food not worthy of any serious gastronomic consideration. Dommage!

At the risk of a little sacrilege, I'd say that a really well-made pizza can offer a punch of pleasure that's every bit as potent as a slab of foie gras or any other Gallic delicacy, and anyone who doubts me, should make a beeline to Keste on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. On an absolutely arctic afternoon before Bruno and I found the courage to try and jam everything we'd bought or been given during our visits to New York and the Bahamas into two suitcase that seemed to shrink by the hour, we dashed out the door for a last-minute pizza fix before the numbing misery of JFK.

With a pleasant young Italian waiter tediously playing the folklore card by calling us "Signore" (Gentlemen)--and this inspite of the fact that he perfectly understood me explaining in French what Buratta was to Bruno, things did not get off to an auspicious start. The shockingly high prices on the menu had me ready to pick a fight, too.

And then the pizzas arrived, and were truly fabulous. In fact, the creamy sweetness of fresh just melted mozarella meeting with the bright acidic tang of San Marzano tomatoes with a punchy floral note of basil has to be one of the most brilliant taste trinities ever invented. A sausage version of the same pizza came with a superb garnish of crumbled pork sausage meat from Faicco's butcher across the street, and though $8 for a glass of wine still feels like highway robbery to me, the house red went down without any problems. The only tiny flaw with Keste's pizzas was that a perhaps insufficiently heated oven made them a mite soggy--in Naples, the crust of any good pizza is always dry on the bottom, but this is just a quibble, and I was well and truly yearning for another pizza few hours later when I pried open the aluminum lid on one of the worst meals I've ever eaten on AIR FRANCE.

Keste's also provides an inadvertent but absolutely fascinating lesson in the essential differences between American and European dining, since our waiter spent at least half of his time telling customers that they couldn't order a half-and-half pizza (half mushroom and half sausage, say) like you can in most American pizzerias. "Why not? I'm the one whose going to be eating it and paying for it?" said a man at the table next to ours. "Er, well, because the chef thinks that only certain flavors work well together. This is why there is no compose-it-yourself pizza here." Or to wit, raised to believe the customer is king, many Americans resent it when gastronomic discipline is imposed by a restaurant kitchen.

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Before leaving Paris, I'd booked dinner at Le Concert de Cuisine for our first night home. Why? I'd heard it was wonderful just before I went away for the holidays, and the lightness and subtlety of Franco-Japanese cooking seemed ideal as the gastronomic balm to jet lag and the inevitable masochistical melancholia that follows the end of any good vacation. Suffice it to say that I made an excellent choice, too, since chef Naoto Masumoto served us one of the best meals I've eaten in Paris since, well, my last dinner at the Cafe des Musees (early December).

To be sure, the location in the 15th arrondissement wasn't particularly alluring, and the pleasant but anodyne decor of the dining room isn't memorable, but I've rarely eaten food as delicate but politely provocative in the genre of the culinary minuette created by Japan and France's reciprocal gastronomic fascination than Masumoto's pumpkin risotto, linguine with sardines and Nori seaweed (sublime), lacquered suckling pig, and baba au umeshu (plum liqueur).  Shrimp flambeed in soy sauce and Cognac were superb, too, and overall Masumoto, who previously cooked at the Benkay at the Hotel Nikko for ten years, has revealed himself as a major talent for so brilliantly understanding the best ways for French and Japanese cooking to inflect upon each other.

Keste Pizza & Vino, 271 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10014, Tel. 1-212-243-1500. Avg $25.

 

Le Concert de Cuisine, 14 rue Nelaton, 15th, Tel. 01-40-58-10-15. Metro: Bir-Hakeim. Lunch menus 24 et 29€, Dinner menus 40 et 57€.

 

 

 

Friday
Dec182009

BLT Burger: A Perfect Burger in New York City, and a Great Dinner at the Rock House, Harbour Island, Bahamas

  Even after almost 25 years in Paris, they're few things that gladden my heart more than a perfect cheese burger, something I've never been able to find anywhere outside of the United States. So everytime I return to America, I can't wait to sink my fangs into a really good one. 

  For years, my fail-safe burger has been the one served at noon at the Union Square Cafe in New York City, but after a real wipe-out of a dinner there the other night, I decided it was time to shop around, and so I quizzed a group of the most exigent food-lovers in Manhattan at a Christmas party and three out of seven recommended BLT Burger in Greenwich Village. 

  On this arctic but sunny day in Manhattan, I set out early to do a flock of errands, including a stop at Trader Joe's on West 14th Street to stock the larder of the house where I'll be spending the holidays on Harbour Island in the Bahamas. This delightful little island has several outstanding restaurants, a good bakery (Arthur's) and a very pricey diminutive version of Dean & DeLucca, so I thought long and hard about some of the things I could bring to make our quartet happy, including Trader Joe's excellent California olive oil. Afterwards, I was starved and made a hopeful bee-line for BLT Burger on Avenue of the Americas (6th Avenue) a few blocks away.

  I liked it right off the bat, too, since the lighting was low, but not too, and it offered a choice of seating--bar, booth or table, plus a relaxing decor of old Americana, including a Gulf Oil sign and a Coca-Cola clock that were both bona fide vintage. The friendly bar-keep poured a big glass of ice water, poured me a glass of Jaboulet Parallele 45, a terrific all-purpose food red, and brought me a little saucer of spicy, salty pop corn, and I was as happy as a clam. Having toyed with the idea of Japanese lunch--I'll be on the beach tomorrow with any luck, I wondered at the wisdom of a fat fest, but decided to go whole hog (or cow, as it were), with a BLF burger with Vermont Cheddar and a side of Vidalia onion rings. 

  Ten minutes later, the perfect burger arrived, a juicy flavorful beauty made of sirloin, short rib, chuck and brisket, with crispy bacon, trimmed iceberg lettuce and a slice of tangy melted cheddar. The only thing that prevented this beauty from getting an A was a wan slice of tomato, but otherwise it was sublime. The onion rings were superb, too, and while chowing down, it occurred to me that this place was the ideal combination of American generosity and gutsy eating and French savoir faire, since it belongs to New York based French chef Laurent Tourandel. Bravo, donc, for one of the best burgers I've ever eaten.

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   Several years ago, I did a madcap assignment for an American travel magazine that involved visiting almost every island in the Caribbean. It was a fascinating, if challenging trip, and I discovered some spectacularly beautiful places and was intrigued by how these tiny islands have such distinctively different cultures. 

  One thing I rarely did during this month-long safari, however, was eat well. To be sure, I did have the occasional memorable meal, especially in Martinique and Saint Barth's, but otherwise, the impact of the American economic imprint on the Caribbean has been pretty dire. Tourists show up wanting Cesaer salads, cheesecake, cheeseburgers and pizza, and the big American food companies have filled the shelves in local groceries with noxious ready-made salad dressings, canned goods and junk food like instant macaroni-and-cheese or stuffing mixes.

  The reality, then, is that it takes a lot of work to run a good restaurant in the islands. Sourcing is a challenge, since so few of them grow much of their own food anymore, and it's tough to stray to far beyond those tourist standards if you're going to remain a going business.

  This is why I really like the Rock House on Harbour Island in the Bahamas. They make a real effort to source as locally as possible, dare dishes that challenge priveleged palettes, and have one of the best wine lists in the islands. Last night's meal was a perfect example. My friend Kato joined me and we began our meal with an excellent salad of baby beets and pinenuts for Kato and a beautifully fried panko-crusted crabcake in a light bearnaise for me. Made with a generous helping of fresh crab meat, this cake was beautifully and very delicately seasoned and served on a bed of salad.

  Next, Kato had pan-seared locally caught hog fish filet on basmati rice with a gentle curry sauce and I couldn't stay away from one of their hour classics and a favorite of mine, the cappellini with locally caught white rock shrimp in a light tomato sauce spiked with red pepper flakes and brightened by tiny cubes of preserved lemon. Service was absolutely charming, and with a fine bottle of Viognier from California's Russian River, this was a terrific meal right down to a finale of Bahamian rum cake with vanilla ice cream. 

  Now if only hoteliers on other islands would take the intelligent culinary risks that the kitchen does at the Rock House, the Caribbean might be a much more enticing destination for people who love good food and who also feel strongly about the importance of local sourcing and culinary diversity.

BLT Burger, 470 6th Avenue, New York, NY 10011-8400, Tel. 212-243-8226. Avg lunch for one $30.

The Rock House, Harbour Island, Bahamas, Tel. 1-242-333-2053. Avg $100. 

Thursday
Dec172009

My Best of 2009: Paris and Further Afield

  On the heels of the first disappointing meal I've ever had at the Union Square Cafe in New York City last night--the service was frantic and the food quite ordinary, I was musing on all of the wonderful food I've eaten in 2009, so here's a motley list of the year's most delicious moments.

PARIS

Cafe des Musees. This deservedly popular place in the Marais consistently delivers spectacularly good food at very reasonable prices. I wish the wine list was easier to work with, but I'd happily eat here once a day if I lived nearby. My last meal here was truly superb--house smoked salmon and then a Noire de Bigorre echine de porc was tender and bursting with flavor. The cheeses are terrific, too. 49 Rue de Turenne, 3rd, Tel. 01-42-72-96-17. Metro: Chemin Vert. Avg 35 Euros.

Jadis. I've eaten at chef Guillaume Delage's modern French bistro in the 15th a dozen times this year, and his cooking is consistently lean, clean and muscular, with an almost frighteningly flawless technical perfection. My favorite dishes? His perfect pate en croute, roasted shoulder of lamb with sun-dried tomatoes and black olives, and the brilliant gateaux des rois I enjoyed with friends on the fete des rois. 208 rue de la Croix-Nivert, 15th, Tel. 01.45.57.73.20. Metro: Porte de Versailles. Avg 45 Euros.

Yam'Tcha. Afer many meals at chef Adeline Grattard's place just off Les Halles, her cooking--smart, subtle, original and Franco-Asian, just gets better and better. Every meal here is a discovery, since the menu changes almost daily, but I often think of Grattard's sublime grilled scallops on a bed of steamed bean sprouts in wild garlic sauce. 4 rue Sauval, 1st, Tel. 33-1-40-26-08-07. Metro: Louvre-Rivoli. Menus 45 Euros and 65 Euros.

Thoumieux. But wait...I wasn't very enthusiastic about this place when I reviewed it here a few weeks ago, so what gives? Chef Jean-Francois Piege's squid a la carbonara was one of the most original and delicious things I've eaten all year. Thoumieux, 79 rue Saint Dominique, 7th, Tel. 01-47-05-49-75. Metro: La Tour Maubourg. Open daily. Avg 50 Euros

Les Fougeres. I loved everything about this restaurant near the Place des Ternes in the 17th arrondissement. Charming service, a pretty dining room, and terrific food--I just can't get the ravioli stuffed with Auvergnat pork in star anise broth out of my head. 10 rue Villebois Mareuil, 17th, Tel. 01-40-68-78-66. Metro: Ternes. Avg 50 Euros.

FRANCE

La Mere Brazier, Lyon: Months after I'd tasted chef Matthieu Viannay's La Vollaile de Bresse en Demi-deuil (poached Bresse chicken with black truffles under its skin), I'm still dreaming of this incredible dish, a brilliant update on a great classic of the French kitchen. Viannay serves the chicken with baby vegetables, a garnish of pickled sour cherries, and a voluptuous velouté de volaille monté à la crème, one of the ultimate French sauces. Where Viannay goes his own way, is that the bird is served as two courses—first, the breasts, succulent and white as alabaster, and then the legs and thighs, which are grilled and garnished with a small salad of herbs. 12 rue Royale, 69001 Lyon. Tél. 04-78-23-17-20. Avg 70 Euros

ITALY

Meloncello, Bologna. This simple cheerful trattoria is on the edge of the city, but it's worth the effort of getting here for but the superb home-cooking and a warm welcome from the two delightful sisters who own the place. There’s no printed menu—instead the daily offer is recited, but all you need to know are tagliatelle al ragu and polpette (meatballs with potatoes and peas in tomato sauce), the house classics. The veal ragu on the buttercup yellow tagliatelle was as mellow and suave as any I've ever tasted, and though the canned peas with the meatballs were disappointing, the dish was superb, since the meatballs are made of a mixture of veal, pork, mortadella, ham and Parmesan. Via Saragozza 240, Bologna, Tel. 39-05-16-14-39-47, Avg 35 Euros. 

SLOVENIA

Kendov Dvorec, Spodnja Idrija. Though I've been to Slovenia several times and know how well one eats there, nothing prepared me for the meal I had on a Spring night in the dining room of the country's only Relais & Chateaux hotel. The service at dinner that night was charming and the food delicious. The waiter explained that the hotel specializes in local cooking, always interesting, since the cuisine in Slovenia changes ever twenty miles or so, and I loved my meal of savory cabbage soup, smoked lamb with horseradish, polenta with grilled porcini mushrooms, veal with fried gnocci, and strucjkli, or Slovenian streudel filled with cottage cheese and raisins and served with pear jam. Superb Slovenian wines by the glass, too. Tel. 386-5-37-25-100. 

USA

 

 

 

Aldea, New York City. Chef George Menendez's tiny little restaurant in the Flat Iron district in New York City is well worth going out of the way for. He trained with a suite of heavy weight toques in Europe before setting up shop on his own, and his cooking is an intriguing take on the Portuguese food of his ancestry informed by haute cuisine technique. Don't miss the Shrimp Alhino with garlic, coriander and pimenton (smoked paprika), my new favorite ingredient. 31 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011. Tel. 1-212-675-7223. Avg $50.

Saturday
Dec052009

CLAUDE COLLIOT--B; And Viva Barcelona!

Atrium lounge at Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona
  
   For many years I lived in the rue du Bac in the old stables at the head of the courtyard of the building next door to the Chapelle de la Medaille Miraculeuse (Chapelle of the Miraculous Medallion, so named because a nun named Catherine Labouré who once lived in the convent here claimed to have been given a miracle-working gold medallion by the Virgin in 1830). On summer mornings, I often woke to the other worldly sound of the nuns singing, but the only real miracle that befell me while in the vicinity was when chef Claude Colliot opened his charming little restaurant La Bamboche around the corner from me in the rue de Babylone in 1998. At the time, there was almost no where really good to eat within an easy leg of my front door, so these two terra-cotta washed dining rooms came as a god send. Colliot's charming wife ran the dining room, and he sent out excellent and very imaginative contemporary French dishes. 
  
  As time went by, though, Le Bamboche became so popular with visiting and resident Americans that I grew a bit shy of the place, and then Colliot moved on to run an unlovely restaurant called L'Orenoc at the Merdien hotel at the Porte Maillot, not a part of the world I find my way to very often. He seemed very out of his element there, the dining room was an awkward corporate space, and I ate there twice with no memory of anything I'd eaten a few days later.
  
  So I was heartened to hear Colliot had gone out on his own again with an eponymous table (Claude Colliot restaurant) in a somewhat unlikely location, the space most recently occupied by Le Dos de Baleine in the Marais. (Why unlikely? Though they're some good restaurants in the Marais, this neck of the woods doesn't have the same bourgeois ballast as the rue de Babylone--aside from a couple of types from the Centre Pompidou, it's hard to imagine who the lunch clientele will be).
  
  Bref, I came for dinner with my friend David, and both of us immediately liked the the good-looking dining room--exposed stone walls, stylish comfortable modern chairs and hip light fixtures, even a little counter for solo diners (which won't work unless they put a mirror up, since no one eating serious food on a stool on their own wants to stare at a blank wall).
  
   And then the meal started, and quite well, since the service here is outstanding. A promising wine list added to our anticipation, too--good wines, most of them bio or biodynamique--at good prices, and the smart and appreciated detail of filtered water, flat or fizzy, instead of bottled, were also encouraging. Then our first courses arrived, and converation stalled as we worked very hard to understand them. My grilled scallops on a spear of lemon grass also came with an egg yolk, some Microplane grated carrot slaw, and a dab of fish (anchovy, I think) paste. The scallops were cooked pellucid and lovely, but aside from the inevitable pleasure of dipping almost anything in egg yolk, the arcane constellation of flavors on my plate never made sense. Ditto David's "Crelice" (whatever that may be--why restaurants practice high-fallutin' menu poetry never ceases to amaze me--wouldn't it have been easier for all involved to say that it was a foie gras mousse?). "I'd love to go into the kitchen and fix this," David said after we'd both agreed that it needed salt, and then, what, maybe cumin seeds?
   Fried slices of sweetbread with pedigreed Joel Thiebault carrots and another Microplane slaw (ginger, this time), renewed my confusion. I know Colliot can cook, and well, but these dishes were like mathematical equations that didn't add up, and unlike another chef who likes parsing out individual taste, Pieter Nielssen at La Gazzetta, there was no tenderness, no desire to please in any of these dishes. Instead this was decent but head-strong and very cerebral cooking that wasn't working very hard to make people happy.
  When I talked to another friend about Colliot's food the next day, she described it as "'Kneel at my altar, if you must cooking,' " and I tend to agree, since the ultimate example of same was a very disappointing "larme de chocolat" (chocolate tear) where the chef had attempted to decline the natural tastes of chocolate with black olive tapenade and candied hazelnuts. Not unpleasant, but a good snap shot of why the heart's always more important than the head in really good cooking--you can be as creative as you want, but the ultimate goal should always has be to make people wildly, wildly happy, not to cook for your friends or critics. 
  So would I go again? Yes, I'll try Colliot another time--he's a good cook, but I just hope he retrieves his desire to please his customers as much as he did at La Bamboche.
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  Still don't know what you're going to do for the holidays? Why not run away from it all and spend them in Barcelona, a city I've been head over heels in love with ever since I first visited and worked as an English conversation teacher in the early 1980s. I lived in a tiny studio in the Barri Gothic with regularly backed up drains, but when I had plumbing problems, I run away from home and spend all afternoon in a beach restaurant in Barceloneta eating fideo (vermicelli noodles) cooked with fish broth and squid's ink, garnished with fried squid and garlic mayonnaise--bliss!
  That rundown, seat-of-the-pants Barcelona vanished a while back, but I still jump at any opportunity to visit the city, and so this weekend, I came down to write on various things for various people and ended up at the wooden counter of Koy Shunka, the new Barri Gotic sushi bar that's the sister of Shunka, Ferran Adria's long-running favorite. 
  I got there around 1.30pm, early for Saturday lunch in Barcelona, and settled into a seat at the sushi bar where one of the most charming sushi chefs I've ever watched or talked to (yes, yes, I know--that's part of their job, too) wielded a knife in a way that gave me goose bumps. After Manilla clams steamed in sake, he went to work on some Torro (fatty tuna belly) to create a dish garnished with sea urchin and almost invisible ribbons of Nori (seaweed) that I'll honesty never forget. Jesus was it good, as were four grilled shrimp from Palamos on a bed of rock salt, and a Chef's Special Roll of salmon, tuna, and avocado.
  This was easily the best Japanese food I'd eaten since a trip to Tokyo four years ago, and it made me yearn for Japan again as soon as possible. My local consolation--I got to go back to my room in the breathtakingly elegant new Barcelona Mandarin Oriental and jive on the same wonderful aesthetic I'd just eaten, but in Hispano Zen visual terms. Hats off to Patricia Urquiola for the full bore chic of this place, which has a superb location on the Passeig de Gracias.
  Oh, and I bought Pimeton, or smoked paprika powder, strong and soft, at the Santa Catarina mercat, so stay out of my way les douaniers!
Claude Colliot Restaurant, 40 rue des Blancs Manteaux, 4th, 01.42.71.55.45, Metro: Hotel de Ville, Avg 50 Euros. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Koy Shunka, Calle Copons 7, Barcelona, Tel. 34 934 127 939, Tasting menu 68 Euros,
Thursday
Nov262009

SPOON, An Excellent Reboot, A-; THOUMIEUX, Mieux but Could Still Do Better, C+

Mackerel tartare at SPOONSo this week the plot thickens as I find myself doubling back to two tables that I've recently reviewed here, and with very different results....
 
  "Sustainable eating is no longer just one element among many to be considered when we design a menu, it's become the most important consideration in everything we do now," says Alain Ducasse about the bold new menu he's just debuted at Spoon. When Spoon opened a decade ago, it was intended to be the showcase for Ducasse's experiences of other cuisines, and as such, a way of stimulating the French to appreciate food and wine from beyond their borders. Now Ducasse wants to use the space to teach a different lesson, which is that healthy, environmentally responsible eating can also be delicious.
 
  To be honest, I was slightly skeptical about the new menu before going to dinner here the other night. How sincere was this commitment to ecologically correct eating? And would this menu avoid the austerity that often makes such cooking more virtuous than delicious? Things didn't get off to a particularly good start with a gimmicky amuse bouche of a small blinis served with eight little porcelain ramekins filled with various incoherent sauces and a first glance at the menu didn't set my pulse racing either, because as I'd expected, it was admirably conscious in terms of good health and environmentalism but read like a Puritan primer.
  
  Then the first courses arrived, and all of them had an impressive Zen beauty. My soft-boiled organic egg served on a bed of bulghur wheat with shaved mushrooms and long Marmite-smeared wands of toast was ecstatically good comfort food, and I also loved several of the other starters I tasted, too--a casserole of quinoa with a delicious crust like a good paella, mushrooms and ribbons of root vegetable; an excellent citrus-spiked mackerel tartare; and a brilliantly homely, Shaker style soup of wheat and buckwheat with fresh cheese. 
Main courses were similarly delicious. A thick steak of lieu jaune (yellow pollack) was perfectly steamed, glossed with creme fraiche and elegantly punctuated with cracked pepper, sprigs of dill and coarse gray sea salt to create a dish that had a sort of Venus de Milo beauty, with a couple of crunchy vegetable filled gyoza making it only slightly less innocent. Daikon and red radish cooked with duck civet was sublime and one of the more original main courses I've seen on a menu recently, and rotisseried veal ribs came with a well-made sauce diable (made with tomato puree, fond de boeuf, dry mustard and Cayenne pepper) and crunchy potatoes Anna.
 
  By this point, I reallzed that I was in the middle of an impressive and important meal. If a chef of Alain Ducasse's stature is making such a serious and successful commitment to rewiring French gastronomy so that it not only provokes pleasure but is also healthy and environmentally conscious, then the 21st century has finally begun in France.
 
  Oh, and aside from a gimmicky and sickly sweet chocolate pizza, all of the desserts I tried--an impeccable cheesecake, a nice baked apple rather incongruously served with a slab of what I'm sure was Ocean Spray cranberry jelly, and a classic floating island, were pleasant but lacked the striking originality of the rest of the menu. 
  
   From a recent chat with Jacques Maximin, the head chef at Rech, the Ducasse group's seafood brasserie, I know that Ducasse asked him to "get Parisians to eat fish they never ate before, not the traditionally noble fish like turbot and cod, but instead mackerel, conger eel, etc.," so I can't wait to see the why that this new commitment to the 21st century parables of health and gastronomic environmentalism play out in his other restaurants in France and elsewhere. One way or another, what's going on a Spoon is a very important and surprisingly delicious first step.
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  Now that talented chef Jean-Francois Piege has left his post at Les Ambassadeurs, the restaurant at the Hotel de Crillon where he won two Michelin stars, to cook full-time at Thoumieux, the old-time Left Bank brasserie he took over with nightlife maven Thierry Costes, he's been getting absolutely rave reviews across the board in the French food press, so another visit to a restaurant I'd found very disappointing a few months ago was inescapable.
  
  Arriving, I was impressed by the cordial welcome, a big change from my last meal at Thoumieux, and then Christian, Wendy and I were dumbstruck by the beauty of the dining room, which has been magnificently remodeled and now has some of the best lighting of any restaurant in Paris. Instead of the dark and rather gloomy look of old, the new room absolutely shimmers like a Manhattan supper club circa 1928. Terra-cotta twill banquettes line both walls, the gorgeous art-deco moldings overhead have been picked out in matte gunmetal paint, and lovely fifties style wall sconces send soft light everywhere from the mirrors they're mounted on. 
  
  The place was also packed to the gills, and the crowd seemed to take be taking a puckish communal pleasure in the shared and slightly self-conscious knowledge that they were in the most fashionable restaurant in Paris. 
The new menu made very sexy reading when we sat down, too, but we dutifully ordered the dishes that had been crowed over by other scribes--the "pizza souffle" and the wild squid prepared carbonara style. The former came to table blown up like an Indian poori made from pita bread dough and was garnished with several very fine slices tuna, some buratta cheese and a thatch of arugula, and though it was pretty to look at it, had no almost no taste whatsoever. The latter was a thunderblot of Piege's sporadic brilliance, though, and one of the most delicious dishes I've had in a longtime--squid so tender it performed like tromp l'oeil pasta with a requisite garnish of an egg yolk and delicious grilled lardons. Shrimp steamed in white wine, however, were overcooked and had an insipid Florida country-club garnish of avocado and cocktail sauce.
 
  Lievre a la Royal, one of the most aristocratic dishes in the whole French kitchen, shocked all three of us by arriving at the table in a soup bowl with a tiny fluttering piece of gold leaf--what on earth for, if not perhaps to taunt the bling-bling crowd with their own bling-blinginess--and was a drab, muddy mess with very little flavor. Pig belly had to be sent back once for being greviously overcooked, and was little better in a subsequent rendition, which meant that the only successful main course were my scallops, perfectly cooked and cleverly garnished with little individual pyramids of buttered bread crumbs and a side of pleasantly wilted frisee salad with baby onions and lardons.
  
  Desserts didn't much appeal, so we shared an unpleasant portion of churros, those extruded deep-fried Spanish pastries, with a rather sickly chocolate dipping sauce and good vanilla ice cream.
All told, a frustratingly uneven meal, with thrilling flashes of Piege's talent lighting up a culinary spectrum that otherwise ran from average to mediocre. Figure a very expensive wine list into the equation, and you'll understand why I won't be tempted again by this beautiful room.
If only Piege had gone the route of a chef like Pascal Barbot and opened a small restaurant where he and his many fans could have been comfortable, instead of listening to the siren song of a Costes and creating a Monte Carlo like brasserie in Paris. There is talk, however, of a second restaurant on the premises of Thoumieux, where a hotel is being constructed upstairs, and if this pans out, I will look forward to rediscovering Piege's culinary wit and charm with the usual pleasure.
 
Thoumieux, 79 rue Saint Dominique, 7th, Tel. 01-47-05-49-75. Metro: La Tour Maubourg. Open daily. Avg 50 Euros
Spoon, 12, rue Marignan, 8th, Tel. 01-40-76-34-44. Metro: Franklin D. Roosevelt. 
Email : spoon-paris@hotelmarignan.fr. Open Mon-Fri, Closed Sat. Sun. Avg 50 Euros.