Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: A 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.