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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 Jadis (3)

Sunday
May272012

BENOIT and LOULOUCAM--A Distinguished Parisian Grandfather (A-/B+) and One of His Yearling Grandsons (B-/C+)

  Over coffee in a cafe, I recently spent an interesting hour chatting with a brilliant and charming journalist for a nicely produced economic journal in Prague who had contacted me for an interview, because Slovak language rights to HUNGRY FOR PARIS were acquired by a Bratislava publishing house when the book was first published.
 
  Food is Petra's beat, and passion, and if she loves Paris like I do, I spent months and months in Prague in the early nineties and have a deep affection for the city and the Czech Republic, so we seemed fated to get on. Usually on the other side of the pen and notebook, I also admired her confident manner and good questions. On my way to meet her, it occurred to me that she'd invariably ask me if Paris is still the world's best food city. And if this is an obviously loaded question, it's a much more complicated one to answer fairly and intelligibly than it may first seem.
 
  Sure enough, no sooner than we'd introduced ourselves and ordered, then Petra shot her first arrow. I won't attempt to recreate my response, except to say that I basically believe that today Paris remains first among many equals, because of the spectacular excellence of French culinary training, a public with a deep knowledge of and pride in the country's gastronomy, and Europe's nec plus ultra produce. I also added that as much as I rejoice in the remarkable talent of young French chefs like Betrand Grebaut at Septime, I despair at the ongoing erosion of traditional bistro cooking in Paris.  Every great food city needs a gastronomic ballast, and for me, in Paris that has always been really great bistro cooking. "So when was the last time you had an excellent traditional bistro meal at a place that you could recommend?" "That would be at Benoit a few weeks ago," I said, with the precision that I had gone expressly to eat the special 100 Euro menu they're offering to celebrate the restaurant's 100th birthday. It was was nearly flawless.
   
   "One hundred Euros...." said Petra. "I know, no small change that," I replied, "But when it's becoming sadly easy to spend 70 Euros on a middling mid-range meal in Paris, I'd rather go out less often and spend more, if I must, to eat well. Today in Paris, it's become very expensive to cook honest traditional bistro food, because it's so time-consuming. To wit, the chef needs to be in the kitchen for long costly hours," I added. "Otherwise, I'm very happy to enjoy some of the city's outstanding and very good value contemporary French cooking."
   
  "Tell me about the meal at Benoit," said Petra, with a faraway look in her eyes. I did, but first I explained that ithis table had been created by butcher Benoit Matray in 1912 and remained in the same family until chef Michel Petit, one of his grandsons, sold it to Alain Ducasse in 2005. Since the transfer, I've always found the food irreproachably sincere but uneven. Now, though, since former sous chef Eric Azoug became head chef, the food is often once again as excellent as it was in the Petit era.
  
  "We ate exquisite rabbit rillettes with hot toast and glasses of Champagne, then Monsieur Bonneau, one of the best maitre d'hotels in Paris, slipped in some Langue de Veau Lucullus, because Bruno, my partner, had become all puppy-dog excited when he spotted this speciality of his hometown of Valenciennes in the north of France on the menu--it's a sort of surprisingly light construction of fine layers of smoked veal tongue bound with a mousse de foie, followed by fat green Provencal asparagus in a truffled mousseline. Real Victor Hugo or Gustave Flaubert food!" "Was there more?" "Bien sur! We had turbans of sole on creamed spinach in a sauce Nantua, which is always made with crayfish, in this case from Lake Geneva, and then roast lamb with baby Spring vegetables." "My God, Alec! Do you have pictures?" 
  
  Side by side we furtively scrolled through the snaps I took that night several weeks ago (the menu, by the way may have changed, should you decide to go, but they'll be offering this centenary feed through the end of the year); these were Petra's favorites.
  
Langue de Veau LucullusAsperges Vertes, Mousseline Truffee
Sole NantuaLamb with Spring VegetablesProfiteroles, or the Temptation of Bruno
  "And do you have a reasonably priced new place that I might try tonight, Alec?" I asked Petra where she was staying, which was with a friend near the Canal Saint Martin, and Louloucam, a very sincere new bistro with an intriguing two-speed menu, or a mix of French classics and some clever modern dishes, by chef Jean Matthieu Frédéric, ex La Tour d'Argent, Le Meurice, and Chez Géraud, immediately came to mind. I'd eaten here with a couch-surfing pal in town from New Orleans on a Saturday night, and we'd loved our fun waitress, who'd lived Australlia for a while, the excellent terrine de foie gras, poached leeks cleverly spiked with lemongrass--now that's one to copy, entrecote with pommes Maxim, and great desserts--poached pear in caramel sauce and cream-filled choux as part of a 31 Euro menu.
  
 
  No, I wouldn't rush across town to eat here, but the excellent quality of Frédéric's produce--his meat comes from the Boucheries Nivernaises, his quick but perhaps appropriately cautious creativity, and the relaxed friendly setting make it both a great neighborhood bolt-hole and a fine coda to those who'd doom-say the French kitchen.
  
Benoit, 20 rue Saint Martin, 4th, Tel. 01-42-72-25-76, Metro: Hotel de Ville. Open daily. Lunch menu 36 Euros, 100th anniversary menu 100 Euros, average a la carte 100 Euros.
  
Louloucam, 264 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Martin, 10th, Tel. 01-40-34-76-87. Closed Saturday noon, Sunday and Monday. Metro: Jaurès, Louis Blanc or Stalingrad. Lunch menu 16-20 Euros, Dinner menu 31 Euros.
Saturday
Aug202011

AU PASSAGE--A Great New Wine Bar, B; AUX VERRES DE CONTACT--Could-Do-Better Bistro, B-/C+

Bruno pondering Aux Verre de Contact  When it reopens on Tuesday (August 23), I suspect that Au Passage, a terrific new wine bar tucked away in a funky lane between the Place de la Republique and the Place de la Bastille may be taken by storm, because people have been talking about this place all summer. I went just before the team here, which includes some really nice Spring alumni--Audrey, former hostess at the restaurant, and talented Australian chef James Henry, who was part of the kitchen cast, took a much needed summer break, and not only was the food very good but it was a lot of fun. 

   A perfect example of one of the most welcome recent trends in Paris--relaxed and affordable wine bars serving interesting small plates and 'natural' or organic wines (others include Le Dauphin, Vivant, Les Fines Gueules, Frenchie Wine Bar, and Le Verre Vole), it occupies an old atelier space and is furnished with an appealing mix of flea-market finds (N.B. The decor may have changed, because they were planning a major renovation during the summer). The chalkboard menu changes daily, but runs to edgy modern French comfort food that offer delicious cameos of James Henry's fertile culinary imagination, and it's quickly become one of the most popular addresses in town with the smart, younger tribe of chefs, wine merchants and food writers who are propelling the wine-bar trend. Everyone seems to know each other, so there's a lot of chatting between tables and stepping outside with glass of wine for some fresh air or a smoke. It doesn't feel clubby, though--everyone's welcome and there's zero attitude here. Instead, this crew really seems to enjoy what they do and in sharing it.  

   Just sitting at the table with a glass of white wine waiting for my friend Ona, a glamorous Turkish journalist who's new in town, I was having a good time, which led me to reflect on the fact that good hospitality is often the X factor in a restaurant. A chef can be really talented but if he or she and their team don't actually like the front of house side of this business, which is greeting and serving, a restaurant can fall flat, a regretable example of same being Guillaume Delage's just opened Aux Verres de Contact (reviewed below). Chefs who don't like their customers make me think of travel writers who disdain tourists, it just doesn't make sense. Anyway, the crowd here was clearly having a great time, and it became more obvious to me than ever that this new breed of wine bar have filled the gap left behind my the rolling demise of Paris's traditional neighborhood bistros, i.e. casual, affordable places where you get a good feed while having a great night out. As they've become rarer but still much sought-after many bistros have gone decidedly upmarket in terms of their prices and serving style, a case in point being Au Bon Accueil in the 7th arrondissement.

  

  When Ona showed up, tousled but beaming after an assignation with a very famous French business man (married, bien sur), it took me a while to figure out what she meant by "I hoped it would not become like Mr. Rarfeller," which I finally realized was a surprisingly arcane reference to Nelson Rockefeller's amorous demise--you just never know what's going to come out of this one's mouth, and that's why she's so much fun. That solved, I wasn't interested in more details, so we ordered a bottle of Loire Valley coteaux de Giennois and savaged the menu. We started with a salad of Joël Thiébault vegetables, octopus and squid and a terrific vaguely Catalan dish of seared tuna chunks, mussels and tomatoes with just a whisper of saffron and pimenton in the light mayonnais-y sauce, and both were delicious wolfed down with real country bread--thick crusted and tangy, made by chef Thierry Breton of Chez Michel, which is one of my favorite bistros even though it now runs 50 Euros a head--restaurant prices have gone through the roof in Paris this year.

  Though it's become pretty ubiquitous, we also ordered some burrata with heirloom tomatoes--I can't ever get enough burrata, that creamy cousin of mozzarella from Apuglia, and glasses of an excellent red Sancerre from Pinoz Dauny to go with a superb steak tartare and the best dish of the evening, which was seared steak with kimchi style cornichons that James Henry had made himself. Though there's doubtless some arcane Parisian law against doing so (drinking in a public space), everyone ended up taking their bottles outside and standing around chatting until 2.30am under umbrellas in a driving but warm summer rain storm. This is a swell spot, and I'm sure I'll be here often this Fall.

  Because he's a very good chef, I'm sure I'll also give Guillaume Delage's Aux Verres de Contact another try, too, but my meal here with Bruno and friends Laurent and Carole didn't hit the sweet spot I'd been hoping for. Delage is the chef of Jadis, a bistro in the 15th that I've been crowing about for a while, but I haven't been back there for the last couple of months either. Why? It's dispriting to travel to such a remote location--Jadis is in the deep 15th near the Porte de Versailles, and experience exasperated and long-suffering service. The waiters at Aux Verre de Contact were friendlier than the dining room staff at Jadis--and mind you, I don't like Saint-Bernard-in-heat-style all-over-you service at all, but still distracted and absent minded. Our aperitif glasses were still on the table when we paid our bill, and a request for some much needed salt elicited a rolled eyes response; I wish restaurants would just put the salt and pepper on the table and be done with it. The absence of this duo often communicates a chef-knows-better sort of attitude that's never a good sign.

  As four, we were able to eat our way through most of Aux Verre de Contact's menu, and if the food was pretty good, it was also very expensive for it was and everyone hated having to order side dishes at additional expense. Among our starters, Laurent's marinated herring was the star, athough the warm potato salad mentioned on the menu had been replaced by lentils vinaigrette with no warning; Bruno's marinated salmon was decent but dull; and Carole's salade du jour of roasted peppers and little balls of goat cheese brought catered business lunches to mind. My shrimp with curried vegetables and smoked duck breast didn't really coalesce in terms of tastes and textures either.

  

  Main courses were pretty to look at and better-than-average, too, but none of them were memorable. I had to ask for the aioli that came with my cod, and the overcooked fish really needed it, too, but Bruno's steak tartare was excellent--as well it should have been for 23 Euros with a few leaves of salad and a couple of soggy fries. Seventeen Euros seemed like an awful lot of money for a couple of fried eggs with ratatouille and a few slices of smoked tuna, which is what Carole had, and Laurent would have liked his pork breast both crunchier and more tender, too. 

 

   Since I like Delage's cooking so much, and it was my idea to come here, I was more tempered in my opinions than the other three. The kitchen obviously cooks with excellent produce, and I'd much rather eat here than at any brasserie I can think of, but in the end, I had to agree with Laurent's assessment of the meal: "Pas mal, mais trop cher et service a revoir" or "Not bad, but too expensive, and the service needs work." Dog days of August oblige, I'll give Aux Verres de Contact another chance, but really hope they move over to a prix-fixe format before I come back. 

Au Passage, 1 bis passage Saint Sébastien, 11th, Tel. 01-43-55-07-52. Metro: Sébastien Froissart, Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Average 30 Euros. 

Aux Verres de Contact, 52 boulevard Saint-Germain, 5th, Tel. 01-46-34-58-02, Metro: Maubert Mutualite. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday. Average 40 Euros.

 

Thursday
Dec112008

JADIS: A Superb New Bistro, B+

  As anyone who lives in or regularly visits Paris now knows, the best food in the city is most often now found in outlying neighborhoods that are long Metro ride away. Happily, the Paris Metro system is fast, inexpensive and safe, which means that there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever to miss Jadis, which is one of the best new bistros to have opened in a very longtime.

  Occupying an attractively renovated corner-cafe space in a quiet residential neighborhoood near the Porte de Versailles convention center--this explains the odd crowd of food-loving local hipsters mixing it up with the execs in suits, this burgundy-and-gunmetal gray spot is the new perch of young chef Guillaume Delage, a major new talent with a very impressive resume. Delage was mostly recently at Pierre Gagnaire’s Gaya fish house on the Left Bank, and has also cooked at Michel Bras and Le Pré Catalan.

   This top drawer experience also explains the incredible technical talent you’ll find in your plate here. A perfect example was the stunningly pretty and absolutely delicious artichoke, chicken and foie gras terrine with celery root puree and a slice of red berry compote that I had as a starter. As Bruno rightly observed, this dish was the type of thing one expected to find, usually badly done, at first communion lunches. Here the flavors were vivid but supremely compatible, and each ingredient had a nice texture. Cream of pumpkin soup had the delicious depth provided by excellent stock and a swirl of creme fraiche, while a friend at a neighboring table loved her feuillette of snails and wild mushrooms, which came to the table as an impressive pastry turban.

   Intrigued by what seemed like Delage’s Gallic take on a “financiera,” or a Torinese dish of cock’s combs, duck hearts, kidneys, and other innards, I went for it. Perfectly cooked, it lacked only a light sauce to bind these different elements together. I also liked Delage’s somewhat aescetic take on blanquette de veau, which came in a small Alessi casserole with a plate of perfectly cooked carrots, potatoes, mushrooms and leeks. A perfectly poached pear and a coffee-flavored pot de creme with a homemade Breton style sable biscuit ended this feast, and this excellence of this meal, and the reasonable prices, including some nice and gently priced wines, explained why this place was packed on a rainy Monday night. I can’t wait to go back.  

208 rue de la Croix-Nivert, 15th, 01.45.57.73.20. Metro: Porte de Versaille. Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday.