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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LE STUBE - The Best Place to Rhine and Shine in Paris, B


  Everyone has their own personal geography of gastronomic pleasure, which is why you might occasionally have trouble navigating mine without some help. My love of stuffed grape leaves? They were served as part of father-and-son Cub Scout banquets at a Bulgarian restaurant which once rather improbably existed in the decidedly Topsider shod Connecticut town I grew up in. A weakness for fresh mangos? I associate them with the first heady days I lived in my own apartment on West 85th Street in New York City; I'd never eaten a mango before, and noticing them for sale outside of a bodega one night on my way home from work, I bought one out of curiosity, almost lost a thumb trying to cut through the thick pit I didn't know they had, and finally peeled off a patch of green skin and cut out a juicy deep orange chunk of the fruit, which was sweet, succulent, sensual, tropical. And during that same new-in-New York time frame, I also developed a life-long love of pastry stuffed with poppy-seed filling. This was not something I grew up with either--the baked goods in my life up to that time ran to cinnamon-crumb-topped coffee cakes, brownies, layer cakes, the occasional pineapple upside-down cake and apple pie, bien sur

   I didn't even know poppy seeds were edible the first time I stepped through the front door of the Louis Lechtmann bakery on West 86th and hungrily took in the linzertorte, rugelach, streudels and mohntorte. If two of the solid older blonde women who worked in the bakery were stern and often impatient Germans, the third was a jolly, ample and, for a sixty some odd year old woman, surprisingly flirtatious Hungarian. I asked for a loaf of rye bread and a confectioner's sugar dusted jam cookie, and she looked me up and and down and shoved a slice of mohntorte into the bag with the cookie, amiably shaking her head and muttering "sovány fiu"(skinny boy). As surely as the mango did, the poppy seed filling, which also included Corinth raisins which had been soaked in something alcoholic, instantly propelled me thousands of miles from Manhattan and deep into the heart of a Mittel Europa I'd never laid eyes on. I loved not only the taste and texture of the poppy seeds but also the very idea of poppy seeds, seeds from a flower, which is why it was a huge pleasure to sample them again for the first time in many years when I stopped for an impromptu lunch while doing some shoe-leather research on the covered passages of Paris the other day.

   It's rare for me to be out at noon--I'm invariably shackled to my computer, so there was something festive about rummaging around in Paris in the middle of the day, and since I'm an inveterate menu reader, I stopped in front of the tidy good looking store-front of a German restaurant called Le Stube as soon as I came upon it in the Passage Verdeau, one of the quieter covered passages, which has its northern entrance on the rue du Faubourg Montmartre in the 9th.  

   I'd actually been thinking about something Asian for lunch, but the more I read of Le Stube's menu, the more tempted I became, and so I finally went in to inspect what was on display in the glass cases. The pastries looked wonderful, and based of their visual quality, I guessed that the bratwurst I was also craving would be good, too, and went upstairs to the eat-in dining room. 

   While sipping a nice glass of Grauer Burgunder, a pinot gris from Baden, I noticed that the dining room was filling with regulars--they were warmly greeted by the head-waiter, always a good sign. My nice fat bratwurst looked so good when it came that I was instantly tempted to order a second one, but tamped down this gluttony and tasted the accompanying kartoffel salad instead. This was beautifully made German style potato salad, and the bratwurst, which was drapped with sauteed onions and came with small tidy pumps of sweet and hot mustard, was delicious, which set me to thinking about how nice it was to be sampling the comfort food of another European kitchen instead of running into yet another cheeseburger in burger mad Paris. Don't get me wrong--I really like burgers and I'm delighted that you can now get a decent one in Paris, formerly a near impossibility, but I also love gastronomic variety, and the burger trend in Paris seems to be developing sort of snow-balling copy-cat momentum that's pushing other possibilities to one side.


    The chatty antique-dealers sitting next to me had ordered sauerkraut plates, which looked wonderful, too. And so I found myself wondering why German food, which I've always loved, is so under-appreciated, especially when it's not only regionally varied and delicious, but Germany has some of the most stringent food purity regulations in the world. Years ago, on Sunday visits to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, we'd eat at the long-gone Cafe Geiger on East 86th Street, and I craved the Königsberger Klopse--meatballs in creamy caper sauce, from one visit to the next. I also loved sauerbraten (marinated pot roast) with red cabbage and potato dumplings. But most of all I looked forward to dessert, usually a slice of Palatinat, or very light cheesecake.

   Palatinat was on the menu at Le Stube, but I had my head set on some Mohntorte, and it was unexpectedly excellent, with a perfect dry crust and impeccably spiced poppy seed filling. I was so impressed by the quality of this pastry, in fact, that I ran amok before leaving Le Stube, and brought home a slice of the Sachertorte, which was easily the best Sacher Torte I've ever eaten, some sour cherry streudel--superb, and slice of feather-weight Palitinat, which is surely the most elegant cheesecake in Paris and will be a revelation for anyone who's accustomed to the very heavy thick New York style cheesecake that predominates in the United States.


  I was so amazed by the quality of this pastry, in fact, that I looked up Le Stube when I got home, and found out that it has three addresses--another one on the rue de Richelieu and a stand at the Goethe Institut in the 16th arrondissement, and that it's the latest endeavor of Gerhard and Sylvie Weber, the charming couple who ran the very good Le Stubli in the 17th. Gerhard Weber, who's originally from Sachsenberg in Germany, is a fifth generation pastry chef and baker, and he's the one who assures the spectacular quality of the bread, cakes and pastries sold at Le Stube. And so my life in Paris acquires yet another outpost of permanent and powerful temptation, since it's not going to be easy to resist the Lorelei like call of Gerhard Weber's bratwurst and mohntorte.

Le Stube, 23-25-27 Passage Verdeau, 9th, Tel. 01-47-70-08-18. Metro: Le Peletier, Grand Boulevards, or Richelieu Drouot. Mon-Sat 8.30am-8.30pm, non-stop. Avg 15 Euro


LA REGALADE CONSERVATOIRE - Another Superb Performance from Chef Bruno Doucet, B+; L'AFFRIOLE - In Top Form After All of These Years, B 

  Ever since he took over the original La Régalade in the 14th arrondissement from founding chef Yves Camdeborde in 2004, Bruno Doucet has continued to delight bistro-loving Parisians with his shrewd and technically impeccable modern French bistro cooking. First he rebooted the menu at La Regalade, making it brighter and more modern than what Camdeborde had originally been doing, and then he opened a branch, La Régalade Saint-Honoré, in the 1st arrondissement.

  For anyone who hated trekking to the outer reaches of the 14th arrondissement--and most people did, this second address was a real blessing, not only for its convenient location, but also because the contemporary bistro cooking served here is so outstanding. Now Doucet's launched a third address, La Régalade Conservatoire in the gorgeous new Hotel de Nell, which opened two weeks ago and has already become one of the hottest boutique hotels in Paris. 

  Arriving with Bruno, Tina and Francois on a wintry night, we had a drink in the bar with a glass room behind reception, and enjoyed the gorgeous hand-made oak furniture that is a major component of the interior design that brilliant designer Jean-Michel Wilmotte did for the hotel. Here, Wilmotte, black-and-white checkerboard floor, solid oak chairs, and tables with beige runners create an atmosphere that's profoundly Parisian, but modern by teasing the usual nostalgia this term so often implies when used in a decorative context with strong graphics and a rigorous Zen design aesthetic. This is the second restaurant I've recently dined in by Mr. Wilmotte--the last one was Yannick Alleno's Terroir Parisien, and I have to say that he's become one of the best restaurant designers working in Paris today.

   Doucet's menu for this handsome dining room rolled out some terrific new dishes I'd never seen before, too. What I really wanted was the creamy cauliflower, Stilton and bacon soup that Tina had, but since I'm still flogging some of the caloric discipline I learned during a week of low-calorie thalassotherapy in Brittany, i went with the marinated scallops with Granny Smith apples and aged Comte in a fine cubed hash adding texture and a gently acidic bite to the creamy scallops under a thatch of frisee dressed in chive oil. I also loved the quiet daring of pairing cheese with scallops, since according to conventional Gallic kitchen wisdom the only dairy produce appropriate for this shellfish is cream. Instead, the comte deliciously enunciated the natural creaminess (sic) of the scallops.

   After our main courses, a few sticking points registered. When the delightful hotel manager excused himself and went home, service fell off a cliff in the dining room, with the waiters clustering behind the bar like a bunch of crows and almost pointedly ignoring their customers, and this was after they'd failed to present the complimentary terrine that's one of the signatures of a La Regalade meal without being prompted. The bread was also dull, and lighting in this dining room needs to be tweaked, since the built-in ceiling spots cast small short hard beams of light instead of illuminating the room gently and thoroughly. And as good as the food is and as attractive as Wilmotte's dining room may be, this place has very little atmosphere. All of these flaws will doubtless be remedied as the restaurant settles in, however.

  Our main courses were excellent. Francois tucked into a big juicy steak sliced and presented on a mound of stewed beef cheeks and carrots in a red-wine enriched jus; Bruno and loved our griddled half-salted cod with a pistachio crust on a bed of winter vgetables and shellfish (mussels and cockles) in a delicate shellfish bouillon, and Tina wolfed down a grilled breast of veal with winter vegetables.

  Rice pudding with caramel sauce, a classic La Regalade dessert, and pomelo-and-pineapple fruit salad with excellent ginger sorbet concluded this very good meal, which had a particularly festive air for me and Bruno, since this new branch of La Regalade is a very easy walk from our front door.


  The following night, after we'd both had non-stop days during which neither of us had time to shop, we decided to meet for dinner somewhere midway between Bruno's office and our apartment. I asked Bruno if he had any ideas. "That's your job," he said. Oh, okay. Well, I left it until the last minute, and then was trying to think of someplace relaxed, pleasant and reasonable on the Left Bank, no small order, when it occurred to me that it had been years since we'd been to L'Affriole, a long-running and very good bistro in the 7th run by chef Thierry Verola, who'd worked with Alain Senderens a longtime ago. So I booked us there, and our first surprise was that the warm honey-and-ochre vaguely provencale dining room of yore had vanished in favor of a good-looking and much hipper decor that referenced various Fifties French classics--the green chairs have the shape and design of those found in public parks like the Jardins du Luxembourg or French classrooms, and the tile walls and factory-style suspension lamps also had an appealing retro look.


  The chalkboard menu offered all sorts of appealing choices that night, but both of us started off with the butternut veloute, which was rich and pleasantly garnished with Savoy cabbage, and then Bruno had sea bass with a red wine sauce and winter vegetables en cocotte, and I continued on my cod bender with a perfectly cooked filet in a creamy soubise sauce. Our desserts were excellent as well--ile flottante with creme anglaise for Bruno and apple-and-raisin compote for me. All told, with its warm friendly service and reasonably priced wines, L'Affriole is a very good neighborhood bistro that well deserves its swarming crowd of regulars.

L'Affriolé, 17 Rue Malar, 7th, Lte. 01-44-18-31-33. Metro: Pont de l'Alma Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch prix-fixe two-courses 26 Euros, three-courses 30 Euros; Dinner prix-fixe 36 Euros.

La Régalade Conservatoire, Hôtel de Nell,  7-9 rue du Conservatoire, 9th, Tel. 01-44-83-83-60. Metro: Bonne Nouvelle. Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday. Prix-fixe 35 Euros.


PARIS NEW YORK--Basta With the Burgers Already! C- ; KHAOSAN ROAD--Not My Thai, D ; VERJUS--Chef Braden Perkins is on a Roll, A-/B+ 

  Mea culpa, but it's the middle of winter in Paris when the days seem to last fifteen minutes and everyone I know is sun-and-fun deprived and slammed with work. So you do what you can, which in my case meant an impromptu decision to have a big fat burger for lunch after a morning of appointments in the 10th arrondissement. Truth be told, I'd have preferred the Daily Syrien, for Ahmad's fabulous falafel and turnip pickles, but it was packed, so I crossed the street to Paris New York, the latest high-concept burger joint in Paris and hoped for the best. The brief menu offered a choice of 4 differently garnished burgers made with Breton Pie Noir beef from Le Poncelet, a prestigious butcher shop, or a portobello mushroom burger; fries; cheesecake; various craft beers; wine by the glass at three different price points, the most expensive being Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection red and Newton Chardonnay. 
  Well, while I was waiting for my burger the place filled up quickly with a gaggle of twenty-somethings who spent a lot of their time poking away at their phones even if they were with friends. So my "Smoky Blue" burger came, and it was so sparsely garnished with the promised Stilton, bacon and onion confit that they didn't register on the palate. The fries were lukewarm, but pretty good. The lemonade in a Ball Jar, something I haven't seen since a meal at Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House in Savannah, Georgia twenty years ago, was more Brooklyn than Biloxi--or tart than sweet, and this was a blessing. This meal happened in twenty minutes, left me 15 Euros poorer, and the most interesting thing about it was that I had the opportunity to taste Heinz Balsamic Vinegar Ketchup, which I found surprisingly delicious--I'd assumed it was a no-interest gimmick, and also to realize that I have become hugely weary of the wave of edible Americana that just keeps washing over Paris.
  Don't get me wrong. It's nice to be able to get a half-decent burger in Paris (none of the burgers in Paris are better than that), since I remember the days when the truly lousy Joe Allen and a couple of other similarly underperforming faux Yankee tables ruled the roost when it came to nostalgic eats. But the phenomenon has now gained so much self-perpetuating momentum it's becoming a serious bore. I can't help but thinking that a lot of the clever young backers of the ever-growing number of Paris burger places have realized that they can be real gold mines, since all you need are some good graphics, some better-than-average sourcing, respectable foot traffic in a neighborhood where a lot of people work in front of computer screens, and you're done, since there sure isn't any serious cooking going on in any burger shop. I mean, even a really good Croque Monsieur or Madame require more effort. 
Doesn't Look Like Thailand to Me....
  The same day that grumpy burger fatigue set in, Bruno galloped through the door at 8pm and wanted to eat Thai food for dinner, because a year ago we had just landed in Bangkok at the beginning of a brilliant three-week trip through Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. The fridge was bare, so I agreed to the idea of going back to a local Thai table where we'd had dinner with four other friends right before Christmas. Despite the fact that an oceanic amount of Domaine d'Uby Colombard-Ugni, a frisky little white at a too friendly 18 Euros a bottle, had been consumed, I had a vague memory--this meal was more about the conversation than the food, of having been surprised by better-than-average eats. I'd also been hugely amused to find myself in a Bobo petting zoo of a restaurant almost without equal in Paris. But would the charm hold a second time?
  Alas, what followed was a depressingly mediocre meal that made me nearly weepy for REAL Thai food. The green papaya (which was tasteless and soggy, like some kind of food-service-industry pre-prepped product) salad with shrimp (frozen, tasteless, flacid) was seriously underseasoned and the only possible interest of this dish were the freshly roasted peanuts. Vegetable samosas and shrimp ravioli tasted like deep fried paper towels, and the two curries were ordered were made from the same mother sauce, with a good dose of chili oil making mine the three-alarm hot indicated on the menu.
  Looking around, I honestly wondered what people were doing here, and then I kind of got it. This is a restaurant that you come to in Ouija Board hommage to that so-long-ago happy-go-lucky back-packing trip during which you let someone give you dread locks on the beach, smoked so much dope one night that you actually ended up having a good snog with the handsome but impossibly poseur Australian surf dude you'd taken an instant dislike to as the caps were being clicked off the first bottles of Tiger beer at the sundown beach party, slept with someone who's name you don't remember today, and picked up a minor social ailment that was the source of excruciating embarrassment when you went to the doctor after getting home to Paris. That was then, and now you're a PR associate, or an assistant editor, or a stylist, or a real-estate agent, and you like coming here because even though this place has absolutely nothing to do with those lost weeks on Kho Cuckoo, it at least reminds you that you were once someone else. Maybe because Bruno has only been to Thailand with me, he disliked this noisy place with slap-dash and off-handed service so much that he told me he'd wait in the street outside while I paid the infuriatingly expensive bill. Khaosan Road is a textbook example of everything that can go wrong with a popular restaurant in a well-heeled Bobo neighborhood in Paris.
  So this week wasn't bringing great joy until I went to dinner at Verjus, American-in-Paris chef Braden Perkin's place in the Palais Royal. Here Bruno and I joined a bunch of old and new friends for a tasting meal in the new and really great looking indigo-painted private dining room Perkins and partner Laura Adrian, Paris's most charming bar keep, have created on the third floor of their space between the rue Richelieu and the Palais Royal. As soon as I went upstairs and saw this room--and I'm sorry, no photo, but it was so dimly lit that my iPhone, which was all I had on me, was useless, I was delighted, because it can seat 12 at a pinch and so becomes my perfect recommendation for anyone who wants a private space in Paris. I was also happy, because I've always liked Braden's cooking, but in my antic effort to keep up with the new, new, new I hadn't been here in a year.
  So we ate, and it was fascinating to see how Perkins' style has become quieter, subtler--well, more French, since he first opened. To be sure, each tasting plate is as intricately and logically constructed as a Swiss watch, and most of them induce real pleasure in anyone who was willng to accord them a more than a few very necessary moments of meditation. But even though Braden still looks like an endearing Grant Wood subject circa 2013, a certain sophistication has set in, and this is a good thing. He hasn't lost the wiry winsomeness he brought with him in his back pocket when he first showed in Paris after cooking in Seattle, but he's learned a lot. The thing is, though, most of what he's learned, he's intuited from the spectularly good French produce he works with--like any seriously good chef, his produce cues him. And in this case, the cue was to turn the flavor spectrums down a few notches so that we could relish the perfect freshness and natural tastes of his produce.
  After an amuse bouche of citrus-cured trout with smoked fingerling potatoes and trout roe, we had a superb little clam chowder made with Portuguese cherry stone clams, celery root, thyme oil, wild thyme, lovage, homemade harissa and a crumbly garlic crouton. This was a beautiful little miniature that created a tiny universe of ricocheting tastes which made me think of minnows left behind in a tidal pond. Then a gorgeous slow-cooked egg yolk under a tiny thatch of frisee on a bed of soft polenta with salsify, sweet onions, baby leeks, pumperknickel crumbs and finely chopped kimchi.   
  Duck breast with winter sauerkraut, orange, rye, and smoked celery root skin--Braden likes smoke, and so do I--came with a brilliant side of baby spinach leaves, hazelnuts, pickled grapes, crimini mushrooms and frozen foie gras shavings that lasted seconds before they dissolved into the leaves while remaining the base note flavor of this terrific little dish.
  Braden's gifted Korean pastry chef Cassandra offered up three desserts, and if all of them were impeccably conceived and executed, the one I liked best was the walnut tart with bergamot jam. All told, this was a fascinating meal, because it highlighted the ways in which a talented and ambitious young American's cooking has become more gastronomically elegant--bien sur, we're talking casual elegance here, the longer he lives in Paris.
   Daily Syrien, 55 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis, 10th, Tel 09-54-11-75-35. Metro: Strasbourg-Saint-Denis, Bonne Nouvelle or Château d'Eau. Open daily. Average 12 Euros.
   Khaosan Road, 52 rue Condorcet, 9th, Tel. 01-49-70-07-06, Metro: Anvers, Cadet, Saint Georges. Closed Sunday. Average 35 Euros.
   Paris New York, 50 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis, 10th, Tel. 01 47 70 15 24   Metro: Strasbourg-Saint-Denis, Bonne Nouvelle or Château d'Eau.
   Verjus,  52 rue Richelieu, 1st, Tel. 01-42-97-54-40. Metro: Palais-Royal Musee du Louvre or Pyramide. Dinner only. Closed Saturday, Sunday. Prix-fixe 60 Euros.

BONES--A Brilliant New Place to Gnaw On in the 11th, B+

  Last summer I had the insane good luck of going somewhere I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd see in this lifetime: Tasmania, the stunningly beautiful island which looks like a piece of Australia that snapped off and floated 150 miles south. Flying down to Hobart, Tasmania's largest city, from Sydney to meet my friends Peter and Mike for a week's exploration of this heart-breakingly gorgeous place, I sat next to a chatty lady who poured a tiny bottle of gin into her orange juice and told me she'd moved to the island from Melbourne a year earlier for 'private reasons.' And when I didn't touch that bait, she changed course and went on and on about the island's wonderful food and wine. I had, to be sure, heard friends in Sydney rave about Luke Burgess at Les Garagistes, but nothing prepared for me for the unselfconscious and sinewy genuis of the head-to-tail farm-to-table ethos of brilliant little restaurants like Ethos or the wonderful Pigeon Hole Cafe, which served me one of the best caffe macchiato I've ever had. To wit, the best young Australian chefs not only source as carefully and locally as possible, they grow and make as much of what they serve as they possibly can, and its the pervasive seriousness of Tassie's artisinal food culture that ultimately makes the island such a superb place to eat.
James Henry   Curiously enough, I found myself replaying these summer meals as I walked through the snow near Place Leon Blum in the 11th arrondissement the other night on my way to Australian born chef James Henry's new restaurant Bones. Following my trip down under, I had a keener understanding of exactly why I'd liked Henry's cooking at Au Passage, where I'd first come across him after he'd moved on from a stint at Spring, so much--he's a quintessentially Australian chef in terms of his relationship with the produce he uses and his cooking and hospitality style, which is warm, direct, and completely unpretentious.
   Settled in over funky good bottle of La Peur du Rouge, an unsulphured natural white wine from Domaine Le Temps des Cerises in the Languedoc, a lot of familiar food-and-wine faces popped from one of the hippest crowds in Paris these days, and yet there was nothing about this massively popular place that suggested it was a scene or would become a scene. Oddly, but sort of wonderfully, it's almost as though Henry built-in some sort of circuit breakers which will put off the poseurs who charge after every hip new address in the weekly style supplements. 
  For one thing, the lighting, such as it is, is harsh, with two old factory lights casting everyone in sort of a cold metalic rail-siding-in-the suburbs of Birmingham light. And then there's the fact that the young staff here are just plain nice. In fact it's pretty clear they're all working here for the same reasons that are pulling customers through the door--they're seriously committed to Henry's sincere hearty locavore cooking and natural wines and they're hoping to have a good time. Or in other words, there's zero attitude here, which gives this place a laidback, democratic quick-with-a-smile vibe that has a lot more in common with Hobart than Paris (to say nothing of Brooklyn, and can we please say nothing about Brooklyn and Paris in the same sentence again for at least a decade? Thank you!).
  So in Parisian terms, this place is actually sort of eccentric. Sure, they're a couple of other local restaurant people who are deeply into coining a new idiom for casual good-times good eating in Paris--Pierre Jancou, Charles Compagnon, and Samuel Urbain notably among them, but without giving it too much thought, Henry is really pushing the boat out even further, since Bones may be many things, but it's not a French restaurant per se. And that's one of the reasons that it's so interesting, so irresistible as a totem of Paris still teething its way into the 21st century.
  James's food is very nice, too. For all of the forearm tatoos, dude strut and punk-rock sound-track (fun!), Henry is a damned serious eye-on-the-ball chef, which is why his constantly evolving prix-fixe menu is a challenge he lives up to. 
   I really liked this flirty little hors d'oeuvre of shaved celery bulb with smoked trout and trout eggs, was happy to taste his griddled squid with baby onions and squid's ink again (a version of same was on the menu at Au Passage), and his yellow pollack (lieu jaune, in French) with candy-cane carrots from potager princess Annie Bertin was very good eating, too, as part of his 40 Euro prix-fixe menu. The dish that really bore Henry's signature, however, was the pigeon with kale--a big crinkly leaf of this still little-known in the Old World vegetable that was a sight for sore eye, and salsify with a punch-you-in-the-nose-mate sauce of blood, bird juice and gizzards; I loved it. 
  In fact I think Henry really likes giving his clients the bird, as it were, and when we had a chat, he told me that once he knows his following here better, he'd love to serve a lot more offal and other bits and pieces that might rough up a young French crowd that's been slowly sucuumbing to one of the most heinous of all American vices--chicken breasts. The only reason I learned to eat--and love, snouts and feet and innards of all sorts is that I moved to France, so the idea that a younger French generation is becoming disaffected with barnyard eating is an honest heart-ache for me. 
  Since my date was flu-ish we skipped the cheese course from the Auvergne, and side-swiped dessert instead. A composition of almonds, coffe and lemon, it was just fine, but nothing memorable--I've never asked him, but I just don't feel Henry to be someone who cares very much about the sweet end of a meal. Instead he's all about the energy and agitation of getting the feed started and the almost literal blood-and-guts of making sure you're well fed. So despite the fact that his cooking isn't very precise and lacks the cool-operator suave of Louis-Philippe Riel at Le 6 Paul Bert, this place matters most as the launch pad for a young man who is quite certainly fated to become a very successful and well-known chef, whether this future unfolds in Paris or elsewhere. It's also just a big sweet gulp of fresh air for anyone who wants Paris to ignore the 3 Bs--Berlin, Barcelona and Brooklyn, and coin its own idea of a grandly Gallic good time at the beginning of this new century as surely as it did the last one.
43 rue Godefroy Cavaignac, 11th, Tel. 09-80-75-32-08. Metro: Charonne or Voltaire. Open Tuesday-Saturday for dinner, bar up front is open from 7pm-1am. Prix-fixe dinner 40 Euros for four course, 47 Euros with cheese.

LE RICHER -- A Perfect Neighborhood Joint That's Worth A Journey Across Town, B+

   I know, I know, I'm a bit odd, because I actually like winter. Some part of this preference may be due to my New England upbringing, but most it surely comes from the DNA I inherited from stalwart ancestors 95% of whom lived in cold, light-deprived parts of Northern Europe my surname notwithstanding. So sallying forth on a winter night when big fat lazy snow flakes were whirling to the ground, I was in fine fettle, because I was meeting a friend at the new Septime La Cave, the wine-bar annex of Septime, a restaurant I like very much.
  Alas, my pal didn't turn up, and though Septime La Cave is a pleasant enough spot for a glass of wine or two if you happen to be in the neighborhood (the deep 11th arrondissement in eastern Paris) on your way to dinner at Septime, Le Bistrot Paul Bert, L'Ecailler du Bistrot or Le 6 Paul Bert, it's not really a destination in and of itself. So after a bracing pour or two, I got on the horn to the indefatigible Bruno, and we met at another place I've been wanting to try, Le Richer, which is in the buzzy quarter around the rue du Faubourg Saint Denis in the 9th/10th.
  The already flannel-clad Bruno nicely agreed to change back into street clothes and meet me, and as soon as I walked in the door at Le Richer, which is run by the same team as the swell L'Office across the street, I knew I'd love this place. First of all, the aesthetics were impeccable, with an old corner cafe having been transformed into a really good-looking neighborhood bistro with exposed stone walls, perfect lighting, an oak bar, and a sound-proofed gray ceiling which meant that you could enjoy the funky retro music but still here a pleasant background noise of conservation.
  Since every table in this no-reservations place was full, we sat at the bar, and had a glass of excellent of Vin de Pays d'Allobrogie Domaine des Ardoisieres Argile Blanc, a superb Savoyard white, and studied the short menu. Though starters like a saute of butternut and pumpkin with mustard greens and burrata and cream of celery soup with blue-cheese whipped cream, sliced pears and walnuts sounded terrific, we both just ordered a main course, since it was late. 
Pan-roasted duckling breast
Roast lamb in potato foam
 Both of them were brilliant winter eating, which is to say really consoling and warming food that also surprised by being light, precisely cooked and cleverly garnished. Bruno's ducking came rare as ordered with sliced beets, beautifully made gnocci Parisienne, and a sublime mole-spiked nougatine, while my roasted lamb was tucked under an airy potato foam with firm chunks of Jerusalem artichoke and a scattering of verjus-moistened mustard grains. Accompanied by a terrific Domaine Combier Crozes-Hermitage, these dishes vanished in a heart-beat, and suddenly we were very happy for having a place we really liked not too far from home that we could go to last-minute seven-days-a-week.
  The charming and attentive service of Raoul, the friendly bar tender-barrista, added a lot to our good time, too. Like all really good restaurant people, he takes sincere pleasure in seeing other people enjoy their food and their wine, and this sets in motion a pleasant pendulum of mutual satisfaction between the server and the served. He also filled us in that the chef in the kitchen is a really talented young Japanese man and that Le Richer's coffee comes from Coutume, the great little cafe and roaster over in the rue de Babylone.
  We hadn't really planned on having anything more, but Raoul vaunted the cheese plate from a fromagerie in the rue Cadet, so we decided to share one and were generously served. The cheeses were terrific.
  The apple tart with lime-spiked cream and the floating island with caramel and mango both sounded wonderful, but struggling to stick with a new (and miserable) low-calorie regime, we gave them a pass, although I know I'll definitely have dessert when I come over here on my own for lunch without Bruno sometime very soon. So let's let this be our little secret. As it is, I doubt Bruno would be very happy to know that I've already let the cat out of the bag by blogging about a place he liked so much, but with any luck at all, this terrific place will serve as a model for the renovation of many other drab and struggling neighborhood cafes all over Paris.
  Le Richer, 2 rue Richer, 9th, No phone/no reservations, Metro: Poissonnière, Grands Boulevards, Bonne Nouvelle or Cadet. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Average two-course dinner 30 Euros. Sandwiches, tapas and other light eats are always on offer.
  Septime La Cave, 3 rue Basfroi, 11th, Tel. 01-43-67-14-87. Metro: Ledru Rollin, Voltaire or Charonne, Closed Sunday and Monday.