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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 brasseries (3)

Friday
Mar022012

ZINC OPERA--Enfin, A Good Modern Brasserie, B

The dininig room at Zinc Opera
 
  Ever since I escaped the suburban patch of New England where I grew up, I've been an avid student of big cities, among them Boston, New York, London and Paris.  If everything about the world's great cities fascinates me, one one of the things I find most interesting is to observe they way in which their neighborhoods evolve, which is a process that occurs continuously and often in unexpected ways. Who'd have ever believed, for example, that shabby Fulham where I lived when I was a student in London would become a flower-box bedecked bourgeois neighborhood?
 
  When I first arrived in Paris in 1986, the rise and revival of the Marais was still recent news, and after that the next part of the city to quicken was the neighborhood around the Bastille and beyond, or all of the traditionally working-class precincts of eastern Paris. Most recently, it's been the 10th arrondissement that's reawakened, and now, within the last few months, there's a new pulse in the warren of chopped up little streets behind and adjacent to the magnificent Opera Garnier that was created during the huge and rather heavy-handed 19th century overhaul of Paris by Baron Haussmann.
 
  To be sure, these streets in the heart of the city were hardly sleepy forgotten little lanes. But the zone between the Opera Garnier and the big department stores was a suprisingly awkward and rather lifeless area. Now, though, with the recent opening of an Apple store and the new W hotel, there's serious foot traffic in this little quartier after dark for the first time in decades, and in a similar vein the Avenue de l'Opera is going upmarket as airline offices are replaced by shops like Bodum. 
 
  After being pretty much dominated by crummy chain restaurants and decidedly lacklust brasseries for a longtime, new restaurants are opening in the Opera district, too, and one of the better ones is Zinc, which is run by talented chef Frédéric Vardon, who just won a Michelin star at his excellent 39V just off the avenue George V in the 8th. Having already opened two other similar brasseries--one in suburban Gennevilliers and the other Courchevel, Vardon has shrewdly perfected his concept for a new-style French brasserie. What he's come up with is an appealing modern menu of affordable, good-quality contemporary French comfort food that's served in nicely designed settings by amiable well-trained personnel, and this is why I think Zinc just might be the seedling for a chain of restaurants that would be welcome in the busier parts of Paris.
  
 
   Stopping by for dinner with my gastronomically exigent pal Devreaux the other night, she began with a pleasant vaguely Thai inspired beef salad with fine stripes of tender meat, slivered red and yellow peppers and mango, while I had the marinated salmon with salad, sliced potatoes and horseradish cream. Both dishes were generously served, nicely seasoned and made with good quality produce.
   
 
  Next up, a juicy Black Angus bavette, one of my favorite cuts of beef, with homemade frites, a lamentable rarity in Paris these days, for me, and a wonderful dish of beautifully roasted gently garlicky free-range chicken with chunky lardons, and baby spinach for Devreaux. "This is delicious," she chimed, and was also very enthusiastic about the reasonably priced and well-selected wines, with 50 cl of Colombo cotes du Rhone coming in at 18 Euros. 
  
   
  Ground breaking gastronomy isn't what this place is about, of course, but rather good quality affordable casual dining, and as far as I'm concerned, there's never enough of that in Paris these days, especially in expensive high-rent business neighborhoods like the Opera and environs. So this is a useful spot, especially since they'll also be serving three different lunch menus at 28, 23 and 17.50 Euros and offering a changes weekly bill of specials, which will run to interesting dishes like shrimp-and-sea-bream tartare, tomato and red mullet tart, Indian Ocean style tuna fritters and spiced pork ribs with sweet potato puree. Desserts could be a bit more interesting, although we were happy with pain perdu with salted-caramel ice cream and a delicious baked apple with lashing or raw-milk cream, but Frédéric Vardon's new style brasserie concept is solidly good and very clever.
  
8 rue de Hanovre, 2nd, Tel. 01-42-65-58-95. Metro: Opera or Quatre-Septembre. Open for lunch Monday-Friday, dinner Monday-Saturday. Lunch menus 28, 23 and 17.50 Euros, a la carte 35 Euros. 
  
Friday
Feb102012

LA BRASSERIE DE L'ISLE SAINT LOUIS-- A Surprisingly Good Brasserie, B

Photo @ Peter Turnley
   The tragic skid into an unappetizing senility that most Paris brasseries have experienced during the last twenty-five years is a subject I've often written about, and it remains a sad and sore topic with me, because I so loved the brasseries of Paris before they fell victim to poorly played business schemes to make them part of money-spinning chains. If I've always loved the food of Paris bistros more, nothing could beat the city's brasseries for their irresistible atmospheres of desultory glamour. In my mind's eye, in fact, the brasseries of Paris will always register as they do in the beautiful Peter Turnley photograph above. 
 
  With the recent and continuing cold snap in Paris, I found myself craving a good choucroute the other night, and having fallen into conversation about this deeply nourishing Alsatian dish of sauerkraut topped with charcuterie and various cuts of pork and a few potatoes with the elegant old woman in bus who had sweetly complimented the scarf I was wearing, I found myself cajoling Bruno into accompanying me on an unexpected mission the other night. I wanted choucroute, and I was willing to put the nice lady's recommendation of La Brasserie de L'Isle Saint Louis, a place I hadn't been in at least fifteen years, to the test. 
  
 
   Bruno balked for the same reasons many Parisians might. With the brasserie's extraordinary location on the quai de Bourbon just over the foot bridge from the Ile de la Cite, logic would tell you that it's a tourist trap. A tiny bit of Bruno's exapseration abated when we were warmly welcomed here, and things further improved when we our excellent bottle of Pinot Gris was served. Staring at the wagon wheel chandeliers overhead and the hunting trophies on the wall, I churned through my memory trying to remember on what occasion I'd last been here and with whom, but I kept firing blanks, and then Bruno's frisee and my tarte a l'oignon were served by our amiable, wry and wise-cracking waiter. Both were very good, too.
  
 
  The people watching in this black-and-white dining room was wonderful, too. Aside from two German business men getting politely sozzled across the way, on this cold winter night, the Parisians all looked like people with interesting histories. "But my book was published just after I'd returned to Paris from living in Uruguay for five years," was a snatch of conversation I overheard that made want to listen to the rest of the story.
  
  Just before the choucroute arrived, we fell into conversation with Jerome Kappe, one of the two brothers who are the third generation of their family to run the brasserie, and he told me that they actually make their own choucroute everyday, which was quite a surprise. And then the dish arrived, and it wasn't the choucroute that first convinced me that the old woman on the bus had been right, it was the potatoes. These were real peeled and boiled potatoes, and not the shrink-wrapped pre-skinned and cooked ones you find everywhere in Paris now. The choucroute was excellent, too, and so generously garnished that I regretted having had a first course. "This is really good, what a surprise," mused Bruno, but I was too happy enjoying the sting of mustard in my nostrils and the smoke on my palate from a perfectly grilled piece of pig belly to answer right away.
 
 
  Suffice it to say that I ate a lot more than I should have, but this was the best choucroute I'd had a in a longtime, and the quality of the cooking was such that I'm planning to go back soon as see if their other specialty, cassoulet, is as good as this one was. In the meantime, I've thought of that choucroute at least once a day with the deepest yearning, because it tastes so much like France, the eternal France.
   
55 quai de Bourbon, 4th, Tél. 01.43.54.02.59. Metro: Pont Marie. No reservations, non-stop service from noon-11pm. Closed Wednesday. Average 35 Euros.
Friday
Oct282011

LA STRASBOURGEOISE--A Just Adequate Alsatian, C-, and Best Choucroute in Paris

 

  Twenty five years ago, gulp, my brother and I found ourselves moping around the Gare du Nord with two hours before our train back to London on a rainy Sunday. If this scenario was already far from ideal, it was seriously worsened by the fact that we'd had about three hours sleep and had put an alarming dent into a bottle of rot-gut duty-free Prince Hubert cognac when we'd returned to our Left Bank hotel after some bar hopping. 

  I wasn't very hungry, and I know my brother wasn't either, but it was a cold, wet day and with a long journey ahead of us--these were the pre-Eurostar days when you still crossed the Channel on a Hovercraft that left you half-deaf for hours, I decided it would probably be a good idea to eat something, so we drifted across the street to a brasserie, the Terminus Nord. We must have looked pretty awful, because the sturdy older waiter in a black vest and long white apron chuckled as he sized us up. "C'etait la guerre hier soir?" he said, but I was much too wooly headed to understand that this was a joke. We weren't making much headway with the menu either with our ratty school-boy French, and then things turned from bad to worse when my brother registered that the noisy old woman on the banquette next to him was eating a pig's foot and turned green.

  "I hope you won't think that I'm an alcoholic," my bro said, recovering himself, "But I really need a Bloody Mary." I had my doubts about French Bloody Marys, but the waiter, much amused by our shared cardboard pallor, assured us that this was possible, and then he suggested that we order choucroute garni. He was met with two blank stares. "It iz rotten cabbage with peeg," he kindly told us in English. This sounded like a real horror story, but he insisted. "Ze Bloodys, some Riesling, choucroute with peeg, you sleep in train, feel much better. Yes?"

  Well, the nice guy turned out to be absolutely right, and brother and I loved the choucroute, which arrived as a stainless-steel tray full of delicately pickled sauerkraut, sausages--Francfort, Montbeliard, bacon, a pig's knuckle, and brined pork with neatly turned boiled potatoes. The sharp mustard stung me back to life right off the bat, and this glorious Alsatian farmer's feed became something I crave every Fall when the temperature drops.

  As I went on to discover during many years of living in Paris and traveling in Alsace, it's never as good in the capital as it is on its home turf, but it's one of those dishes I seasonally crave, so the other day, before heading off to Reims and Troyes for the weekend, it occurred to me that I might finally check out La Strasbourgeoise, a brasserie in front of the Gare de l'Est, for lunch before my train. I'd read glowing reports of this place from various French food critics, and when I looked their website, I saw they had a "formule express"--choucroute and a glass of Riesling or a beer, for 18.50 Euros and flapped out the door.

  On the way over there, I was hopeful, reasoning that if this place was right across the street from the Gare de l'Est, the Paris train station that serves Eastern France, including Alsace, the choucroute would have to be pretty good, since they're serving connoisseurs of this dish day in and day out. It was sort of a playing-hooky treat to be going out to lunch alone, so I was in a good mood when I arrived, and the welcome was very polite and the fly-in-amber dining rooms of this decidedly old-fashioned place were pleasantly sedate and quiet. 

  Glancing at the choucroute my neighbor was eating, I slightly recalibrated my expectations. It definitely wouldn't be as good as this dish once had been at a great little Alsatian restaurant, L'Alsaco, which no longer exists and where the owner taught me that choucroute/sauerkraut/fermented cabbage preserved in a light brine had been invented by the Chinese and brought to Europe by the Tartars and the Mongols, or at Chez Jenny, the big Alsatian brasserie on the Place de la Republique, or Le Bec Rouge in Montparnasse, my two current favorite places for choucroute in Paris. But hopefully it would be decent. One way or another, the service was charming--when the man next to me fumbled for an excuse to order a third beer after his choucroute and before his coffee, the waiter said "Ah, but Monsieur, it makes me happy to see someone who's taking their time." Kind and suave, in one fell swoop.

  When my choucroute arrived, I finally tasted the Riesling I'd been promptly served in a glass with a ribbed green stem, and it was surprisingly good. The black juniper berries in the hot mound of choucroute, aka sauerkraut, were a good sign, too--less reputable places skimp on or skip them. The various cuts of pork and sausage clearly weren't Slow Food caliber, but still I hoped for the best, or, as it turned out, second or maybe third best. Though there was nothing flagrantly wrong with the dish aside from a deflating mealy steam-table potato, the sauerkraut was very timid and the charcuterie was charitably commercial, more critically, industrial. Oh well, the service here was cordial and it was a pleasant to be in a restaurant where the staff so clearly take pride in their work, but what this meal really accomplished was to remind me that I had to get to Chez Jenny for one of their honey-basted rotisserie-roasted jarret de porc on a bed of choucroute as soon as I possibly can. That, or plan a weekend in Alsace sometime soon.

Le Bec Rouge, 46bis Boulevard du Montparnasse, 15th, Tel. 01-42-22-45-54. Metro: Falguière or Montparnasse. Open daily. Average 35 Euros.

Chez Jenny, 39 Boulevard du Temple, 3rd, Tel. 01-44-54-39-00, Metro: République. Open daily. Average 35 Euros.

La Strasbourgeoise, 5 rue du 8 Mai 1945, 10th, Tel. 01-42-05-20-02. Metro: Gare de l'Est. Open daily. Average 35 Euros.