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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 Paris Bistros (16)

Saturday
Aug252012

LE TEMPS DES CERISES, B : A Very Sweet Little Bistro in the Marais

   
    I have to admit that my immediate reaction when I first laid eyes on Le Temps des Cerises in the rue de la Cerisaie in the Marais was wariness. There was just no way any restaurant with a setting as winsomely pretty and well-preserved as this little 18th century house with geraniums in its second-story windboxes and a picture-perfect mosaic facade could possibly be anything but an egregious tourist trap. Except that it isn't. Indeed, my opinion changed from the moment I stepped inside and charming young owner Grégory Detouy welcomed us and promptly brought us an excellent carafe of Rhone valley Viognier, along with some crunchy radishes and a shotglass of salt to dip them in, always a good sign. 
   
  My doubts revived, however, when we studied the menu, because the prices were so reasonable. Again, if this place existed in the sad mad mode of a prima-donna tourist hell-hole like Chartier, it struck me as extremely unlikely that the food could be very good. I kept all of this to myself, though--Bruno had been wanting to try this place, and decided there was some very real consolation in the beauty of the snug old-fashioned dining room with a zinc topped bar just inside the front door, tawny walls, bare wood tables with bent-wood chairs, and a beautiful art-nouveau framed chalkboard on the wall. The appealingly diverse crowd was also almost entirely Parisian, too, and the small packed room radiated an atmosphere of bona-fide bonheur.
  
   
   Detouy returned again to see if we had any questions about the menu. I asked about the specialities of the restaurant and he cited the escargots, boudin noir facon Parmentier (shepherd's pie made with blood pudding) and steak Paname, an entrecote garnished with a vinaigrette of shallots, garlic and fresh herbs. He also told us that he was a chef by training but had fall in love with the idea of running a real old-fashioned bistro while working at Chez Janou, and had decided to take the leap and become an owner when this place became available two years ago. Our curiosity encouraged by several glasses of the good white wine, we continued asking questions and learned that the small charming house was originally built during the Middle Ages, had once been an annex to a Celestine convent and first became a bistro in 1830. To his credit, he also never once let on that he might be impatient or alarmed by these two garulous and slightly bibulous men, Bruno and me.
  
 
 
  Since I've spent so much of the summer traveling outside of France, I was aching for my first course, a grandly Gallic warm salad of Morteau sausage and potatoes, and it was superb--the smoky sausage from the Jura was obviously of good quality, it came with a nice little nosegay of fresh herbs and salad leaves and was very generously served. Bruno liked his seared sliced tuna on eggplant caviar, too, and the contrast between these two dishes well-expressed chef Pascal Brebant's smart menu. Brebant, who trained with Marc Veyrat, offers a run of bistro classics side-by-side with modern dishes like lamb marinated in lime juice with spices and the salmon steak with sage and a Porto vinegar spiked cream sauce that Bruno enjoyed as his main course.
  
   
  I decided to have the Steak Paname (Paname is French slang for Paris) when Detouy told me that it came with freshly cut and fried frites, which are regrettably rare in Paris these days. Thin and often rather leathery, entrecote is not one of my favorite French cuts of beef, especially since it's inevitably overcooked. So it was a terrific surprise when this steak arrived rare and juicy as ordered, with a pile of frites so good I almost had to drive my knife into Bruno's hand to keep him away from them. The shallot-garlic-and-herb vinaigrette that sauced the meat was excellent, too, and was also the detail that made me realize that this an absolutely perfect bistro to send foreigners to. Why?
  
   During the 26 years I've lived in Paris, I've noticed that visitors are often letdown when I take them to a real bistro. This is because many people from big cities all over the world are accustomed to food that's lighter and brighter (in terms of seasonings and garnishes) than what you usually find in an old-time French bistro. The modern palate likes herbs and vivid spices, favors fish and vegetables, and exhibits a preference for briefer cooking times. So Detouy, a shrewd restaurateur, and Brebant, an experienced and talented cook, have pulled off the nifty hat trick of creating their two strut menu and also preserving the warmth and conviviality of a traditional pre-war bistro without creating a pastiche. To be sure, the red-fruit sable we shared for dessert was dull and the bread here could be better, but this is a delightful little bistro, and a place that's instantly won a place on my to-go list, especially since it's open on Sunday nights and is so reasonably priced.
  
31 rue de la Cerisaie, 4th, Tel. 01-42-72-08-63. Métro: Saint Paul. Open daily 8am-2am. Lunch menu 13 Euros, Sunday brunch 22 Euros, Average dinner a la carte 30 Euros.
  
   
Thursday
May032012

LES JALLES--A Cool-Operator Bistro de Luxe, B-

   Arriving for dinner at Les Jalles with Julie, a delightful English woman who lived in Paris for many years before recently moving to her husband's native Sydney, and my Alabamian pal Judy, I parted the heavy velvet drapes at door of this storefront restaurant in the rue des Capucines and immediately drank in the decorously provocative atmosphere of a pleasantly perfervid dining room with good lighting--maybe even the best lighting I've seen in a new Paris restaurant for many years, engineered to induce a certain sensualist's nostalgia for the twenties Paris of writer Djuna Barnes and Nancy Cunard. The mis-en-scene was so lush, in fact, that I instantly thought of the brilliant photographs of Brassai in his book Paris de Nuit and also of the harmlessly risque Proustian vintage 'art' postcards that once got a rise out of corpulent old gents with pince nez. So this artfully staged space intends to flatter anyone who walks through the door by casting them into a public tableaux that's knowingly freighted with sexual mystery and, surely to a lesser degree, possibility.

   Thing is, the three hungry and bedraggled journalists we were didn't add any kindling to this beautifully laid but unignited fire, and most of the other clients didn't either, since they seemed to have come through hotel concierges or because they work for the banks and luxury goods companies in nearby offices and know proprietresses Magalie Marian and Delphine Alcover's other terrific restaurant, the Bistrot Volnay, just around the corner. The Bistrot Volnay often has an attractive and appealingly louche crowd, so perhaps these types will try the new address, if they're not scared off by the desire-wilting prices practiced here.

  But wait! What about the food? Oh, right, the food. Well, as none of us work for BNP Parisbas or have the evident wealth of the Middle Eastern gent who was drinking something vivid and green on crushed ice in a snifter with dinner and who kept showing off the emergency navigation locator system on a steel watch as fat as an oyster, we dithered like pensioner librarians, constructing our meals from the tarif backwards, rather than the poetry forward. So Julie demured on a starter, which was a shame, and Judy and I both had the baby fava bean veloute with ravioli stuffed with fresh chevre and sarriette at 15 Euros a serving. 

  The soup was pleasant enough, but needed salt and more depth. While our plates were being cleared, however, I saw our main courses already coming up through the window pass of the kitchen, and stepped on the brakes. We weren't, I told the waiter, in a hurry, and in fact, as a group of friends who hadn't seen each other for a very longtime, we truly didn't want to be rushed. He shrugged--"But your plates are ready, and the service is like that in France."  Or you're a dim-witted foreigner who wouldn't know better. But we did actually know better, and we well and fully stopped the insanity-in-the-making of an hour-long dinner. 

  When we discussed it, the ladies wondered if they weren't trying too hard to turn tables, but I didn't think that was it. Rather, the newly opened kitchen hasn't found its rhythm yet, and neither has the service--I haven't been in a Paris dining room in years where there were so many staff, racing about and almost bumping into each other at the same time that wine remained unpoured and bread baskets empty. I also think this place has been doped by a few very good early reviews and has gotten a bit ahead of itself.

   After our main courses arrived, though, a ripple  of private pleasure passed around our table, since the food here is actually quite good. Though the portion was scanty--they were scallops, rather than the usual nice fist-sized organ, my ris de veau were at once crunchy--the breading, and creamy, the veal sweetbreads themselves, something only a very talented chef could pull off, and Judy loved her big thick pearly white chunk of cod with cooked and raw (thin shavings) of asparagus in a well-made jus de viande.  Julie was a bit less enthusiastic about her steak, which came with a potato gratin rather parsimoniously garnished with morel mushrooms for 33 Euros. 

  We liked our Givry, one of the least expensive reds on their list but still in the 40 Euro range, and service was very pleasant for having been tinkered with. Dessert? No, that didn't come to pass, but here's the menu:

  As it was, Julie was off to meet friends for a nightcap, and no one really wanted to be hit up for another 14 Euros. "Restaurant prices have gone through the roof this year in Paris," Judy observed, while we waited for her bus, "And apart from the perspicacious Philippe Toinard in A Nous Paris, the food critics don't quite seem to want to understand that anything over 50 Euros is quite a lot of money for most people for a single meal." She was right, of course, which made me a bit melancholy on the walk home. If the food was good, what I really liked at Les Jalles was the atmosphere, which isn't something I'll be able to avail myself of very often. 

Les Jalles, 14 rue des Capucines, 2nd, Tel: 01-42-61-66-71.  Métro: Opéra or Madeleine. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Average a la carte 65 Euros.

Wednesday
Jan252012

L'AFFABLE--Good Modern Bistro Cooking but Lacking Affability, B-

 
  While Yves Camdeborde rightly gets major credit for brilliantly shaking up the definition of what a Parisian bistro should and could be when he opened the original La Reglalade in 1992, there were lots of other places that were pushing the envelope in Paris at the same time. On of them was L'Oeillade (The Wink) in the rue de Saint Simon in the 7th. I was living in the rue du Bac then, and went to L'Oeillade often when it first opened, because the chef so deftly applied the best innovations of la nouvelle cuisine (remember that old chestnut?) to traditional bistro cooking with always interesting and occasionally delicious results. Or to wit, he served  stock-based sauces rather than cream-enriched ones, made liberal use of fresh herbs, reduced the cooking times of meat, fish and vegetables, and didn't hesitate to jolt a traditional French recipe with herbs, spices or ingredients from foreign kitchens. In particular, I remember a sublime saute of veal and al dente Spring vegetables brightened by a generous pinch ras el-hanout, the profoundly aromatic blend of spices used in the Moroccan kitchen. 
 
  Unfortunately, L'Oeillade eventually developed sort of an arch vieux garcon (batchelor) personality and the prices went up a lot, so I stopped going. I guess I wasn't the only one either, since it closed down sometime back, but this affluent neo-aristocratic corner of Paris desperately needed a good bistro, so I wasn't suprised when a friend who still lives in the neighborhood--the brilliant Franco-Portuguese daughter of my old concierge who's now a very successful business lawyer, mentioned that the lights had gone at these premises again and suggested dinner.
 
  Her and my friendship blossomed inspite of her fiendishly nasty mother, who was my concierge for years and who has now retired to Porto, because I used to give her all of my old English-language magazines when she was in high school and studying l'anglais and also during long lazy August morning chats when we were often the only people in the building back in the days when Paris went into a month-long summertime coma. Ana loves to read; I love to read. She loves good food; I'm obsessed by it, etc., so eventually a real friendship was born despite the fact that my land lady somehow got wind of our having become pals and told me in incredulous tones that becoming friends with your concierge's daughter is a real ça ne se fait pas, or something that just isn't done. So another thing Ana and I would seem to share is a certain social seditiousness.
 
  In any event, the new place is called L'Affable, and it looked affable indeed when I showed up for dinner the other night, with a great new decor of milk-glass globe lamps and geranium-colored banquettes and an oh-so-7eme crowd of loden coat, cashmere sweater, Moncler parka and Hermes scarf wearers of various ages and both sexes. There was a real buzz in the room, too, but even though Ana and I were fifteen minutes late after having had a glass of wine in a cafe nearby first, the owlish owner told us our table wasn't ready and walked away, which hardly got things off to an affable start. There was no one at the bar to get a glass of wine from, so we stood and chatted rather awkwardly for another fifteen minutes and finally I suggested that we decide on a plan B if we weren't seated within another fifteen minutes. 
 
  Happily, we were, and our waitress was delightful. She apologized for the wait, offered us glasses of very good Pouilly Fume, and set us up right away with excellent hot bread and very good butter. Ana started with a superb terrine de foie de volaille that was brilliant seasoned with a crushed five-spice blend (fennel, star anise, Szechuan pepper, cinnamon and cloves), while I went with a curious sounding steamed egg with salmon, which turned out to be delicious. The egg and several thick chunks of salmon were steamed, garnished with a foamy cream sauce and sprinkled with crushed bacon. This dish was so good, in fact, that I'm sure I'll attempt to recreate it myself, since it'd be a terrific main course for a weekend brunch.
 
  Our 23 Euro bottle of Bordeaux, one of their cheapest bottles, was excellent, too, and reminded me that I have to make more of an effort to overcome my reflex to drink Rhone Valley wines and embrace the Bordelais. Between courses, I sporadically eavesdropped on a spirited and very interesting conversation about the new French version of the Huffington Post at the table next to us--this quartet had trouble imagining how the admirable Anne Sinclair, Dominique Strauss-Kahn's long-suffering wife, could possibly do an objective job, but I never missed a word of Ana's hilarious accounts of her frequent business trips to Saudi Arabia and Qatar--she goes so often that actually owns one of the bizarre full-body swimming costumes women must wear to swim in public there, and her frustrations at not being taken seriously by the Middle Eastern men she often works with, and we also talked up a storm about food and wine, as we always do.
  
 
  I also found myself hoping that my main course--Argentine beef filet with a citrus vinaigrette, would be as good as my starter, and especially since I'd rather have had the more interesting sounding pork belly with a salsify tatin, but that was sold out by the time we were seated. Well, the beef was excellent--very rare, tender and full of flavor in a light lime vinaigrette with slivered snow peas (mange tout) mixed with bean sprouts and crushed peanuts, a terrific garnish, and Ana loved her grilled scallops with lozenges of roasted red beet in a tangy and light-as-down yuzu fumet. No photos of same, because someone well-known in the room apparently had a fit when he or she saw me wielding a camera--I suspect L'Afffable has instantly become popular both with politicians from the nearby Assemblee Nationale as a place to dine with other pols and/or their mistresses and probably also a locally living celebrity or two. But I did manage a last snap of the friendly folks on the other side of us.
  
  We finished up with a fine plate of cheeses from the nearby and tres snob Bathelemy for me and a pear poached in spiced red wine with excellent shortbread ice cream for Ana. This was intelligent, imaginative, well-prepared food, so I finally asked the waitress who was in the kitchen, and she explained that chef Jean-François Pantaleon had previously cooked at Apius in the 8th and had teamed up with the owlish guy at the door who wasn't very affable--Olivier Helion, to create this chic little bistro that's a gang-busters success. 
 
  Over coffee, I asked after Ana's mother, as I always do, and we had a good laugh, as we always do, since this subject is the only taboo between us. I rather suspect that I was the proxy for the fury Maman felt when the Porto cobbler she was madly in love with as a young woman moved to Brazil with a policeman rather than sucuumbing to her charms, but who's to say. And don't even think of asking me how I found this out.
  
   Walking home on a rainy night after dinner, I mused over the cooking at L'Affable, which, while modern and pleasant, certainly isn't breaking any new ground. Instead what it reveals is how much the Parisian definition of bistro comfort food has evolved during the last twenty years. In 1992, almost no one had ever heard of Tonka beans (the sweet vanilla tasting bean that's so very modish in Paris right now), appearing on the chalkboard menu as a foamy emulsion on half-salted cod steak, or the combava, a sort of gnarly lime-like citrus fruit, that was used in the sauce on my beef. If the lessons of nouvelle cuisine first began to be well and truly integrated into modern French bistro cooking twenty years ago, a sourcing revolution has made the world's produce affordable to almost any Parisian chef and an increasingly well-traveled and novelty oriented public is ever on the alert for exotic new tastes and textures. Contemporary French bistro cooking has thus become so profoundly cosmopolitan that is runs a vague but still acceptable risk of becoming deracinated.
 
  So would I go back to L'Affable. Well, yes, I probably would, with my trailing reluctance being about their prices, which are stiff, and the hospitality style. The waitresses are charming and hard-working but a small stylish Left Bank table like this one needs seriously charming and customer-oriented service if it's going to turn into a long-running address.
L'Affable, 10 rue de Saint-Simon, 7th, Tel. 01-42-22-01-60. Metro: rue du Bac. Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch menu 26 Euros, average dinner a la carte 50 Euros.
Tuesday
Jan102012

L'INTENTION--Decent if Timid Intentions in the Marais, B-

 

  Though the ambient consumer culture in most Western countries presents aging as akin to a slowly developing case of the plague, I enjoy the annual privilege of notching another year on my belt. I'm much happier today than I was when I was twenty-one, and I've also lived long enough to see the outlines of an interesting and rewarding life emerging out of the ether of youth. In fact one of the more amusing things as time goes by is a deepening understanding that the to-twenty-something-year-old ears tiresome bromide that 'all experience is somehow useful' actually turns out to be true.

  On those painfully always too early-to-work mornings, because they followed too-bibulous-and-too-late-to-bed evening after evening, when I was grinding cabbage after cabbage to make enough coleslaw to feed a hundred hotel guests at noon--one summer I worked as a salad chef in a hotel kitchen on Fire Island of all places, I never dreamt that this tedium would yield valuable experience. In the space of a few hours, I had to make grated-carrot-in-gelatin salad (the crowd at this hotel preferred orange or cherry Jello, just for the record), macaroni salad, tomato salad, tuna salad, rice salad, three-bean salad, and others, and I went through big institutional jar after jar of Sweet Life brand mayonnaise, bottles of lemon juice and frighteningly cheap olive oil, and, I'm afraid to admit, my hygiene as I hastily executed these chores was, well, let's say it was casual to put it politely. Fortunately, I never poisoned anyone to the best of my knowledge, and during other similar college summers, I also worked variously as a bus boy, a waiter, and a line cook, and I was just awful at all of these jobs. What these long ago activities left me with, however, was a real hands-on knowledge of how restaurant kitchens and dining rooms really work and a profound respect for all players in the restaurant business. 

  What brought all of this to mind the other night was when I showed up at L'Intention, a new bistro in the Marais that opened last July, and the very polite but slightly harried young man in the dining room sheepishly told me that he'd be doing everything himself that night, i.e. all of the cooking and also waiting table, because his waitress was out sick. I assured him that I was sure everything would be just fine, and my friend Greta and I would be understanding. Since there were only three tables of two in the dining room, I was pretty sure he'd be okay, too, but when Greta showed up, I told her we should order right away so that our orders could be staggered between those of the table that was already occupied when I arrived, and those who were seated a few minutes after she sat down.

  The simple little dining room with exposed stone walls, modern art on the walls, modern lighting fixtures and dark wooden tables had the same winsomely sincere aura as the short menu did, too. The three starters--mache salad with hazelnuts and a beet-and-tarragon vinaigrette, parsnip soup garnished with boned confit de canard, and leeks with a poached organic egg, salad and a creamy mustard vinaigrette all appealed and were all offered in PT or GT--half or full portions, a nice touch, as was a risotto with pumpkin and Parmesan cream. 

  There were three main courses, too: poached roasted guinea hen with smoked bacon, creamed cabbage and chestnuts; daube de boeuf with baked polenta; and salmon slow cooked with winter fruits (quince, apples and pears) and vegetables (carrots, parsnips and turnips) in a casserole. Well, we both ended up ordering a half portion of the leeks and the daube de boeuf, because that's what we both wanted. To be honest, I tried to cajole Greta into the risotto and the salmon, but she wasn't budging.

  The leeks were pleasant--neatly trimmed and tender and the accompanying egg perfectly poached. I'd have liked the vinaigrette to be more authoritative, though, and this dish very much needed more salt and pepper. The daube de boeuf was not quite what I was expecting either, since it came as a decidedly cartilagenous single slice of tender beef in a curiously sweet red wine sauce with nice little Nicois olives and a wedge of slightly dry oven-baked polenta. If it was a nicely made dish, the sauce lacked the ruddy depth of a really superb daube like the one chef Dominique Le Stanc serves at La Merenda in Nice, and I'd have preferred the polenta to be creamy and rich with Parmesan as opposed to solid.

  I've thought a lot about these two dishes during the last twenty-four hours, since I make a sometimes agonizing effort to be fair to a chef as sincere and competent as Cédric Barbarat, who previously cooked at La Cour Jardin restaurant at the Hotel Plaza Athénée and most recently at Sofitel Pullman de Versailles. As I learned many years ago, working in a kitchen is seriously hard work, so working in a kitchen and simultaneously running a dining room is a real high-wire act. So under the circumstances, this was an agreable meal that was served with charm and generosity, but I'd like Barbarat to channel his lustier instincts in the kitchen, where I think he's currently too timid, and then this nice little bistro will likely see me again. Oh, and he should also take the cheeses he's planning to serve of any given service out of the fridge earlier, and refuse delivery of a cheese that was as many miles from being ripe as the camembert that was served with the Saint Maure and compte that comprised the cheese course we split as we finished up an excellent bottle of Le Petit Canon de Lariveau, a canon-fronsac by winemaker Nicolas Dabudyk that's a terrific food wine and a great buy at 22 Euros a bottle. Overall, though, Barbarat's intentions are good and mine are too.

L'Intention, 3, rue du Roi-Doré, 3rd, Tel. 01-42-74-31-22. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Average 40 Euros.

Thursday
Dec292011

LES AFFRANCHIS--A Charming Neighborhood Bistro, B 

  After lavish good eating over the Christmas weekend, my appetite entered this week on tender, timid paws, and were it not for the pleasure of a jolly night out with Johanne, George, Joe and David or a tete a tete with my delightful friend Dorie, I'd certainly have been tempted to maintain a slightly monastic regime, which in my book runs to soup and salad with decorous portions of fish, chicken and pasta. I'd been hearing good things about Les Affranchis, a new bistro in the 9th not far from my front door, however, and since it was also one of the rare recently opened tables that hadn't shut down for the week between two holidays, I booked there the other night for dinner with Dorie. 

  Arriving, I liked this place immediately, since the service was notably friendly and attentive, the room was nicely lit, and as I took the place in, I noticed that it had been decorated by someone with a remarkably good eye, a sense of humor and a good searcher's sleight of hand at the local fleamarkets. An old-fashioned gramophone occupied one corner of the service bar, and there were wryly amusing posters and old advertisements framed on the walls. The Paris they riff on is mostly the city during the fifties and sixties, which creates a soothing atmosphere of a rather amorphous nostalgia, right down to the fact that the young waiter--less schooled than I am in the possibly perceived slights of sexism, eagerly exlained the animated image of the little red go-go dancer on the restaurant's website as evoking the days when Pigalle was still unabashedly naughty.

  Dorie and I sipped a good Pouilly Fume at a very fair 7 Euros a glass and dithered a bit while studying the brief chalkboard menu, because it was so appealing.

 

   Dorie decided to the have the 'Cesar' salad with Parmesan shavings to start, while I eagerly renounced the feint at healthy eating I'd been feigning and went with the terrine de campagne. Both dishes were excellent. Dorie's salad came in a rather awkward deep tear-shaped white porcelain bowl, and the perfectly coddled egg and uber Ducassian neatly trimmed lettuce betrayed the fact that young chef Pierre Petit had passed through the kitchen at Rech, part of the Ducasse stable, as well as working at the Hotel du Palais in Biarritz, the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, Ledoyen and the wonderful Le Beurre Noisette, among other addresses, all within the space of twelve years. This dish was as winsome as an Easter morning, though, with one of the only Caesar sauces I've ever tasted in France that came anywhere near the real McCoy, and my terrine was earthy and almost seething with flavor, with a perfect coarse texture, and a slab of toasted country bread and a little ramekin of cornichons. 

  So we were off to a very good start, and the phantom thought in the back of my mind as I enjoyed Dorie's always charming and incisive conversation, was that the renewel of the neighborhood bistro in Paris has now reached a rather glorious full gallop. To be sure, you're not likely to find a rock-of-ages coq au vin or blanquette de veau at a place like Les Affranchis, or the superb Le Pantruche nearby--another of my neighborhood favorites, but instead, bright, light, reasonably priced and intelligently inventive contemporary French cooking. The alarming heaving and creaking of the global economy notwithstanding, 2011 has been a brilliant year for good eating in Paris. It's also been a terrific year for anyone who loves good wine in restaurants without spending a fortune, since the white Saumur-Champigny we drank at dinner here was superb and fairly ticketed at 29 Euros.

 

  Main courses were terrific, too. I know I should eat less cod, for the simple reason that I'd like to leave some of this fine fish in the sea for the children of my nieces and nephews, but couldn't resist the roasted cod here because of its garnish of fennel bulb carbonara. Now this was an extraordinarily clever and delicious idea--the fish placed on a sort of fennel bulb compote with a Parmesan cream that was good but not assertive enough and a few lardons strewn through the vegetable. Dorie decided on fish, too, maigre, a firm white Atlantic fish from southwestern France that often goes under the unfortunate English name of croaker, and it came with diced piquillo peppers, an herbal pesto and grilled pine nuts as an expression, perhaps, of the fact that chef Pierre Petit is half Basque. As good as this fish was, however, what I liked most about it were the oven-roasted 'frites' of sweet potatoes (yams?), which I unsuccessfully attempted to recreate at noon today.

  After the main courses, things took a turn south. The cheese plate we shared wasn't very good and the rice pudding that followed wasn't adequately creamy, its candied pineapple and passionfruit topping a disappointment, too. I wasn't too surprised by this, actually, since the weakest link in the blossoming neighborhood bistro revival is invariably dessert, which seems to get sort of a cursory look-in an hour before the doors are unlocked for lunch or dinner by weary young chefs who don't have the luxury of a sous-chef to hive this part of the meal off on to.

  So would I come back? Yes, indeed--I'm already looking forward to inviting two delightful new nieghborhood friends--a brilliant French conductor and a remarkably talented American born pianist, to dinner here just after the New Year. I know that Emmanuel and Andrew will enjoy this place as much as I do, and I fully expect that it'll be even better in a year's time than it is today.

 

5 rue Henri Monnier, 9th, Tel. 01-45-26-26-30. Metro: Pigalle or Saint Georges
Closed Sunday and Monday.
Menus: 18 Euros (lunch), 25 Euros--two courses, 32 Euros--three courses.