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Alexander Lobrano’s Letter from Paris: Le Petit Chablisien

Le Petit Chablisien, Paris

By Alexander Lobrano

It’s taken well over a decade, but the renovation of the Gare Saint Lazare, the busiest train station in France, has finally been completed, and despite the fact that the clear marching orders to the architect must have been to compress the public spaces in favor of rent-paying commercial ones, i.e., shops, overall, it’s a success, especially since they cleaned and repaired the wonderful painted-on-glass portraits of all of the destinations the station originally served when it first opened in the main departures hall. With the station smartened up, it seems likely that the rather drab immediate surroundings of the Gare Saint Lazare will probably go upmarket a bit, too, which would make sense, since it remains a puzzling island of low-rent drabness that straddles three of the Paris’s most affluent arrondissements, the 8th, the 9th and the 17th.
Interestingly enough, this seems to be exactly what’s going on in the environs of the station, too, since Le Petit Chablisien, an old boy’s club of a bistro that used to appeal to SNCF and insurance company execs looking for a discreet place to get sozzled at noon has been very surprisingly reborn as a stylish modern French bistro with a cute Seventies retro decor–the tip off here is all of the orange, since orange was the mystifying hue of choice in Seventies France, and an appealing and fairly priced regularly changing menu that’s produced by a capable young Japanese born chef who works with first-rate produce and has nearly flawless culinary technical skills.
To be sure, the only thing anyone might possibly find charming about the rue de Londres is that its Belgian block paving hasn’t yet been asphalted over and it leads to the wonderful iron suspension bridge over the tracks coming into the Gare Saint Lazare that was so often a subject of the impressionist painters, but the menu had looked good  when I stopped to read it a few days earlier and it was a convenient heart-of-town location for the friend from New York with whom I was having lunch. So we settled at the table and quickly decided on the three course 25 Euro lunch menu with a half-bottle of Crozes Hermitage.
Served with good bread, my terrine de Campagne with mesclun was excellent–it had a nice coarse texture with just enough fat to brag its porcine origins and give it a pleasant unctuous texture, and Mme. Manhattan’s brandade de morue was clearly home-made and gallantly garlicky and was similarly attractively plated and generously served. Even though we found ourselves in a really engrossing conversation about the pros and cons of ‘Social Media,” our main course–pollack with roasted new potatoes and caramelized cauliflower, was good enough to derail us for a few minutes.
 Before we returned to the conversation we’d mentally book-marked, I couldn’t help but exulting over the fact that the last few years have seen a really remarkable renewal of the good neighborhood restaurant in Paris. And to call them neighborhood restaurants, or places that are recommended should you happen to be in a particular part of town but which might not be worth going out of your way for, isn’t to denigrate them at all. Everyone wants a good dozen or so favorite fail-safe addresses just out their door, and everyone is also glad to know of a few good addresses in and around Paris’s major train stations, since SNCF food is so shamelessly awful.
Le Petit Chablisien Black Cherry Clafoutis

So as we finished a very pleasant meal over generous slices of homemade black-cherry clafoutis, we agreed that this little bistro is a great address for a pre- or post-train meal and is also good enough to bear in mind for a tete a tete after a good hard shop at the big department stores nearby, especially since we we’d been so obliviously garulous that I didn’t even notice that it was 3.30pm until we stood to leave. And when I offered our apologies to the very polite waiter who hadn’t betrayed even a flutter of impatience or exasperation, he replied “Je vous en prie,” and added that he hoped we’d enjoyed our lunch.

Le Petit Chablisien, 44 rue de Londres, 8th, Tel. 01-43-87-46-15, Metro: Saint Lazare. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Lunch menus 20 and 25 Euros; dinner menus 25 and 30 Euros, a la carte 40 Euros.
Alexander Lobrano was Gourmet magazine’s European correspondent from 1999 until its recent closing. Lobrano has written for almost every major food and travel magazine since he became an American in Paris in 1986. He is the author of “Hungry for Paris” (Random House), his personal selection of the city’s 102 best restaurants, which Alice Waters has called “a wonderful guide to eating in Paris.” Lobrano’s Letter from Paris runs every month in Everett Potter’s Travel Report. Visit his website, http://alexanderlobrano.com (Photo by Steven Rothfeld)
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