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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 Steakhouses in Paris (3)

Wednesday
Dec042013

CAFE DES ABATTOIRS--The Meat of the Matter in Paris, B

@ Serge Detalle    As the holidays approach, Paris grows busier like most cities, but even as the shopping-bag-carrying throngs thicken, the French capital retains a refreshing insouciance at odds with the atmosphere of amped-up consumer frenzy in so many other western cities. It's not that the French don't enjoy the holidays--they do--but rather that they're admirably resistant to all and any calendar-generated hype. Blessedly, there's nothing in France that approximates "Black Friday," the first day of super-discounted Christmas shopping in the United States after Thanksgiving. You don't find Santa Claus lurking in Parisian department stores, and the canned Christmas music in public spaces--garages, restrooms, malls, elevators--so common in English-speaking countiries would rightly drive the French to indignation shading to rage. 

  The commercial trimmings of Christmas aren't completely absent from France, of course--most major French magazines include Best Gifts Guides in the shrink-wrapped subcribers' editions and sprinkle some bird seed in front of luxury watch producers and Champagne houses with stultifying 'special' supplements on Champagne and luxury watches. Visually, the city veers from elegance--the beautiful lighting on the Avenue Montaigne--to the bizarre retro-disco horror of 'ornamenting' the trees along the Champs Elysees with ugly hula-hoop style lighting in garrish colors. 

  Myself, I've long since escaped from conventional Christmas shopping by gifting books, theater tickets, or--best of all--meals to my friends and family, and the first holiday gift meal of the year that I offered was to one of my very oldest friends in the world, who just happened to be in Paris before I went away on much-needed holiday in Vietnam. Thing is, when you gift a meal, it's all about the person who's receiving the gift, but this time round, I had an ace up my sleeve with the Bistrot Bellet, one of my favorite new restaurants. My pal--a New York lawyer, was in town for twenty-four hours on a fraught call to a major French corporate client, so I knew he'd be exhausted and frazzled when we met for dinner, which ruled out most of the more innovative modern bistros in Paris for the simple reason that he wouldn't have understood or liked them, and the meals most of them serve would have taken too long. So I treated him to some blanquette de veau and a good bottle of wine, and he went off into the night purring with pleasure.

  The other day, though, I was walking home from meeting someone for a drink in a cafe and my messenger bag was full of the tubs of red and yellow miso paste and kimchi I'd bought along the rue Sainte Anne (A much needed January diet is already planned). Bruno had been scooped up for a business meal, so I was on my own, and for the first time in a long time, I hadn't made plans with other friends or even given much thought to dinner, an extremely rare event in my food-centered life. I was hungry, however, but didn't feel like cooking, and so it suddenly dawned on me to take myself out for a nice but simple meal somewhere. Though I often dine alone when traveling for work reasons, and enjoy it thoroughly--having learned to eat solitary in public settings is one of the life lessons I prize most of the years I've lived in France, I rarely do so in Paris. 

   So I was vaguely thinking of ducking over to a favorite Vietnamese restaurant in the rue du Mont Thabor Indochine, the right-bank branch of Au Coin des Courmets), or even seeing what the rock of ages bistro Lescure is like these days, when I found myself peering through the window of a new restaurant just off the Place de Marche Saint-Honore in the heart of Paris. The Cafe des Abattoirs, which I'd read about, looked very appealing, so I went in and lucked out with a seat at the counter. I immediately liked the looks of this place, which had a long taupe leather mural of farm animals on one wall and a beautiful black-and-gold antique mirror that said 'Cafe des Abattoirs' at the head of the small, cozy dining room.

   The nice guy in chef's whites behind the bar set me up with a glass of white wine and some slices of delicious country ham served on a piece of white butcher's paper, and suddenly all was well in the world. Caroline Rostang, who runs the restaurant with her sister Sophie--both being the daughters of estimable chef Michel Rostang, he of the eponymous Michelin two star restaurant in the 17th arrondissement, commented the three prix-fixe menus--32 Euros, 38 Euros and 45 Euros--offered here with some of her family's signature charm, and I decided on the 38 Euro menu, which opens like all of them with a suite of hors d'oeuvres, followed by a Josper grilled bavette (skirt steak), and a choice of desserts.  

@ Serge Detalle

  Enjoying a great glass of Bourgeuil with oeufs mayonnaise, some charcuterie, and a tiny cup of deliciously earthy cream of mushroom soup, I eve's dropped while Rostang told the couple sitting next to me that the mirror in the dining room had belong to her great-grandmother and once ornamented a hotel the family had owned and that this new address is the sixth Rostang table of the sixth generation of Rostangs to work in the restaurant business. There was a festive atmosphere in the dining room, which was populated by a mix of foreigners and well-heeled young executive types from the surrounding neighborhood, and the setting and mood reminded me of the kind of good neighborhood meat restaurant you often find in American cities.

@ Serge Detalle   Since I was uncharacteristically without a camera that night and my iPhone ran out of juice after I snapped the deviled egg, I'm not able to depict the superb Scottish Black Angus skirt steak I tucked into, but it was a beautifully cooked piece of meat and came to the table with both fries and Lyonnaise potatoes and a chrome condiments caddy that contained homemade ketchup, barbecue sauce, mustard and a tomato-horseradish relish that was so good I'd happily have bought a bottle or two if it'd had been on sale. 

  I finished up with a perfectly ripened quarter camembert, and in the space of an hour and a half was homebound again with that warm feeling of well-being that follows a good well-served meal. Thinking about this guileless off-the-cuff feast the next day, the obvious occurred to me--this is a very good restaurant and a useful one two, since it's open seven days a week, so I called Caroline Rostang and scrounged some photos so that I could write about it here. She sent me some nice meatcake shots, too, including the Gascon cote du porc (above) and kefta style lamb kebabs (below).   

   This is a friendly well-conceived restaurant in a very convenient location, so if you're looking for a good timeout feed during your holiday shopping or want to treat a friend to a meal as a gift, the Cafe des Abattoirs is a terrific choice.  

Cafe des Abattoirs, 10 rue Gamboust, 1st, Tel. 01-76-21-77-60. Metro: Opera, Pyramides, or Tuileries. Open daily. www.cafedesabattoirs.com Prix-fixe menus 32 Euros, 38 Euros and 45 Euros.

Wednesday
May222013

HUGO DESNOYER Table d'Hotes--A Great Place to Meat, B+/A-

 
   Often there's no faster route to high spirits than a sudden surge of spontaneity and a good dose of extravagance (deeply considered penuriousness somehow just never seems to work). So on a gloomy Saturday morning, Bruno and I set out on a gastronomic expedition that I was certain would raise our weather-dampened spirits. We were heading to the new butcher shop that Hugo Desnoyer had opened in such a remote and very quiet corner of the remote and very quiet 16th arrondissement that it barely seemed like Paris when we got there.
 
  Or at least the Paris I know, but then everyone inhabits the same city differently. Almost from the moment I arrived here in 1986, I developed an indifference shading to aversion to the 8th and 16th arrondissements, which have always struck me, with the exception of certain small neighborhoods, as epitomizing a certain bourgeois smugness. And since none of my friends live in this part of the city and most of them feel the same way that I do, I very rarely find myself in these western arrondissements. Still, there's some handsome architecture deep in the 16th, and it's also very green. And at this time of year, rain-filled lilacs are tumbling over wrought iron fences, and you catch a glimpse of an occasional bank of peonies on a private garden here or there. (Oh, how lovely it would be to have a private garden in the city! But failing that, I'm awfully glad to have the Jardins de Luxembourg).
 
  In any event, Monsieur Desnoyer's new butcher shop turned out to be neat as a pin, and the staff just as polite and helpful as they are at Tiffany's---if you find other similarities between these two businesses, you're not wrong either. But our destination was the solid butcher block table d'hotes on a raised platform in a corner of the this immaculate white space. What we'd decided, you see, was to take ourselves out for a carnivore's feast, something Desnoyer only previously offered in a do-it-yourself version. 
  
   
  So we settled in at the table, and decided to share the faux-filet for two with a very good bottle of Haute Cotes de Beaune. No sooner than we'd ordered than the handsome and courtly Monsieur Desnoyer arrived with a complimentary plate of charcuterie, not because he knows me from a hole in the ground, but rather because with the opening of this new address, the butcher's shop where he began his career as an apprentice many years ago and is now the boss, he's celebrating his good fortune and hard work by sharing. Not only was it a generous and charming gesture, but it reminded me of why he's my favorite Paris butcher. In the suddenly testosterone jumped up big bad ego world of star butchers in Paris, Desnoyer is the quiet man who gets on with his craft and who's real pleasure is in selling people the very best meat he can possibly find.
  
   There were three other people sitting at the table, and if we were reciprocally polite, no conversation with our neighbors occurred until a kindly and very familiar looking man and an Asian friend sat down at the table, and I racked my brains trying to figure out why I knew him. When our meat arrived and we grinned wolfishly, he wished us a "Bon appetit!," and we fell into conversation. He told us he owned a a little restaurant on the Left Bank, a steakhouse, and I suddenly recognized William Bernet, the owner of the wonderful Le Severo in the rue des Plantes. Mais bien sur! He'd come along for lunch to support his star supplier, and because these two gents are really good friends beyond anything having to do with commerce. So then he ordered a really good bottle of Burgundy, and insisted we try it, and the table suddenly became very jolly as a previously shy crew recognized one another as lovers of la bonne chère (and chaire).
  
   Just as our meat arrived--a sublime and perfectly cooked piece of Limousin beef so big we took half of it home and ate it for the next three days (here, parsimony is much advised as the basis for real delectation), the brilliant and voluptuous Valerie Solit arrived for lunch. Perched on six inch heels, wearing a turban and a sexy but demure A-line coat dress the likes of which I surely hadn't seen since some long distant Easter Sunday, Solit, with her sapphire eyes, galvanized the shop. A charming lady, she's a press attache, and among her clients are the Federation Francaise de Boucherie, so of course she was coming by Hugo Desnoyer's new shop for Saturday lunch and to see how her chou-chou was getting on. I didn't dare photograph her, by the way--I just don't see myself brandishing my iPhone, which is all I had with me that day, at such a lovely lady, but there's always Google for the curious.
  
 
    William Bernet nicely offered us a bit more of his wine, which we refused (uniquely out of politeness, since it was superb), and an atmosphere of great conviviality blossomed during what had unexpectedly started to feel like some sort of primal tribal feast. I was delighted by the only element of our meal that wasn't animal derived--a copy-this-idea medley of tiny new potatoes and radishes sauteed in salt butter, but by the time we'd eaten half of our steak, it didn't even occur to me to wonder if there was a dessert option on the brief table d'hotes menu.
   
   During lunch, we'd discussed what we'd agreed would be our v. reasonable butcher's order. It was, we decided, time to stop being so open-handed everytime we went shopping together for food and wine, we really needed to start saving more money, and after such a good lunch, it would surely be easier to be more reasonable. So we joined the polite but wide-eyed line of customers waiting to be served. Staring into the cases at Desnoyer, one's pulse really does quicken, too, which is why our very recent self-exortions promptly derailed the moment a polite young butcher in a pressed white jacket started serving us. So we'd have a veal chop, and some of that goreous jambon a l'os (ham on the bone), and a slice of the pistachio-studded veal terrine, which I just can't resist, and some of the head cheese Bruno likes. Oh, and also that nice little rack of lamb, and the pork loins look good, too, and finally another faux filet to put in in the freezer. 
  
  Watching the butcher trim the meat that needed it (before he weighed it, thank you), and then wrap it--first in waxed white butcher's paper, then in brown paper, before he tied it up with red string and wrote the name of the contents on the edge of the package in loopy black script, I was very happy, since the precision of these details communicated an ample but humble pride. And he also took the time to offer a warm, low-rolling set of suggestions as to how the morsels we were buying might best be cooked. So not only had I just eaten a wonderful lunch, and not only did I know I'd be eating very well again for a few weeks to come, but I so admired the art and grace with which these butchers practiced their craft. Of course we left after paying a big thumping bill, but that's okay, because we actually don't eat very much meat anymore, and besides that, the only logo sweat shirt I think I'd ever be comfortable wearing would probably say: Carpe Diem.
  
Boucherie Hugo Desnoyer Table d'Hotes, 28 rue du Docteur-Blanche, 16h, Tel. 01-46-47-83-00. Metro; Jasmin or Ranelagh. Average a la carte 50 Euros. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.regalez-vous.com Reservations essential for the table d'hotes.
Friday
Apr202012

THE BEEF CLUB--A Mis-Steak in Les Halles, C-

   For the last year or so in Paris, there's been a sudden curious flowering of 'Anglo-Saxon' (the French often benightedly insist on using this medieval term when referring to almost any English speaking country, even Nigeria) restaurant concepts that run from burger trucks and joints to Upper East Side style dating restaurants (La Maison Mere) to some happily very decent Mexican places, with a couple of tedious mini-pastry trendlets (cupcakes, whoopie pies) thrown in for good measure. Since I love a good burger, I've been delighted by the arrival of La Camion qui Fume and Blend, and generally bemused by the profusion of Caesar salads and cheesecake all over Paris, since in the main, this is a harmless set of trends that mostly bespeak the fact that Parisian Bobos really love New York City.

  After dinner at the new The Beef Club the other night, however, I'm starting to have some serious doubts about what this trend means for Paris. If the food scene in every major city is in constant evolution, Paris isn't every major city. It's much smaller than London and New York, and without the same jumped-up financial sectors as those two cities, there's less money to spin the wheels of the local restaurant industry, which is already struggling for a variety of distinctly local factors like the moronic 35 hour work week (whoever France's next president may be, I hope they'll renounce this daft Ruby Goldberg feint at economics once and for all).

  What this means is that a big trend here has a lot more impact that it would in a larger city with a more lavish expense-account dining culture. A perfect--and rather sorry--example is the fact that almost everytime a neighborhood cafe or brasserie is remodeled these days, it turns up with a faux Costes brothers restaurant style decor. Though they're definite signs Parisians are finally becoming bored by the Costes restaurants, the ripple effect of their success is still being copied everywhere. They were the ones who pioneered the local idea of well-sourced brand-name products instead of real cooking, and they also launched a whole sad battery of recipes that are more about assembling things on plates--salmon tartare, sliced tomatoes and mozzarella, etc., or just plain applying some heat here and there than are about the transformational art of cooking. And the new wave of Paris burger restaurants and steakhouses are basically just taking a leaf from the same playbook, since they're all about prestige sourcing, too--meat from star butchers like Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec or Hugo Desnoyer, plus a smattering of tantalizing culinary snobberies like moutarde de Meaux or Ogleshield cheese, and the smart art of grilling.

  So the menu at The Beef Club offers a rather wilting and warning boilerplate of things that are likely to become ubiquitous in Paris, and what bothers me most about this is that they're not French. I'm very far from being a gastronomic protectionist, but I honestly don't understand why the beef served at The Beef Club comes from farmer Tim Wilson's farm in Yorkshire (yeah, yeah, yeah, it's grass-fed and the breeds are different from what you find in France, but so what--give me Bazas beef or Charolais or Blonde d'Aquitaine any day), but most of all I just don't get this completely misbegotten and off-kilter version of a New York City steakhouse cross-bred with some wispy English version of same  and then lightly extruded through a French sensibility. Paris already has several superb steak restaurants, like Le Severo, so why do we need the Peter Luger modeled, super market-researched The Beef Club when what we're really short of in the City of Light these days are good French bistros?

  On the basis of the crowd there the other night--lots of younger affluent but fashionably bedraggled Parisians who checked their iPhones and Blackberries constantly through dinners with which they mostly drank Coca-Cola Light, I am light years away from being part of the target demographic. Still, I might have liked this place if the food had been better than average and the service half-decent. Since starters were expensive and neither original nor very appealing--Caesar salad, Scotch Egg with salad, and grilled rabbit livers, among others, we went directly to the main courses. 

   I had a very sorry 23 Euro "Beef Burger" (as the Brits call hamburgers, a puzzling but precious little beat of verbal snobbery), a tasteless and rather overcooked burger on a stale roll that exhibited almost none of the promised garnishes of "bacon, grilled onions, lettuce, pickles, red leicester, ogleshield and sauce maison au whisky" and a side of ho-hum frites cooked in duck fat. The others had steaks, which were good, but in no way memorable, and we drank the cheapest red on the wine list, a Gigondas at 29 Euros. 

  To be fair, service was doubtless off its game because the restaurant had been reconfigured to accomodate two large tables of French food bloggers, but the amateurish and absent-minded behavior of everyone who waited on us drove Michael and Dorie right up the wall. We glanced at the menu for dessert--cheesecake, bien sur; chocolate mousse with crushed pecans and salted caramel sauce; or a fruit salad on a bed of passionfruit mousse, and decided to pass.

  "I hate this restaurant," the normally sugar-sprinkled Dorie exclaimed while we were waiting for the bill, which a waitress finally deposited on the table with an, "Et voila!" 

  With an an average meal running at least 60 Euros a head at The Beef Club, I couldn't help but comparing this place to La Rotonde, where I'd had dinner a few nights before with Bruno. There, in a grand old dining room with a decor recalling the first-class dining carriages of another era--brass coat rails and fringed silk-shaded lamps, it was a pleasure to sink into an atmosphere so profoundly Parisian. To be sure, tourists fill the glassed in terrace of this historic Montparnasse brasserie, but the low-lit booths in back are still the haunt of a cross-section of Gallic captains of industry and Left Bank power brokers, and the impeccably calibrated service--polite, alert, vaguely deferential and exquisitely wry, couldn't possibly be more old school French, which meant that I just lapped it up.  

  I'd hadn't been to La Rotonde in at least twenty years, and so had almost no memory of the food whatsoever. And truth be told, I wasn't expecting much, because I never expect much from Paris brasseries anymore. So what were we doing here? Bruno was craving oysters, I was hungry for meat, it was late, and we'd just been to a gallery show of a friend's photographs around the corner. So Bruno went with the 39 Euro menu, which brought him six Quiberon oysters, sea bass in preserved-lemon sauce on a bed of wild rice and one of the best millefeuilles I've had in Paris for a very longtime.

  I went with some oysters, too, and then had an outstanding steak tartare made with beef from butcher Hugo Desnoyer and so generously served I almost couldn't finish it. The tartare came with beautiful little mesclun salad and freshly made frites, and even though the ever dieting Bruno wasn't drinking that night in penance for a lot of Sagrantino recently consumed in Umbria, I was able to make myself happy with a little 25 cl carafe of white Macon to start, and then the same measure of a good inky Colombo cotes du Rhone before I forced Bruno to share his millefeuille with me.

  You won't get to eyeball the millefeuille, because our pretty blonde waitress knowingly and neatly divided it in half before she served us, and it looked so good that I immediately devoured my half before thinking to record it for posterity. If the menu at La Rotonde name dropped a bit--the Saint Marcellin was from the cranky La Mere Richard in Lyon, sorbets from Berthillon, veal chop and a few other tasty morsels from Hugo Desnoyer, what I quickly understood was that the quality of this restaurant is so supervailing you really don't even need these hang tags. I can't remember the last time the little playing-card squares of rye bread served with an order of oysters were actually good--they're invariably stale and taste like baked dust, but here the bread was delicious. So the next time I'm hankering after a meaty comfort-food feed, I'll give a definite miss to all of the new 'Anglo-Saxon' restaurants in Paris, and head for La Rotonde, where I'll order the 39 Euro menu, and have the following meal.

1) Terrine du moment de Gilles Vérot

2) Gigot d’Agneau de Lozère (Hugo Desnoyer) rôti aux herbes, jus et garniture

3) Baba au vieux rhum ambré 

I'm really looking forward to it, too.

The Beef Club, 58 rue Jean Jacques Rousseau, 1st, Tel. 09-52-52-89-34. Metro: Les Halles, Louvre-Rivoli. Dinner only, Tuesday to Saturday. Average 60 Euros. 

La Rotonde, 105 boulevard Montparnasse, 6th, Tel. 01-43-26-48-26. Metro: Vavin. Open daily. Prix-fixe menu 39 Euros. Average a la carte 50 Euros.