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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.

There are many ways to move around the reviews, which are categorized by grade and location. Click here to see the index. Lookout for the tags at the bottom of each post to guide you to more restaurant choices. You can also share any article directly with Facebook, Twitter and email, and there's a print button if you'd like hard copy. Enjoy!

Entries in Open on Sunday (2)

Friday
Dec102010

LE BAR A HUITRES: Neptune's Bounty, B+; LE CASSE-NOIX: Good Modern Bistro Cooking, B; The Sorry State of Asian Cooking in Paris

 

L'ECAILLEUR @ Bob Peterson  A longtime ago, when I'd first learned to eat oysters as the result of a short but memorable love affair during my first few months in Paris, I'd often go to Le Bar a Huitres for a feast on these bivalves with my friends Anne and Peter. They love shellfish, too, and they then lived in the Latin Quarter not far from the branch of this mini-chain on the boulevard Saint Germain at the corner of the rue Saint Jacques. As the years went by and I became both more knowledgeable and more exigent about oysters, I sadly detected a slow but steady drift to the bottom of the sea in the quality of what these places were serving, however. At first it was just the cooked food that really fell off, but the last few times I'd been at one of these addresses, the oysters weren't terrific either and eventually I stopped going, since one of the wonderful things about Paris is that they're so many places in the city to have a truly spectacular oyster feast, Garnier and Huitrerie Regis among them. 

  Occasionally I'd walk by one of these addresses, muse sentimentally over great meals and good times had there in the past, and wish that someone would set these places right, which is why it was with great interest that I read that they'd recently been taken over by Garry Dorr, the son of Willy Dorr, founder of the very successful Bistro & Compagnie chain of bistros, Bistro de Breteuil and Bistro des Deux Theatres among them, where you get a set-price menu of aperitif, half bottle of wine, starter, main, dessert and coffee for 39 Euros. Garry Dorr, 26, is a graduate of the celebrated Lausanne Hotel School, and on the basis of dinner at the Montparnasse branch of Le Bar a Huitres the other night, he's not only a very smart guy but an aces restauranteur, too.

  Arriving without a reservation, Bruno and I sipped a complimentary kir in the vestibule for less than five minutes and then were ushered to a table for four, a real treat for two, since nothing abets the appetite like some room to spread out and relax. Then we looked at the menu, and I was thrilled by the way that it had changed. The indifferent and rather anonymous assortment of oysters of yore had gone, to be replaced by a tempting selection of first-rate ones, including Prat ar Coum from ostreiculteur Yvon Madec in Brittany, Gillardeau's, and even oysters from the Etang de Diana in Corsica (they're some of the best I've ever eaten). Since the menu offers oysters par la piece, or individually, instead of forcing you to order a standard-issue seafood platter, we tather piggishly decided on a dozen Prat ar Coum, a dozen Gillardeau, and six Corsican oysters with an order of crevettes rose (cooked pink shrimp from Madgascar) to start.

Crevettes rose from Madagascar @ Bob Peterson  With a good bottle of white Menetou-Salon at 29 Euros, this was a superb feast, since the oysters were impeccably fresh and perfectly shucked. I was also impressed that the waiter suggested we eat them in terms of their gradated salinity, starting with the Gillardeau, continuing with the Prat ar Coum, and concluding with the Corsican oysters. Bread from Poujauran and Echire butter round out the pleasure here, and I was also surprised to notice that the table salt is pink salt from the Himalayas, the white pepper "hand-picked in the Malabar region," and the olive oil from the Chateau d'Estoublon near Les Baux de Provence. In short, much to my surprise, Le Bar a Huitres has become a real stickler for quality, and so an absolutely terrific place for a spur-of-the-moment shellfish feed during the holidays. 

  Main courses were very good, too. I loved my nacreous filet of cod with aioli, and Bruno's sole meuniere was beautifully cooked and prepared table-side. I finished up with a perfectly aged Saint Marcellin from the grouchy Mere Richard in Lyon, somewhat curiously served with black cherry preserves, while Bruno went for a second dose of gastro theater with crepes Grand Marnier. I had my doubts about the crepes, and so was very surprised to find that they honestly tasted as though they'd been recently made.

  All told this was a very good meal for a very fair price--mind you, fish is expensive in Paris these days for reasons of depressing obviousness, to wit, there's not a lot of wild fish left to catch. And if Le Bar a Huitres isn't a destination restaurant per se, it's terrific last-minute choice for anyone who hasn't had the time to book ahead of time and wants a fine fish feed. Aside from their Montparnasse outpost, they also have branches near the Bastille, the Place des Ternes and in the Latin Quarter. 

Le Bar a Huitres, 112 boulevard du Montparnasse, 14th, Tel. 01-43-20-71-01. Metro: Vavin. Open daily. Average 50 Euros.

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  For some years now, there's been a gastro duel between the 11th and 15th arrondissements as to which part of Parisian turf is the ultimate redoubt of the new Paris bistro, and with the recent opening of Le Casse-Noix, I'd say that the 15th has just nudged ahead a bit with the opening of Le Casse-Noix (The Nutcracker). Located on the border between the 7th and 15th arrondissements, chef Pierre-Olivier Lenormand has created an exceptionally pleasant restaurant in an old atelier space that he's decorated with flea-market finds meant to evoke an eternal Gaul of thrift, wit, bonhommie and gastronomie.

  Stopping by for dinner the other night with Bruno, Carole and Laurent, I instantly liked this warm pretty dining room and the friendly welcome we received, and also appreciate their really intelligent selection of wines by the glass, including the excellent white Menetou-Salon (a theme in my life this week) that I had as an aperitif. Unfortunately we arrived too late to get at the scallops that featured on the menu as both a starter and a main course, but the 32 Euro menu offered a lot of other excellent choices, including the delicious marinated salmon--big firm flavorful chunks of the fish prepared gravlax style and served with a nice salad of shaved fennel bulb and herbs, that we all pounced on as our first course.

  Main courses were delicious, too. Joue de boeuf was prepared pot au feu style, and came as tender chunks of beef with a side casserole of delicious bouillon, poached winter vegetables, mustard and cornichons, a seasonal dish par excellence, while yellow pollack arrived as two generously served pieces of fish cooked in salted butter with a side of pleurottes mushrooms. A very good trio of cheeses with a side salad and an excellent ile flottante ended this fine feast at a restaurant that I'd recommend with no reservations.

56 rue de la Fédération, 15th, Tel. 01-45-66-09-01. Metro: Bir Hakeim. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Prix-fixe 32 Euros.

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 Thoughts on Asian Eating in Paris

  Freshly back in Paris after a trip that involved two stopovers in Singapore, I was stung by two truly miserable Asian meals this week. Dinner at Le Santal, a long-running Vietnamese place that wouldn't be in business anymore were it not for the fact that it's just across the street from the Opera Garnier, was flagrantly over-priced and dispiritingly mediocre, a case-book study in how with a few exceptions Asian food in Paris has remained stuck in a timid and dispiriting post-colonial time warp. The other big let-down was at Lao Tseu, a stylish Chinese hole-in-the-wall in Saint-Germain-des-Pres where I've been a regular customer for at least fifteen years (I used to live just a few blocks away in the rue du Bac). Both meals involved gummy flavorless starters--flabby Nem at the former, non-descript Shanghai style dumplings at the later, and main courses at both that ran to a slick of dreary vegetables with shrimp or chicken in corn-starch sauce with almost no flavor whatsoever.

  Lacking in sincerity, pride and authenticity, these meals are unfortunately much too typical of the Asian offer in Paris, with the notable exception of some very good Japanese tables. Thinking back on the brilliant meal that I had at Billy Kwong, chef Kylie Kwong's restaurant in the Surry Hills neighborhood of Sydney--I'm still dreaming about her "Homestyle Fried Biodynamic Eggs with Organic Tamari & Homemade XO" and homemade rice noodles with baby clams in chili-soy sauce, both terrific, as was everything else I ate there that night, I don't understand why Paris has to settle for such mediocrity. 

  Why, I wonder, is the usual Asian offering in Paris so lackluster and dumbed down? I think we have to be more demanding, and one of my hopes for 2011 is that a couple of clever local restauranteurs will re-boot Paris's Asian offerings so that the city begins to approach the leagues of San Francisco, Sydney and London for anyone who seriously loves Asian cooking in all of its multifarious splendor. 

 

Tuesday
Aug032010

LE SAOTICO, Good Modern French Cuisine du Marche, B ; LE COMPTOIR DU RELAIS, Open Seating Sunday Dinner, C+/B-

  A long time ago in the Latin Quarter, there was a terrific little restaurant called Le Reminet. It still exists, and it's still pretty good, but since founding chef Hugues Gournay and his delightful wife Anne Surcouf moved on, it's fallen off of my regular go-to list. So I was delighted the other day to have a note from Surcouf telling me that she and her husband had opened a new place, the curiously named Le Saotico (according to Surcouf, the word is Norman slang for the little gray shrimp found in the waters off of their native Cotentin peninsula in Normandy).
  Now they've set up shop in a good-looking duplex space on the rue de Richelieu in the 2nd arrondissement. Walking there to meet a friend for lunch, I found myself wondering how they'd make a go of it in this neighborhood, since they can count on a good lunch trade from the many nearby banks, but the area goes very quiet at night. It turns out they'd thought of this through already, though, since the restaurant is currently only open from 8am-8pm, with the plan being to open one night a week for dinner sometime this Fall.
  Even though it was a quiet mid-week day in August, the dining room was busy, and by all appearances, they've already developed a crowd of regulars who appreciate both the reasonable prices and Hugues Gournay's really good cuisine du marche. Our starters--a gateau of eggplant and feta and a mix of seasonal vegetables with mozzarella both deliciously demonstrated both Gournay's commitment to quality and his intensely drilled technical skills. The vegetables in both dishes were perfectly cooked, and the tomatoes in both dishes had been briefly poached to remove their skins, which were then dried and used as plate decor.
Eggplant and feta gateau with tomato relish  Main courses were excellent, too, including a large tender squid stuffed with riced baby vegetables on a bed of rice and wild lieu jaune (yellow pollack) with lime on a bed of baby vegetables that included leeks, celeri rave (bulb), carrots and shitakes. We shared an excellent crunchy homemade feuillantine filled with raspberries and cream for dessert, and finished up with Illy coffees. They pour a nice selection of wines by the glass, service is delightful, and all told, this is a terrific spot for a light, healthy, flavorful lunch in the heart of Paris. Note that they're closing on August 6 and will reopen on August 22.
Le Saotico, 96 rue Richelieu, 2nd, Tel. 01-42-96-03-20. Metro: Bourse or Richelieu-Drouot. Monday-Friday 8am-8pm. Average a la carte 35 Euros.
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   Ever since chef Yves Camdeborde opened his Le Comptoir du Relais in the heart of Saint Germain des Pres two years ago, it's been one of the hottest reservations in town, which is why I don't get there very often. The way it works here is that you need a reservation for the prix-fixe bistronomique dinner on weekdays but the place foes open seating at lunchtime and at weekend dinners. 
  I've had some excellent mid-week dinners here during the past two years, but had never come for the free-for-all feeds that occur at lunch and weekend dinners until last Sunday, when a swell English gal pal was in town from her home base in Hong Kong and wanted to eat "real French food." Since I was up in Stockholm over the weekend, the third member of our party, Maeggie, a wonderful Swiss woman who lives in Montmartre, took up the challenge and decided we'd go to Le Comptoir du Relais.
  Though my head was still spinning from the blindingly brilliant meal I'd eaten at Mistral in the suburbs of Stockholm on Saturday night, I was looking forward to some good Gallic grub, especially since Air France has now reduced its intra-European meal service to some of the worst sandwiches in the world. In fact, the one I ate on the way to Stockholm gave me serious digestive problems, and the one on the way back to Paris was just plain awful, or as the French woman sitting next to me said after biting into same, "Je ne donnerai pas ce sandwich a mon chien!" Indeed.
  Maeggie and Susan were waiting for me on the terrace of Le Relais du Comptoir, and though it was great to see them both and to be sitting outside, I instantly registered the fact that the service was agitated and imprecise in sort of a carnival barker's way. Looking at the menu, I was also gob-smacked by the prices, and when a planche (cutting board) of Eric Ospital's wonderful Basque charcuterie arrived at the table for us to share as a first course, it was skimpy and sloppily served. Maeggie's octopus salad as a main course was similarly diminutive, while Susan's rack of lamb came without any garnishes and my "Bearnaise" chicken was a good juicy bird but would have benefitted from some sort of sauce and a more generous serving of mashed potatoes--the little Staub casserole of same that came with the poulet wasn't large enough to sate Barbie's appetite, let alone mine.
  If the overall quality of what we ate was better than average, everything was boldly over-priced and by the time we'd finished our meal, a huge looming crowd had gathered on the sidewalk in front of us. I didn't want to puncture the good humor at our table, but my distinct impression of this place is that it's become a savvy tourist-oriented money-spinner. So I'd say, if you really want to sample Yves Camdeborde's rightly legendary bistro cooking do everything you can to snag a table for the excellent prix-fixe dinner in preference to the open seating service here. Otherwise, even though the quality of what's served is better than the bog-standard fare at most other restaurants in this heavily touristic neighborhood, this place is too fraught for a relaxing meal and too expensive for what's being served, to wit, in comparison Daniel Rose's prix-fixe dinner goes for 64 Euros and La Regalade Saint Honore delivers a superb feed for 33 Euros.
Le Relais du Comptoir, 9 carrefour de l'Odeon, 6th, Tel. 01-44-27-07-50. Metro: Odeon. Open daily. A la carte 70 Euros, Prix-fixe dinner 50 Euros.