Tag Archive | "dining"

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: La Boîte à Sardine

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La Boîte à Sardine, Marseilles

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

It may sound odd, but as far as I’m concerned, the best time of the year to visit Marseille is during the winter. This is when the city is quiet without its growing tourist throngs, and the Mediterranean sun is more welcome than ever. The strong wind-scoured light at this time of the year makes the city rather beautiful, too. Marseille is a wonderful weekend away from Paris as well, since it’s only three hours away by TGV train and rooms in most of the city’s hotels go for low-season rates. If Marseille is never a particularly self-conscious city even in high season–it’s bluff disinterest in travelers is one of the reasons I like it so much, actually–it’s even more devoid of any social artifice during the winter.

Spending a few days here recently, I loved the fact that no one asked me about my accent when I spoke French, probably because in Marseille, France’s second largest and perhaps most cosmopolitan city, almost everyone has an accent. The only exception was when I went for lunch to my favorite seafood restaurant, La Boîte à Sardine, which recently moved to a new location near the church of  Saint-Vincent-de-Paul at the top of la Canebière, the city’s storied main artery, which runs down hill to Le Vieux Port, or the old harbor where the city was founded as a colony by the Greeks some 2600 years ago. There’s simply no better place in this port town to get a really good reasonably priced feed of just-out-of-the-water seafood, so I popped in early and took a stool at the counter, since I knew they wouldn’t waste a table at this very popular place on a single diner.

 

Table with life vests at La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

Table with life vests at La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

I was very much hoping my favorite dish would be on the catch-of-the-day menu—sea anemone beignets, but when I asked the owner, Fabien Rugi, who directs the restaurant from behind the bar in front of the kitchen, he told me that he hadn’t been able to get any the day before and suggested I go have a look at the fish stand (they also sell fish) to see what else might tempt me. Before I could slip off my stool, though, he slid a glass of white wine across the bar and said, “Votre accent–vous n’etes pas d’ici.” No, I told him, I’m not from Marseille. “Vous venez d’ou? Vous etes Belge?” (Where are you from? Are you Belgian?”) No, I told him, I come from across the sea.

There were a few beautiful loup de mer (sea bass) on the stand, but I knew I’d have to order quickly to get my hands on one, since the restaurant was filling up quickly, and the reason it has so many regulars is that Rugi sources his menu from local small-boat fishermen. So I darted back to the bar and ordered some shrimp as a starter and then a loup de mer. Rugi warned that it might be a lot for one person, but I knew I wouldn’t have any trouble finishing a large specimen of one of my very favorite fish. The grilled baby squid, spaghetti with langouste (rock lobster), and rougets (red mullet) also tempted, but I held firm.

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

 

If I had any doubt as to where I was, the shrimp–plump perfectly cooked crimson curls of juicy sea meat–came with a big spoonful of garlicky aioli as well as a lemon wedge, and I’d just finished my first one when I heard Rugi telling a businessman down the bar from me that he couldn’t have his fish if he didn’t close his iPad and devote his attention to his meal. “I just wanted to read the paper,” the man implored, but Rugi insisted. “Concentrate on your meal instead–how can you really enjoy your food when you’re reading? My fish deserves your full attention.” One way or another, the triangular shaped room hung with fish nets and decorated with nautical bric brac offered ample distractions of one stripe or another. I loved watching chef Celine Bonnieu at work in the kitchen behind the bar, and the high spirits of a table of molls with dolls  getting happy on a bottle of Champagne were contagious, too.

Some people might perceive of Rugi, a lean man in a knit cap who’s as light on his feet as a boxer, as being a little high-handed with his customers, but I rather admire it, because he’s incredibly proud of the quality of the fish he serves, and rightly so. And if I often have a magazine with me when I go for a solo meal, I rarely read it, for the simple reasons that I enjoy observing what’s going on around me and I prefer to focus on my food.

 

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

La Boîte à Sardine, Marseille

When my sautéed sea bass arrived, with sides of deliciously smoky tasting caponata filled with capers, a timbale of Camargue rice and some broccoli florets in lemon butter, the first thing I ate were the gorgeous fish’s succulent meaty cheeks. “Bravo!” I heard and looked up. Rugi was nodding at me with a smile and some curiosity. “They’re the best bit,” he said, referring to the cheeks and topping up my glass even though I hadn’t ordered more wine. “Les Anglo-Saxons never know to eat the cheeks. In fact they don’t really know how to eat fish at all,” he said and shook his head. The curious French habit of referring to English speakers by the name of a long gone early medieval tribe notwithstanding, I felt more flattered than patronized by his remark for the simple reason that it’s often true as concerns people who come from countries that prefer filets to anything whole.

With just a little dribble of green olive oil from a mill in Les Alpilles, the fish was superb–firm and delicately tasting of the sea. I was completely lost in its voluptuousness when a handsome blonde woman edged up to the bar next to me and exchanged ‘Bonjours’ with Rigi. Then she asked him if he served bouillabaisse, and I knew what was coming.  ”You don’t eat bouillabaisse in a restaurant!” he told the abashed Scandinavian. “It’s really only good when you make it at home!” After the chastened woman withdrew, he picked up a plump red mullet by the tail. “This is what she should eat in Marseille!” he said, to me and the previously scolded businessman a stool down, and we nodded. He was right, of course, but I also couldn’t help but thinking how the cameo I’d just witnessed summed up so much of the impasse between Marseille and the rest of the world. In this city, you see, they’re blunt, they’re proud and they’re honest, and the power of this trinity often startles people who don’t realize it’s well intended. For my part, I like knowing I never have to bring a magazine with me to lunch at La Boîte à Sardine, and if it were just out my door, I’d be tempted to have lunch there every other day at least.

La Boîte à Sardine, 2 boulevard de la Libération, Marseille, Tel. 04-91-50-95-95, Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch only from 11am-3pm. Average 35 Euros.www.laboiteasardine.com

 

 

alec  Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and has written about food and travel for The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His second book, Hungry for France, will be published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Bistrot Belhara

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Bistrot Belhara, Paris

Bistrot Belhara, Paris

It’s hard for me to say exactly when my deep love of good food first surfaced, but suffice it to say that the thing that interested me most when our local newspaper arrived on Wednesdays were the school-lunch menus, which were published weekly so mothers could decide what days they’d pack a lunch for their kids or let eat the hot meal at school. My first school, the GreensFarmsElementary School, had a crew of smiling Italian ladies in hairnets who cooked everything from scratch, so the food was usually delicious. They made lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, baked zitti, grilled Italian sausages with peppers, and lots of other hearty, healthy dishes, including corned beef and cabbage for Saint Patrick’s Day, and once when my mother ate with us in the cafeteria before an afternoon field trip to a nearby dairy farm, she got up at the end of the meal and went into the kitchen to thank the cooks. I’d returned to the rails for a spoon for my butterscotch pudding, and so witnessed the scene. Abashed by my mother’s thanks, one of the cooks replied, “You’re very welcome, Ma’am, but it’s a privilege to feed the children,” she said.

Similarly, I loved going to restaurants, which was an infrequent pleasure for me as a child, and not only because they offered an opportunity to eat things like egg rolls or fried clams (Howard Johnson’s) that Mom didn’t make at home, but because they were so interesting. I loved watching the people, catching snatches of other people’s conversations, observing all of the little dramas unfold all around the room–here a birthday party, there a quarrel or a romance. I couldn’t have expressed it this way then, but aside from the food, what I fascinated me was that every restaurant is like a little theater where you can glean a lot of information about where your are.

All of this came to mind the other night when I went to the Bistrot Belhara, a very good new bistro deep in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. I lived in the 7th arrondissement for many years, first on the rue Monsieur and then on the rue du Bac, and so I was sort of bemused to find the same cast of characters who populated my life for many years.

Diners at Bistrot Belhara, Paris

Diners at Bistrot Belhara, Paris

While waiting for Bruno, I listened to the cashmere sweater drapped couple next to me planning a golf holiday in Mauritus, while the quartet to my right was fulminating about Francois Hollande. There were at least a half-dozen velvet covered Alice bands in the room and tight chignons galore. On a weekend night, the coat tree just inside the door was hung thick with loden, Barbours and vintage Burberry, as if many of those dining in this snug but handsome old-fashioned dining room with stenciled tile floors and bare wood tables were planning to head off to hunting parties in the Sologne after dinner. All told, the clientele presented such an intricate and irony-free tapestry of the habits, manners and preoccupations of the French bourgeoisie that it would have made great material for a sociological dissertation.

As I sipped a glass of white wine and studied the menu, I wondered what sort of gastronomic baseline chef  Thierry Dufroux would chose to cater to such a crowd. On the one hand, he’s had a really distinguished career cooking in the kitchens of the Grand Hotel du Palais in Biarritz, Michel Guerard, Bernard Loiseau and Alain Ducasse in Monaco, and on the other, every chef surely has to do some sort of culinary calculus in terms of what’s likely to please customers from the neighborhood in which he or she has chosen to locate. To be sure, there are some addresses that will pull people from all over Paris if the food’s good enough, and which will ring bells in the foreign press, but before that happens, he or she is very much dependent pleasing the locals. And as I know not only from the dozens of Sunday lunchs to which I was invited to by the Englishman and his French wife who were one set of landlords while I lived in the 7th–I’ll still never forget my astonishment when I realized one warm May afternoon when their windows were tightly closed and the radiator in the dining room was still hissing that they were mutedly making an attempt at match-making between me and their shy sturdy scholarly daughter–and many years of living in the 7th, what makes these people happy is a penny-wise vieille France cuisine bourgeoise.

The menu read well, though, and the restaurant was packed, so I guessed we’d eat well. In the meantime, the cordial waiter answered a question I had even before I’d asked it when he told me that the restaurant’s Moroccan sounding name actually refers to a type of very tall wave in the Bay of Biscay off of Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the Basque Country, a reference that might seem obtuse until you’re reminded that the chef worked in the Basque country for years and that it might be very roughly transliterated into “High Tide.” Once Bruno finally arrived from the distant suburb of Paris where he’d currently working, we ordered, and a homey well-made amuse bouche of butternut squash soup with brousse de brebis (fresh ewe’s milk cheese) and croutons announced the beginning of a very good meal.

As part of the 38 Euro prix-fixe menu, Bruno’s terrine of pheasant and patridge with foie gras was beautifully made and had a politely feral and charmingly bosky flavor, with twin tridents of Romaine referencing the fact that Dufroux had done time with Ducasse. And in a similarly autumnal register, my scallop stuffed ravioli in a light veloute of cepes might have made a pious old maid blush with pleasure and was just the sort of dish that the locals would love, because they’d never get up to anything this elaborate in the kitchen themselves. This dish tipped the kitchen’s hand, too, since it tacked safely away from cooking that might jar conventional ideas of French gastronomy while heading squarely towards a welcome haven of technical perfection and generosity informed by a well-disciplined creativity and the use of excellent produce.

 

escaloppe of veal sweetbreads, unctuously cooked to the texture of a nervy custard and garnished with baby potatoes and some Bayonne ham.

“Escaloppe of veal sweetbreads, unctuously cooked to the texture of a nervy custard and garnished with baby potatoes and some Bayonne ham.”

Our main courses were excellent, too. Bruno’s flaky golden petit pâté chaud was the type of exquisite dish that many of the other habituees of this restaurant that night might have enjoyed back in the sigh-inducingly long gone days when they could still afford full-time cooks, and it was filled with hashed duck and foie gras, one of the best pairings ever imagined in France. While Bruno was in a gamey mood that night, I couldn’t stay away from the escaloppe of veal sweetbreads, unctuously cooked to the texture of a nervy custard and garnished with baby potatoes and some Bayonne ham. In an inspired sleight of simplicity, the silky salty ham flattered the sweetbreads, and the appropriately unassuming sauce of deglazed pan drippings did what a sauce should do, which is meld the dish together. This preparation was perfect summary of Dufroux in the kitchen, too–casually elegant, technically perfect, and respectfully traditional with a tweak of irreverence to make it his own.

Small wonder then that this restaurant has so impressively established itself as a neighborhood favorite within months of opening, and this while walking the tight-rope of an affluent but reflexively parsimonious clientele who are wary of anything that wanders too wide of the mark of traditional French food.

I don’t own a loden coat, and I’m not planning on buying one anytime soon either, but I really enjoyed this meal too, and not just for Dufroux’s cooking, but for the alert, gracious service and the fact that even though it’s not a bargain address, it’s remarkably good value for the money given the caliber of the cooking.

"A Mont Blanc–pureed sweetened chestnuts topped with whipped cream and little fluttering shreds of gold leaf"

“A Mont Blanc–pureed sweetened chestnuts topped with whipped cream and little fluttering shreds of gold leaf”

With no trace of being tongue-in-cheek, the grand finales of our meal were vieille France enough to make me chuckle. Bruno had a Mont Blanc–pureed sweetened chestnuts topped with whipped cream and little fluttering shreds of gold leaf, and I had a fluffy rice pudding with caramel sauce, raisins, hazelnuts, pine nuts and pistachios. So everything about this restaurant is sincere and wholesome, and it’s not only a good choice for a supremely French bistro meal with sly haute-cuisine credentials, but a fascinating place for some sociological sleuthing if you agree with me that there’s nothing better than a neighborhood restaurant in any city for an intriguing keyhole wide view or two of local life.

 

Bistrot Belhara, 23 rue Duvivier, 7th, Tel. 01-45-51-41-77.www.bistrotbelhara.com Metro: Ecole Militaire. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday and Monday. Prix-fixe 38 Euros. Average 40 Euros

 

alec   Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine and has written about food and travel for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Saveur, Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler. He is the author of Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City’s 102 Best Restaurants (Random House), and a Contributing Editor at Saveur Magazine. His second book, Hungry for France, will be published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Travels with Larry Olmsted: 12 Great Las Vegas Restaurants

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vegas

 

In recent years Las Vegas has emerged as one of the world’s greatest eating cities, home to more acclaimed celebrity chefs and Michelin-Star winners than anyplace else, but also full of less glamorous yet still delicious down home eats.

With close to 40 million annual visitors, Las Vegas is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, and its clientele is amazingly diverse, from every part of the country and every corner of the globe, and the cuisine it offers represents this, with everything from kaiseki to tapas, Hawaiian specialties to Brazilian barbecue, rare Florida stone crabs to fish and chips. Carnivorous Vegas is awash in steakhouses, with the best selection in the world – and at every price point – while it also has an amazing array of fine French dining, with the most famous Parisian masters represented here. Then there is Las Vegas’ own homegrown specialty, the all-you-can-eat buffet, offered here in more iterations and staggering variety than anywhere else.

In that vein, the following are twelve eateries that are all exceptional within their genre, span a huge variety of tastes and price points, are located on and off the Strip, and in every case will deliver what the Vegas visitor desires most – a delicious and satisfying meal.

Continue reading 12 Great Vegas Restaurants

 

larry   Award-winning travel journalist Larry Olmsted is a Contributing Editor to US Airways Magazine and Cigar Aficionado Magazine and “The Great Life” columnist for Forbes.com.

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Les Enfants Rouge

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Les Enfants Rouge, in the Marais

Les Enfants Rouge, in the Marais

Before I say anything else, let me state that Les Enfants Rouge, a new bistro in the Marais, is a good little restaurant and that Japanese chef Daï Shinozuka, who most recently cooked with Yves Camdeborde at Le Comptoir du Relais, is a solidly talented chef. This established, the two main things that I took away from a meal here with a friend the other night is that “la Bistronomie,” or modern French bistro cooking as pioneered by Yves Camdeborde when he opened La Regalade in 1992, is no longer cutting edge or even particularly directional in Paris, and that the noise level in Paris restaurants is rising so relentlessly as to put them in the same deafening category as most new places in New York or London.

For anyone who doesn’t know the back story, “bistronomie’ is a contraction between “bistrot” and “gastronomie” that was coined in the 1990s by the French food writer Sebastien Desmorand, and it was arguably first championed by Camdeborde when he left the kitchens of the Hotel de Crillon, where he’d trained with chef Christian Constant, often referred to as the father of this movement, because he trained so many of the chefs who practice this style of cooking in Paris today, in 1992. The core idea was to lighten and enhance traditional bistro cooking by applying the exigencies of haute cuisine cooking to the bistro idiom. The idea was to revisit the traditional ‘cuisine du terroir’ with a certain creativity and to juxapose modest ingredients like offal or inexpensive fish like mackerel with luxurious garnishes, fresh herbs, lighter sauces, and tweaks of unexpected seasoning.

Perhaps the most ardent advocate of “la bistronomie” has been the French website and guide Le Fooding, which was founded to shake up the totemic conventions of restaurant reviewing and food writing in France in the same way “la bistronomie” was rebooting the much loved culinary traditions of the Paris bistro. What I realized during dinner at Les Enfants Rouge, however, is that this movement is now almost twenty-two years old and has become the new normal in Paris, and as the idiom has become mainstream, it’s no longer surprising. Depending on the restaurant, it’s often very satisfying, even superb, but today it lacks the originality it once had for the very fact of its omnipresence. In fact, it’s now easier to find a ‘bistronomique’ meal in Paris than it is to find a traditional bistro feed. And in similar terms, Le Fooding has become a trend-arbiting institution alongside many of the other established French food guides. Don’t get me wrong–I like Le Fooding, but its unconventional, anti-establishment edge has dulled as its business model has grown. Like almost every magazine in the world, they’ve bowed to the sirens of celebrity marketing and now have a dreary column of celebrities’ favorite restaurants, and it also still surprises me that they don’t invite readers to comment on their reviews when when even the venerable Michelin guide has opened itself up to feedback from the gastronomic peanut gallery. So ultimately, I find myself wondering, What’s next?

Still, for anyone who wants to discover a textbook perfect example of bistronomique cooking, Les Enfants Rouge is a very good address, and it also goes some way to redressing the fact that the Marais still doesn’t have as many good restaurants as the popularity of this Paris neighborhood would warrant. Arriving at this small attractive room off of the trendy rue de Bretagne, the space came off as sort of a small art gallery with contemporary paintings spot-lit on the white walls and a mixture of tables dressed with white table cloths–a break from the normal convention of bistronomique addresses, and a few, i ncluding ours, that were bare and looked like old linoleum topped school desks.

 

Saute of mushrooms with an egg.

Saute of mushrooms with an egg.

Service was attentive and charming, and after my friend Lady K from Washington and I had ordered, we were served little cups of foamy soup as an amuse bouche. It was so delicately flavored that we had trouble identifying its ingredients, but there was a vague but pleasant smokiness to the soup that suggest bacon. Next, Lady K was served a saute of mushrooms topped with an egg in a little enameled casserole dish perhaps that emphasized the stylized rusticity of the cooking here, and I ended up with a tureen of delicious chicken bouillon garnished with chopped mint, cubes of celery root and carrot, and, in very direct reference to Shinozuka’s previous kitchen (Le Comptoir du Relais) tapioca, which sounds much better in French as “perles du Japon” (Japanese pearls). Both dishes were earnest and well-executed, if more polite than intriguing.

Roasted filet of cod with razor clams.

Roasted filet of cod with baby clams.

My roasted filet of cod with baby clams was impeccable, however–a perfectly cooked piece of fish with the gently briny baby clams adding both texture and gastronomic punctuation to the quiet flavors of the cod. Lady K’s veal breast was beautifully cooked, too–browned so that it was crusted and caramelized and then slow-braised so that she could eat it without a knife. Her garnish of slivered griddled baby potatoes and chopped bacon in a light foamy cream sauce was excellent, too, for its bosomy autumnal earthiness. in fact the only problem mid-way through our meal was that the room had become so noisy that we had to shout at each other across the table to be heard. I think this was partially due to the full house in a small, low-ceilinged room with no sound-absorbing fabric in the windows, but also to the fact that the ambient noise level in Paris restaurants has risen dramatically during the last few years. I don’t regret the whispery staidness that once prevailed in many Paris restaurants, but it’s obvious that a certain aural restraint is falling by the wayside in Paris as its done long ago in London and New York. In New York, I’d note that many of the most amped up diners seem to be young Wall Street yahoos with absolutely no awareness whatsoever of those around them, while in Paris, it seems that an old Gallic taboo on being loud in public spaces has been discarded by a younger crowd out to have a good time.

Cheese board at Les Enfants Rouge

Cheese board at Les Enfants Rouge

I finished up with a generously served and well-selected cheeseboard, while Lady K had a nicely made Baba au Rhum, correctly soaked tableside from a good bottle of rum from the island of La Reunion. Because the room was so noisy, we decided to have coffee down the street at a cafe instead of lingering, and once we were in a calmer setting, Lady K said, “So what did you think?” “It was a good meal,” I replied, “But it lacked any distinctive signature.” Or in other words, it was like so many other ‘bistronomique’ meals I’ve had in Paris during the last twenty years, but I don’t fault chef Shinozuka for this. Instead, I think he’s a talented chef and a very diligent student of the idiom in which he was trained. But for the first time in years, I do find myself wondering: So what comes next in Paris?

Les Enfants Rouges, 9 rue de Beauce, 3rd, Tel. 01-48-87-80-61. Metro: Arts et Métiers, Filles du Calvaire or Saint-Sébastien-Froissart. Open Wednesday through Monday for lunch and dinner. Average 35 Euros.

 

lobrano-150x150  Alexander Lobrano was Gourmet magazine’s European correspondent from 1999 until it closed. 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)

 

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: La Table d’ Eugene

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La Table d' Eugene, Paris

La Table d’ Eugene, Paris

Perched on a hillside overlooking Paris, Montmartre, once a country village and later a bohemian neighborhood known for its lively cabarets and popular with artists like Toulouse Laurtrec and Utrillo, is one of the most visited districts of the city. The basilique du Sacre Coeur and the Place du Terte, where the artists once congregated, are its main attractions, but to enjoy the handsome church and the fine views over the city from its steps, I send out-of-town friends up there early in the morning and also advise them to skip the tourist-heavy Place du Terte in favor of a long walk with no itinerary through the streets of the neighborhood to enjoy its particular atmosphere and interesting architecture.

If they think they’ll want lunch during their idle perambulations, I book a table for them at this excellent little restaurant on a side street near the Mairie (town hall) of the 18th arrondissement, a lively area with lots of cafes and interesting boutiques. Chef Gregory Maillard worked with Eric Frechon at L’Epicure, the three-star table at the Hotel Le Bristol, before going out on his own with this intimate and casually chic storefront dining room. The precision and flawless quality of his sophisticated market-driven contemporary French comfort food shows off why Paris still deserves its vaunted gastronomic reputation, too, since you still eat remarkably well in small neighborhood restaurants like this one. The haute-cuisine background Maillard brings to the modern- bistro register is his signature, too.
The dining room at La Table d' Eugene, Paris

The dining room at La Table d’ Eugene, Paris

Plotting a post-summer vacation reunion dinner recently with pretty Franco-American Claire and handsome Breton Denis, a delightful couple we met when we were staying in the same bed-and-breakfast in Stonington, Connecticut almost ten years ago, I knew this place would be ideal, since they’re as avidly gourmand as Bruno and me but dislike food that’s fussy or too cerebral. So two of us began with the terrine of duck foie gras topped with a fine quince gelee, and two settled on the langoustine tails wrapped in crisply fried pastry parcels and garnished in a successful feint at the Asian palate with squid’s ink wafers, cucumber slices, sesame seeds and fresh coriander.
The pork chop at La table d'Eugene

The pork chop at La Table d’Eugene

The main courses we chose on a cool night were  thick pork chops in a lush sauce of pan drippings with a garnish of elbow-macaroni lashed with more of the same deeply rich sauce and chopped ceps and truffles for the gents, and a juicy rack of lamb with vegetables for Claire.

An exceptionally good cheese plate gave the boys an excuse to order a final glass of wine, while Claire tucked into an elegant lemon tartelette with a fine pane of caramel and a crumbly buttery crust.
The only drawbacks to this fine restaurant are the expensive wine list, service that’s a little more formal than it needs to be, and the fact that reservations have to be made well ahead of time. But these constraints don’t stop it from being my favorite restaurant in Montmartre, and Claire and Denis loved it, too.
18 rue Eugène Sue, 18th, Tel. 01-42-55-61-64. Metro: Jules Joffrin or Marcadet-Poissonniers. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch menus 29 Euros, 35 Euros. Average a la carte 60 Euros.
lobrano-150x150   Alexander Lobrano was Gourmet magazine’s European correspondent from 1999 until it closed. 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)

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: La Rotisserie d’en Face

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La Rotisserie d'en Face, Paris

La Rotisserie d’en Face, Paris

The dog days of August are a challenge in terms of finding places to eat when friends come to town, but they also offer me a rare opportunity to revisit places I haven’t been for a very longtime. So when a gaggle of pals decided on dinner a few weeks ago and wanted somewhere in Saint Germain des Pres, it occurred to me that we could go to La Rotisserie d’en Face, a place I hadn’t been in years.

When chef Jacques Cagna opened this studiously ‘Country French’ style dining room specializing in roast chicken in 1992, I lived on the Left Bank and went often, because the straightforward food was good and it was reasonably priced. You often saw Cagna here, too, because his eponymous two-star main table was just down the street, and he was rightly proud of the simple but good-quality French comfort food he served here. So the La Rotisserie d’en Face got a lot of press coverage, and then became a listing i most of the world’s major English language guidebooks to Paris. It remains in these pages today, too, although I rather doubt that most of the writers have been back recently.

Cagna retired several years ago and closed his main restaurant, but this place soldiers on and fills a need in a popular tourist neighborhood for simple uncomplicated French food as much today as it did on the first day that it opened. I think concierges must love it, too, since it hits the right buttons for being within walking distance of their front doors, and also moderately priced with a menu to please almost all comers.

The fact that it was August and many Parisians are away on holiday notwithstanding, this is a restaurant that people who lived in the neighborhood pretty much stopped going to many years ago, because it became known as a tourist table. Rightly or wrongly, this is just a fact of living in a heavily touristed city. When a restaurant’s clientele becomes largely transient and mostly foreign, Parisians don’t want to eat there anymore. The other night, though, there was a large well-dressed family from Bordeaux, but as far as I could hear, almost everyone else was foreign, including the four of us, Americans who have all lived in Paris for a very longtime.

La Rotisserie d'en Face, Paris

La Rotisserie d’en Face, Paris

Eyeballing the menu, we agreed it looked more innocuous than interesting, but no one had any trouble finding something to eat. As it was a warm night, three of us had the cold tomato-zucchini soup with basil and the fourth chose the chicken liver and duck pate with watercress salad. Served in white porcelain bowls, the soup brought business-class dining to mind, since even at the height of tomato season in France, it lacked any depth of flavor or the rich scarlet color of ripe tomatoes and was timidly seasoned. The translation of the French word ‘courgette’ to ‘zucchini’ on the menu was another indication of their predominantly American clientele, too, since the British and most other northern European call them courgettes. In America, the vegetable must have either arrived with or gained popularity after the arrival of Italian immigrants. Though it was served too cold and defaced with a squirt-bottle dribble of sticky brown sauce that was probably some derivation of Balsamic vinegar, the pate was “correct,” as the French would say, the adjective in this instance meaning something that’s acceptable. Of more interest, actually, was the accompanying watercress salad, since these crisp peppery greens seen to infrequently on Paris menus were ideal for rousing heat-dulled appetites.

Our exceptionally attentive and polite waiter, who automatically spoke to us in English, because who else comes here but English-speakers and he’d overheard us speak English, asked the three of us who ordered the roast chicken with potato puree if we wanted a wing (i.e. breast) or a leg, a nice touch, and told me when I asked that he sells many more wings than legs. The fourth diner chose the ‘pastilla’ of guinea hen, eggplant and pine nuts in a honey sauce. Well, the birds were sad fowl, with dry compact meat with very little flavor and the sort of elastic skin that’s created by heat lamps. They were described as ‘spit-roasted’ and ‘free-range,’ but the hopefulness elicited by these phrases sputtered as soon as we tucked in, and almost as if to emphasize the sorry anonymity of these poor poulets was the way they were garnished–with a single sprig of flat parsley and a few cubes on unripe tomato. The accompanying potato puree was ‘correct,’ but the jus that sauced our plates was remarkable only for nearly total absence of flavor.

Pastilla at Rotisserie d'en Face, Paris

Pastilla at La Rotisserie d’en Face, Paris

Meanwhile, the pastilla had flown the coop in terms of what this word should mean in Moroccan cooking, where it’s a specialty. Instead of flaky layers of pastry interleaved with fowl, my friend got a floppy confectioner’s sugar dusted crepe-like reticule stuffed with a “correct’ ragout of guinea hen and eggplant. Almost as some sort of vegetal consolation prize, her sack was accompanied by a large serving of salad and a few cubes of unripe tomato were scattered on her plate as–as what? Well, something decorative rather than edible. Not surprisingly, a pall briefly settled over the table as we tasted our food, and it was only banished by good conversation, a nice bottle of Saint Veran, and the well-intentioned ministrations of our very nice waiter. No one was tempted by dessert, and when we sat down on a cafe terrace for a coffee after dinner, one of the gang accurately judged the meal we’d just eaten as “Correct, sans plus,” or acceptable, but not more than that, helas!

La Rôtisserie d’en Face, 2 rue Christine, 6th, Tel. 01-75-85-14-60. Metro: Odeon. Open Mon-Fri for lunch and dinner. Saturday dinner only. Closed Sunday. Lunch menu 23 Euros, 28 Euros, 37 Euros.; average a la carte dinner 45 Euros.www.larotisseriedenface.com

 

lobrano-150x150    Alexander Lobrano was Gourmet magazine’s European correspondent from 1999 until it closed. 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)

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: La Table des Anges

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La Table des Anges, Paris

La Table des Anges, Paris

Unfortunately it doesn’t happen very often, which is why I appreciate the very rare pleasure of spontaneously deciding to try a restaurant in Paris even more. As a food writer, you see, I’m obviously obliged to keep up with the latest new addresses, and since I don’t like going to restaurants on the weekend if I can avoid it–as a rule of thumb, Parisians generally cook or entertain at home then, which leaves the city’s restaurants to suburbanites or tourists, and I’m also too busy to go out to lunch, this leaves me five available meals per week to test the latest openings. This may sound adequate, but recently a whole week went by during which I didn’t find a single meal that was worthy of writing up here, even if only in negative terms.  

Yesterday, though, after we couldn’t get into “Mud,” which opened here yesterday, Bruno and I decided to go for a long walk after having spent a print-drunk day at home. Knowing that the fridge was bare, I hoped the Tunisian green grocer at the bottom of the rue des Martyrs would be open so that we could buy some asparagus and rustle up a simple dinner at home. But he’d already closed, so we keep walking up the rue des Martyrs with the idea of doing sort of a H shaped walk home. Along the way, I found myself regretting the two branches of Fuxia that have opened here–the food’s okay, but it is a chain, and also thinking that it had been a very long time since I’d last eaten at Le Cul de Poule, which was packed last night. The menu there didn’t really speak to me, though, and Bruno had already said he didn’t want to eat at a restaurant, so we keep moving, and then it started to rain again, so we stopped under the awning of La Table des Anges to wait out the shower, and of course I read the menu posted outside. It looked really good, and there was a reasonably priced 32 Euro prix-fixe, so I turned to Bruno, who said “Non” even before I’d opened my mouth. “Well, why ‘Non,’? We don’t have anything to eat at home, it’s getting late, I’m hungry, this place looks good.” “We still have some salad.” He could live on lettuce and other leaves, but I can’t and won’t so I told him I’d invited him to dinner and stepped inside.

La Table des Anges, Paris

La Table des Anges, Paris

Seated at a wooden table with Kraft paper place mats by one of friendly owners, who immediately brought us a complimentry serving of speck and salami to nibble while we studied the menu, I liked the look of this place. The exposed stone walls gave it a warm atmosphere, and the slicing machine by the chalkboard announcing the daily specials inspired confidence, too. Still, tempted though I may have been, I was not going to order langoustine risotto in a Paris restaurant I didn’t know–I’ve had good risotto exactly once in Paris during twenty-five futile years of trying, and so instead decided on the asparagus veloute and the brandade de morue, which is one of my favorite dishes. Bruno chose the homemade duck terrine and the quenelles de brochet (pike perch dumplings), and we ordered a bottle of Fleurie, a perfect Spring time wine, from the short but interesting wine list. Happily, the bright cherry-jam nose of the Fleurie dissolved whatever peevishness Bruno was still nursing over this impromptu dinner outing, and then things took a decided shift for the better when our starters arrived.

Studded with pistachios, Bruno’s duck terrine was homemade, beautifully seasoned (thyme, green pepper corns), generously served and accompanied by a ramekin of tangy onion jam. My froathy soup had a superb depth of flavor, too, and the bread served with these dishes was excellent crusty baguette with a lacy crumb and a faint perfume of wood smoke. I overheard the couple sitting in the corner across from us congratulating themselves for having found this place, too, and grinned as I watched the owner serving them each a complimentry tot of fiery hazelnut eau de vie that had been made by monks somewhere in the Yonne. I hoped we’d get to taste it, too.

Menu at La Table des Anges, Paris

Menu at La Table des Anges, Paris

Since brandade de morue, that sublime mixture of baked olive-oil lashed whipped potatoes, salt cod and garlic that’s perhaps best sampled in Nimes, can be a sorry business when it’s not made with real care, I hoped our luck would hold with the main courses. Ditto Bruno’s quenelles de brochet, which can be leaden and tasteless when made from industrial ingredients in industrial quantities. This apprehension surely explained Bruno’s alarm when the waiter revealed his enormous quenelle in a covered Staub casserole. As if reading his mind, however, he reassured Bruno that it was homemade and also explained that the accompanying sauce had been made with broth and a little cream but no flour. The quenelle’s delicate sauce was also garnished with mushrooms, carrots, baby onions and a potato. 

Potently garlicky and almost airy in its lightness, the brandade was superb, as was Bruno’s quenelle. When we claimed a well-fed pause before dessert, the owner returned to the table with two glasses of Fleurie from another producer, a thoughtful gesture, and we complimented him over his chef. “Thank you, yes, he’s very talented,” said the proprietor, who told us his name is Yan Duranceau, a young up-and-comer who has already worked at Le Grand Véfour, the Plaza Athénée and Taillevent.

Both of us finished up with fine slices of brebis d’estive, which is made by Christine Arripe at her Ferme de la Montagne Verte in the Ossau valley and shipped directly to this restaurant in Paris. The particularity of this rich but subtle ewe’s milk cheese is that it’s only made during the transhumance period from June to September in the up-mountain valleys of the Bearn. Not surprisingly, it has won a Slow Food label, and it’s just superb.

And finally, two slugs of that mysterious hazelnut eau de vie, which made our eyes water and tasted exactly the way a rafter in the attic of Burgundian barn might if you gave it a good lick–grass, dust, caramel, smoke, it was just lovely, and we walked home with the fuzzy happiness of having inadvertently discovered a delightful new everyday restaurant in our neighborhood embroidered with the warm halo induced by the monks’ skills with a still.

 

La Table des Anges, 66 rue des Martyrs, 9th, Tel. 01-55-32-24-89. Metro: Pigalle or Notre Dame de Lorette

www.latabledesanges.fr, Closed Sundays and Mondays. Lunch menu 16 Euros, prix-fixe menu 32 Euros. Average a la carte 45 Euros. 

 

lobrano-150x150   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)

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Goust

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Enrico Bernardo of Goust

Enrico Bernardo of Goust

I’ve known and admired Italian born sommelier and restaurateur Enrico Bernardo for a long time, or ever since I first met him when he was working at the Four Seasons George V Hotel, the setting from which he won the prestigious title of Meilleur Sommelier du Monde (world’s best sommelier) in 2004 at the remarkably young age of twenty-seven, with this honor following on the heels of Best Sommelier in Europe, 2002; Best Sommelier in Italy, 1996-97; and Master of Port, Italy 1995.

Not only does the elegant and charming Mr. Bernardo have a truly extraordinary nose and palate when it comes to wines, he also has a deep hands-on knowledge of cooking that he acquired while working as an apprentice at Troisgros in Roanne and Stockholm’s Grand Hotel, and it’s the profoundly sophisticated and sensual complicity that he spins between these infinitely complementary realms that makes Goust, Bernardo’s handsome new restaurant near the Place Vendome, the best new table to have opened in Paris for a long time.
Goust, Paris

Goust, Paris

For starters, there’s an ambience of worldly hospitality in the good-looking and stylishly decorated dining room on the first floor of a Napoleon III townhouse on a quiet street in the heart of Paris. The staff are polite and precise but also warm and relaxed, a service style that’s an important prerequisite for enjoying the highly curated meals Bernardo serves here. To wit, Goust is all about wine and food pairings, so the best way of dining here is to opt for a tasting menu with a different pour being served with every course.

This is what I did with my friend Ammo, who kindly invited me to join him at dinner here the other night and who also was just about the perfect person with whom to have shared such an experience. Why? This tasting concept works best when you’re with someone who’s curious, alert and observant, and yet the pleasure of savoring and discussing each pairing would have been utterly ruined by someone who took it too seriously. Bernardo’s joy is in constructing liasons that are so perfect and so passionate they seem metaphysically inevitable, which means that a meal here is an intense and intriguing experience. Fortunately, the dry senses of humor we share forestalled any drift to the lyrical. Instead we ate and drank extremely well, and appreciated every sip and every bite.
Settling in over a glass of Champagne, we put ourselves in the hands of Mr. Bernardo, who orchestrated a meal I knew would be superb from the moment I tasted the beautifully seasoned tuna tartare with an ‘egg’ filled with mango coulis. And if I didn’t know that chef Jose Manuel Miguel was Spanish (he’s from Valencia, worked at Martin Bersategui in the Spanish Basque Country and was most recently with Eric Frechon at Le Bristol), I’d have guessed it when he sent out a ruddy and deepy satisfying dish of riso alla Bomba, the short-grain rice from the fields around Valencia, with chopped razorshell clams, a good gust of pimenton and a citrus foam.
In the kitchen at Goust

In the kitchen at Goust

These days, I’m often exasperated by foam, which seems to be one of the preferred affectations of ambitious young chefs, but in this instance, the tart evanescent citric veil on the rice beautifully accentuated the gently iodine-rich flavor of the clams, which were a great foil to the al dente rice. The Manchego foam on the grilled rougets and potato with a sublime coulis of piquillo peppers was a bit timid and repetitive, however–this dish would have been just as effective in both visual and gustatory terms if it had been served nude.
The meal shifted to a more decidedly Gallic register with a gorgeous dish of poached egg with a generous garnish of black truffle on a bed of long-stewed beef and then a beautifully cooked duckling breast–juicy and rare, with a light jus and an intriguing garnish of lightly mentholated shiso leaves. The 2011 J.M. Doillot Volnay that was served to accompany these dishes was delightful and made a fascinating segue from the spectacular 2010 Weinbach Pinot Gris that has proceeded it (the wine flight began with a nice 2011 Louis Michel Chablis, followed by a 2011 Ferriato Grillo from Sicily, and a Lurton Rueda, the later being the least interesting pour). And dessert…to tell you the truth, I was so smitten with the final pour, a Graham’s Loans Tawny Port, a real invitation to musing and meditation, or as was the case with Ammo, another round of lively tale telling, that I finished this charming chocolate composition with my mind in a pleasant muddle and my camera lying idly on the table (Unless you do a blog yourself, you can’t imagine how tiresome it can sometimes be to be obliged to snap away all through your dinner instead of just enjoying it).
 As is true of any really great restaurant, Goust would be as good for a romantic night out as it is for a business meal. The lighting is good. The good bourgeois bones of the room with its handsome fireplace and parquet floor have been tweaked by the sort of 70s lighting fixture you’d expect to see in the old East German parliament building., which makes it witty looking. There’s a nice buzz in the room, too, and it’s a winningly adult, fairly priced and terrifically sincere restaurant that succeeds for being something completely unique in Paris. I can’t wait to go back, although it’s likely that my next meal will be in the new tapas bar that will soon open on the ground floor at this same address. N.B. Berardo has another card up his sleeve, too, which is a complete reboot of his first restaurant, Il Vino, in the 7th arrondissement. Suffice it to say that Italy will dominate the menu, and that the new place will be a lot of more relaxed than Il Vino, which I always liked but always found a bit too serious. Or a place I definitely wouldn’t have enjoyed going with Ammo, one of my favorite partners in gastro crime.
Restaurant Goust, 10 rue Volney, 2nd, Tel. 01-40-15-20-30, Metro: Opera or Tuileries, Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch menuy 35 Euros, Prix-fixe menus 75 Euros, 130 Euros (with wine), average a la carte 85 Euros (wine included), www.enricobernardo.com
lobrano-150x150   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)

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Bones

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The crowd at Bones, Paris

The crowd at Bones, Paris

Last summer I had the insane good luck of going somewhere I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d see in this lifetime: Tasmania, the stunningly beautiful island which looks like a piece of Australia that snapped off and floated 150 miles south. Flying down to Hobart, Tasmania’s largest city, from Sydney to meet my friends Peter and Mike for a week’s exploration of this heart-breakingly gorgeous place, I sat next to a chatty lady who poured a tiny bottle of gin into her orange juice and told me she’d moved to the island from Melbourne a year earlier for ‘private reasons.’ And when I didn’t touch that bait, she changed course and went on and on about the island’s wonderful food and wine. I had, to be sure, heard friends in Sydney rave about Luke Burgess at Les Garagistes, but nothing prepared for me for the unselfconscious and sinewy genuis of the head-to-tail farm-to-table ethos of brilliant little restaurants like Ethos or the wonderful Pigeon Hole Cafe, which served me one of the best caffe macchiato I’ve ever had. To wit, the best young Australian chefs not only source as carefully and locally as possible, they grow and make as much of what they serve as they possibly can, and its the pervasive seriousness of Tassie’s artisinal food culture that ultimately makes the island such a superb place to eat.

Curiously enough, I found myself replaying these summer meals as I walked through the snow near Place Leon Blum in the 11th arrondissement the other night on my way to Australian born chef James Henry’s new restaurant Bones. Following my trip down under, I had a keener understanding of exactly why I’d liked Henry’s cooking at Au Passage, where I’d first come across him after he’d moved on from a stint at Spring, so much–he’s a quintessentially Australian chef in terms of his relationship with the produce he uses and his cooking and hospitality style, which is warm, direct, and completely unpretentious.

Settled in over funky good bottle of La Peur du Rouge, an unsulphured natural white wine from Domaine Le Temps des Cerises in the Languedoc, a lot of familiar food-and-wine faces popped from one of the hippest crowds in Paris these days, and yet there was nothing about this massively popular place that suggested it was a scene or would become a scene. Oddly, but sort of wonderfully, it’s almost as though Henry built-in some sort of circuit breakers which will put off the poseurs who charge after every hip new address in the weekly style supplements.
For one thing, the lighting, such as it is, is harsh, with two old factory lights casting everyone in sort of a cold metalic rail-siding-in-the suburbs of Birmingham light. And then there’s the fact that the young staff here are just plain nice. In fact it’s pretty clear they’re all working here for the same reasons that are pulling customers through the door–they’re seriously committed to Henry’s sincere hearty locavore cooking and natural wines and they’re hoping to have a good time. Or in other words, there’s zero attitude here, which gives this place a laidback, democratic quick-with-a-smile vibe that has a lot more in common with Hobart than Paris (to say nothing of Brooklyn, and can we please say nothing about Brooklyn and Paris in the same sentence again for at least a decade? Thank you!).
So in Parisian terms, this place is actually sort of eccentric. Sure, they’re a couple of other local restaurant people who are deeply into coining a new idiom for casual good-times good eating in Paris–Pierre Jancou, Charles Compagnon, and Samuel Urbain notably among them, but without giving it too much thought, Henry is really pushing the boat out even further, since Bones may be many things, but it’s not a French restaurant per se. And that’s one of the reasons that it’s so interesting, so irresistible as a totem of Paris still teething its way into the 21st century.
Chef James Henry of Bones, Paris

Chef James Henry of Bones, Paris

James’s food is very nice, too. For all of the forearm tatoos, dude strut and punk-rock sound-track (fun!), Henry is a damned serious eye-on-the-ball chef, which is why his constantly evolving prix-fixe menu is a challenge he lives up to.

 I really liked this flirty little hors d’oeuvre of shaved celery bulb with smoked trout and trout eggs, was happy to taste his griddled squid with baby onions and squid’s ink again (a version of same was on the menu at Au Passage), and his yellow pollack (lieu jaune, in French) with candy-cane carrots from potager princess Annie Bertin was very good eating, too, as part of his 40 Euro prix-fixe menu. The dish that really bore Henry’s signature, however, was the pigeon with kale–a big crinkly leaf of this still little-known in the Old World vegetable that was a sight for sore eye, and salsify with a punch-you-in-the-nose-mate sauce of blood, bird juice and gizzards; I loved it.

In fact I think Henry really likes giving his clients the bird, as it were, and when we had a chat, he told me that once he knows his following here better, he’d love to serve a lot more offal and other bits and pieces that might rough up a young French crowd that’s been slowly sucuumbing to one of the most heinous of all American vices–chicken breasts. The only reason I learned to eat–and love, snouts and feet and innards of all sorts is that I moved to France, so the idea that a younger French generation is becoming disaffected with barnyard eating is an honest heart-ache for me.
Since my date was flu-ish we skipped the cheese course from the Auvergne, and side-swiped dessert instead. A composition of almonds, coffe and lemon, it was just fine, but nothing memorable–I’ve never asked him, but I just don’t feel Henry to be someone who cares very much about the sweet end of a meal. Instead he’s all about the energy and agitation of getting the feed started and the almost literal blood-and-guts of making sure you’re well fed. So despite the fact that his cooking isn’t very precise and lacks the cool-operator suave of Louis-Philippe Riel at Le 6 Paul Bert, this place matters most as the launch pad for a young man who is quite certainly fated to become a very successful and well-known chef, whether this future unfolds in Paris or elsewhere. It’s also just a big sweet gulp of fresh air for anyone who wants Paris to ignore the 3 Bs–Berlin, Barcelona and Brooklyn, and coin its own idea of a grandly Gallic good time at the beginning of this new century as surely as it did the last one.

43 rue Godefroy Cavaignac, 11th, Tel. 09-80-75-32-08. Metro: Charonne or Voltaire. Open Tuesday-Saturday for dinner, bar up front is open from 7pm-1am. Prix-fixe dinner 40 Euros for four course, 47 Euros with cheese. www.bonesparis.com
lobrano  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)

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Le Grand Bistro Breteuil

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Le Grand Bistro Breteuil, Paris

Le Grand Bistro Breteuil, Paris

For many years, Le Bistro de Breteuil has been a very well-liked restaurant in the silk-stocking 7th arrondissement due to its lovely location overlooking the Place de Breteuil, its charming sidewalk terrace for al fresco dining in good weather, and most importantly of all, its perfectly decent good value prix-fixe menu. For 42 Euros, you got an aperitif, starter, main course, dessert, half-bottle of decent plonk, and a coffee, and the quality was respectable enough so that it pulled as many staffers from UNESCO and parsimonious loden-wearing owners of those vast neighboring flats overlooking the ur-bourgeois Avenue de Breteuil as it did tourists. It was also a perfect place for any group dinner, because there wouldn’t be any tiresome haggling about who owed what, and offered some of the best people watching in Paris.

Now, restaurateuers Willy Dorr and his son Garry have rebranded this address, along with three of the other bistros they own, and the reboot means a new name, Le Grand Bistro Breteuil, and a new decor–out goes the sort of anonymous, inspired by one of those Louis somethings decor in favor of a louche lounge look that spins on a black, red and white color scheme and low lighting, an effect that comes off as both aspirationally Costes and urban Saint Tropez. They’ve also given the place a serious gastronomic gussying up in terms of a new 42 Euro menu that represents the apotheosis of a seemingly accelerating local trend towards giving a big shout out to one’s brand-name suppliers. So on the new menu at Le Grand Bistro Breteuil you get oysters from David Herve, vegetables from Joel Thiebault, olive oil from the Chateau d’Estoublon, cheese from Marie-Ann Cantin, Poujauran bread and butter from Jean-Yves Bordier. You can also order a steak, veal chop or pigeon sourced from star butcher Hugo Desnoyer for a 9 Euro supplement to the main menu, or content yourself with meat from Frank Samoyeau.

Terrace at Le Grand Bistro Breteuil

Terrace at Le Grand Bistro Breteuil

I have very mixed feelings about the branding game, since on the one hand, all of the people mentioned above do seriously excellent produce, and it’s extremely important to make people aware of all of the variables that can affect the quality and healthfulness of what they eat, and yet on the other hand, the whole branding business seems to be getting wearisomely out of hand. I mean even the lousy little menus on Air France now note the brand names of all the spirits, soft drinks and liquors they serve, i.e. Cola de Chez Pepsi, or some such. And the simple fact of the matter is that branding has always been designed to incite and assure loyal consumption of the branded product, whether its laundry soap, a hotel room, or, more recently, a restaurant meal. When it comes to cooking, however, you can stock a kitchen with all of the super-luxe pedigreed produce you like, but it’s sort of a lost cause, if the cook isn’t any good. And much more alarming than that, in some restaurants, branded produce seems to be intended as some sort of surrogate for real cooking. Or in other words, ‘Well, of course it’s going to be good! it’s Poulet Bio du 9eme Arrondissement d’Alec Lobrano (TM)!”

Anyway, I’ve never counted my chickens before they’ve hatched, and since they’re not going to as long as I’m living in Paris, I went off to meet a bunch of friends for lunch at Le Grand Bistro Breteuil with a lot of curiosity. Would this be an If-it’s-not-broken, don’t-fix-it story, or a substantial improvement to a deservedly long-running restaurant?

Well, I have to hand it to the Dorrs and to their culinary consultant, the charming and very talented chef Jean-Jacques Jouteux, since the food here is not only solidly good but even a little better than that for the fact of being made with such high quality ingredients. And the service is charming and well-drilled, too, which makes this place just the ticket for the very same demographic it so thoroughly pleased before being revised. To be sure, this is a meat-and-potatoes restaurant and not a place to come in search of cuisine d’auteur, and I also have a feeling that some of the locals aren’t going to like the rather flashy new decor. But putting that to one side, Le Grand Bistro Breteuil has been successfully retooled as a useful work horse of a restaurant for a century when Paris cooking is so auspiciously shading towards the locavore, organic and generally healthy. And hey, where else are you going to find black Hawaiian sea salt on the table without boarding the hot-air balloon of haute cuisine?

Girolles at Le Grand Bistro Breteuil

Girolles at Le Grand Bistro Breteuil

For an extra 4 Euros, I got a huge plate of French (as opposed to eastern European) girolles as a starter, an excellent buy in my book, while pals were delighted with their lobster Bellevue–a real Belle Epoque beauty of a dish, that one (+9 Euros); Thiebault vegetables with sauteed squid; and very good foie gras. None of these dishes bore any particular chef’s signature, but rather they demonstrated a well-disciplined kitchen, solid technical competence and honest respect for product.

Main courses were first-rate, too, including my perfectly cooked Desnoyer veal chop, an estimable grilled sole with beurre noisette, griddled sea bass with sauce vierge and a very good Desnoyer steak sauteed with Sarawak pepper. Appealing side dishes added to the festive, generous nature of this meal, too–you get a choice of potato puree made with Bordier butter, real frites, wok-sauteed Thiebault vegetables, sauteed spinach with green onions or arugula dressed with Chateau d’Estoublon olive oil and organic lemon. The house Bordeaux was just fine, and we hemmed and hawed over the dessert selections for a while, because there were so many things that sounded good. In the interest of research–visitors to Paris just love crepes Suzette, and I do, too, I ordered same, while the others had the daily special of baba au rhum, a superb tarte fine with organic apples and freshly made vanilla ice cream, and profiteroles with more of that just-made vanilla ice cream and Valrohna chocolate sauce.

So, great food? No, but good food, and with that swell terrace, late serving hours seven days a week, and a 19 Euro children’s menu, all I can say to the Dorrs is, shame about the decor, but hey, come on, baby, light my fire; this is a respectable and very useful restaurant.

3 Place de Breteuil, th, Tel. 01-45-67-07-27. Metro: Duroc or Sèvres – Lecourbe. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Prix-fixe menu 42 Euros, average two-course a la carte 34 Euros.

lobrano   Alexander Lobrano was Gourmetmagazine’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)

 

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