Letter from Paris: Le Petit Trianon
By Alexander Lobrano
One of the oddest features of Paris’s cityscape has long been the corridor of tawdry sex shows and shops that line the boulevards de Clichy and Rochechouart between the 18th and 9th arrondissements. Though this neighborhood originally thrived around the turn of the 19th century as a venue for cabarets, dance halls and theaters, it skidded into tour-bus-passenger porn during the 1950s and 60s, a decidedly unlovely commercial legacy of Paris’s now long-defunct reputation as the friskiest city in Europe.
Many of the buildings lining this corridor are actually quite beautiful, though, so I’ve long wondered when the migration of Eros to the internet would doom these sorry businesses. Now, with the recent renovation of the Place de Chichy having been accomplished and the renewal of the beautiful Egyptian style art-deco movie house Le Luxour at Barbes-Rochechouart well under way, it looks as though this once bleak turf is finally being rebooted for a more socially salubrious future in the 21st century.
New cafes and restaurants are also opening in the area, notably the delightful Le Petit Trianon, which occupies the ground floor of a magnificently restored theater of the same name. This ambitious project is the work of restauranter Julien Labrousse, who also relaunched the historic Hotel du Nord in the 10th arrondissement and Abel Nahmias, a cinema producer who is the son of restaurant critic Albert Nahmias and chef Olympe Versini of the excellent Casa Olympe.
Olympe actually consulted on the very appealing menu here, too, and Linda, the talented chef, formerly worked at Casa Olympe. What this crew has succeeded at creating is the type of great-looking, reasonably priced casual restaurant that is in much too short supply in Paris, too. This place serves all day long, starting with a good breakfast, which can be taken at a sidewalk table, and then moves on to lunch and dinner. The seriousness of the kitchen is clearly stated on the menu, where there’s a box that lists their various first-rate suppliers, notably among them Eric Ospital for his superb Basque charcuterie and Sicilian olive oil from Cederic Casanova, the Parisian oil man par excellence. Also noted is “Le Prince de Paris” ham, or real jambon de Paris, along with organic tamari sauce and Charroux mustard, which has been stone-ground since 1822.
Stopping by for dinner on a pretty summer night, Bruno and I immediately loved the sepia-toned atmosphere of the dining room and the friendly service, and the menu was ideal for a relaxed mid-week meal as well. Both of us love oeufs mayonnaise, so we decided to share an order, and they were excellent–organic eggs with real mayonnaise, and then I tucked into a generous plate of Eric Ospital charcuterie–I can never pass this up, and Bruno ordered “Le Prince of Paris” ham.
If Eric Ospital’s charcuterie is always irresistible, the real surprise was the real jambon de Paris, which was succulent, full of flavor and a real treat. For those those who don’t know, Paris has always been a major ham town, hence the term “jambon de Paris,” but in recent years, this nomenclature has been co-opted by industrial pork pushers, and so came to mean next to nothing. Cured with sel de Gu‚rande, this is meat you really want to pig out on, and it brilliantly defines the real taste of cool-climate French ham (warmer regions of Gaul prefer dry-cure stuff).
Since were hungry that night, we also ordered a tartine of baby artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan as a nice nibble with the charcuterie, and it was excellent–grilled artichokes, excellent Parmesan and tasty tomatoes on a pleasantly sour piece of toasted country bread.
Our main courses were very good, too. Bruno went with grilled cod, which came with a pleasant “sauce d’ete,” or olive-oil garnish with tomatoes and black olives, and I had an excellent steak tartare with good home-made frites.
Since it was such a nice night, we moved to the sidewalk terrace for dessert–a very good Valrohna chocolate mousse and a lovely open tart of red berries, including strawberries and raspberries. The foot traffic after dinner was great people-watching, too, since a concert had just gotten out, and this meant an engagingly odd-ball mix of hipsters with eye-brow jewelry, timorous older British couples in wind-breakers clutching their wallets and hand-bags, and a couple of packs of beefy, boozy German gents who were clearly trawling for a “Private Dancer” type good time.
As things worked out, I had to meet a colleague who was visiting Paris between flights for lunch a day later. Since this place wasn’t too far from the Gare du Nord–he’d sensibly come into town during his seven hour lay over, we went for a quick lunch of their served-all-day sandwiches, which is how I know that they also do a mean Croque Monsieur, which is served with green salad, and a nice smoked salmon sandwich with dill-spiked creme fraiche.
With good food at good prices and very pleasant service, Le Petit Trianon should serve as a template for anyone else who’s looking to revive a local cafe or create a place that suits the gastronomic tastes of Parisians out for an expedient but pleasant meal.
Le Petit Trianon, 80 boulevard de Rochechouart, 18th, T‚l. 01 44 92 78 00. Metro: Anvers. Open daily from 8AM-2AM. Breakfast menu: E7.80 . Average meal E25 .
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.