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Letter from Paris: Chardenoux

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Chardenoux, 1 rue Jules Valles, 11th Arrondissement, Paris

Chardenoux, 1 rue Jules Valles, 11th Arrondissement, Paris

By Alexander Lobrano

Chardenoux has always been a very good bistro. This is saying a lot, too, since it’s also one of the very rare restaurants with which I’ve had a long and consistently happy relationship during the more than twenty-five years I’ve lived in Paris. Oh, to be sure, as is true of most relationships, we’ve had our moments. But the longevity of this connection is precious to me less for its durability than because it’s proven to be so reliably delicious.

When I first began going to Chardenoux, the neighborhood where it’s located deep in the 11th Arrondissement was still quiet and filled with artisans of various kinds–wood-workers, furniture makers, metal casters, jewelers, lamp makers and others–working in local ateliers (workshops). Previously working class, the neighborhood immediately around the Bastille was becoming trendy, however, and the eastern arrondissements of Paris were just at the beginning of the transformation that eventually made them the younger and hipper half of the city. I was living a tiny apartment next to a convent on the Left Bank. I liked it during the summer, the season of open windows, when I was often awoken by the nuns softly singing hymns. The rest of the year, though, it had the distinct disadvantage of being too far away from Chardenoux.

The chef at Chardenoux then was Bernard Passavant, and the reason I remember his name is that I owe my mad love of foie gras to him. Maybe the second or third time I ever went to Chardenoux, I ordered something called a salade folle, or ‘crazy salad.’ I had no idea what this might mean, so the big mauve slab of foie gras that topped a tidy tumble of chive-flecked match-stick-sized green beans and shaved button mushrooms came as a hugely unwelcome surprise. Why? Well, believe or not, back in those days–this was probably 1987–I not only didn’t eat foie gras, but I actively avoided it. Like many suburban Americans, I flinched at anything offal, in fact, but that night I found myself shamed into trying the duck liver by the teasing of the Greek born Paris based men’s underwear designer who was taking me out to a business dinner I’d been avoiding a long time.

“Oh, how patheeeetic!” he said. “I can’t believe it! It’s delicious, a so so so sensual luxury! You must try!” So reluctantly I did, and I’ve never looked back. I also used to love Passavant’s veal with morels; cod with a warm vinaigrette of fresh herbs; “Cervelle de Canut” (silk worker’s brain, canut being Lyonnais slang for silk worker and the term a reference to how hard they once worked in deafeningly noisy mills). which is a Lyonnais cheese speciality of fromage blanc flavored with chives, garlic, shallot, parsley, salt, pepper, oil, vinegar and white wine; and black cherry clafoutis.

Terrace at Chardenoux.

Terrace at Chardenoux.

Every meal at this beautiful little dining room with a ceiling covered with swirling floral Belle Epoque moldings, a delicate screen of etched and beveled glass and wood panels diving the room in half, and a stone clad zinc topped bar just inside the door was a pleasure. Passavant eventually left, to be replaced by Michel Cornubet, and another chef or two, but the quality of the food remained uncommonly good. When young chef Cyril Lignac took over, however, I had my doubts. I was doubtless not being entirely fair, but his food-television celebrity made me dubious, and I feared an old favorite might be rejiggered into something trendy or fussy or both. Happily, I was wrong–Lignac respected the traditions and spirit of this century old bistro when he took it over in 2008 and painstakingly restored the interior. The food was good, if not better than good, too, but I hadn’t been in here in a very longtime before a recent sunny August day when I was trying to think of a good bistro when I might lunch with a friend visiting from London. The two new places she was keen to try–Le Servan and Restaurant David Toutain, were closed, but knowing how much she loves traditional French bistro cooking and also that they serve outside during the summer when the weather’s good, I booked at Chardenoux, where I hadn’t been for several years, and kept my fingers crossed.

My date was late, but I enjoyed sitting on the terrace on a sunny day mulling over the menu over a cool glass of Chateldon. It was also a pleasant diversion to observe my neighbors, all of whom were seriously enjoying their lunches with a pleasure that was absolutely contagious.

 

Coddled eggs with girolles and favas.

Coddled eggs with girolles and favas.

Then Madame arrived, hungry, and we ordered. Since she’s a talented London based cook and food writer, we usually try to order different things, so that we can taste some variety, but on this occasion no one was giving any ground on the starter of coddled egg with girolles, fava beans, and freshly made croutons. We both wanted it, we both had it, and it was superb, since the egg yolk slicked the perfectly braised mushrooms dressed with a little jus de veau and finely chopped shallot, and the favas and croutons added an earthy high note and some texture respectively. Coddled egg starters are surefire crowd-pleasers, since they appeal to something subliminally serene and infantile in all of us, but for them to work, the produce has to be of the very highest quality. Happily, here it was.

Since I’d come into town from the borrowed house in the country 75 minutes outside of Paris just for the day where I spent much of August, I was hankering for fish, since neither of the two larger towns near our hideaway has a fish market anymore, which means the only place to buy fish is at the ice-lined morgue-like counter of the local ‘grand surface,’ or giant supermarket. Having done that once, I’d never do it again, and besides, more pleasure was to be had from having a real live barbecue, which begged for the excellent sausage made by a local farmer or some of his superb free-range pork over and over again. So I chose the cod baked with white miso on a bed of fresh peas with lardons. The gently meaty taste of the miso flattered both the fish and the peas, while the lardons added texture and salt but most all appealed to that deep primal limitless yearning so many people–me very much among them–have for cured pork, aka bacon.

The cod at Chardenoux.

The cod at Chardenoux.

I rather envied Madame her sweetbreads, however, since they came with baby carrots and an elegantly acidulated sauce of chopped capers, lemon and meat juices spiked with tomato and turmeric. They were impeccably cooked, too, but when I tasted them, I immediately found myself thinking that a side of tagliatelle would have been a nice occasion to elaborate the pleasure that well-made sauce. “Some good sturdy noodles would have been nice with this,” Madame suddenly announced, and I laughed, because our friendship was born from the naughty avidity of our shared appetites. “Excellent product, and if at first I found it a little under seasoned, that’s really only because I’m too accustomed to food that’s been over-salted. This is some very suave bistro cooking indeed.”

Madame said she’d been craving a good baba au rhum ever since she’d gotten on the Eurostar in London that morning, so I left it to her, and had a fine slice of Corsican goat cheese with cherry-cinnamon marmalade and salad instead. The baba, which came from Lignac’s bakery across the street, had imbibed a perfect dose of rum-spiked sugar syrup, to which a nice little pour of caramel-and-sulfur scented Martinique rum, the world’s best, because it’s made with fresh cane juice instead of sugar, was deftly added by Madame.

“This rum is superb, so nuanced and ambered but clean tasting,” said Madame, adding, “I’d be half-tempted to tuck the bottle into my handbag and bring it home it’s so good but I rather doubt I’d get away with it.” I didn’t encourage her either, so the rum remained on the table, and after coffee we parted in search of our respective summer siestas, mine swaddled with the pleasure of knowing that one of my favorite Paris restaurants is still so good.

Le Chardenoux
1 rue Jules Valles, 11th Arrondissement, Paris, Tel. 01-43-71-49-52. www.cyrillignac.com Open daily. Prix-fixe menu 39 Euros, lunch menus 22 Euros, 27 Euros.

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 latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

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 latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014. Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Le Bon Georges

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Le Bon Georges, Paris

Le Bon Georges, Paris

Le Bon Georges, a recently opened bistro just five minutes from my front door in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, offers a delicious lesson in how to judge the city’s food right now. Let me explain. As someone who travels often, I’ve long since learned that the best way to evaluate the quality of the food in any given city isn’t by going to the trendy new openings crowed about in style supplements, much less any place that has been anointed with a Michelin star or one that’s popular with business diners, who have the luxury of an expense account.
 
No, the better way to see how well a city eats is to go into its neighborhoods and sample the places the locals go to all of the time, or a place like Le Bon Georges, for example. No surprise in this strategy, bien sur. For lots of reasons, the most obvious being that I’m constantly sampling new places or checking up on tables I recommend in HUNGRY FOR PARIS, I’m not really a regular, as such, at any Paris restaurant. And yet in deference to the indefatigable Bruno, who dutifully accompanies me to remote corners of the city on tasting missions night after night when he’d much rather be eating at home, I’ve somewhat improbably become something of a regular at Le Bon Georges, a place I’ve now been over a dozen times since it opened this past winter. Understandably, he loves the idea of going someplace he knows and likes with good, solid, simple food. And so when I recently returned from a fascinating but challenging-in-the-last-act trip to Fez to report on a new restaurant there (the bus from Beauvais airport to Paris is a circle of hell that Dante missed, since it has some of the rudest and most inefficient service of any public transport I’ve ever used in my life), Bruno blessedly collected me from the Porte Maillot, and told me he’d booked at Le Bon Georges.

Le Bon Georges, Paris

Le Bon Georges, Paris

“You need some good meat and a nice bottle of wine,” he said, and his diagnosis was pretty accurate, since a heavy travel schedule had been depriving me of both. The pretty dining room, which had previously been the venue of the clubby and over-rated trattoria Dell’Orto, was packed when we arrived, and we had a warm welcome from proprietor Benoit Duval-Arnould, a smart and charming restaurateur who’s done a better demographic analysis of the neighborhood he chose to set up shop in than anyone else I can think of in Paris in a longtime. To wit, Benoit aced its bobo appetite and gastronomic ticks, including a preference for pedigreed produce. Benoit, who trained as an agricultural engineer and who once worked for the Campbell’s Soup Company (Campbell’s owns the Leibig brand of soups in France), decided to bail on a successful corporate career, and it turns out he’s a natural in the restaurant business.
 
Benoit is extremely observant, reflexively generous, and good at casting, whether its his chef, Anton Guillon, who formerly cooked at Les Enfants Rouges, or his suppliers, who include the ever more omnipresent Joel Thiebault (the truck farmer from the Yvelines who supplies many young Paris chefs with locally produced seasonal produce, for those who don’t already know him), fish from Terroirs d’Avenir, and mostly importantly among many other good producers, beef from Alexandre Polmard, a farmer in the Meuse region of La Lorraine who raises Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle. Beef, you see, is the star product at Le Bon Georges, and the rich mineral taste of Polmard’s dense but intriguingly tender garnet-colored meat got my mouth to watering as soon as Bruno told me where we were going.
 
So we eye-balled the chalkboard menu, and Bruno lunged at the brioche with lobster, while I wanted a last feed of good white asparagus from Les Landes before the season ended. Bruno was happy with his brioche, which I’d have spread with something a little more emollient than just butter, and I liked my roasted asparagus with a well-made hollandaise sauce, but would have happily eaten more than the rather modest portion of four spears.

Steak tartare at Le Bon Georges, Paris

Steak tartare at Le Bon Georges, Paris

Tempted by a steak, I ended up with steak tartare–it’s just so good here, as are the home-made frites that accompany it, and Bruno did same. But Benoit decided to spoil us with baby carrots cooked in butter and a side of one of the best gratin dauphinois I’ve had in ages. Philippe and Natalie Gard’s Coume Del Mas – Schistes – Collioure 2013 went down a real treat, too, which is why we decided to end this very satisfying meal with some cheese, a perfectly ripened brie stuffed with walnuts for me and an ash-rolled chèvre for Bruno.
 
In Paris, we eat very well indeed.
 
45 rue Saint Georges, 9 Arrondissement, Tel. 01-48-78-40-30. Metro: Saint Georges or Pigalle. Open Tuesday to Friday for lunch and dinner. Saturday dinner only. Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday. Lunch menu 19 Euros. Average a la carte 60 Euros. Website: http://www.lebongeorges.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 latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris & France. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Santa Fe Is Cookin’

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El Parasol, Santa Fe

El Parasol, Santa Fe

Story & photos by Kim D. McHugh

You know an eatery is good when the parking lot is jammed. Such is the case when we drive up to El Parasol in Española. A walk up “restaurant” not much bigger than a Tuff Shed, it got its start in 1958 when Larry and Pete Atencio began selling their mother’s tacos and tamales from a roadside stand. To keep the boys shaded from the New Mexican sun, their father, Luis, gave them a colorful beach umbrella, and the name stuck (parasol means “umbrella” in Spanish).

Santa Fe Enchiladas with red and green chiles

Santa Fe Enchiladas with red and green chiles

After studying the menu boards, my wife decided on tacos, one shredded beef and one chicken; I ordered the burrito with carne adovada (slowly cooked pork). Our choices were both flavorful and nicely seasoned, though my burrito bordered on being so spicy that my taste buds were going numb. Dollops of creamy guacamole helped to cool things down. Adjacent to its sibling, El Paragua, a sit-down restaurant with a much more extensive menu, this laid back spot was a great find.

For dinner that night, we pulled up chairs at the Coyote Cantina, an outdoor rooftop spot and one of more than two dozen Santa Fe eateries. It is a more affordable option than its adjoining sister restaurant, the Coyote Café. We started out with Mexican White Shrimp Ceviche—jalapeno and lime-macerated shrimp—as well as bowls of freshly made guac and pico de gallo.
Soon I found myself staring wide-eyed at my entrée, the Navajo taco de nuevo. As big as a Phil Mickelson divot, it was piled with pork, chicken, Kobe beef, beans, lettuce, cheddar, and Mexican crème fraîche. My wife chose the al Pastor, a citrus-marinated, spit-roasted pork with pineapple, splashed with “Christmas” sauce—a combo of red and green chiles. The cool summer evening on the second-story terrace, the cuisine, and the rockin’ crowd made for a fantastic night.

Frito Pie & Coke, Santa Fe

Frito Pie & Coke, Santa Fe

Over the course of four days in the region, we sampled a tapestry of fantastic food, from more New Mexican fare at the Shed to steak at the Bull Ring, French and Southwest fusion at Ristra, and awesome breakfasts and pastries at the Tesuque Village Market. A particular treat for my wife and me is the Frito pie, which costs $4.95 at the Five & Dime just off of Santa Fe’s plaza. After scissoring open a foil bag of Fritos, the server pours in three or four ladles of chili con carne topped with cheese, then onions and jalapeños if desired.

Similar to aficionados of El Parasol, “pie” lovers are lined up at the back counter here sometimes twelve deep. And it’s hard to blame them: there’s little to compare with taking the ultimate in portable New Mexican comfort food and an ice cold Coke across to the lawn in the plaza and watching people pass by as you spoon in the savory goodness. Diving in to uncover the last little morsel of chili is quite satisfying for those of us that appreciate life’s simple pleasures.

 

Restaurant 411:

El Parasol (in Española, 602 Santa Cruz Road, 505-753-8852; http://elparasol.com)

El Paragua (in Española, 603 Santa Cruz Road, 505-753-3211; www.elparagua.com)

Coyote Café & Rooftop Cantina (132 W Water Street, 505-983-1615; www.coyotecafe.com).

The Shed (113½ E Palace Ave, 505-982-9030; www.sfshed.com)

The Bull Ring ((150 Washington Ave, 505-983-3328; www.santafebullring.com)

Ristra (548 Agua Fria Street, 505-982-8608; www.ristrasantafe.com)

Five & Dime (58 E San Francisco Street, 505-992-1800; www.fiveanddimegs.com)

Tesuque Village Market (138 Tesuque Village Road, 505-988-8848; www.tesuquevillagemarket.com).
McHugh in Mexico  Kim McHugh, a Lowell Thomas award-winning writer, is a “foodie” of sorts whose wife is a fantastic cook. His stories have appeared in Tastes of Italia, Rocky Mountain Golf.com, Hemispheres, SKI, Luxury Golf & Travel and Colorado AvidGolfer.

 

 

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Clown Bar

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Clown Bar, Paris

Clown Bar, Paris

Adjacent to the Cirque d’Hiver (Winter Circus), a handsome 1852 arena between the Place de la Republique and the Bastille, the Clown Bar has always been one of the most charming places in Paris for a quick bite and a glass of wine. Now under new management–a dream team that includes Sven Chartier and Ewen Lemoigne from the restaurant Saturne, plus Xavier Lacaud, it’s suddenly better than it’s been for many years. They recruited talented Japanese chef Sota Atsumi, who cooked at Vivant, another intimate little place with landmarked Belle Epoque tiles, to run the kitchen, and Atusmi’s short produce focused menu, which changes often, runs to intriguing small plates, which are easily composed into a pleasant and very satisfying meal.

There’s also a deep terrace on the quiet street out front, and this has instantly made this beloved address even more popular than ever with a diverse but stylish crowd of Parisians. Coming for dinner the other night with Bruno after I’d returned from New York City the same day, we toyed with the idea of the terrace, but sat inside instead to enjoy the beautifully restored little dining room, a real triumph of French Belle Epoque decor with a glass ceiling in the bar area painted with a circus theme and a wall of tiles from Sarreguemines, the northern town that was once one of France’s great ceramics towns, with a frieze of clowning clowns behind the big zinc bar. The last time I came here, the room, which had been closed for a while, still had walls that were amber tinted by years of cigarette smoke, but that’s all gone now, and the sleek contemporary furnishings, including tables with the silverware tucked away in secret compartment, are flattered by the vintage setting.

Camembert croquettes

Camembert croquettes

We started with a plate of two-year-aged Basatxerri ham from the Basque Country and some delicate herb strewn camembert croquettes, both of which went well with aperitifs of Edelzwicker and a Viognier from the Languedoc. The hors d’oeuvres were good, but lest I bring the natural wine (unsulfured) crowd down on my head, I couldn’t help but thinking that not all wines are better in their ‘unadulterated’ form, since oxidation can mask the nuances of gentler cepages (grape varieties). Even though they arrived at the table stone cold, an order of grilled langoustines from the Breton port of Le Guilvinec were superb–sweet, cooked just to that perfect point where the tail meat had pearled, and garnished with a winning simplicity of salt, a little lemon, a few needles of fresh rosemary.

Getting things to the table warm will be a recurring challenge here, since the kitchen is in the basement, but our second starter, bonito in a bracing foam of fresh horseradish, a really inspired idea, since the raciness of the root met that of the fish, didn’t suffer a temperature problem and was a succulent dish, which might only have been improved by being served with some hot toasted country bread.

Turbot, clams and asparagus at Clown Bar

Turbot, clams and asparagus at Clown Bar

Turbot with razor-shell clams, white asparagus and rhubarb in salted butter was one of the most satisfying dishes I’ve had for a long time, since the product was impeccable and the constellation of tastes made sense on the palate but was pushed just off-center enough by the rhubarb to be unexpected. A brilliant puree of dates and yuzu played the same role with an exquisitely well-made pithiviers de canard, or ground duck in a little dome of buttery golden pastry.

“Natural wines often taste the same to me,” Bruno said of our white Haute Cotes-du Beaune as we finished it up with a good cheese course. I suggested that maybe if he’d learned to drink natural wines before ‘traditional’ ones he might feel differently, although I personally find it really interesting to pinch hit between them and liked this provocatively different orange-colored quaff from the terrific little wine list.

Couple on terrace of Clown Bar

Couple on terrace of Clown Bar

A caramelized pignoli nut tart filled buckwheat flavored pastry cream was the happy ending to this excellent meal where the only recurring problem was the timing of the service, not just in terms of hot dishes delivered cold but some slackness that jarred the rhythm of an otherwise excellent meal. All told, it’s really heart-warming to see this delightful little corner of Paris renovated and rebooted in the service of seriously good food and wine once again, and I know it’s going to become a new Sunday night favorite, especially during the summer when the terrace is open. N.B. They also serve breakfast, since this place functions as a cafe cum wine bar between lunch and dinner serving hours.

Clown Bar, 114 rue Amelot, 11th Arrondissement, Paris, Tel. 01-43-55-87-35. Metro: Filles du Calvaire, Saint-Sébastien-Froissart, or Richard Lenoir. Open Wednesday to Sunday for lunch (noon-2.30pm) and dinner (7.30pm-10.30pm). www.facebook.com/pages/CLOWN-BAR-PARIS/1443072882610254  Average 40 Euros.

 

Alexander Lobrano. Photo credit Steven Rothfeld.

Alexander Lobrano. Photo credit Steven Rothfeld.

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 latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Aux Enfants Gâtés

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Aux Enfants Gâtés

Aux Enfants Gâtés

On my way to meet Bruno and some friends for dinner the other night, I was in sort of a bad mood. An old college friend had called for a chat just before I went out, and it had been terrific to catch up with him until the talk turned to our work. He’s a very successful lawyer in Washington, D.C., and I, well, I’m a food and travel writer who lives in Paris, bien sur. He mentioned having seen something that I’d written in the Wall Street Journal and said that he’d liked it. I’m so glad, I told him, and then there was an ominous pause. “Alec, one thing I’ve always wondered–I’ve always enjoyed your writing, but why did you decide to write about food when you could be writing about so many other things?” Oh, dear. Where to start? Some day, I’ll answer this question in much greater length and detail, but my brief reply was that my love of food was born as an expedient way for a shy boy to indulge his curiosity about the world and access a dimly perceived sensuality that was, I instinctively knew at the time, inappropriate for someone of my age. Also, there just isn’t a faster way, of course, to know where you are or learn something personal about someone than there is by eating that country or that person’s food. And besides, I’ve always loved to eat, and as the years have gone by, I’ve learned to eat almost anything, or at least once. So my love of food, and writing about, is just as essential to my seeing the world clearly as putting on my glasses every morning after the alarm clock goes off.

What I found wilting, however, was the implication that food writing is somehow unimportant or accessory, when I know with great certainty that it’s not. How could I ever have begun to understand Transylvania during a trip to one of the most beautiful places in Europe if I hadn’t visited the shepherds who were tending their flocks of sheep above the little village where I’d rented a house for a week and tasted their freshly made cheese? It was warm and tangy and dripping with whey, and it was startlingly funky and just delicious. Their gift made me shy, but I laughed when I ate it, and the shepherds laughed with me. Though I could sort of make my way in Romania, because I speak Italian and Romanian is, of course, a Latin language, our shared tongue on that hot afternoon, which smelled of freshly cut hay, sheep and the shepherd’s sweat, was cheese. And similarly, how could I have ever begun to make sense of Paris when I arrived here twenty-seven years ago with a knowledge of the language that was a confused and self-conscious linguistic school-boy pottage if I hadn’t started assiduously going to the city’s restaurants? Everyone one of them taught me something about the city and about France, and even though I now speak French, this is as true today as it was then. I love restaurants, all restaurants, because they’re like little theaters, where there’s always a show going on and a spectrum of lessons to be observed and learned.

Aux Enfants Gâtés

Aux Enfants Gâtés

So this was what was going on in my head on my way to Aux Enfants Gâtés, a place I’d read about in Le Figaro. It also happened to be a very pretty Spring night, however, and the terraces were full along the rue Daguerre, the spine of a nice little neighborhood where I’ve often thought it might be good to live, because it’s one of those avowedly gastronomic precincts that make eating in Paris such a pleasure. I was also hungry at the end of a busy day, and looking forward to seeing my friends (it goes without saying that I’m always looking forward to seeing Bruno).

I liked this little restaurant as soon as I came through the door, too. Nadine and Bruno were already at the table having a glass of Petit Chablis, and the small space had a warm witty decor that included attractive geometric wallpaper that stopped just short of being a tongue-in-cheek reference to French design in the Seventies, suspension lamps, and oak tables. A pleasant and welcoming blonde lady–Caroline, the wife of chef Frédéric Bidault–ex Grande Cascade and Lasserre with Jean-Louis Nomicos, as it turned out, was running the busy room with efficiency  and good-humor, and from the relaxed happy atmosphere in the space, I suspected we’d eat well, and we did, in fact, very well indeed.

 The short menu was impressively seasonal, and three of us immediately decided on the vegetables in aspic as our first course. I can’t speak for Nadine or Judy, but my decision was propelled by both an atavistic affection for aspic–memories of the wobbly tomato aspic Mom used to serve when she had a ladies luncheon during the summer came to mind–and a vernal desire for greenery, and what came to the table after an amuse bouche of foamy potato soup was just the little still-life I had in mind. Carrots and leeks suspended in a layer of vegetable bouillon aspic topped a bed of duxelles, or hashed mushrooms, and this deceptively simple–it was obviously a laborious thing  for any chef working on his own in a restaurant to have made–and sort of poignantly sincere, since you just wouldn’t have gone to the trouble to cook something like this if you weren’t motivated by a real desire to give other people pleasure. Garnished with lava beans, asparagus, red peppers and roasted tomato, it was also one of those wonderful dishes that was as healthy as it was gastronomic. The scattering of freshly chopped chives brought an image of the chef’s strong hand on a knife on a chopping board in the kitchen to mind, and also communicated the real pride and pleasure he takes in his craft.

Bruno’s pâté de tête (head cheese) was homemade, too, and made him very happy. I forked my way across the table, and loved the mix of tender meat, perfect seasoning and great garnish of freshly made celeri remoulade.

Lieu Jaune with radishes

Lieu Jaune with radishes

Our main courses continued the welcome theme of precise modern bistro cooking with beautifully sourced and vividly fresh produce, too. Judy and Nadine had the lieu jaune (yellow pollack), which came on a bed of wilted baby spinach in a light sauce of pan drippings, good butter and citrus, and was garnished with shaved radishes. “Just lovely,” said the ladies.

Roast veal and gnocci

Roast veal and gnocchi

Bruno’s saddle of lamb was stuffed with herbs and was a gorgeous piece of meat cooked rare the way it should be, and my roasted veal was garnished with morels and homemade gnocchi that had been griddled to give them a nice crust. The simple sauces of cooking juices on both of these dishes were expertly made and welcomely light. This was clearly food that had been made by someone with a deep love and knowledge of cooking, in a style that was pleasantly homey but decidedly professional. I rather doubt that the Clos Siguier Cahors–a bargain in terms of restaurant pricing at 23 Euros a bottle–we chose was an ideal choice for the fish, but it was good drinking with the lamb and the veal.

Fourme d’Ambert and romaine

Fourme d’Ambert and romaine

A perfect wedge of Fourme d’Ambert, one of my favorite cheeses, came garnished with trident of dressed romaine, and the others concluded this very happy meal with a streudel like tourte de pommes with caramel ice cream. All said, this meal was a perfect retort to the ongoing kerfuffle about whether French food is still good anymore or needs to be saved or some such. If the menace of industrialized cooking is a global plague for anyone who loves to eat as much as I do, Paris remains blessedly truffled with outstanding little neighborhood restaurants like this one, where I couldn’t help by being moved by the deep desire to please and nourish that so clearly motivates the admirably proud, hard-working and hospitable Bidaults.

4 rue Danville, 14th, Tel. 01-40-47-56-81. Metro: Denfert-Rochereau or Gaîté. Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch menu 25 Euros, three-course prix-fixe 34 Euros. www.auxenfantsgates.fr

Alexander Lobrano. Photo credit Steven Rothfeld.

Alexander Lobrano. Photo credit Steven Rothfeld.

 

 

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 latest book, Hungry for France, was published by Rizzoli in April 2014.  Visit his website, Hungry for Paris. (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)

“Hungry for France” by Alexander Lobrano

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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)

 

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