Though I really regret the socio-economic homogenization that’s taking place at an ever accelerating rate in the 9th arrondissement, because I loved the more motley mix of inhabitants I found when I first moved across the Seine in 2000, there’s one way that this change is having a brilliant impact on the neighborhood. As I’ve observed before, a week doesn’t go by without another really good new restaurant opening its doors to feed the hungry throngs of affluent bobos, who are mostly too busy to cook themselves but love good food (oh, and yes of course I know that longer term residents than me might be tempted to tag me as a bobo, or bohemian bourgeois, too, but I think that at this stage of the game I’m shading towards eccentric, since being bohemian is a privilege of those under 40, and while I might be accused of being many dubious things, one I’m most decidedly not is bourgeois).
In any event, the 9th arrondissement has become an irresistible location for ambitious young chefs like the tandem who have just opened the very promisingL’Atelier Rodier, the wonderfully named Destin Ekibat, a delightful and talented young chef from the Congo, and Santiago Torrijos, who was born in Colombia (note, too, that the wonderful influx of international culinary talent to Paris shows no sign of stopping). They met while working in a suite of the same kitchens, including those of Robuchon, the Bristol, the Westminster and the Plaza Athenee, before going their own ways to the Raphael and Guy Martin respectively. But they knew they wanted to do a restaurant together, and so they shopped for a space for several years, finally found this old cafe in the heart of Bobo Land.
They did a lot of the work here themselves, too, and now it’s a handsome space with exposed stone walls hung with photographs, pleasantly kitsch seventies wallpaper and an open kitchen with paned windows in the back. Arriving, the waiter offers to take your coat, and there’s a drinks trolley that suggests an aperitif, perhaps a nice red Cinzano like my friend Odile and I had before dinner on a rainy week night. So in terms of its look and its service, it immediately presents itself as someplace that’s more ambitious, grown-up and customer-service alert than the average new neighborhood place.
The 37 Euro prix-fixe menu was immediately appealing, too, so that even if an amuse bouche of foamy under-seasoned cauliflower soup under-whelmed, both of us like our nicely executed first courses—a tidy rectangle of dressed crab, which needed salt, on a bed of chunky celery root and cubbed Granny Smith apple for Odile and an open ravioli of wild mushrooms with a lemon-verbena spiked cream sauce and garnish of Spanish ham, which also needed salt, for me. Aesthetically soignee, made with well-sourced produce and generously served, both dishes were pleasant but also previewed the pardonable but recurring problem in this winsome young kitchen: a timidity with seasoning.
Odile suggested that the Spanish ham on my ravioli would have been better frizzled—she was right, for reasons of both texture and the richness of a little fat, and I added that the lemon-verbena sauce needed the texture of some piment d’Esplette or some other quiet fire. Herbs—maybe chives and cerfeuil, would have given similar relief to her crab, but in the end both dishes were well-prepared.
Not very imaginatively, we both had the same main course—the last thing I’d ever do to anyone with joins me on a mission of discovery is bludgeon them into eating something useful to my review. I, of course, could have ordered something different, but on a cold wet night when I was tired I wanted the pot au feu de volaille, especially after seeing it served at a neighboring table. So we both loved this dish, which came as a beautifully prepared large dice of grilled autumn vegetables—leeks, celery root, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, Japanese artichokes and a succulent slow-poached chicken breast in a bowl filled with a superb gently spiced (star anise? clove? cinnamon?) bouillon. Madame and I agreed that this was a lovely dish, and couldn’t really find anything to improve, although I couldn’t help thinking that a couple of pot-stickers filled with a stuffing of chicken thighs and legs would have been welcome.
When one of us of ordered cheese—a generous serving of excellent Salers, they served it to both of us, and then did the same with the slightly too gelatinous and under-seasoned lemon cheesecake. “This is a very easy restaurant to like,” said Odile over coffee, and I agree enough so that I went back a few days later and had a sensational dish of braised beef cheeks with a saute of artichokes, oysters mushrooms and girolles glossed with a light but thrillingly potent jus de boeuf.
If Ekibat and Torrijos are cooking this well in early days on their own, I think they’ll be doing some really spectacular food within a few months time as they become more confident, this kitchen gets broken in and they understand their clientele. I certainly intend to be on hand to find out, too, but in the meantime, my next stop will be at Premices, the other new restaurant in the rue Rodier and a louche, cool-operator looking place just aross the street from the sincere and very sweeting L’Atelier Rodier.
17 rue Rodier, 9th, Tel. 01-53-20-94-90. Metro: Anvers, Cadet, Notre-Dame-de-Lorette. Open for lunch Thursday-Saturday; for dinner Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.latelier-rodier.com
Lunch menu 18 Euros, dinner menu 37 Euros, five-course tasting menu 55 Euros, average a la carte 40 Euros.
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)