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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Entries in Bistrots a Vins (2)


LA CAVE DE L'INSOLITE--A Swell Little Bistro in the 11th, B

  In Paris, the new-wave bistrot a vins, or casual wine-oriented bistro with a short changes-often menu and a carefully selected list of wines that are usually organic or naturel—made without sulphites, is filling the hole in the local food chain left by the slow-rolling but ongoing demise of the traditional bistro. How are these places different from trad bistros? Well, the food is lighter, produce-centric, seasonal, inventive and often comes in a small-plate format. A real effort is also made to write menus that flatter the wine list and vice-a-versa.

  In Paris, the new-wave bistrot a vins, or casual wine-oriented bistro with a short changes-often menu and a carefully selected list of wines that are usually organic or naturel—made without sulphites, is filling the hole in the local food chain left by the slow-rolling but ongoing demise of the traditional bistro. How are these places different from trad bistros? Well, the food is lighter, produce-centric, seasonal, inventive and often comes in a small-plate format. A real effort is also made to write menus that flatter the wine list and vice-a-versa.
   This trend is so important and constantly gaining in momentum that barely a week or two goes by without the opening of another neo-bavins (my accronym for neo bistrots a vins). Neo-bavins Au Passage, reviewed on this site, was one of the big hits of the summer in Paris, too, and now the fresh-out-the-gate La Cave de l’Insolite is the address that has fans and followers of this welcome trend talking.
  Stopping by for dinner mid-week on a night when we were tired shading to cranky, Bruno and I immediately appreciated the friendly welcome of one of the two brothers who runs this place and a delicious glass of Touraine Fie Gris as an aperitif. The chalkboard menu was brief but appealing, and after we’d ordered we got up and went over to the open-shelf wines to select something for dinner. A long-standing fan of Cotes du Rhone, I’ve recently grown tired of them and have been liking lighter French reds like Irancy and Arbois red recently, so we plucked a bottle of Arbois Pupillin de Chez Bonnard from the shelf and returned to the table to wolf down good bread and wonder at the provenance of several large tables of young Russians in this off-the-beaten-track new spot. I was also curious to see what the chef from Belfast would get up to.
  Things got off to a half-full, half-empty start. Bruno’s home-made salt-marinated salmon with an arugula salad and a dab of excellent mayonnaise with tiny cubes of red peppers and all kinds of fresh herbs was outstanding and generously served. My veloute of leeks and parsnips came to the table as a very thick micro-waved puree and lacked panache. Not only was it an ugly pea-green color but it needed help—maybe a dribble pumpkin-seed oil, a few grains of coriander and a big pinch of sea salt.
  Next, it was a bit dull of us, but this meal was about being hungry, not writing a restaurant review, so both of ordered the veal steak with beets and potatoes. It was great meat cooked rare and served with perfectly cooked sliced beets of several colors and quartered oven-roasted baby potatoes, and two hungry men loved it, especially with the Arbois Pupillin, which had been decanted into a squat carafe. We recovered our usual exploratory tandem with dessert, with Bruno wolfing down a terrific rice pudding with sour-apple compote and me racing through a homey, old-fashioned crumble made with quince, a much under-rated fruit, confit (poached in sugar syrup). 
  “Aside from the food, which I really liked, what was wonderful about that place was that we had so much space at the table, there was the great atmosphere that’s generated by people eating well, and the service was really friendly,” said Bruno in the car on the way home. “If it were in our neighborhood, I’d go often,” I replied, a comment that drew a snort and the sweet snipe, “You say that all the time.”  I suspect that this place is going to heat up fast, especially because the prices are so fair, so if you’re curious about the neo-bavins trend in Paris, hit this one soon.
La Cave de l’Insolite, 30 rue de la Folie Mericourt, 11th, Tel. 01-53-36-08-33. Metro: Saint-Amboise. Open Tues-Sat for lunch and dinner. Sunday lunch only. Lunch menu 14 Euros. Average 30 Euros. 

A L'ORIENT D'OR, Excellent Hunan Chinese Cooking, B+; LE VERRE VOLE, One of the Best Bistrots a Vins in Paris, B+

The red chili pepper garlands are a tip off at L'Orient d'Or


  Everyone needs a great failsafe go-to Chinese restaurant in their lives, which is why I was so hopeful when I went to meet my friend Richard for lunch yesterday. He loves Chinese cooking, or all of the cuisines of China, as much as I do and was very keen to share his latest discovery with me, L'Orient d'Or, which is in the 9th arrondissement just a few doors down from the Folies Bergere. On a cold rainy day, I was definitely ready for a wok on the wild side, too, and that's exactly what I got, since this simple, friendly and very popular restaurant specializes in Hunan cooking, which, as our waiter explained, is characteristically gently acidic in taste and seasoned with garlic, onions, peppers and chili peppers. Or as Chairman Mao, a native of Hunan province, put it: "People from Sichuan and Jiangsu eat pepper, because they're not afraid of spicy food. People from Hunan eat pepper, because they're afraid not to eat spicy food. Most of the senior officials of the Communist party are originally from Sichuan, Jiangsu and Hunan provinces. So I'd say that people who like to eat spicy food are the real revolutionaries."

  Since so many Chinese restaurants in Paris play it safe in deference to the presumed timidity of the French palate, I wondered if this kitchen would offer me the fire I was craving, and boy did it deliciously deliver. We started with a refreshing dish of ciboule, or Chinese chives, lightly dressed in sesame oil and flecked with red pepper, and then tucked into some delicious pumpkin beignets. Next, a superb dish of crusty chips of smoked pork with scallions and lots of chili peppers, a fabulous dish that dates back to the Han dynasty, and beautifully sauteed eggplant, also nice and peppery, that came to the table with nary a drop of oil on the dish.

  In fact the generally dry nature of the cooking here--as opposed to the usual Chinese fare in Paris, which comes swimming in sauce, was a very pleasant surprise, and I can't wait to go back and try the chicken Zuo Zongtang, which you have to request in advance and which draws Chinese residents of Paris from all over the city. Richard says it's crispy on the outside, very tender, and has a well balanced melange of sweet, acidic and peppery flavors, which sounds terrific to me. We drank a very nice Alsatian pinot noir with lunch, and though the list is short, it's well chosen and the house wines by the carafe are much better than average, too.

L'Orient d'Or, 22 rue de Trevise, 9th, Tel. 01-48-00-07-73. Metro: Cadet or Grands Boulevards. Open Tuesday to Sunday, Closed Monday. Average 30 Euros.

UPDATE (7-17-11): Finally tried the Zuo Zongtang chicken, and it was pleasant, but not remarkable. Much prefer the smoked pork dish, the ciboule, the homemade grilled dumplings, the steamed dumplings stuffed with red rice, and the tofu with ground pork.



  For anyone visiting Paris, the city's thriving bistrot a vins scene offers both great eating and excellent value for the money. If Les Fines Gueles near the Place des Victoires is one of my favorite of the new generation of wine-oriented bistros serving good simple market-driven cooking all over town, I've also always liked the funky and very trendy Le Verre Volé on a side street near the charming Canal Saint Martin in the 10th arrondissement. The problem with this place, though, was that its popularity has always made it such a challenge to snag a table. Now, though, they've just expanded the dining room, which makes it incrementally more possible to enjoy one of Paris's best bistrot a vins without having remembered to call a week or two a head of time.

  The head chef here is Delphine Zampetti, the girl friend of chef Inaki Aizpitarte, the chef at Le Chateaubriand, one of Paris's cult bobo bistros, and she learned her lesson well while working with Raquel Carena at Le Baratin and Inaki. To wit, her food is smart, stylish, international and wryly maternal. But the maman who inspired Delphine doesn't knit or make jam, instead she wears high-heels, practices Tai-Chi, has a passport full of exotic stamps, and a 24 year old lover.

  Le Verre also usefully open on Sundays and many holidays, so after a long absence, I came for dinner with Bruno, Francois and Tina on Armistice Day. The new dining room is a narrow space to the right of the kitchen, and it's preferable to the busy, lively and often noisy front room if you want to have a quiet conversation. At the back of the space, an international staff works in an open kitchen, while twin etageres displaying the wines served and sold here--they specialize in organic and natural wines, line both walls. The price displayed is the retail price, with 7 Euros added for corkage.

  Even though I hadn't been here in some time, I was hoping that the lamb-and-fig terrine I'd loved the last time I came might be on the menu, but alas, no such luck. So instead, I started with a salad of sliced oranges, flaked salt cod, croutons and black olives, while the others went with the Thai style green papaya and beef salad, finely sliced veal carpaccio with savings of mimolette cheese and grilled octopus with a salad of herbs. With forks and knives flying, we all tried everything, and everything was delicious accompanied by excellent bread the pleasantly fruity organic Saumur Champigny the waiter suggested. Next, it was a neat split between couples, with two having the grilled duck breast with roasted turnips and an intriguing side slaw of sliced radishes and onions in light mayonnaise, and the other pair, the plump and wonderfully tangy saucisse de Toulouse with potato puree and lively little salad of mixed baby organic greens and herbs. 

  Aside from the fact that this food was well-cooked, politely inventive and of very good quality, what I liked about it was that it was perfect social food, or pleasant comfort food to serve as a backdrop to good conversation and good wine, and the organic Crozes Hermitage, one of my favorite wines, that we drank with our main courses was spectacular.

  If the rest of the gang finished up with apple-and-pear crumble and chocolate cream, I chose the cheese--excellent Comte, Abbaye de Citeaux, and Brin d'Amour as my grand finale and enjoyed it very much.  Le Verre Volé a delightful address for a reasonably priced casual meal, and also offers the opportunity to discover one of Paris's lesser known but trendiest and most atmospheric neighborhoods.

Le Verre Volé, 67 rue de Lancry, 10th, Tel. 01048-03-17-34. Metro: Jacques Bonsergent. Open daily. Average 35 Euros.