Letter from Paris: A Gastro Chic Restaurant and a Swell Little Bistro
By Alexander Lobrano
After a very long train ride back to Paris from Munich, volcanic eruption oblige, it was a delight to go to dinner at the new Frederic Simonin restaurant near the Place des Ternes in 17th arrondissement the other night. Not only did a flute of Jacques Copinet Blanc de Blanc Champagne really hit the spot, but the chic black-and-white dining room by interior designer Maud Lesur is a lovely setting for a meal–it's strikingly graphic, the lighting is impeccable, and tables are widely spaced. From the moment we arrived, the service was charming, and the best was yet to come, because if Simonin's contemporary French cooking is occasionally a little timid, it's generally superb.
I was very curious about this opening, too, because Simonin has such an impressive pedigree–he previously cooked with Ghislaine Arabian, and then with Joel Robuchon in both Paris and London. So I wondered what his style would be like now that he was no longer riding saddle for another chef. As it turns out, Simonin's cooking is light, fresh, and exquisitely well-balanced in terms of flavor and texture. "What I love about this food is that the chef has so obviously made an effort to create dishes that are full of flavor but light and healthy," Bruno observed after tasting his main course–delicately scored squid with oven-roasted tomatoes, black olives, fresh basil and a very light vinaigrette.
He was spot on, too, since both of our starters expressed the same bashful culinary elegance; I had an avocado puree with dressed crabmeat and a yuzu (Japanese citrus) gelee, which was terrific, and Bruno gloried in beautiful composition of fresh spring vegetables and edible flowers on a short bread crust. Next veal sweetbreads with morel mushrooms for me, and squid for Bruno. Desserts were outstanding, too, including a superb passionfruit caramel cream with a granite of vieux rhum and for Bruno a perfect yuzu (lemon) soufflé. Service was attentive and obliging, and it augurs wells for Simonin that the dining room was equally divided between expense-account business tables and hand-holding couples the night we came in. Whether it's to seal a deal or steal a kiss, Frederic Simonin is a welcome newcomer to the pricier precincts of the Paris food chain.
Even if there are few foreign kitchens that I don't whole-heartedly enjoy, I have to say that I've been increasingly worried about the growing scarcity of one cuisine in Paris — French. All over town, it's often easier to have an anodyne 'healthy' salad, a middling Asian meal, or some almost invariably mediocre pasta than it is to eat anything that might be authentically described as French, which is why I was so glad to discover Lilane behind the Place Monge in the Latin Quarter the other night.
This cozy little restaurant with low lighting and comfortably spaced tables turned out to be a terrific place for a very nice and reasonably priced contemporary French feed. It's not the sort of place you're likely to find in magazines, but rather is a table you'll likely return to time after time following an initial meal. Chef Stéphane Guilçou worked at Le Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower before going out on her own, and whatever this experience may have yielded, she's a very good cook who works with very good produce.
Dining with my friend Judy, who now lives nearby, we started with langoustine stuffed ravioli (Judy), which impressed me because the langoustines were impeccably cooked, and a superb terrine of foie gras wrapped in bacon and served with a coulis of dried fruit for me. Next, Judy had a mignon de veau (veal steak) with broccoli cooked two ways–steamed florets and as a pleasantly olive-oil spiked puree, and I loved my boned confit de canard with a ruddy reduction of duck and very good mashed potatoes. We finished up with a terrific runny chocolate tart with pistachio ice cream, and I was finally astonished to see that it was 12.30am and no one had made a feint to push us out on to the pavement. Lilane is a very good restaurant, and I look forward to returning again sometime soon.
Frederic Simonin, 25 rue Bayen, 17th, Tel. 01-45-74-74-74. Metro: Ternes. Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch menu 38 Euros, Dinner 70 Euros.
Lilane, 8 rue Gracieuse, 5th, Tél. 01-45-87-90-68. Metro: Place Monge. Closed Sunday and Monday. Lunch menus 16 Euros and 20 Euros. Dinner menu 32 Euros. A la carte 35 Euros.