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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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Entries in Chinese restaurants in Paris (2)

Monday
Jan162012

LES DELICES DE SHANDONG--At Last, Superb Chinese Food in Paris, A-/B+

 
  Before I extol Les Delices de Shandong in the 13th arrondissement, it's obvious that I should offer a glimpse of my credentials as a critic of Chinese cooking, in this case, the superb regional kitchen of Shan Dong. Alas, as much as I feel qualified to write authoritatively on the American, British, French, Italian, Spanish and other Western kitchens, it's best to admit that my knowledge of Chinese cooking is rather infantile, or to wit, it's based very much on a personal primal reaction to what tastes good. Oh, to be sure, I grew up eating, and loving, 'Chinese' food of a sort, since Sunday night take-out meals from the excellent 'West Lake' in downtown Westport, Connecticut next to the public library, and the also good 'Golden Door' restaurant in a shopping center on U.S. 1, were a treat I craved as a suburban child with an insatiable hunger for new tastes and flavors, textures and ingredients.
 
  Mom would save the printed takeout menu from one order to the next in a drawer next to the wall-mounted phone in the kitchen, and around about 7pm on a Sunday, I'd poke my head around the corner every five minutes to see if she was sitting at the kitchen table filling out the menu before calling in the order. The only consolation for me if she wasn't making fat gray Xs with a well gnawed yellow pencil was the possibility we'd be getting pizza instead--Mom understandably felt that she deserved a night off from shopping and cooking for a family of six, so Sunday was often takeout night, and the promise of favorite foreign foods blunted the terrible melancholy I always felt on the 7th day of the week. 
 
  We almost always had the same things, too: egg drop soup, egg rolls, shrimp toast, barbecued pork spare ribs, fried rice, Moo Goo Gai Pan (an Americanized version of a Cantonese dish that involved chicken with mushrooms, bamboo shoots, snow peas {mange toute}, and water chestnuts in a tame chicken-broth based sauce), egg foo yung, shrimp with cashew nuts, and broccoli, I think, which no one ever ate, with a grand finale of fortune cookies that no one actually ever ate either. These were great kitchen table meals with plastic packets of the hot Chinese mustard my father liked, sweet 'duck' sauce,' soy sauce and the food packed in waterproof folded square white paper boxes with thin wire handles. LIttle did I know that most of what we were eating was heavily Americanized Cantonese cooking, and in fact, my education in Chinese gastronomy got muscled out of the way in the 70s and 80s by the arrival of lots of other foreign restaurants in Westport--a couple of terrible Mexican restaurants, a prissy French place called Bon Appetit that had--get this, sea salt on its tables, and a flock of salad-bar-anchored steakhouses with Olde Taverne style decors and big pepper grinders on the tables. Amazingly enough, Westport even had a Bulgarian restaurant, the Cafe Varna, where we had cub scout dinners that left a lot of little boys politely alarmed by stuffed grape leaves and other Balkan fare.
 
  Aside from a few shocking forays to restaurants in Boston and New York's Chinatowns as a college student--'real' Chinese food was almost alarming for being so much more vivid--I mean, the chicken tasted like chicken, it wasn't until I moved to New York after college and was living on the Upper West Side that my Chinese culinary education advanced, and then it was in the blaze of hot peppers unleashed on Manhattan by the sudden popularity of Szechuan cooking, which made everyone rather embarrassedly aware that China had regional kitchens like, um, Italy, and that what we'd thought was Chinese food was tasty but timid stuff shrewdly edited to politely tantalize our wan palates. The Cuban Chinese food in the neighborhood was a fascinating red herring, though, and occasionally, I'd trek down to Chinatown with other broke young friends.
 
  I don't think I advanced much, however, until the brilliant and courtly editor for whom I was editorial assistant at Random House invited me out for lunch on a long ago birthday. It was a beautiful Fall day, but I labored in the space of a sudden ill-defined social occasion to create conversation that I thought would interest him as we walked up Third Avenue and then cut across to Shun Yee Palace, where I ate my first Peking duck, a dish so good that I stopped caring if my conversation with a man my father's age seemed smart or interesting and just ate, greedily wrapping duck, crispy duck skin and finely chopped scallion (perhaps some cucumber, too?) in hot rice-flour pancakes smeared with plum sauce. This was one of the best things I'd ever eaten, and I just couldn't stop. "The best companions at the table have real appetites," the editor said eliptically as we were walking back to the office, and if i was momentarily alarmed that he might have found me dull, I also had the rest of our lunch in a brown paper bag to look forward for dinner that night, and instinctively knew I'd have plenty of time to puzzle over his bon mots in the years to come. Suffice it to say that I finally figured out that he loved really good food and was the father of four difficult sons, so the relaxed quietude of sharing a really good meal with someone else who was also immersed in their own pleasure was surely a rarity for him.
 
  Okay, then, enough ambered reminiscence. So am I a reliable judge of Chinese cooking? Well, yes, I'd like to think so, and this is why I'd say that if you were only going to go to a single Chinese restaurant in Paris, it should be Les Delices de Shandong, where I ate with Bruno, who lives in terror of red pepper, the other night. I've been reading opinions of this place by French colleagues who know a lot more about Chinese food than I do for a longtime, Sophie Brissaud on her P'tit Pois blog foremost among then, and so was really looking forward to this meal. It was superb.
  
 
  I loved the animation of the brightly lit dining room, and accustomed to the usual get'um in get'em out brusqueness of Asian restaurants in the 13th arrondissement, I was surprised by the polite service. We stared at the menu and negotiated a meal for two very different appetites. I wanted to try the pork-and-cabbage filled dumplings, but agreed to an order of noodles in sesame sauce for Bruno in case the dumplings proved too fiery. Since I didn't know much about Shan Dong cooking, I just couldn't assure Bruno that they'd be something he could eat (To learn more about Shan Dong cooking, you might want to watch this YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bs0bUhmcBoA). Well, the dumplings, which were filled with delicately tangy (black vinegar, I think) smoky chunky pork and cabbage were spectacular, and the sesame noodles, though much tamer, were good, too, but I wouldn't feel obliged to order them again if I went back with someone else.
  
 
  Main courses required similar calculation and negotiation. I had no interest in shrimp with cashews at all, but knew they'd be fine for Bruno if the saute of smoked pork with lots of red peppers, celery, Savoy cabbage, and a few fermented black beans was too potent. Well, it was brilliantly potent--one of the best Chinese dishes I've ever eaten, in fact, and with regular slugs of Tsingtao beer, Bruno enjoyed it, too, and we both liked the liserons (oddly called 'blindweed' in English, but resembling a sort of leaf-less watercress) in garlicky emerald-green tofu sauce. And the shrimp with stale cashews was desperately bland, almost as though the chef was offended that someone would order something so dull.
  
  On the way home, Bruno, who works in a busy crowded office while I spend my eccentrically quiet and solitary days in flannel pajamas and sweat shirts to a busy rhythm of my own mad making, admitted that the food was very good, but had problems with the noise. It was noisy, but I barely noticed. Instead I was thinking about who I could draft to go back with me to try the soups, the kidneys, the intestines, the carp, and a dozen other dishes I noticed trailing by with avaricious envy. This is a terrific restaurant. And to think it all started out over egg rolls with duck sauce in Greens Farms, Connecticut.
  
Les Delices de Shandong, 88 boulevard de l'Hopital, 13th, Tel. 01-45-67-23-37. Metro: Campo-Formio. Closed Sunday. Average 25 Euros. 
Friday
Nov202009

Le Bistrot de Pekin, authentic Szechuan cooking: B+; Le Napoleon, fun and very decent burgers: B

I love Chinese cooking, which is why I often despair at the confused, dumbed down versions of China's food served in Paris. The main problems that explain the wilting mediocrity of Chinese cooking in Paris are an instinctive French aversion to spicy food and also the fact that few Parisians know enough about the country's diverse regional kitchens to demand anything more authentic than the safe and confused menus that prevail in neighborhood restaurants all over the city. Many of them are run by Chinese owners who immigrated to France from the former countries of Indochina--Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and so they offer the curious mix of southeast Asian and Chinese dishes that has come to be the prevailing "Asian" cookery found in Paris. What this means is a mix of Nems (Vietnamese deep-fried Spring rolls), dim sum, timid soups and miscellaneous sautees with sauce--beef with oyster sauce, etc.

This unfortunate state of affairs is why I was very curious when a friend from Hong Kong recently recommended the Bistrot de Pekin in the 8th as serving some of the most authentic Chinese food in town. The location just steps off the Champs Elysees in a neighborhood of offices and hotels wasn't encouraging, but we decided to give in a try on a rainy Sunday night in the hopes of discovering a Chinese place we could really love. Though it's one of the hoariest cliches in the book, it was immediately encouraging to arrive at this friendly, attractive place with tall-backed Chinese chairs at tables lined with bamboo matting and peach walls and find that it was mostly full of Chinese patrons.

I came along with the list of dishes to try that had been jotted down by my friend, and after a fair amount of discussion with the waitress to make sure we'd get these and not some of the dumbed down dishes purveyed to the French clientele, we sipped an anonymous but decent red wine by the carafe (6.50 Euros for a half liter) and waited hopefully. The meal got off to a very promising start with fat noodles in a wonderfully fiery peanut and sesame sauce, a Szechuan dish that I used to eat often when I lived in New York. Next, a really excellentsoupe Pekinoise, thick, cartilege rich broth that was wonderfully tangy with vinegar and filled with black mushrooms, fresh slivered bamboo shoots, and shirred egg. The raviolis grillee were excellent, too--obviously homemade and seasoned with garlic, ginger and Chinese herbs.

When the main courses arrived, it was apparent we'd grievously over-ordered--portions here are generous, but I loved the tetes de lion, giant pork meat balls with chopped water chestnuts adding some texture to the soft, nicely seasoned pork, a fiery marmite de boeuf (casserole of beef and Chinese cabbage in chili oil rich broth) and delicious bok choy sauteed with garlic. Inevitably, I saw all sorts of wonderful looking dishes being delivered to neighboring tables, so I look forward to eating my way through the long menu here during the months to come, and also to stopping by for one of the very good value lunch menus. Eureka! Real Szechuan cooking in Paris.

-------

The 10th arrondissement is one of my favorite parts of Paris, especially the area in and around the rue du Faubourg Saint Denis, which has the brilliant antic human variety that's always made me love living in a big city. Here is urban life at its most wonderfully variegated--one block devoted entirely to African barbers and beauty shops, another lined by Turkish cafes, here a Serbian-Bosnian-Croatian epicerie, there a restaurant teasingly called El Papi Chullo.

A sure sign that one of the last authentically populaire districts of central Paris is beginning to evolve, however, is the very popular Le Napoleon, a corner cafe that smart and very amiable Polish-born Frenchman Rafael Grusziewicz remodeled and relaunched after ten years of working in various different Costes brothers restaurants and a stint in New York that included waiting at La Goulue. "The neighborhood is starting to stir," says Grusziewicz, "and for me, it's just perfect right now. You have a great mix of young and old, gay and straight, rich and poor, people from all over the world, and it's feels friendly, tolerant and creative. This is the vibe I had in mind when I bought what was a faded old corner cafe and turned it into a neighborhood hangout."

Open daily from 8am to 2am, it's become a real local institution and is especially busy at noon, when it slings one of the best hamburgers in Paris, a big fat juicy baby with a half decent bun. To be sure, it'd be better with a slice of real sharp cheddar and a bit of real bacon, but the burger itself is very, very good, and comes with good frites and a side of very tasty coleslaw if you want it. Otherwise, the menu is a happy and reasonably priced top of the charts of local comfort food, including roasted goat cheese and salad, terrific cheese and charcuterie boards, a tofu burger, club sandwiches, steak tartare, tarte tatin, tiramisu, and fromage blanc bio. They also serve brunch on the weekends, and food until midnight. "I wanted to do a happy, honest, reasonably priced place with good quality, nothing fancy, nothing gastro, but good, and a place where everyone would feel welcome," says Grusziewicz. To which I'd reply Mission Accomplished, if the phrase didn't have such horrendously tragic resonances, so how's about "Bull's Eye, and well done," instead.

Bistrot de Pekin, 38 rue de Ponthieu, 8th, Tel. 91-42-56-50-86. Metro: Franklin D. Roosevelt. Open daily. Avg 30 Euros.

Le Napoleon, 73 rue du Faubourg Saint Denis, 10th, Tel. 01-47-70-21-36. Metro: Chateau d'Eau. Open daily. Avg 20 Euros.