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.

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A Serious French Failure, and A Swiss Solution: Eating on the Go (or Surprisingly Sated in Slovenia)

  During the last few months, I've been traveling all over France for various stories I'm working on, and so I've had a very intense in-the-trenches experience of what it's like to eat-on-the-go in France today. I'm not talking about leisure travelers who have the time to track down a great bistro off of the autoroute and make time for a good meal, but someone who is doing busy, time-short business travel in the country that has long claimed to have the world's best food.

I actually think it still does, with the woefully glaring exception of eating-in-transit situations. French food in airports, on trains and in highway rest-stops is just plain awful, and rather than waste billions of Euros vainly promoting the French language around the globe annually through the Alliance Francaise (do that many people in Katmandu really want to learn French, or does it appeal to Caviar Gauche sensiblities to have an AF there), I'd like to suggest that France launch a NASA style initiative to reinvent mass catering, i.e. fast food. The fact that it was recently announced that McDonald's is soon to pick up another cluster of franchises in French highway rest stops speaks volumes. That said, I agree with chef Thierry Marx, who recently told me, "You can't kick McDonald's--they are only answering a need." Indeed, but let's have a French response instead.

And if anyone is looking for pointers on the subject, please allow me to share a recent hungry-in-transit experience that ended, er, um, happily, herewith:

With Nicholas Sarkozy and Barack Obama planning major road repair and building projects, it’s obvious that this is also the perfect time to totally rethink the quality of what both the French and Americans eat when they pull over for a meal along their country's high-speed road systems. Here, America actually has a longer and vaguely more glorious history, since stopping at the now defunct Howard Johnson’s chain (mostly in the North East and Middle West) used to be part of the fun of the long drive from my childhood home in Connecticut to summer vacations on Cape Cod and Nantucket—HJ’s fried clams were actually pretty good, as was their ice cream, especially the pale green mint chocolate chip. Unfortunately, however, most highway rest stop in both France and the United States have long since become culinary black holes, peddling only fast food and industrial sandwiches.

But as I recently discovered during a meal that was never meant to happen, it doesn’t have to be this way either. Let me explain.

Following a flight from my home in Paris to Llubljana last Fall, I’d planned lunch at Pri Lojetzu, the best restaurant in Slovenia, before heading to the Mediterranean resort of Portoroz to meet friends.  Alas, Air France was more than an hour late in leaving Paris, so around 2pm, I found myself hurdling down the highway during a light snow storm in the Justinian Alps with a growling stomach. To be sure, there were restaurants at the rest stops along the way, but since I was pretty certain that the odds of finding a decent meal at a Slovenian truck stop were nil, I pressed on.

   Though I’d never make it to Pri Lojetzu in time for lunch, I was still clinging to the idea of a platter of grilled langoustines at one of the little restaurants that overlook the pretty bay of Portoroz. As it snowed harder and harder, however, I realized I’d never get there in time for lunch and so very reluctantly pulled in to a rest stop with a restaurant. With any luck at all, I told myself, I could just get a plate of Prsut, the excellent prosciutto like Slovenian ham, and a nice glass of Teran, the best local red.

   If the hokey “old-fashioned country farmhouse” décor of the Marche restaurant where I stopped was rather wilting, the buffet style dining room smelled surprisingly good, like real cooking. Then I took a look at the salad bar and was amazed by the variety—grilled baby onions, marinated baby fennel bulb, five different bean salads, grilled eggplant, artichoke hearts, spelt salad, roasted tomatoes, and several different cabbage slaws, among other very fresh and tasty looking possibilities, plus a condiments stand featuring a bottle of first-rate Slovenian olive oil and another one of pumpkin-seed oil.

   After loading up on salad, I warily eyed the main courses, until I noticed that there was a rosti station (rosti is the signature Swiss dish of grated potatoes and bacon bits sautéed until it develops a crunchy crust) manned by a rosti master, and further along, a carvery with delicious looking roast chickens, roast beef and a rolled veal shoulder stuffed with vegetables. There were also three black cast-iron soup pots filled with soup, and a wonderful surprise—a big heated casserole of Jota, a hearty Slovenian classic that’s one of my favorite winter dishes, is also eaten in Italy’s Friuli and Croatia, and is made with sauerkraut, smoked pork, carrots, potatoes, red kidney beans, garlic and onions. I filled a plate with Jota, added a quarter bottle of pleasant Slovenian wine, a small mineral water, a still warm-from-the-oven pumpkin-seed-flecked roll and a slice of gibanica, a pastry-lined cake filled with poppy seeds, nuts, apples and quark. My lunch cost less than $9 and was absolutely delicious.

  I hadn’t, in fact, come across such good Euro highway eats since the first time I discovered Italy’s Autogrill restaurants, which serve up a better-than-average pan-Italian menu for reasonable prices along the main roads in that country. Of course I wondered if this Slovenian spot was a fluke, so during the next few days, I tried two other Marche restaurants along Slovenian roads, and both of them were just as unexpectedly good in terms of their regional cooking and seasonal produce as the first one.

  Intrigued, I investigated when I got home. It turns out that the Marche chain is owned by the Swiss hotel and catering company Moevenpick, which explains the rosti station I’d seen in the original Marche restaurant. The Marche restaurant web page also offered a succinct and happy explanation of the chain’s gastronomic goals—“The Seven Point Freshness Program: More Flavor Through:


*The use of fresh herbs and spices

*The use of high-quality oils (olive oil)

*The selection of regional and local products

*Our Emphasis on seasonal vegetables

*The fresh preparation of the products

*The gentle preparation of the raw products

*The accentuation of the unique flavor of the products”

Since Moevenpick has succeeded with its Marche restaurants in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Slovenia and Switzerland in Europe, plus franchises in Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea, it’s very much to be hoped that they’ll decide to take on France and North America. And if they don’t, that some other company will be inspired to launch of a renaissance of highway dining by the admirable quality and surprisingly excellent food the Swiss group. Of maybe the French and U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture could launch a Moevenpick inspired program to show off the astonishing agricultural bounty and regional cooking of France and the United States in roadside settings.


Chamarre: Fabulous Fusion in Montmartre, B+

  Since I always enjoyed Chamarre when it was rather incongruously located in the 7th arrondissement--the warmth and sensuality of the cooking always seemed rather at odds with the uber bourgeois fastness of the Avenue Lowendahl, I was delighted when exceptionally talented chef Antoine Heerah reopened his restaurant in Montmartre in the premises formerly occupied by Beauvilliers. Heerah, a generous, jovial Mauritian of Indian descent, practices one of the most guileless, intelligent and original fusion cuisines currently available in Paris. What he's basically done is deconstruct all of the disparate elements of the Mauritian kitchen--French, English, Portuguese, Chinese, African and most of all Indian, and then put them back together again using his considerable technical skills as a classically trained French chef.

Though it's a favorite Indian Ocean getaway destination for the French, Mauritius is little-known to non-Europeans. Originally colonized by the Dutch, the fertile green island was traded back and forth between France and Britain several times before becoming a important coaling station for the British Empire. For much of its history, its most important crop was sugar cane, and the need for field hands explains the country's ethnic diversity. When slavery was abolished, indentured Indians were brought in to harvest the cane on the large plantations owned by a small elite of mostly French ancestry. The Chinese arrived as shop keepers, enriching a population that was also spiced with a smattering of AWOL sailors from American whaling ships and British naval vessels and later, South Africans and Portuguese fleeing the civil wars of that country's former African colonies. Tidy, literate and strikingly beautiful, Mauritius today is prosperous, pleasant, French-speaking place that lives off of tourism since the sugar plantations became economically no longer viable. (Should you go, by the way, don't miss the spectacular Bauhaus tea-processing factory that was designed by a Berlin architect who was among a shipload of Jewish exiles that Mauritius accepted over British objections and housed and fed during World War II).

Even if you knew none of this background, you'd be able to parse it out from the menu at Chamarre. The Mauritian kitchen is based on seafood, especially octopus and deep-water ocean fish, but also plump fresh-water prawns known locally as camarons. The island's pantry includes coconuts, mangoes, curry leaves, tumeric, ginger, cumin and a variety of Indian condiments, including pickled green mangos known as achards and chatnis (various local version of Chutney). China shows up in the island's love of "mee," the local word for noodles, and distant echoes of the high Victorian British empire come through in its love of old-fashioned steamed "puddings" and other Mrs. Beeton style desserts. Before tourism created a market for air-freighted produce from South Africa, the island lived off of its own relatively sparse produce supplemented by imported canned goods (corned beef, condensed milk, tomato sauce, baked beans) from Britain and other Commonwealth countries.

Heerah's cuisine mirrors the Cinderella-like transformation of the remote island into a jet-set destination with an honest respect for its traditional culinary heritage and a stunningly modern layering of flavors and tastes. Going to dinner here the other night on what is surely one of the loveliest outdoor terraces in Paris, a lovely quiet flower-filled balcony adjacent to the restaurant, I was impressed all over again by the ingenuity of Heerah's cooking, which he's planed down a bit since a slightly bumpy opening. As she never stops telling me, my Breton friend Michele likes "good, simple food--nothing too fussy," so I wondered how she'd react to Heerah's spring menu--very well indeed as it turned. She started with a mixture of spring vegetables--peas, fava beans, baby onions, asparagus and salad leaves in a "Mauritian pesto" spiked with ginger and curry leaves, and absolutely loved it, while my shrimp prepared three ways--wrapped in pastry filaments with curry leaves, chopped in a bouillon made from their shells, and marinated with tangelolo were superb. Next maigre (a firm mild white fish) with a Romanesco sauce and tiny artichokes in deeply reduced chicken stock for Michele, and steamed yellow pollack with a "tatin" of Noirmoutier potatoes with limequats for me. Both dishes were light, vivid, fresh and wonderfully originally, as was the sublime Basmati rice milk ice cream that came with the savarin that we shared for dessert. The service was the only fly-in-the-ointment of an otherwise delightful meal--poorly trained waiters and a haughty hostess who suffered from what Michele correctly diagnosed as "syndrome du Palace," or a psychological pose of exasperated superiority vis a vis those one has no choice but to serve. Though annoying, this was a minor blemish on an excellent meal, especially in such a wonderful setting, and I look forward to returning again soon. 52 rue Lamarck, 18th, Tel. Metro: Lamarck-Caulaincourt. Open daily.






Frenchie: A Terrific Modern Bistro, A-

Though the name, Frenchie, is cloying without being cute and also perpetuates some much loved but completely daft idea the French have that English speakers refer to them as Frenchies, this vest-pocket bistro in the Sentier, or old Paris garment district, is a delightful spot with really excellent food. Gregory Marchand, the Nantes born chef-owner, works in a tiny kitchen in the back of a exposed stone and red-brick dining room that could easily be found in Nolita (NYC) or Shoreditch (London), and the vibe is similarly Anglo-American, which makes sense, because Greg mostly recently did a stint at Danny Meyer's sublime Gramercy Tavern and worked at Jamie Oliver's 15 before that. 

The short market menu offers two starters, two mains, a cheese plate and two desserts, and it changes often, which is a good thing, since this place has already acquired a dedicated crowd of young regulars. Waiting for Nadine to arrive, I drank a glass of very good Bossard Muscadet and studied the wine list, which is impressive, including Pic Saint Loup de Mas Foulaquier, a lovely Spanish Rueda, several outstanding cotes du Rhone.

Though the smoked trout with green, purple and wild asparagus sounded good, it was a cool, wet May night, so we both began with an excellent cream of celery soup that was laddled over croutons, a slice of foie gras and a coddled egg to create comfort food at its very best. Next, some of the best brandade de morue (flaked salt cod with potatoes and garlic), I've ever had. Marchard's version was wonderfully creamy, and came with vivid swirls of red pepper puree and parsley jus, both of which flattered the cod. The other main course was a paleron de boeuf, or braised beef, with carrots, and it looked quite tasty on our neighbor's table, too.

I ordered the cheese plate--a nice chevre and a slice of Tomme with a small salad and a dab of honey, to finish off our Rueda, one of my favorite everyday white wines, and Nadine succumbed to the chocolate tart, which was also excellent and came with raspberry puree.

Because the atmosphere's so cosy and the food's so good, Frenchie is exactly the type of happy, homey restaurant you'd love to claim as your neighborhood hang-out. It also offers an interesting snap shot of Paris dining in 2009 because it's main references are two countries that were once derided for their mediocre, even ghastly food--the United States and the United Kingdom--but which have now developed distinctive cuisine du marche styles of their own.

It's telling, too, that this Spring's two best new Paris restaurants--Frenchie and Yam'Tcha (see my previous posting)--have young chefs who returned home after cooking abroad (Adeline Grattard of Yam'Tcha worked in Hong Kong for several years), and that Battersea, Boston, and Bangkok are as likely to be a source of inspiration for ambitious young French chefs today as Bordeaux or Blois. 

Frenchie, 5 rue du Nil, 2nd, Tel. 01-40-39-96-19. Metro: Sentier

Yam'Tcha, 4 rue Sauval, 1st, Tel. 01-40-26-08-07. Metro: Louvre-Rivoli




Living the Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz; a brilliant Japanese table and a Left Bank letdown

As an American in Paris for almost 23 years, I took a particular pleasure in reading David Lebovitz's delightful new book LIVING THE SWEET LIFE IN PARIS. Lebovitz, one of America's most renowned pastry chefs, a hugely successful cookbook author and blogger extraordinaire ( recounts his decision to move to Paris and the sweet-and-sour baby steps of learning a new language and culture with wit, grace and trenchant honesty, which makes this book a far cry from the usual extremes of this genre.

Much too often, the tone of books about living in Paris by Americans runs to treacle or battery acid, with most of the herd tending to the former rather than the latter. What Lebovitz has penned instead is a nuanced and very personal take on Paris. As he said to me over lunch several weeks ago, "Many Americans spend a week in Saint Germain and think they've been to Paris, which makes about as much sense as saying you know Hawaii after a visit to Waikiki."

Refreshingly, the epicenter of Lebovitz's Paris are the city's 11th and 12th arrondissements, where he continues to perfect his terrific recipes--they're many of them interleaved through the chapters of this memoir as well--in the tiny kitchen of his apartment, shops at the wonderful Marche d'Aligre and deepens his gastronomic knowledge by working at a poissonerie and a chocolate shop. 

If he mostly enjoys his new life in Paris, he also discovers that the rose has a few thorns. The ACCUEIL (welcome) desk of any French department store, or the customer-service department, is unfailingly the least welcome place one can imagine, and Parisian grocery stores, specifically the FRANPRIX chain, are small, filthy, inhospitable, and poorly stocked when compared the average American or English super market (yes, yes, yes, the city has wonderful outdoor markets and great specialty shops, but everyone needs a good grocery store). He also ponders the peculiar incapacity of Parisians to understand or respect the American/British habit of standing in line, and rues the ambient aggressiveness of Parisians in any public setting. (He missed a couple of my pet peeves, including pay toilets in train stations and the general Parisian indifference to environmentally correct behavior like recycling and conservation). The coffee in Parisian cafes is generally ghastly, too, and hand-held shower attachments (as opposed to wall mounted) are a miserable inconvenience.

In general, however, he finds the city utterly delectable, and after five years here, he considers himself a dyed-in-the-wool Parisian. How did he know that he'd become a Parisian? He realized it the day that he took a shower and put on a clean shirt just to take out the garbage--as he quickly learned, appearances are everything in Paris, and this is one of the reasons that the city is such a lovely place to live. Clerks in pastry shops tie up your purchases in beautiful paper pyramids, the fromages really are fantastic, and oh the pastry shops!

A treat to read, LIVING THE SWEET LIFE is also a great source of insider's tips--Lebovitz divulges that the city's best hot chocolate is to be found at the tiny Patisserie Viennois in the 6th on the rue de l'Ecole de Medecin and his favorite chocolatier--Patrick Roger in the 16th. As always, Lebovitz's recipes are both tempting and impeccably written. Just in time for summer, this is a great arm chair read that will tantalize anyone who is planning a trip to Paris as much as it amuses anyone who knows the city well. I highly recommend it.


Since I've lived in Paris, the rue Saint Anne has quite wonderfully become the city's preeminent Japanese restaurant zone, which is a real boon to anyone looking for a cheap, expedient and delicious feed in the heart of the city. The challenge, of course, is to know which of these places are the best. A big fan of gyoza (grilled Japanese dumplings) and noodles, I've been assiduously and very happily eating my way through the area for years, and finally have discovered what I think is the best noodle-gyoza restaurant in Paris--Hokkaido. I went for lunch on this rainy Saturday, and there was already a line at the door when we arrived. A mixture of Japanese residents of Paris and Asian food-lovers, they all clearly knew that this simple, busy place serves outstanding food. Today we scarfed down a double portion of gyoza (God are they good), and then Bruno has udon noodles sauteed with vegetables and beef and I went with the tonkatsu (fried breaded pork cutlet) in a bento box on rice with enoki mushrooms and a lightly scrambled egg. Both dishes were absolutely delicious, and lunch for two with two mugs of green tea was less than 30 Euros, making this place one of the best bargains in Paris. 14 rue Chabanais, 2nd, Tel. Metro: Quatre Septembre or Pyramides.


Since it regularly breaks my heart to see visitors to Paris falling prey to the myriad tourist-trap restaurants in Saint Germain des Pres, I follow new openings in this neighborhood with extra vigilance, always hoping that maybe another good new place might be added to the short roster of honestly good restaurants in this eternally popular part of the city. Thus I was hopeful when I walked by the great-looking new l'Atelier Mazarine on the rue Mazarine a few days after it opened. Off I went with my friend Judy who lived nearby, and we settled into high stools with low backs in the narrow dining room with high hopes. Low lighting, exposed stone walls, reasonably friendly service, and a country ham in a brace on the long counter that runs the length of the space were encouraging, and the short menu was interesting. Alas, things went off the rails right from the start. Judy's lightly grilled tuna came with a drab eggplant salad and a strangely fermented pistachio crumble--a composition that had no coherence whatsoever, and my grilled shrimp were a bore. Next, overcooked John Dory with a silly "vegetable sausage" for Judy and an awful griddled veal tartare with Parmesan for me. Drinking the cheapest red on the menu and skipping dessert, we still end up spending over a 100 Euros, which made this place not only a disappointment but an expensive misfire. So give it a miss and head for the excellent L'Epigramme (9 rue Eperon, 6th, Tel. 01-44-41-00-09. Metro: Odeon. Booking essential) instead.

L'Atelier Mazarine, 43 rue Mazarine, 6th, Tel. 01-43-54-12-43. Metro: Odeon. 





Yam'Tcha--A Sweet New Bistro, A-, plus the best lunch-time buy in Paris: Le Meurice

Almost nothing could be more telling of the impact of this year's steep recession on the Paris restaurant scene than the instant notoriety of Yam'Tcha, a sweet little restaurant that recently opened in an ancient side street in Les Halles. To wit, this 20 seat place run by earnest, amiable young chef Adeline Grattard, former second to Pascal Barbot at L'Astrance, has passed through global gastro cyber space with the intensity and speed of a comet. Because Grattard actually is a serious, talented and original cook, I'd like to think her table, which she runs with her Hong Kong born husband Chiwah Chan, will withstand the blow-back of a culinary media world that's so desperate for news that it exalts anything that's even slightly different and half plausible.

So am I being hypocritical in writing about this fragile new flower on this website? No, not really--though I'm flattered that your eyes may be rolling over these words, I wouldn't pretend to be such an oracle that famished throngs will be pressing their faces to Tam'Tcha's window on Monday morning. I assume that those of you who find their way to this quiet little patch of the culinary cyber world are people who are very seriously interested not only in eating well, but in thinking about gastronomy in all of its facets, which brings me back to Yam'Tcha. Quite simply, I worry that the relative paucity of restaurant news out of Paris this year means that the city's substantial core of food writers is going to pick this tasty morsel to the bone before its had a chance to find its groove.

I've been three times, and if I've eaten well on every occasion, and I like Grattard's shrewd, subtle and original Franco-Chinese approach to cooking, I've also been exasperated by the very slow (if well-meaning) service, the fiddliness of the idea of a different tea with each course in the dinner tasting menu (I like tea, and I like drinking tea with my food, but poor Chiwah Chan is way out of his depth as the sole tea steward meant to track twenty different meal from a single service bar). I also think that the tea option needs to be more carefully explained, and that there should also be a wine-by-the-glass option. Finally, no dinner in a casual Paris bistro should take longer than three hours; the last time I ate here, I thought the attractive young Brazilian couple at the table next to ours would become violent before their dessert arrived. Like us, they loved Grattard's cooking, but like us, they eventually briddled at the very long waits between courses.

We started with a delicious tiny complimentary appetizer of slivered broad beans with crumbled sauteed pork dressed with ginger, garlic and sesame-seed oil, then loved plump Mozambique shrimps steamed as over-sized pot-stickers, sublime duckling with sauteed eggplant, a lovely piece of Citeaux (an abbey cheese from Burgundy) with toasted country bread and a few drops of delicious olive oil, and a delightful dessert of homemade ginger ice cream with avocado slices and passion fruit. Fresh, healthy, original, sincere--this was a great meal, and Yam'Tcha is a place I'd look forward to enjoying regularly if I didn't know that it's going to be taken by such a storm that it will soon be impossible to get a table without booking two months in advance.


I've known Yannick Alleno's cooking every since I first discovered him in a dreary Howard Johnson like dining room in the basement of the Hotel Scribe, and it's been a delicious pleasure to follow his deserved ascension to the Mount Olympus of French chefs--today he's head chef at Le Meurice and he received Bibendum's ultimate benediction--triple twinklers--several years ago. Because Le Meurice is shudderingly expensive, it's not a place that I go with any regularity, which is why I was delighted to be invited to lunch there this week. 

We decided to go with Yannick's new "Terroir Parisien" lunch menu at 90 Euros, and what followed was one of the best meals I've had in a very longtime. Ninety euros is a hefty chunk of change to be sure, but this stunningly good feed would have been worth twice as much. We nibbled on impeccably fried white-bait to start, and then the meal began with an exquisite lozenge of Norwegian salmon sauced with a vivid green watercress sauce and a charming confetti of spring vegetables. Next, steamed sole with pencil-sized asparagus from the Paris suburb of Auteil in a light sauce made with vin jaune, then Ile de France lamb cooked for a long time at a low temperature so that it was so tender you could eat it with a spoon. At this point, Alleno came by and explained the idea of "Terroir Parisien," which is to work with seasonal produce from the Ile-de-France, or the region surrounding Paris, and even to revive some of the region's signature produce. "French cuisine was born using the produce of the Ile de France," Alleno explained. "When the first restaurant's opened after the French Revolution, the chefs used what came from the countryside surrounding Paris. This explains dishes like a la Crecy, which always indicates the presence of carrots in a dish, since the village of Crecy was originally known for its carrots. Similarly, a la Montmorency, always means cherries and references the village of Montmorency, once known for same." Other local products that Alleno is using include brie de meaux, mint poivree from Milly-la-Foret, asparagus from Argenteuil, champignons de Paris, jambon de Paris, honey from the hives on the roof of the Opera Garnier, and, eventually chickens from Houdan. Located in the Yvelines, Houdan was once famous for its fowl. "La poule de Houdon was more famous in Europe than the poulet de Bresse," Alleno explained. "What changed everything was the Great Depression, when the government encouraged Paris chefs to use produce from all over the country and also the urbanization of the Ile de France between 1945 and 1970. The region still produces some wonderful comestibles, though, and I want to use as many of them possible in creating a new cuisine de Paris." Suffice it to say that I volunteered to become a recipe taster for the initiative as often as Alleno might need me. I think "Terroir Parisien" is a brilliant idea, and five days after left the table at Le Meurice, I am still savoring that exquisite spring lunch.

Le Meurice, 228 rue de Rivoli, 1st, 01-44-58-10-10. Metro: Tuileries

Yam'Tcha, 4 rue Sauval, 1st, Tel. 01-40-26-08-07. Metro: Louvre-Rivoli