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)
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.
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.
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.