Bistro Paradis | A Tantalizing Taste of Tropical Umami at a Charming New Bistro, B

January 30, 2016
Bistro Paradis - Facade - PhotoMarieGenin

@Marie Genin

 

The Bistro Paradis, a winsome new restaurant on the street of the same name, adds some delicious momentum to the ongoing transformation of a formerly fusty part of the 10th Arrondissement into a lively new restaurant district with a lot of adventurous and innovative young chefs. Talented Brazilian born chef Alexander Furtado’s delicious and quietly original riff on the cannon of modern French bistro cuisine also demonstrates how alluringly cosmopolitan this cooking has become in Paris at the beginning of the 21st century. Previously reluctant or resistant when it came to foreign seasonings and ingredients, Parisians have recently embraced them with such wholehearted curiosity that the French capital is quietly becoming almost as wordly at the table as larger cities like New York and London.

Bistrot Paradis-Tartare de Saumon - Copyright A.Schachmes

Tartare of bass and salmon with lemongrass, ginger and combava @Anabelle Schachmes

 

“I use typically Brazilian produce like coconut milk and shavings of toasted coconut, guava, mango, acai and pecqui in dishes that are cooked according to the classical French techniques I learned while working at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant at the Hotel Dorchester in London and then at  Christian Constant’s restaurants in Paris,” explains the very friendly Furtado. “Contrary to what many people think, Brazilian cooking is characterized by subtle melded flavors, and it’s not hot, which makes it appealing to the French,” says the chef.

What he’s referring to is a flavor palette that might be described as a spectrum of tropical umami, or sweet savoury often nutty flavors which evoke someplace much sunnier than the rue de Paradis, despite a name that would seem to promise an eternity of pleasure. What’s fascinating about Furtado’s cooking is how easily and alluringly the idiom contemporary French bistro cooking embraces his well-groomed expression of childhood taste memories in a huge, distant and famously sensual homeland, Brazil.

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Salsamenteria di Parma | The Pleasure of Authentic Italian, B

January 22, 2016

Salsamenteria facade Photo institutionnelle SALSA PARIS

In Paris, the new Salsamenteria di Parma is a very reasonably priced trattoria specialising in the delicious foods of Parma and the famously gastronomic Italian province of Emilia-Romagna. It’s an exceptionally clever and surprisingly good “fast casual” restaurant, too. I say surprisingly good, because for such honest well-cooked food made from expensive pedigreed mostly Emiglia-Romagnan produce the rapport-qualite prix (value for money) is especially impressive.

Beyond the quality of the food, I find this restaurant fascinating from a commercial and marketing point of view, too, because it so astutely satisfies the big demand for good, healthy, promptly served food in a large city like Paris with some welcome originality. The previously existing lunchtime offer in this 9th arrondissement neighborhood with many offices in the heart of Paris not far from the big department stores and the Opera Garnier ran to a dulling culinary refrain of gussied up burger joints trying and failing to sling a ‘Brooklyn’ attitude;  overpriced salad joints hiding their mediocrity behind jaunty graphics and insistent claims of healthy eating; sad Chinese traiteurs where the food sits in big aluminium trays inside of neon-lit glass cases, something that’s always made me wonder if there might not be a single huge factory somewhere in the suburbs of Paris cranking out these dishes in industrial quantities; and a couple of cafes still serving steak-frites type menus to that diminishing number of Gauls who still like a little glass or two of red wine with lunch and perhaps a Gauloise with their post-prandial coffee.

Salsamenteria di Parma salle 2

In contrast, the shopfront premises of Salsamenteria di Parma are decorated with big wheels of Parmesan over the bar and whole Parma hams hanging from hooks on the walls, and there’s a mixture of opera and sixties Italian pop on the soundtrack. The wooden tables are covered with the mustard-colored paper mats you often find in Italy and set with scodella (white china bowls) from which to drink your wine–most of the wines served here are Lambruscos and other rustic and rather raspy Emilia-Romagnan ones. The menu is structured to make it as easy to have a quick bite as it is to enjoy a larger fuller meal, including tempting offers of those foods urbanites around the world seem to love the most these days–garnished flatbreads, garnished salads, and pasta, and also features many dishes that are perfect for sharing, especially the charcuterie and cheese assortments.

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La Rotonde, Paris | The Pleasures of Simplicity, B+

January 7, 2016

La Rotonde Japanese waiter 2

Like most Paris brasseries, La Rotonde was founded long before people started going to restaurants for revelations. No, in those days, people went to restaurants to eat, and they pretty much knew what the menu would look like even before they stepped through the door.

When it opened on the boulevard Montparnasse in 1911, the Left Bank neighborhood was just beginning to attract artists like Picasso and Chagall and it was a busy commercial thoroughfare leading to a one of the city’s main train stations. So people went to La Rotonde to eat, to people watch, to while away an hour or two over a coffee or a glass of wine with the distraction of a book or a sketchpad. But most of all, they went to eat, because that’s why you went to brasseries, the brilliant Parisian invention that made dining out a nonchalant metropolitan pleasure by putting it within reach of almost every pocket and every pocketbook. You went because you were hungry and could get something to eat in a brasserie pretty much all day long and often well into the night.

La Rotonde couple in booth

When I first moved to Paris from London a longtime ago, I couldn’t have explained to you what made a brasserie different from a bistro, but I instinctively liked them, especially since I often worked very irregular hours and me and most of my friends were single. So brasseries were our default choice for a meal, the place to go to snuff out a case of Sunday night blues with friends, or unknot my nerves after work with some oysters and a bottle of Muscadet. They were our one-size-fits-all restaurant, and they reliably offered a good time and a decent enough feed for an acceptable price. (Oh, and the difference between a bistro and a brasserie? Very simply, bistros specialize in simmered dishes and sauces, brasseries are about fast cooking, like grilling or frying, with a shellfish stand out front and perhaps a choucroute garni on the menu that refers to their original roots as brewhouse restaurants in Alsace).

And then it all went wrong during the 1990s when most of the great brasseries of Paris were swallowed up by chains, which increasingly resorted to commissary-supplied kitchens and gastronomic shortcuts to make these places as lucrative as possible. The thing is, of course, is that this didn’t go unnoticed, and like thousands of other Parisians, I sadly gave up on brasseries as their quality tumbled and their prices soared.

A brasserie revival has been in the making for a longtime, with chef Eric Frechon getting things off to a solid start several years ago when he opened Lazare and the Minipalais. Last year, chef Mauro Colagreco of Miramar opened the excellent Grand Coeur brasserie in the Marais. Now Alain Ducasse has a new-style brasserie slated for  Les Halles, which will open this spring, and chef Thierry Marx has another one in the works, Le Train Blanc, for the Gare du Nord later this year.

In the meantime, however, the only possible brasserie I could pull out of my hat when I had to find a place for a “cheerful and lively meal”  at the request of a friend who was inviting me and Bruno out to dinner as a Christmas present on a Sunday night the weekend before New Year’s was, rather guardedly, La Rotonde. I say guardedly because if it’s a popular table with an intriguing tapestry of Parisians and out-of-towners woven from   politicians, show-biz types, captains of industry, a complete alphabet of the French bourgeoisie, plus the happy shot of Lurex supplied by well-bred wide-eyed tourists who are more welcome in town than ever, the service can be luck of the draw, sometimes charming, sometimes bored and brusque, sometimes a mixture of all three.

Protective of my friend’s purse and pride–she’d never ever have let us snatch up the bill at the end of the meal as would be our wont, I knew the three-course 44 Euro prix-fixe menu offered a reliably good feed for the money and also that there are several pleasant reasonably priced bottles on the wine list, too: Mâcon AOC Domaine du Gros Mont, La Roche Vineuse 2014, 28 Euros and an organic Languedoc AOC Hecht & Bannier 2014, for example. So we went.

La Rotonde terrine

Wild boar terrine by Gilles Verot

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Alec Lobrano’s Ten Favorite Meals of 2015

December 28, 2015

On the eve of a new year, please receive this post as an expression of my gratitude for the huge privilege of good health, lots of travel to slack my insatiable curiosity and discover so many wonderful new chefs, kitchens, and foods, and also the pleasure of writing for so many superb publications. Among ever so many good ones–and believe me, I count my blessings, these were my ten favorite meals in 2015.

Le Crouzil - Rouget, green apple, peashoot, spelt

Le Crouzil - Sole

France

Le Crouzil, Plancoët

In Brittany, the pretty little town of Plancoët is best known for its mineral-water, which shares a name with the town and displaces national brands on the tables of the proudly locavore province’s best tables, like the exceptionally pleasant Le Crouzil. This family owned Michelin one star table is one of Brittany’s best tables, and it shows off how French culinary tradition is so artfully perpetuated from one generation to the next, since Maxime Crouzil has subtly brightened and lightened the excellent dishes once prepared by his father. Le Crouzil is a great lunch destination during a tour of Brittany, and if the menu evolves according to the seasons, the 60 Euro ‘Elegance’ prix-fixe is consistently one of the best buys in France. Highlights of a recent meal included an hors d’oeuvre of grilled rouget (red mullet) on a bed of spelt risotto in a green apple and herb jus and a perfect sole meunière with roasted baby potatoes and sautéed mushrooms. 20 Rue des Quais, Plancoët, Tel. (33) 02-96-84-10-24, www.crouzil.com Lunch for two $140.

JY's ris de veauhttp://www.crouzil.com

JY’s, Colmar

The best destination for an overnight trip out of Paris this winter is the lovely old town of Colmar in Alsace. That’s because the superb Musée Unterlinden has just reopened after a major expansion and renovation (you can read more about that in a little article I wrote for the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/10/t-magazine/travel/colmar-france-museum-makeover.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Ft-magazine&action=click&contentCollection=t-magazine&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&content Placement=2&pgtype=sectionfront):  and also because even with a Michelin star chef Jean-Yves Schillinger’s restaurant JY’s is one of the most underrated tables in France. My blog post on this excellent restaurant:  http://www.alexanderlobrano.com/restaurant-reviews/jys-a-and-wistub…-visit-to-colmar/ 17 Rue de la Poissonnerie, Colmar, Tel. (33) 03-89-215-360. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Prix-fixe menus 43 Euros, 64 Euros, 92 Euros, average a la carte 100 Euros. www.jean-yves-schillinger.com 

Le Grand Restaurant - Lobster

Le Grand Restaurant - Palmiers and wild strawberries

Paris

Le Grand Restaurant

Chef Jean-François Piège’s new restaurant launches a whole new era in French haute cuisine cooking. Here’s what I had to say about it in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/05/t-magazine/paris-restaurants-new-fall-menus.html 7 rue d’Aguesseau, 8th Arrondissement, Tel. (33) 01-53-05-00-00. Menus à 80 € (lunch), 110, 190 et 245 €. A la carte 180-200 €. www.jeanfrancoispiege.com

Amaranthe - facade

Amranthe - Roast Veal

L’Amarante

This excellent bistro in a quiet side street behind the Bastille heralds a delicious renewal of the traditional bistro in Paris. You can read more about it on this blog – http://www.alexanderlobrano.com/restaurant-reviews/lamarante-chef-christophe-philippes-superb-new-bistro-b/ – and also in an article I did on the revival of Paris bistros for the Wall Street Journal: http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-best-new-paris-bistros-1431624971

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JY’s, A- and Wistub Brenner, B | A Delicious Visit to Colmar

December 17, 2015

Colmar

In France, the cold weather always makes me hungry for Alsatian food, which I recently satisfied with two excellent meals at JY’s and Wistub Brenner during an overnight trip to Colmar. With the reopening of its superb Musée Unterlinden, which houses the magnificent Issenheim altarpiece in a medieval chapel that was once part of a 13th century convent, Colmar has to be the best weekend away this winter (you can read what I wrote about the newly expanded museum here). If you visit before December 31, 2015, you’ll also have the pleasure of the city’s five Christmas markets, which sell festive goods like Christmas tree ornaments but also beautifully made metal toys, wooden housewares, jam and other preserves, and the raw-milk munster cheese and smoked marinated pork loin that I bought at the Geismar stand in the Marché de l’Ancienne Douane on a refreshingly brisk Sunday afternoon when I’d walked over to have a look at the museum before a guided visit the following morning.

JY's marinated salmon

That evening, I decided I’d put the holiday throngs at arm’s length by having dinner at JY’s, the Michelin one star restaurant that is probably the best restaurant in Colmar. It occupies a very pretty old half-timbered house on the banks of the Lauch river, which would have you expecting a sort of Hansel & Gretel decor once you get inside. Instead, chef Jean-Yves Schillinger, a native of Colmar who lived and cooked in New York City for several years, opted to create a sleek open kitchen and a relaxing streamlined sort of modern lounge-bar look for his restaurant. I hadn’t been here for a very longtime, so I came to the table hungry, curious and already knowing what I would order, since I delight in the voyeurism of stalking a menu online before I actually arrive at a restaurant. The marinated salmon I’d already picked out was superb, too, and came with enlivening garnishes of horseradish cream, diced beets and cucumbers, rye bread crumbs, mustard cress, and little dots of pleasantly puckery lemon curd.

JYS1234

On a rainy Sunday night, there was something hugely pleasant and peaceful about sitting by myself (I almost wrote, ‘alone,’ but then realized this word unfortunately has a melancholy ring to it for most people) at a large table spread with a crisp white cloth and being a spectator to both what was going on in the open kitchen and the tables that surrounded me on. Nearby, the conversation of a well-heeled foursome see-sawed between the recent French elections and plans for various winter vacations (Megeve, Mauritius–Colmar is a very bourgeois sort of town). There were also two deuces, one a contagiously jolly British husband and wife who were very much enjoying their wine, and the other, an older French pair who seemed to have exhausted all possibilities for conversation many years ago and so studiously avoided each others eyes. I often found the woman looking at me during the course of my meal, and after sending three polite smiles her way, she finally responded with a little grin that sent a blaze of color up her cheeks.

JY's ris de veau

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Mensae, Paris | Belleville Goes Gastro, B+

November 30, 2015

Mensae

When I asked chef Kevin d’Andréa why he and business partner and fellow chef Thibault Sombardier had chosen the Belleville district of Paris as the location for their excellent new bistro Mensae, he said, “The neighborhood is really happening right now.” And for better or worse, it is. In fact this old working-class neighborhood in northeastern Paris where Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier were born is changing so quickly it’s inducing emotional and sociological vertigo in many longtime residents, like the delightful and sublimely talented chef Raquel Carena of Le Baratin, for example (for more on Mme. Carena’s feelings on the subject, see here).

City planners regularly ignore or underestimate the impact that restaurants can have on the health and evolution of an urban neighborhood. The first example that always comes to my mind is Danny Meyer‘s Union Square Cafe in New York City, since it both anticipated and accelerated the gentrification of a rundown, crime-ridden part of Manhattan when it opened in 1985. Ironically enough, Le Chapeau Melon and Le Baratin may have both had the same seminal impact on Belleville, too. To judge from the comments some people leave about the neighborhood on TripAdvisor, Belleville still elicits a sort of ‘Lions-and-tiger-and-bears, oh no!’ reaction from the world’s well-heeled suburbanites, and the first but rarely only time these people ever set foot in the area is to eat at these restaurants. The same thing is going on in New York City’s Harlem today, too.

Even with the soft French economy, the irrevocable mill of the real-estate speculation that leads to disruptive renovation continues to churn through what remains of those districts of Paris that once housed the city’s working classes, who are now gradually being expelled to the modern suburbs on the other side of the peripherique, the beltway that constitutes the rather constricting collar of the French capital. It’s the same everywhere, too: living in the city has become a privilege. And who can blame the young bobo couples who prefer good architecture, a strong sense of place and history, urban liveliness and diversity and great food to the murky blandness of most suburbs (I speak from experience, too, since I grew up in suburban Connecticut and told my mother as a nine-year-old that I hated living in a ‘melted city,’ which is how I perceived of our suburb, and would move to New York City, where my much envied cousins lived, as soon as I could; and I did).

Et donc à table, since the Latin word for table is mensa and the one that D’Andréa and Sombardier have created is very good indeed. Arriving, it presents an unexpectedly polished, almost television-studio perfect face to the world, with a service bar of recycled wood, ecru walls, suspension lamps, plank floors, a set of copper cookware on one wall and shelves filled with appetizing jars of preserved mushrooms, fruit and vegetables. So somehow it’s not surprising that the very experienced and media savvy D’Andréa and Sombardier were both finalists on the predictably noisy and not very convincingly gastronomic French television cooking show “Top Chef.”

Mensae terrine with salad pretty

Mensae

Happily, however, the meal we had the other night was just about as many light years from a TV dinner as you could possibly get. This kitchen is very serious about its sourcing, always a good sign, with vegetables coming from the Bretonne produce princess Annie Bertin and Joël Thiébault, Armara for fish, Hugenin and Les Boucheries Nivernaises for meat, and Lyon’s La Mère Richard for cheeses (insofar as this last supplier is concerned, I detect that quality has been slipping since the business was bought by a company in Normandy). The menu is intelligently constructed with an appealing assortment of plates to share–frogs’ legs sautéed in garlic and parsley, charcuterie from Sibilia in Lyon, and Basque style squid, then five starters, five main courses, and three desserts.

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