By Alexander Lobrano
I love the 10th arrondissement, because it still has a lot of real Parisian atmosphere and hasn’t yet become infested with Starbucks and Subways. Instead, this until recently rather forgotten corner of Paris is continuing to emerge as one of the city’s most interesting food neighborhoods, mainly because of the happy chicken-and-egg situation that low rents make it a great location for young chefs setting up shop on their own and the creative types who’ve been colonizing the quartier steadily for the last ten years provide them with an eager local audience.
Having lived most of my life in large cities, I’m fascinated by urban ecology, and walking to dinner at Le Galopin last night, I sensed that the east bank of the Canal Martin has reached that sort of perfect ripeness between renewal and decrepitude that usually presages a tipping point. The last time I was in the rue Saint Marthe, where this wonderful bistro is located, was when I went to La Tete dans Les Olives (which I reviewed on this site) a year ago, and this narrow cobbled street so Parisian it looks like it could be a Hollywood backlot had changed a lot. Many of the little houses here had brightly painted doors and had clearly been renovated and there were several fun-looking cafes and interesting new restaurants. To be sure, I still passed two drug dealers decked out in major rapper bling, but they’re part of the urban ecosystem, too, and they wouldn’t be around if demand wasn’t creating supply.
Le Galopin occupies a corner space that was once a cafe, and it has a jaunty teal blue facade and big windows overlooking the street, which made it look both appealing and sort of Edward Hopper-esque when I spotted it from afar. Inside, though, the place was packed with a noticeably sexy looking young crowd and a table of three—Dorie, Michael and Molly, who were patiently awaiting this late-comer (I got out at Colonel Fabien Metro station and walked round this large traffic circle in a panic twice before finding the street that would lead me to dinner).
On a cool night, it was warm inside, and it smelled of good cooking. We sipped a really good white Cheverny, and the two very friendly waiters went to great pains to explain the haiku-like–it was just a list of ingredients really, 42 Euro prix-fixe menu before dinner started. We’d have two amuse-bouches, a starter, a fish, a meat and then two desserts. The first dish was a crunchy prawn from Madgascar with mustard leaves in an airy white foam of smoked mozzarella, and it made a terrific first impression of young chef Romain Tischenko’s cooking and immediately heightened our expectations (I found out about this place from a friend who lives a few doors down, and she told me that Tischenko had won on “Top Chef” in 2010, but since I don’t watch television, this wasn’t the bait that she intended it to be).
We crabbed a bit about the Republican primary candidates, which drew an appreciative grin from the handsome black guy sitting at the table next to us, and then our second course arrived–a clear and deeply ruddy guinea hen bouillon with sliced green onions, several slices of pretty crimson carrot–vegetables here come from Annie Bertin’s organic farm in Brittany or the fabulous company Terroirs d’Avenir that is supplying many of the best new small Paris restaurants with high-quality produce from small environmentally correct producers, tiny cubes of fowl and ‘groseille de Mer.’
I had absolutely no idea of what a sea gooseberry might be, and in case you don’t either (and only the marine biologists among you might), here’s a link that explains what they are: http://www.microscopyuk.org.uk/mag/indexmag.html?
As far as I could make out, they were present more for their texture than taste, but one way or another the bouillion was excellent, and we learned something new.
Just two tiny courses into this meal, and I was already impressed by the generosity and the imagination of Romain Tischenko, who was working away like mad in the miniscule kitchen in the corner of the room. His creativity and evident respect for the produce he works with brought to mind two other places that I’ve been to recently and really love–Septime and Chatomat (both reviewed on this site).
Next up, a really delightful composition of white button mushrooms; watercress; nubbins of colored cauliflower; marigold petals, which were unexpected but added some potent autumnal punctuation to this dish; and foie gras cream. Crisply grilled brill on a bed of crushed potatoes with grains of lemon, shitaki mushrooms and griddled baby leeks followed, and then two of us had duckling and two of us veal, which came with parsnips puree, pea shoots, and slices of raw daikon and parsley root, a terrifically nuanced constellation of flavors and textures.
Tischenko’s desserts were brilliant, too. On the menu, they read rather enigmatically: Apple/Walnut/Chestnuts and Vodka/Grapes/Lovage. The first one turned out to be a financier made with ground walnuts, spelt flour and honey with a slice of pear, crushed candied and fresh chestnuts and some fresh chestnut cream, and the second was a textural game of crunchy bran and buckwheat ‘ashes’ with sliced red grapes, vodka-spiked cream and lovage. The first time I’d ever run into this particular idea–a sandy or ashy texture for food, was at Mugaritz in Spain six or seven years ago, and it’s interesting to see that it’s now crossed the Pyrenees and made its way to Paris.
Both desserts were excellent–refreshing, original and slightly mysterious, which is very good place at which for any chef to sign off. Walking along the Canal Saint Martin after dinner, I couldn’t help but thinking that Paris is currently being swept by a brilliant wave of talented young chefs and terrific new restaurants, and chatting with the delightful Adeline Grattard at Yam’Tcha this morning, she seconded my opinion: “Gastronomically, Paris is more exciting than it’s been for a longtime,” she said.
She’s right, and Romain Tischenko at Le Galopin is very much at the center of this gastronomic excitement.
Le Galopin, 34 rue Sainte-Marthe, 10th, Tel. 01-42-06-05-03. Metro: Goncourt, Belleville & Colonel Fabien. Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch menus 19-24 €, dinner tasting menu 42 €.
Alexander Lobrano was Gourmet magazine’s European correspondent from 1999 until its recent closing. Lobrano has written for almost every major food and travel magazine since he became an American in Paris in 1986. He is the author of “Hungry for Paris” (Random House), his personal selection of the city’s 102 best restaurants, which Alice Waters has called “a wonderful guide to eating in Paris.” Lobrano’s Letter from Paris runs every month in Everett Potter’s Travel Report. Visit his website, Hungry for Paris.(Photo by Steven Rothfeld)