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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 New restaurants in Montmartre (2)

Monday
Feb062012

LE COQ RICO--Getting Plumed in Montmartre, C

Poulet de Bresse for 2-4: 95 Euros
 
  On the way up to the  unfortunately named Le Coq Rico, chef Thierry Lébé's new Antoine Westermann backed rotisserie in Montmartre, last night, I couldn't help but wondering why no one had ever thought of doing a roast-chicken themed restaurant in Paris before. To be sure, there are lots of places that are rightly or mostly wrongly well-known for their roast chicken in Paris--L'Ami Louis, La Rotisserie d'en Face, La Rotisserie du Beaujolais, Le Pere Claude and Chez Maitre Albert among them (they all get a C+ from me), but even the good ones rarely do it better than my favorite roast chicken purveyors, almost all of which are to be found at open-air Parisian markets. 
 
  For some reason, the spit-roasted fowl at Paris markets is almost always excellent, and even though it's not cheap, it's a lot cheaper than what you'll be nicked for at most sit-down Paris restaurants. Since I've liked Mr. Westermann and enjoyed his sincere and artful cooking ever since I first sampled it--I was dispatched to Buerehiesel in Strasbourg by a New York magazine after he won three stars in 1993, I'm always eager to see what he's up to. Unfortunately, I've found him to have gone rather consistently off course since he left his Strasbourg restaurant to his son Eric and started opening restaurants in Paris. Mon Vieil Ami on the Ile Saint Louis was quite good when it first opened--I loved the Alsatian inflected farm food, but the service never settled in correctly and its become too expensive, so I deleted it from the last edition of HUNGRY FOR PARIS and don't go anymore. Drouant, Westermann's other Paris table, is similarly mystifying to me--I've never enjoyed a meal there and don't understand the kitchen's odd, gimicky archly urban rustic cooking.  
 
  But Mr. Westermann is a delightful man and seriously gifted chef, so off we went to the highest peak in Paris on an arctic evening. Arriving, the presence of an amiable voiturier immediately told me what sort of clientele they were gunning for, or people not like me, which is to say high-rollers who show up in their four-wheel drive fume- spewers and don't mind spending 10 Euros to get someone to take the ton of metal off their hands. And almost from the moment we stepped inside, I knew this place wasn't going to work for me and held my tongue.
  
  Well-groomed robo-staff types went through the motions of a welcome like the vain and excited ushers at the Cannes film festival, and the white decor felt like a hollowed out sugar cube. To be sure, the working rotisserie off to one side was faced by a counter where you could eat alone, and a few people were dining there, but overall this "m'as tu vu" place felt as though it should be in Courchevel instead of Montmartre. Or in other words, it smelled like a money spinner from the get go.
 
  And then we looked at the menu, which was frankly absurd. Two of us ordered the creme de volaille (creamed chicken) soup as a starter, and even though it was delicious, I was really bothered by the idea that they were charging 11 Euros for a ladle and a half of soup. This starter should have been served in a deep tureen at these prices, and before it came to the table, we should have been offered a help-yourself chicken-liver terrine to soothe us into the spririt of the place over our aperitifs. Instead, this restaurant felt as though the entire menu had been pushed through a very expensive computer-generated cost-analysis program at least five times before they unlocked the front doors for the first time.
  
Roast pigeon: 38 Euros
  Since we were celebrating a friend's birthday, I  kept my beak shut during our dinner, but when 75 minutes went by between our starters and our roasted birds-- we'd ordered a pigeon for one and a poulet de Bresse that was caggily described as serving 2-4, I slipped away to see what was going on. What I found was a restaurant that desperately needed a real maitre d'hotel, or someone with a supervailing eye who could greet newcomers, time the kitchen and track the staff all at once. Instead, there was no one home at this place all through a very long and rather trying meal. When it finally arrived, all of the fowl was overcooked, and the airplane style portion-controlled side dishes were offensive. When someone has ordered a 95 Euro roast chicken, salad, frites and macaroni gratin should come to the table in abundance.
 
  Oh to be sure, they brandish some major brand-name birds on the menu--Challans, Bresse, Coucou de Rennes, Géline de Touraine, etc., and their cooking is, as the French would say, "correcte," but the harsh lighting and total absence of generosity at this restaurant were a heart ache, especially since it was my idea that we come here and my friend Laurent sent me a single-line email after we'd all parted company: "Alec, Pigeon a 38 Euros--Putain!"
  
Le Coq Rico, 98 rue Lepic, 18th, Tel. 01-42-59-82-89. Metro: Lamarck-Caulaincourt. Open daily. Average 50 Euros, with no drinks.
Wednesday
Feb012012

AU CLOCHER DE MONTMARTRE--At Last, Good Gallic Casual Eats, B

 
  For a variety of reasons, the French have been slow to come up with a good Gallic gastronomic retort to the creeping American concept of 'fast casual-dining' (Boy, do I hate that phrase, which resonates as a pretty unconvincing euphemism for fat-and-unhealthy). In fact, in many large American cities, it's difficult to find anything but the chain gain, including Applebee's, The Olive Garden, Chipotles's, Hooters, The Cheesecake Factory, Red Lobster and their ilk. These formatted restaurants are rapidly going global, too, and inexplicably seem to be finding large numbers of receptive customers in Asia, as well as more traditional markets like Canada and the United Kingdom. 
 
  Though I've never set foot in a Hooters, I have been to several of the other chains, including an outrageously dismal meal at a Red Lobster several years ago, and what interested me about them was how with a bizarre mixture of cynicism and cleverness, they've created highly profitable gastronomic algorithms that would seem to make many people happy. With the exception of the dreadful Courte Paille (a short straw indeed), L'Arche, and Hippopotamus chains, Paris has been largely spared the blight of 'fast-casual dining,' with the exception of Les Grand Boulevards, the Champs Elysees and Les Halles. Most Parisians, I'd like to believe, still prefer small independent restaurants with 'real' cooking.
 
  What brought all of this to mind was a very good dinner with Bruno the other night at talented chef Antoine Heerah's newly redecorated and re-formatted Montmartre table Au Clocher de Montmartre, a very shrewd restaurant. What Mr. Heerah, who also runs Chamarre Montmartre and Le Moulin de la Galette, also in Montmartre, has done is coin a smart and appealing French idiom for, well, um, French casual dining. Or in other words, this is the kind of place where you can pop in for a snack--maybe some vegetable tempura or a plate of smoked salmon with a glass of wine, or a quick meal--soup and a salad, or an omelette and a dessert, and be on your way again in less than an hour. You can also decide on a more leisurely meal, and since this dining room is comfortable, well-lit and very good looking and the service is absolutely charming, this is a place where you might happily while away an afternoon over a good book and some ricotta and beet tart and a green salad with a nice glass of red wine, since the restaurant is open from noon to 10.30pm and serves non-stop. In short, this is an intensely customer-friendly restaurant that has been very shrewdly conceived to appeal to the time-short life and times of both tourists--this place is right behind the Sacre Coeur, and Parisians, since you can eat what you want, when you want and in any quantity or sequence that makes you happy. 
  
   Hungry on a rainy night, we nibbled some excellent Spanish charcuterie with Catalan style pan con tomate with a terrific glass of Vouvray to start, and then Bruno ordered an intriguingly named "Salade du Bout du Monde", which arrived as a nice assortment of greens garnished with smoked eel, haddock, salmon eggs, mackerel rillettes, herring and other fish, and I decided on some "Beef noodles and ravioli" soup.
 
  Its thick consistency--this soup had obviously been made from good old-fashioned soup bones (oxtail would be my guess, actually) was deeply comforting and their was so much dissolved protein in this concoction garnished with beef-stuffed ravioli, thick udon like noodles, bone marrow and tiny cubes of calf's foot that it really was lip-sticking good. So good, in fact, that I wished they'd put an extra-large meal-sized version of this soup on the menu and also sell it to take out.
  
  
  Though I loved the idea of a cepes omelette--one of the seven different egg preparations on the menu, a combination of my insatiable appetite and unslackable curiosity--two of my guiding stars, I'm happy to confess, led me to order the Roscoff onions stuffed with oxtail. I've never come across an onion I don't like, but these firm, pink ones from the region around the Breton port of Roscoff, are exceptionally good onions and even have an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC). Even though I see them in shops in London and even once came across them in a Trader Joe's in Seattle, they never seem to find their way to Paris. Anyway, the onions were filled with tender juicy oxtail meat and garnished with strips of crisply grilled bacon. 
 
   I was very happy, and so was Bruno with his Angus steak, which came with excellent frites and a small salad of mesclun from Annie Bertin's organic farm in Brittany. We shared a nicely made Paris-Brest--all of the pastries are on display, a good idea, near the service bar, before we went off into the night, and I came away with real admiration for Mr. Heerah, who demonstrates here that quality and affordability need be incompatible and also shows himself to be a very astute observer of Parisian life, since there's not a neighborhood in the city that wouldn't love this restaurant...a prototype, perhaps? I'd like to think so, and am also looking forward to returning for the good-value 21 EUro prix-fixe brunch some Sunday.
 
  Au Clocher de Montmartre, 10 rue Lamarck, 18th, Tel. 01-42-64-90-23. Metro: Lamarck-Caulaincourt or take the Funiculaire de Montmartre. Open daily noon-10.30pm, Sunday brunch served from 11am-3pm. Average 25 Euros.