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John Talbott

9 new or rediscovered restaurants

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Lauriston, 129, rue Lauriston in the deepest 16th, 01.47.27.00.07 is one of those places that has recently been written up by everyone and very well. I decided to see what was up, despite its à la carte prices, which exceed my budget, by trying the 25 Euro menu. I had my hesitations, the resto the chef, Serge Barbey, came from, Le Soleil in St Ouen, had given me mixed experiences but he was not the sole chef there. Well, the critics were all right, darn it; it’s bright, new but classical cooking. On the menu, starters included sardines (which I had) and a spinach salad with cheese shards, mains were red tuna and an unusual cassolette prepared with lentils (delicious). Other starters ran from langoustines to foie gras from 10-20 Euros and other mains ranged from biche to St Pierre running from 20-30 Euros and desserts were 7.5-10 Euros; I had the “giant” Baba and it was enormous. They had 46 ml of wine “pots” for 13 Euros, so one is able to get out with wine and coffee for just under 50 Euros. This is a definite repeat and not just because the chef is charming and has a good sense of humor – he turns out very fine food, all alone in the kitchen, save one jack-of-all-trades helper, in a typical, tiny space, but he supplies the 28 covers promptly. This stop in the 16th won’t last long before he’s lured downtown. The only downside; no ventilation.

Even without the French critics, though, one can strike it rich. Rosa Jackson in last month’s Paris Notes waxed rhapsodic about the food, and especially vegetables, at Pétrelle, 34, rue Pétrelle in the 9th, 01.42.82.11.02, which has been there 10 years, (totally un-noticed), and Boy was she right. We called for a lunch reservation and the chef, Jean-Luc André, told us he was no longer serving lunch there but had opened a new place called Les Vivres, a door or two down at #28, which he’s designed for businesspeople who nowadays eat lunch late and on the fly, open from noon to something like 5 PM, with takeout and a few tables and an chalkboard with things like salmon quiche; I must have sounded hurt and stunned because he said he himself would feed us at Pétrelle and he did. It’s a funky, idiosyncratic place with dynamite food; I had the menu du marché of a soft-boiled egg in a divine creamy sauce with very tasty veggies and salad; rabbit with thyme and veggies and great fried potatoes and a terrific apple thing with marinated plums; Colette had partridge with mushrooms, veggies and the fried potatoes, followed by chocolate with a crème anglaise; it’s unfair to relate the bill (85 Euros) because after that day the 25 E menu for lunch was history and the meal will cost more like 60 E. But it was great while it lasted.

Another winner was La Cuisine, 14, bd de La Tour-Maubourg in the 7th 01.44.18.36.32, which recently got 3/5 blocks from A Nous Paris and 3/4 hearts from Figaroscope. I found it to be an elegant restaurant producing very good food at a reasonable price (29 Euro menu at lunch) which almost over-reached by bringing out the sort of too-many-coursed meal I associate with Pierre Gagniere + Boulay. They had three starters: a terrine of beef, sauteed rouget and a soup of green cabbage and a succulent scallop that I loved; 4 mains: ray, salmon, confited veal and a breast of guinea fowl with balsamic sauce that was good; and about 5 desserts, I had the tasty cold top/hot bottomed chocolate tower. My bill was 45.50 Euros, but be warned, at night they only have a 42 and 110 Euro menu and a la carte runs 60 Euros, without wine or coffee, both of which I had. Additional points go for very good bread and not one smoker.

Le Café Guitry, in the Edouard VIIth theater, located in the Place at the end of the pedestrian shopping street of the same name (Edouard VII) in the 9th, 01.40.07.00.77 has also gotten a lot of good press. It is in the category of “if you’re in the mood for this genre, do go” restaurants and is open every day for lunch but only Tuesdays-Saturdays for dinner. The formula (1st and main) is 24 E and menu (all 3) is 29 Euros. What do I mean by this genre? It’s a modern café, situated in a wonderful theater, has red velvet chairs and theater posters and photos, and attracts a mixed clientele: very art, very business and very “beautiful.” I liked the food; there were lots of choices (6 each of 1sts, mains & desserts on the menu alone); both very French and fusion/world/magrebian and I had good sushi-quality raw tuna, veal tagine with a confited citron sauce and crème brulèe which, with wine and coffee, was 43 Euros. Plus, they listed where they got their products, e.g. cheese from Marie Cantal. Smoking arrangements are like they were on Japanese airplanes, the non-smokers along one wall, smokers in the middle and other wall. The waitstaff are cross-trained and very efficient for 60 some covers and most pleasant. They were completely full; they’d warned me to reserve.

I also had a good meal at Frugier, 137, av de Versailles in the 16th, 01.46.47.72.00, closed Sundays and Mondays. It’s the sort of place; “way-to-hell-and-gone” and inventive, a bit of a sleeper and not terribly crowded, that could either blossom and go the downtown way of Eric Frechon + Les Ormes or die like Au Pactole + Chez Tony. There’s lots to choose from on the chalkboard (1sts=carpaccio of salmon, ‘bonbons” of escargots, oysters and soft egg with smoked salmon; 2nds=included red tuna, haddock, blanquette of veal and squab, desserts=cheese, clementines, choux a la crème and crème brulee - but I had a nice packet of shrimp and green cabbage with a creamy lemon sauce, followed by a steak tartare and a sort of moelleux chocolate; the cost: 42 Euros (menu=29 E and wines run from 5 E a glass to 19-39 E a bottle). Will you or I schlep out there again?

Le Voltigeur, 55, rue Ramey in the 18th (Metro Jules Joffrin), 01.42.54.94.36, open everyday but Sundays, was “discovered,” as best I can tell, last year by Sébastian Demorand in Zurban. He called it a farm-inn and it is another dingy, countryish place; their card calls it a Bistrot à vin but in the back is a full-fledged restaurant. However, despite its being but a few meters from home, I somehow never went until last week and what a find! Three of us ate very well indeed for 138 Euros. The best starter was the herring with perfectly cooked and just warm enough potatoes and all three entries: cassolette, venison stew and stuffed cabbage were more than correct and proper. The desserts, nougat glace, chocolate and fresh fruit were surprisingly good for a local place and their wine selection (largely Southwest) and price were good. A certain repeat for me; but will others schlep over to the other side of Montmartre? We’ll see.

Now, the venerable Marty has been around for a million years but has undergone a renewal and rediscovery by Zurban among others, recently. We went to satisfy our oyster and biche craving and it was just dandy.

Friends dragged me to another place, this one “discovered” by R.W. (Johnnie) Apple of the New York Times. They dragged me because I’d never met a pot au feu I loved but I have to admit that Le Pot au Feu in the 15th does it right and it hit the spot and the bill was soft = 106 Euros/2.

I have long believed, as a scientist, that genes trumped the advice of friends, mentors and food writers, not to mention nurture, education and experience; and that because, a few centuries ago, an ancestor of mine got into a silly, small boat in Normandy with a few other similarly bizarrely-clad folks with lots of spears, conquering England and then coming back to France, that I had a leg up in finding good restaurants in France. Nope! Example: L’Estrapade, 15, rue de l’ Estrapade in the 5th, 01.43.25.72.58, closed weekends. I leapt to reserve when I read Lebey and Pudlo’s 2005 descriptions; I mean, here could be found a delightful welcome, traditional food and but 18 covers. Yes, but…. (ou mais, oui….); all the above is true, plus I was the only person there whose permanent address was not 75xxx, and the lentilles and sausage, rabbit leg with chanterelles and trumpets of death was moist and tasty and fruit dessert were all good, but there were issues: 1. Colette would not find anything she could justify as good to her cardiologue or Barry Sears, 2. The tables were so packed together as to prompt constant bumping and 3. There was not a lot to distinguish it from 40 other ancien style restos in Paris. 43.50 Euros/1

Le P’tit Bougnat 118, bd de Courcelles in the 17th, 01.47.63.97.11, open everyday but Sundays, is an example of a strange phenomenon - a well-established and somewhat dingy looking place that frequently appears on lists of (game) places each fall, but which, until it was reviewed in Le Monde by Jean-Claude Ribaut and the 2005 Pudlo came out, appeared in none of the food guides I buy. (This may be explained by the difference between our two meals; the first of which was great, the second off.) They had any type of game you wish: biche, chevreuil, lievre, sanglier, birds, etc. Both times, we started with sautéed cepes which the first time were not too buttery and retained their firmness as well as a salad; then biche and chevreuil, again, the first time done properly; bloody, tender and tasty. For dessert we shared a cheese and crème brulèe and had a nice Irancy. The second time, the game was not as great and the cepes overcooked and neither crunchy nor firm. Both times it was 100 Euros/2.

And then, mediocrity struck again at Les Coteaux in St-Mandé, a place touted both in Zurban + Figaroscope. Colette had a bland artichoke and shrimp salad followed by a cod with flavorful veggies; I indulged in a pig’s ear with salad and then andouillette; both of which were OK but not dazzling by Lyonnais standards; the Beaujolais Villages (one of dozens they have) and marc de bourgogne, were the highlights of the meal. The bill was 78.40 Euros.

Edited 12/5/04 10:34 by John Talbott to reflect correct Figaroscope rating of La Cuisine

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La Cuisine got three (not two hearts) in the Figaroscope. Their other establishment "Le Petit Champenoix" got a two-heart rating (in the same Figaroscope article, no less)

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La Cuisine got three (not two hearts) in the Figaroscope. Their other establishment "Le Petit Champenoix" got a two-heart rating (in the same Figaroscope article, no less)

Ah, the "Gotcha! Gang" got me. Yes, last week's Digest reported accurately that it was 3 hearts. Sorry, I'll edit to correct.

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