L'OGRE, A Pleasant Bistro: B; LE PETIT LUTETIA, Boffo Bad Brasserie Service but Pretty Good Food: C+
Though the location across the street from the exasperating (this building is much too big and it's impossible to find the entrance) round Maison de Radio in the 16th arrondissement isn't very convenient, there's still a lot to like about L'Ogre, a friendly and very lively modern bistro with an attractive and welcoming young staff, great views of the Eiffel Tower, and good solid traditional French cooking.
The main reason this place works so well is that it was born for all of the right reasons. To wit, a bunch of friends who were working as wine distributors and who love good food decided that it would be fun to do a restaurant together. So they took over this old corner cafe and kitted it out with a post-industrial-loft-look, i.e. factory lamps and visible heating ducts. They kept the old zinc bar though, and made sure the lighting was good, a detail much appreciated by the media crowd who pack the place at dinner, and also decided the chalkboard menu would be sort of a greatest hits roster of simple tasty French classics like terrine de foie gras mi-cuit or rillettes de lapin (potted rabbit) to start, and then pedigreed meat, including an excellent steak tartare, boudin noir and a superb veal chop with shallot cream sauce for two, and shrewdly chosen and very fairly priced wines.
Not surprisingly, it's all worked a charm, and this place has become a real hit with well-heeled young Parisian professionals. Given the better-than-average cooking and reasonable prices, plus those swell views of the Eiffel tower if you get a Seine facing table, the real surprise is that this place hasn't yet been trumpeted as a great address for anyone visiting Paris.
On a rainy Spring Sunday night in Paris, Michele, one of my oldest French friends, and I were trying to figure out where to go for an easy impromptu supper not far from her charming apartment in the rue Vaneau in the 7th arrondissement. The easiest options were Asian, which is more and more often the case in Paris, but neither of us really wanted Asian food, much as we love it, so we had a think.
I lived in the this neighborhood once a longtime ago, but the only place I could come up with that might be open on a Sunday night was Le Petit Lutetia, a decent but always curiously also-ran brasserie with a pretty art-nouveau interior just down the street on the rue de Sevres. Though neither of us were very keen, this seemed a reasonable solution, so off we went. Walking together in a light rain, I found myself wondering when the last time I'd eaten here might have been and finally rather cringingly recalled that it was during a visit from my mother some fifteen plus years ago. Sudden visions of that tetchy Sunday-night meal--we'd just spent three days in Istanbul together, accidentally sharing a room (a problem with the reservation), something she delighted in but I found somewhat challenging came to mind with a shudder, and, time healing all wounds, a giggle. Her main goal during our Turkish sojourn was sampling Imam Balyidi (The "Priest" fainted), an aubergine concoction of storied deliciousness that she must have read about in a novel, and all weekend long, she'd hopefully blurted out this phrase like an incantation at every waiter, desk clerk, tour guide or cab driver we encountered, all to no avail until a final dreadful lunch, her choice, at the Hilton Hotel, when the heaven's parted and there it was on the menu.
But I digress, if only to explain my most 'recent' associations with Le Petit Lutetia. Arriving, nothing had changed. There was still a rubber-booted oyster shucker manning the shellfish stand out front, and the dining room retained its beveled glass partitions, wonderfully faded and foppish romantic wall paintings, tile floor, and zinc bar up front. Having taken the trouble to book before we set out, it was exasperating, however, to be kept waiting by the host's lectern in a restaurant that was only half full at best, and also to be repeatedly admonished to get out of the way by one of the staff of four waiting on a total of perhaps twenty people.
Within seconds of a five minute wait to be seated--a moment more and I'd have left, we were finally led to a banquette table and given menus, which we then had fifteen minutes to study. Frantic waving and signalling until a waiter rather crossly deigned to take our order, and in the middle of doing so, he decided to amuse himself with a sly reference to my American accent, which made him forget what we'd just ordered. So we started again. "The service here is dreadful, the food better be half-decent," Michele said after we'd finally sorted things out.
And to my surprise, it was. Her marinated mackerel with mesclun was excellent, as were my Utah Beach (Normandy) oysters. Next, calf's brains meuniere for Michele and boeuf bourguigon for me, both part of the 26 Euro chalkboard menu we'd decided upon. And both were generously served and surprising good. Why surprisingly? The slatternly service hardly prompted exalted expectations of the kitchen. The "vin du moment' at 22 Euros was perfectly decent, too, and all told, we had a better than average meal of traditional French food in a rather pretty dining room.
So would I go back? I'd just decided I would, when one of the waiters somehow or another managed to break an empty bottle of Evian behind us. Then seconds later, a colleague dashed three wine glasses to the floor in a scene worthy of an episode from "The Three Stooges," a slapstick sixties-vintage American television comedy. So I'd say this place is hardly a destination restaurant, but if you're staying on the Left Bank and want a decent, reasonably priced feed last minute or on a day when almost everything else is closed, it's not a bad option.
L'Ogre, 1 avenue de Versailles, 16th, Tel. 01-45-27-93-40. Metro: Mirabeau or RER Maison-de-Radio-France. Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday. Average 35 Euros.
Le Petit Lutetia, 107 rue de Sevres, 6th, Tel. 01-45-48-33-53. Metro: Vaneau. Open daily. Lunch menu 18 Euros, prix-fixe 26 Euros, a la carte 35 Euros.