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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.

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Tuesday
May142013

LES CLIMATS--Suave Contemporary French Cooking, Brilliant Burgundies, B+; WANDERLUST--Good Eats Where the Wild Things Are, B 

 
  This year in Paris, a late, damp and often overcast Spring has been pushing and pulling my appetite in all different directions. To be sure, I've eating as much French grown asparagus--both green and white, as I can get my hands on, but the gray skies and cool temperatures have left me yearning for sturdier comfort food than I'm accustomed to craving at this time of the year. Then I went to dinner the other night at Les Climats, a very pleasant new restaurant in one of my favorite restaurant venues in Paris, the elegant Belle Epoque dining room of a handsome old dormitory building that once housed young single ladies who worked for the P.T.T. (Poste Telegramme, Telephone), and found my seasonal groove again.
  
  In the early nineties when this place first became an open-to-the-public restaurant, it was called Le Telegraphe, and it enjoyed a two or three year run as one of the most fashionable restaurants on the Left Bank, despite the fact that the food was never better than a little better-than-average. Tipped off by a friend who lives nearby that it had recently re-opened yet again--it's been through several middlingly successful incarnations since it was Le Telegraphe, Bruno and I decided to treat ourselves to what we hoped would be a good dinner on yet another drizzly cool Friday evening. I knew nothing about the chef, but my friend did tell me that it had a 'lush' decor and that the wine list was all Burgundies, right down to a Cremant du Bourgogne instead of Champagne, and since I find Burgundies, especially white ones, absolutely perfect drinking for Spring, I thought we might be able to will the season into existence over a good glass of Burgundy or two.
   
  Arriving, we had a choice to two different settings, the dining room up front with lots of scarlet wing chairs with leopard print trim and some very beautiful Secessionist style art-nouveau reproduction chandeliers, or a pretty terrazzo-floored terrace with white wicker chairs and a greenhouse walls overlooking the lush courtyard back garden where meals are served at noon only in deference to the neighbors. Since the dining room was one of those spaces that look too designed to be comfortable, we opted for the terrace, with its mix of British colonial and art-nouveau references. 
  
 
  Over a glass of very good Cremant de Bourgogne--I long ago learned that these sparkling wines not only offer exceptional value for the money but are often excellent, we studied the menu, which had clearly been been constructed to flatter the restaurant's remarkable wine list. Willing summer to begin, Bruno ordered the sea bream carpaccio on a bed of razor-fine cucumber scales garnished with ambered colored gelee flavored with Xerex vinegar, a brilliant idea, and I had an impeccably well made Opera de foie gras on a bed of spice-bread sponge with Gewurtztraminer gelee. The steely artistry present in both of these dishes made me curious about the chef, and whom our very nice waiter informed me is Phan Chi Tam, a young Frenchman of Vietnamese origin who had most recently been working for Thierry Marx at Sur Mesure, his restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Paris.
 
  The smart counter-casting of the eager young serving staff, most of whom commute to this plush corner of the Left Bank from far afield suburbs, leavened the atmosphere of the restaurant in a useful way as well. To wit, even the stuffiest B.C.B.G. poseurs were guilessly brought to heel by the sincerity of this trying-so-very-hard-to-please young crew. 
   
   
   Our main courses were excellent as well. Bruno loved his steamed turbot with baby clams and a rich foamy dashi broth and was delighted to get his hands on a glass of the same sublime Puligny Montrachet I'd had with my foie gras (in addition to the spectacular wine list, they also offer a terrific variety of pours by the glass). My veal tartare, a fine foil for good wine, was coarsely chopped excellent quality meat that was garnished with a puree of fava beans and baby peas and very timidly seasoned with a little bit of citrus zest. Even though it was lovely with a glass of Hautes Cotes de Beaune, a little pinch of piment d'Espelette and a light sprinkle of coarse sea salt with sea weed would have given this fine product more personality.
  
 
   Desserts were excellent, too, including the Pierre Herme inspired litchi and fresh raspberry macaron I enjoyed and a lime-flavored 'boule de neige' (frozen dairy confection) with ginger-and-passionfruit coulis that Bruno chose. Though it's rather expensive at dinner--you could easily spend 130 Euros a head with a glass of wine or two, I suspect this sophisticated, worldly and well-conceived place will be hugely popular this summer at noon, when they serve two reasonably priced prix-fixe lunch menus (36 Euros and 45 Euros) in their secret garden. And after all of the years during which this type of restaurant--serious tables with seriously good French cooking for a well-heeled and well-dressed clientele, have been dying out, it's nice that even during this balkish Spring, a welcome trend to their renewal continues not only with the charming Les Climats, but Goust and places like Les Tablettes de Jean-Louis Nomicos, this latter restaurant being a real forerunner of this gastronomic redux. 
  
   
   A few days later, an old friend came to town and expected me to pull a rabbit out of a hat. She'd read about Septime, which is probably at the top of the list of almost every visiting foreign food-lover this Spring, and wanted to go for dinner. Needless to say, Septime had been full for dinner that night for many weeks, but as it happened, I'd read that chef Bertrand Grebaut had designed a menu that's being served at Wanderlust until June 21, and never having been to this table at the curious-looking lime-green Cite de la Mode et Design perched on the banks of the Seine near the Gare d'Austerlitz, I booked us a table.
  
 
  Arriving, I could see that Laurie hadn't changed a bit from the days that we worked the night shift at a bakery on the Upper West Side of New York. Her blonde rasta plaits were bundled up in a sort of scarlet do-rag and she still sported the same surgical steel ring in one nostril that she had all those years ago. As serious but slightly crazy kids who liked to have a good time, we spent many lost nights together at Paradise Garage, a big thumping night club on the Hudson, before she moved off to the woods of Pennsylvania with a Puerto Rican lady mechanic. These days, though, she lives in Austin with her cow-girl partner, whom I've never met, and we hadn't seen each other in well over twenty years. "Well, aren't you looking all Euro guy these days, Babe," she said and gave me a hug. I noticed that she'd put on a fair amount of weight, inevitable, it seemed, for a professional baker, but certainly wouldn't have said a word about it to her. "Hey, you've, um, filled out a bit, huh!? You used to be skinny as a reed, but your face still looks good." Small mercies, or something.
 
  Both of us liked the restaurant, any airy open space with an outdoor terrace, too cold for that night, overlooking the Seine and a staff of good-looking hipsters who also happened to be incredibly professional about their work. After we'd muddled the passage of time a bit with Bourbon cocktails--a sort of a riff on a Julep, we ordered, and if the food lacked a little bit of the finesse of Grebaut himself, it was still delicious and more generously served than what you get a Septime.
  
 
   I loved the buttered bread crumb garnish on veal tartare (I'm single-handedly denuding the pastures of France this Spring) on potato puree with tassels of fresh tarragon, since it was sensual study in textures within a shy band of flavors, and Laurie, who says she misses really good fresh fish in Austin, was delighted by her sea bream tartare.
 
   
  Our main courses were very good, too. A perfectly cooked cod steak with a mussel-garnished vinaigrette and grilled baby fennel for me, and baby chicken with faiselle and new potatoes for Laurie. "I love this food. It's generous and hearty, but delicate and original, too," said Laurie. 
 
  When I asked her if she wanted dessert, she shook her head and said no, "I need a smoke, and I have a little surprise for you." So I invited her to dinner and paid the bill, and then we found a bench on the quai next to the Seine and she got out a tin of the oatmeal cookies she'd carried all the way from Austin and a little bottle of Southern Comfort. "You've probably gotten too fancy for Southern Comfort, but I'm here to remind you that you used to love a Southern Comfort and Coke when we'd go clubbing." 
 
  I don't like Southern Comfort anymore, as it turns out, but Laurie's cookies were delicious. She's still a wonderful friend, too, and Wanderlust is a great idea for anyone who wants to eat Bertrand Grebaut but can't land a reservation at Septime. Oh, and as their guest-chef menu rolls on into the summer, the next up will be Christophe Pellet, who used to cook at La Bigarrade in the 17th arrondissement. 
 
Les Climats, 41 rue de Lille, 7th, Tel. 01-58-62-10-08. Metro: Solferino. Open daily. Lunch menus 36 Euros, 45 Euros. Average a la carte dinner 120 Euros. www.lesclimats.fr 
 
Wanderlust, 32 Quai d’Austerlitz, 13th, Tel. 01-70-74-41-74. Metro: Gare d'Austerlitz. Open daily: Lunch noon-3pm, dinner 8pm-midnight, Sunday brunch noon-4pm. Lunch menu 20 Euros, 25 Euros; dinner menus 35 Euros, 40 Euros. www.wanderlustparis.com 
Thursday
May022013

LA TABLE DES ANGES--The Discreet Charm of a Really Good Neighborhood Bistro, B+

 
  Unfortunately it doesn't happen very often, which is why I appreciate the very rare pleasure of spontaneously deciding to try a restaurant in Paris even more. As a food writer, you see, I'm obviously obliged to keep up with the latest new addresses, and since I don't like going to restaurants on the weekend if I can avoid it--as a rule of thumb, Parisians generally cook or entertain at home then, which leaves the city's restaurants to suburbanites or tourists, and I'm also too busy to go out to lunch, this leaves me five available meals per week to test the latest openings. This may sound adequate, but recently a whole week went by during which I didn't find a single meal that was worthy of writing up here, even if only in negative terms.
  
   
   Yesterday, though, after we couldn't get into "Mud," which opened here yesterday, Bruno and I decided to go for a long walk after having spent a print-drunk day at home. Knowing that the fridge was bare, I hoped the Tunisian green grocer at the bottom of the rue des Martyrs would be open so that we could buy some asparagus and rustle up a simple dinner at home. But he'd already closed, so we keep walking up the rue des Martyrs with the idea of doing sort of a H shaped walk home. Along the way, I found myself regretting the two branches of Fuxia that have opened here--the food's okay, but it is a chain, and also thinking that it had been a very long time since I'd last eaten at Le Cul de Poule, which was packed last night. The menu there didn't really speak to me, though, and Bruno had already said he didn't want to eat at a restaurant, so we keep moving, and then it started to rain again, so we stopped under the awning of La Table des Anges to wait out the shower, and of course I read the menu posted outside. It looked really good, and there was a reasonably priced 32 Euro prix-fixe, so I turned to Bruno, who said "Non" even before I'd opened my mouth. "Well, why 'Non,'? We don't have anything to eat at home, it's getting late, I'm hungry, this place looks good." "We still have some salad." He could live on lettuce and other leaves, but I can't and won't so I told him I'd invited him to dinner and stepped inside.
  
 
  Seated at a wooden table with Kraft paper place mats by one of friendly owners, who immediately brought us a complimentry serving of speck and salami to nibble while we studied the menu, I liked the look of this place. The exposed stone walls gave it a warm atmosphere, and the slicing machine by the chalkboard announcing the daily specials inspired confidence, too. Still, tempted though I may have been, I was not going to order langoustine risotto in a Paris restaurant I didn't know--I've had good risotto exactly once in Paris during twenty-five futile years of trying, and so instead decided on the asparagus veloute and the brandade de morue, which is one of my favorite dishes. Bruno chose the homemade duck terrine and the quenelles de brochet (pike perch dumplings), and we ordered a bottle of Fleurie, a perfect Spring time wine, from the short but interesting wine list. Happily, the bright cherry-jam nose of the Fleurie dissolved whatever peevishness Bruno was still nursing over this impromptu dinner outing, and then things took a decided shift for the better when our starters arrived.
  
 
  Studded with pistachios, Bruno's duck terrine was homemade, beautifully seasoned (thyme, green pepper corns), generously served and accompanied by a ramekin of tangy onion jam. My froathy soup had a superb depth of flavor, too, and the bread served with these dishes was excellent crusty baguette with a lacy crumb and a faint perfume of wood smoke. I overheard the couple sitting in the corner across from us congratulating themselves for having found this place, too, and grinned as I watched the owner serving them each a complimentry tot of fiery hazelnut eau de vie that had been made by monks somewhere in the Yonne. I hoped we'd get to taste it, too.
  
 
 
  Since brandade de morue, that sublime mixture of baked olive-oil lashed whipped potatoes, salt cod and garlic that's perhaps best sampled in Nimes, can be a sorry business when it's not made with real care, I hoped our luck would hold with the main courses. Ditto Bruno's quenelles de brochet, which can be leaden and tasteless when made from industrial ingredients in industrial quantities. This apprehension surely explained Bruno's alarm when the waiter revealed his enormous quenelle in a covered Staub casserole. As if reading his mind, however, he reassured Bruno that it was homemade and also explained that the accompanying sauce had been made with broth and a little cream but no flour. The quenelle's delicate sauce was also garnished with mushrooms, carrots, baby onions and a potato. 
  
  Potently garlicky and almost airy in its lightness, the brandade was superb, as was Bruno's quenelle. When we claimed a well-fed pause before dessert, the owner returned to the table with two glasses of Fleurie from another producer, a thoughtful gesture, and we complimented him over his chef. "Thank you, yes, he's very talented," said the proprietor, who told us his name is Yan Duranceau, a young up-and-comer who has already worked at Le Grand Véfour, the Plaza Athénée and Taillevent.
  
 
  Both of us finished up with fine slices of brebis d’estive, which is made by Christine Arripe at her Ferme de la Montagne Verte in the Ossau valley and shipped directly to this restaurant in Paris. The particularity of this rich but subtle ewe's milk cheese is that it's only made during the transhumance period from June to September in the up-mountain valleys of the Bearn. Not surprisingly, it has won a Slow Food label, and it's just superb.
 
  And finally, two slugs of that mysterious hazelnut eau de vie, which made our eyes water and tasted exactly the way a rafter in the attic of Burgundian barn might if you gave it a good lick--grass, dust, caramel, smoke, it was just lovely, and we walked home with the fuzzy happiness of having inadvertently discovered a delightful new everyday restaurant in our neighborhood embroidered with the warm halo induced by the monks' skills with a still.
 
La Table des Anges, 66 rue des Martyrs, 9th, Tel. 01-55-32-24-89. Metro: Pigalle or Notre Dame de Lorette
www.latabledesanges.fr, Closed Sundays and Mondays. Lunch menu 16 Euros, prix-fixe menu 32 Euros. Average a la carte 45 Euros. 
Saturday
Apr132013

PIERRE AU PALAIS ROYAL--A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, B+; FISH LA BOISSONERIE--High Tide at a Left Bank Favorite, B+

Pierre au Palais Royal: Asparagus with aioli Maltais, quails' eggs, hazelnut gougeres
 
   Though I certainly wouldn't enjoy a meal in an ugly dining room, and actively avoid places that are too noisy (happily still less of a problem in Paris than in other cities I know well, notably New York and London), I'll gladly admit, as I have many times before, that for me the appearance of a restaurant very much takes a backseat to the quality of what I find in my plate in terms of my overall judgement of its worth. To be sure there are a few restaurants in Paris--Le Train Bleu at the Gare de Lyon and, once in a blue moon, Vagenende (St-Germain-des-Pres) among them, that I'd go to mostly because they are so beautiful, but otherwise, I'm reflexively willing to overlook an unfortunate decor in favor of good food.
 
  With this established, a recent meal at a Paris restaurant I've known for many years, Pierre au Palais Royal, set me to wondering about the advisability of my being so aesthetically forgiving. This first time I came here, sometime in the early nineties, this was a serious old-fashioned wood-paneled restaurant with pale pink table cloths (if memory serves me) and some decorative wrought iron work here and there. It was also among the favorite restaurants of a New York magazine editor, the late David Bruel, for whom I did a lot of work at the time that he was running an excellent travel magazine called European Travel & Life, and I have many happy memories of long jolly defiantly clock-ignoring meals here during which we'd all order foie gras, boeuf a la ficelle (beef tied with a noose of string so that it could be poached in hot bouillon) and at least two bottles of Pommard, followed by what David used to refer to as a snifter of "amber fluid." No one eats or drinks like this anymore, alas, but I never walk by Pierre au Palais Royal without thinking of--and missing, those bawdy and bibulous evenings.
 
  I gave up on Pierre au Palais Royal after the long-running owner sold it to someone who never really understood why the regulars liked it so much. Instead, he ruthlessly changed both the menu and the decor and scared everyone away. A few weeks ago, however, I read an eloge to this restaurant by French food critic Francois Simon. It made me eager to return to this much-loved old place, and so when a favorite Dutch friend who has just moved back to Amsterdam after many years in Paris and who has told us that he very much misses French food, came to town, I though this would be just the spot for a reunion dinner.
 
  Arriving, we found the very tall Carel blinking and cringing in the harsh spot-lights above a table for four up front. The lighting was so bright, we all felt like we were sitting in a used-car lot, so I politely asked the very nice waitress if it could be turned down. Well, she and a colleague did all they could, but finally it turned out this dreadful lighting could not be adjusted, so the three of us moved to a table in the back of the restaurant, and once my eye balls had cooled off, I was able to see what an unfortunate new decor this place has been given. Think the type of tacky throw pillows embroidered in sequins with nonsensical sayings which are meant to be saucy but come off as more resonantly tacky you might see on a Riviera mega yacht: Bad Girls Have More Fun, and things like that, and worse, all of the chairs and the banquettes were covered in zebra stripe fabric. 
  
  Given the prices practiced here, and the equally misconceived serving style--the earnest and adorable young staff have been coached to behave in a solemn and very old-school way, which is the second seriously wrong footed aspect of the reboot here, it's hard to imagine how anyone could imagine a congruence between the likely lunch crowd of world-class taste-makers in the design and fashion fields, French government officials, and seriously top drawer executive brass from a cross-section of businesses and such a silly and unoriginal decor.
In fact given the fact that Carel is a massively distinguished museum curator and art-historian, I couldn't help but flinching on his behalf as I first took in the decor of this place. 
      
  Fleetingly, I thought of doing a bolter, but since we'd already ordered glasses of Champagne, this would have been complicated, plus it was raining that night and all of us were tired and hungry. So we stayed put. And in any event, the menu read well. So it was fat lukewarm green asparagus from the Luberon with hazelnut-studded goyeres, quails' eggs and a sublime hybrid sauce--an aioli (garlic mayonnaise, bien sur) that had been thinned with a sauce Maltaise, a brilliantly old-fashioned sauce--hollandaise to which blood-orange juice has been added, that one almost never sees anymore, for me and Carel, and a tarte Tatin of boudin noire, red onion confit and shallot cream for Bruno. 
 
   Both of these starters were superb--spectacular produce perfectly prepared as part of intelligently creative compositions of balanced taste and texture. So I asked about the chef and was told that he's a young Englishman of Polish origins, Konard Ceglowski, who worked at Gordon Ramsay and Simpson's in London before he crossed the Channel to work at the Meurice and then as the last chef at Jacques Cagna before it closed. 
   
Red mullet with fava beans and feta mousse
 
Crayfish stuffed rabbit with sauce Nantua
So the three of us had three different main courses. Carel had the grilled red mullet filets from the Ile d'Yeu with tapenade, fava beans, and feta mousse, while Bruno chose the crayfish-stuffed rabbit with fresh linguine and a tarragon-spiked sauce Nantua (a lovely old-fashioned crayfish cream sauce). Again, both of these dishes were excellent--perfect cooking times, exquisite produce, and delightfully off-center takes on Escoffier style French culinary classicism. I loved my line-caught Breton John Dory with baby squid, pousse pied (crunchy seaweed), and rosemary-scented grocchi, too. There was an impressive amount of work in this dish, and the quality of the produce was excellent, too. 
  
   To conclude, I finished up the rest of our excellent white Saint Joseph with a well-chosen and generously served cheese plate, while Carel had the brownie with sugar-syrup poached fennel and peanut butter ice cream and Bruno pounced on the honey-bergamot cheese cake with rhubarb compote and sour cherry ice cream. With delicious food, excellent service and terrific company, this was a delightful meal, and Pierre au Palais Royal once again wins a place on my go-to list for a seriously good sit-down feed. Oh, and did I mention that the decor here seems to take a leaf from a Las Vegas cocktail lounge?
  
Cockles with seared onions   
  Meanwhile, over on the Left Bank, there's some terrific news from Fish La Boissonerie, one of the most popular restaurants in Saint-Germain-des-Pres, this Spring. To wit, with the arrival of young Ducasse trained Japanese chef Taku Sekine, Drew Harre and Juan Sanchez's place has suddenly become one of the best modern bistros in Paris.
  Dining with Bruno, Dorie and Michael the other night, we ate our way through almost the entire menu, which the very serious and earnest young Mr. Sekine told us will be changing every two or three days, and were hugely impressed. Our meal began with Chawanmushi with cockles, a sublime and very delicate steamed Japanese egg custard with tiny salty shellfish, and a complimentary starter of lamb sweetbreads with green asparagus in a brilliant sauce of cider and pan drippings.
   
Kimchi soupCoddled eggYellow pollackRoasted lamb
   Other stand-out dishes from an excellent meal included a kimchi soup with grilled pork breast; coddled egg with parsley root, Swiss chard and roasted garlic; yellow pollack with curried cauliflower, garbanzo beans, and lime condiment; and roast lamb with baby peas and gnocci. Not only was the produce used in every dish uniformly excellent, but the intringuingly international flavor palates were impeccably mastered, too. 
 
  Fish has always been an exceptionally convivial restaurant with an outstanding wine list and just-fine food. With the handsomely renovated dining room--the lighting is now vastly improved by a row of retro globe lamps overhead, and Sekine leading a hugely talented team in the kitchen, it suddenly becomes a serious destination restaurant. This will inevitably make it a lot busier, which means that locals used to ambling in the door and finding a table would now be well-advised to book in advance. 
 
  Pierre au Palais Royal, 10 rue de Richelieu, 1st, Tel. 01-42-96-09-17. Metro: Louvre-Rivoli, Palais Royal, Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday. Lunch menu 33 Euros, prix-fixe menus 38, 44, 70 100 Euros, average a la carte 70 Euros. www.pierreaupalaisroyal.com
 
  Fish La Boissonerie, 69 rue de Seine, 6th, Tel. 01-43-54-34-69. Metro: Mabillon, Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Open daily. Prix-fixe 35 Euros.   
Friday
Mar292013

GOUST--The Best New Table in Paris This Spring, A-; INVICTUS---More of a Redux Than a Victory, C+/B-

Enrico Bernardo 
    I've known and admired Italian born sommelier and restaurateur Enrico Bernardo for a longtime, or ever since I first met him when he was working at the Four Seasons George V Hotel, the setting from which he won the prestigious title of Meilleur Sommelier du Monde (world's best sommelier) in 2004 at the remarkably young age of twenty-seven, with this honor following on the heels of Best Sommelier in Europe, 2002; Best Sommelier in Italy, 1996-97; and Master of Port, Italy 1995.
  
   Not only does the elegant and charming Mr. Bernardo have a truly extraordinary nose and palate when it comes to wines, he also has a deep hands-on knowledge of cooking that he acquired while working as an apprentice at Troisgros in Roanne and Stockholm's Grand Hotel, and it's the profoundly sophisticated and sensual complicity that he spins between these infinitely complementary realms that makes Goust, Bernardo's handsome new restaurant near the Place Vendome, the best new table to have opened in Paris for a longtime.
   
   For starters, there's an ambience of worldly hospitality in the good-looking and stylishly decorated dining room on the first floor of a Napoleon III townhouse on a quiet street in the heart of Paris. The staff are polite and precise but also warm and relaxed, a service style that's an important prerequisite for enjoying the highly curated meals Bernardo serves here. To wit, Goust is all about wine and food pairings, so the best way of dining here is to opt for a tasting menu with a different pour being served with every course.
  
   This is what I did with my friend Ammo, who kindly invited me to join him at dinner here the other night and who also was just about the perfect person with whom to have shared such an experience. Why? This tasting concept works best when you're with someone who's curious, alert and observant, and yet the pleasure of savoring and discussing each pairing would have been utterly ruined by someone who took it too seriously. Bernardo's joy is in constructing liasons that are so perfect and so passionate they seem metaphysically inevitable, which means that a meal here is an intense and intriguing experience. Fortunately, the dry senses of humor we share forestalled any drift to the lyrical. Instead we ate and drank extremely well, and appreciated every sip and every bite.
  
 
  Settling in over a glass of Champagne, we put ourselves in the hands of Mr. Bernardo, who orchestrated a meal I knew would be superb from the moment I tasted the beautifully seasoned tuna tartare with an 'egg' filled with mango coulis. And if I didn't know that chef Jose Manuel Miguel was Spanish (he's from Valencia, worked at Martin Bersategui in the Spanish Basque Country and was most recently with Eric Frechon at Le Bristol), I'd have guessed it when he sent out a ruddy and deepy satisfying dish of riso alla Bomba, the short-grain rice from the fields around Valencia, with chopped razorshell clams, a good gust of pimenton and a citrus foam.
 
   
   These days, I'm often exasperated by foam, which seems to be one of the preferred affectations of ambitious young chefs, but in this instance, the tart evanescent citric veil on the rice beautifully accentuated the gently iodine-rich flavor of the clams, which were a great foil to the al dente rice. The Manchego foam on the grilled rougets and potato with a sublime coulis of piquillo peppers was a bit timid and repetitive, however--this dish would have been just as effective in both visual and gustatory terms if it had been served nude. 
   
 
  The meal shifted to a more decidedly Gallic register with a gorgeous dish of poached egg with a generous garnish of black truffle on a bed of long-stewed beef and then a beautifully cooked duckling breast--juicy and rare, with a light jus and an intriguing garnish of lightly mentholated shiso leaves. The 2011 J.M. Doillot Volnay that was served to accompany these dishes was delightful and made a fascinating segue from the spectacular 2010 Weinbach Pinot Gris that has proceeded it (the wine flight began with a nice 2011 Louis Michel Chablis, followed by a 2011 Ferriato Grillo from Sicily, and a Lurton Rueda, the later being the least interesting pour). And dessert...to tell you the truth, I was so smitten with the final pour, a Graham's Loans Tawny Port, a real invitation to musing and meditation, or as was the case with Ammo, another round of lively tale telling, that I finished this charming chocolate composition with my mind in a pleasant muddle and my camera lying idly on the table (Unless you do a blog yourself, you can't imagine how tiresome it can sometimes be to be obliged to snap away all through your dinner instead of just enjoying it). 
    
  As is true of any really great restaurant, Goust would be as good for a romantic night out as it is for a business meal. The lighting is good. The good bourgeois bones of the room with its handsome fireplace and parquet floor have been tweaked by the sort of 70s lighting fixture you'd expect to see in the old East German parliament building., which makes it witty looking. There's a nice buzz in the room, too, and it's a winningly adult, fairly priced and terrifically sincere restaurant that succeeds for being something completely unique in Paris. I can't wait to go back, although it's likely that my next meal will be in the new tapas bar that will soon open on the ground floor at this same address. N.B. Berardo has another card up his sleeve, too, which is a complete reboot of his first restaurant, Il Vino, in the 7th arrondissement. Suffice it to say that Italy will dominate the menu, and that the new place will be a lot of more relaxed than Il Vino, which I always liked but always found a bit too serious. Or a place I definitely wouldn't have enjoyed going with Ammo, one of my favorite partners in gastro crime.
    
   
   A bit too serious was the theme of dinner a few nights later at Invictus, the restaurant that chef Christophe Chabanel, whom I knew in the nineties when he was cooking at La Dinee in the 15th, has just opened in the former premises of the long-running but now defunct La Table de Fez in the 6th arrondissement. Since I'd last seen him, Chabanel, who was doing modern French bistro cooking before anyone had parsed it out from traditional French bistro cooking, spent some years in South Africa and was most recently in northern France before his return to Paris. 
   
  I was looking forward to this meal, but I was disappointed. Why? All good bistro cooking spins on the axis of generosity, and even allowing for the fact that the dining room was packed with people who were there due to a special discounted offer on the restaurant-reservation website La Fourchette, a clientele that probably swoops in the for the low hanging fruit and then moves on, this meal lacked charm and a culinary signature. The beef cheek that Bruno has as a main course served on a bed of pre-cooked tubular pasta with a spindly carrot, see above, tells the whole story here.
    There seemed no point in photographing the wiltingly stingy pours of wine-by-the-glass, the uninteresting dining room, or anything else at Invictus but my first course, a Tatin of endives stuffed with goat cheese. Seeing it on the menu made me grin--it was sort of like time travel, because I used to order this all the time when I went often to chef Francois Pasteau's L'Epi Dupin in the rue Dupin near the apartment in the rue du Bac where I lived for many years. So does this dish belong to Chabanel or Pasteau? It's not an urgent question, but it was amusing to come across it again after such a longtime, and it also made me think a little bit about the whole idea of paternity in the kitchen. This is a subject often gets chefs a bit chuffed, but to me it seems the important thing occurs when a dish is good enough to be widely copied. So score one Chabanel, score one Pasteau, in no particular order, and insofar as Invictus is concerned, it's just fine if you happen to be staying in a hotel nearby on a rainy night, but I definitely wouldn't go out of my way for this one.   
   
Restaurant Goust, 10 rue Volney, 2nd, Tel. 01-40-15-20-30, Metro: Opera or Tuileries, Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch menuy 35 Euros, Prix-fixe menus 75 Euros, 130 Euros (with wine), average a la carte 85 Euros (wine included), www.enricobernardo.com
Invicitus, 5 Rue Sainte-Beuve, 6th, Tel. 01-45-48-07-22. Metro: Notre-Dame-des-Champs. Closed Saturday lunch, Sunday, and Monday lunch. Lunch menu 21 Euros, Dinner menu 32 Euros, average a la carte 35 Euros.
Sunday
Mar172013

NEW PLACE SETTINGS IN PARIS--LE MARY CELESTE, B; CRAVE PARIS Supper Club, B; JEANNE B, B+

 

  Though Paris continues to be subjected to a surfeit of B & Bs--burgers and beets, and I've also noticed a growing number of dishes on young-chefs' bistro menus that feature the tastes of fermentation and smoke, the most interesting trend I've observed locally this year is that the forever-amber format of a restaurant meal in the French capital--you call and book a table, you arrive and sit at this table and are fed, then you pay the bill and leave this table without having spoken to anyone but the people you came with and those who served you--is in the midst of a very welcome melt-down. For a dramatic example of how a trendy new Paris restaurant is re-slinging Paris dining, take a peak at Miss Ko, the Philippe Starck designed Franco-Asian restaurant that recently opened on the Avenue George V in the 8th arrondissement. 

 Table d'Hotes at Miss Ko

  Here, a table d'hotes with a glass top protecting video screens that show non-stop excerpts from various Asian news shows (a rather wearying design element, since its on a constant noisy loop) runs almost the entire length of the restaurant, and you sit on high stools to dine. Or if you come as a group, you can book one of the tables for four, six, etc. that are arranged perpendicular to the long table d'hotes, but it's the table d'hotes that gives this restaurant its personality. It's also clever marketing in a neighborhood that's a prime up-market destination for the type of unattached Parisians who would unblushingly describe themselves as 'single,' since the constant sensory input and prompt service mean that most people come for a quick stylish and gastronomically non-committal bite to eat and then are on their way. 

   As seems to be generally true in Paris these days, however, the best declension of the new-format trend is found in the quieter neighborhoods usually lesser to little known to tourists. One of the best recent meals I had in a longtime was a totally off-the-cuff meal with someone I almost literally bumped into in the street, a friend who'd been an editorial assistant at the same New York publisher I worked for before she was somewhat improbably romanced by a wealthy doctor old enough to be her father while visiting her grandmother in Florida. The last I'd heard of her, in fact, was that she was training to become a yoga instructor in Boca Raton. "Well, in some freaky way, I really did love him, the doctor, but there was just way that could have been forever," she explained after we'd settled down over cocktails at the rather fabulous Le Mary Celeste in the northern Marais. 

   To make a long (but juicy) story short, Marsha has long since bolted out of that marriage, first living with a lady plumbing contractor in Austin, Texas for a while, and now with the Dutch environmental landscape architect from Rotterdam she'd met when she took her kids from Florida on safari in South Africa two years ago. Since it was a surprise shading to a shock to run into her, I wasn't really thinking a lot about where we'd go to sit down, but it just so happened that Le Mary Celeste, a place I'd been wanting to try, was right across the street. So early evening, we had no trouble finding seats at the bar, and it was nice to run into Carlos, the terrific bartender who'd previously been the talented drink meister at L'Hotel on the Left Bank.

  Though I was thoroughly preoccupied by the chance rediscovery of my old pal--and it really did feel like we'd last seen each other yesterday afternoon, especially when she insisted on paying for our drinks, because she actually remembered owing me $5 from 25 years ago, Jeesh, I also couldn't help but noticing that we couldn't possibly have found a better setting for our reunion. The nice looking room, kind of a charming hybrid between Marblehead, Mass. oyster house, Dublin pub and Marais tavern, had a great atmosphere and a wonderful looking crowd. Our "Raindogs"--Bourbon and citrus cocktails, slipped down a treat, and rightly suspecting that we'd be drinking a wee bit, I suggested we shift to wine--a nice bottle of de Moor Chablis, and that we have some oysters--the wild English ones from Maldon were gorgeous miniature maritime mines of briny flavor, and order a few of chef chef Haan Palcu-Chang's (ex- Le Verre Volé) small-plates, including sublime kimchi and small puffy Chinese crepes with pork knuckle and celery.

   So we miscellaneously ate and drank for three hours until Marsha had to dash off to get her train at the Gare du Nord, and after she'd left it occurred to me that I'd enjoyed this untethered free-form feast more than anything else I'd eaten in Paris in a very longtime. If Marsha's company was the real treat, and the Raindogs left us both happily muddled, what made this interlude so much fun was that it wasn't following any map except our spontaneous desire to celebrate a carpe diem moment and let ourselves off the leash in doing so.

An Edible Dunce Cap? 

  A few days after my reunion with Marsha and a meal with Bruno's parents at Le Musigny, the only one-star restaurant in the small northern French city of Valenciennes where he grew up, which left me wondering if they'd hired the surely senile art director from the TV show "I Dream of Jeannie," I went on a mystery dinner date in eastern Paris. I'd been invited to be one of the guinea-pig guests of Crave Paris, a new supper club being set up by three decidedly talented recent graduates of Ecole Ferrandi, which I think offers the finest professional culinary education currently available in Paris.

  Even though I explained to him that I like the intimacy of the private dinner party format, enjoy playing the odds of its Joker factor, and have often eaten some excellent food in such settings (the late lamented Hidden Kitchen in Paris comes to mind, along with the supper club that Chef Mun used to run in Buenos Aires) Bruno, whom I spared this particular outing, thought that I was mad as a hatter to go off to dinner with total strangers. Happily, he was completely wrong, since this was a charming and ambitious meal targeted at those whose food tastes blazed past Chicken Breasts 101 a longtime ago. 

Eric from Florida, Rita from Taiwan via Canada and Camille from Hawaii via Washington, D.C. let it rip on a sophisticated meal that showed its cards right off the bat with pats of umami-rich miso butter to be smeared on good bread. And so their cooking often tilted to the Orient for inspiration. Here's what we ate:

Amuse Bouche: Crab, turnip, cucumber kimchi, citrus, salmon roe

Starter: Salmon, wasabi mayonnaise, ponzu vinaigrette, parsley oil, fried caper

Fish: Sea bass, leek, pea, miso, dashi, carrot, brioche crumb

Meat: Pig Snout, king trumpet mushroom, Asian pear, kohlrabi beignets, black mustard, preserved plum

Pre-dessert: Lemon Cremeux, olive granita, olive oil

Dessert: Chocolate Cake, macha powder, chili whipped cream

  And before anyone panics over the idea of finding themselves in front of a pig snout, a few observations.
1) It was delicious, and 2) The Crave Paris team always inquire about dietary restrictions and/or preferences.
For my part, it was a lively evening and a pleasure to have such an intimate and personal experience of three newly blossoming talents.
   
  
Jeanne B
 

 With table d'hotes, impromptu bar eating, and supper clubs propitiously popping up all over town, perhaps my favorite idiom among the new feeding formats in Paris are the increasingly numerous new breed of casual-dining neighborhood places, a delightful example being the just opened Jeanne B, an Epicerie-Rotisserie-Table d'Hotes that's the latest address of exceptionally talented restaurateur Frédéric Hubig, who also owns Astier, Jeanne A, Sassotondo and the Cafe Moderne. 

Lobster Croque

  Meeting my tropical gal pal Cynthia from Singapore for dinner on a snowy Monday night, this place turned out to be just the ticket, since it was relaxed and friendly but also delivered some exceptionally good Gallic comfort food. We sat up front at the table d'hotes instead of the handsome blue dining room, so we could watch the snow falling through the big picture window, and also because we liked the sort of boffo Seventies decor where the late but forever lovely Dalida, Montmartre's most famous recent songstress, would surely have felt right at home.

  Hungry, we shared three starters--a nice fat artichoke, some excellent pate en croute, and a lobster croque, a recent invention of Hubig's which is comprised of focaccia like bread topped with Parmesan cream and lightly grilled before getting a final garnish of perfectly cooked lobster tail medallions and claw meat. Having neatly cut this latter sandwich in half, we scarfed our portions down in deeply contented silence, which we broke simultaneously with the same shared regret: "We should have ordered two of these." This sandwich is so good, in fact, that it will be a certain reason I go AWOL in the middle of the day, since Jeanne B is just a brief hike up the hill from me.

 

  Our rotisseried mains, both of which came with salad and Dauphinois potatoes, were fine produce well-prepared, too. My roast lamb was juicy and generously served, as was Cynthia's chicken, and the wines poured by the glass by the exceptionally charming young manager were excellent. We finished up with good fresh fruit salad and a pleasant tart sable with caramelized pineapple that brought Mom's vanished into the mists of time pineapple upside down cake pleasantly to mind. With gracious friendly service and good food at fair prices, this place will surely become a big hit, especially since it's as perfect for the locals as it is for travelers exploring the neighborhood, so my hope is that Hubig will be tempted to open a whole alphabet of Jeannes all over Paris. And if he's looking, the Turkish carpet shop across the street from my front door has just gone out of business, and I know he'd make a mint in the 9th. 

Le Mary Celeste, 1 rue Commines, 3rd, Tel. 01-23-45-67-89. 
Metro: Filles du Calvaire and Saint-Sébastien-Froissart, Average 25 Euros, Open daily 5pm-2am.
  
Crave Paris Supper Club. Upcoming dinners March 24 and April 7. Suggested donation 39 Euros per person. BYOB. For reservations and more information, contact:  crave.paris@gmail.com Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/CraveParis
  
Jeanne B, 61 rue Lepic, 18th, Tel. 01-42-51-17-53. Metro: Abbesses or Lamarck Caulaincourt. 

Prix-fixe lunch menu 15 Euros, 17 Euros; Prix-fixe dinner menus 23 Euros, 27 Euros. Average a la carte 35 Euros. www.jeanne-b-comestibles.com