Frenchie to Go | Summertime, and the Eating is Easy, B

August 1, 2015
Terroirs d'Avenir boutique

Terroirs d’Avenir boutique

 

While we were enjoying a good, casual, off-the-cuff lunch at Frenchie to Go, chef Gregory Marchand’s breakfast-and-lunch eat-in or takeaway place next to his home table, Frenchie, I thought of the note a friend in New York who follows my Instagram feed sent me recently. “Don’t you ever just want to stay home and eat a big messy Reuben sandwich?” she asked, teasing me about the often beautiful and elaborate dishes that I share from the restaurants I go to of a given week in Paris as a food writer. Well, um, yes, in fact, I love a good Reuben sandwich. And sometimes I also like a good Saturday morning lie-in so much that we end up missing our two favorite Saturday morning markets–the organic one in Les Batignolles, which is officially known as the Marché Biologique des Batignolles and is located on the boulevard des Batignolles, and the lavish one on the Avenue du Président Wilson, which is held on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

There are few things that make me happier than going to either of these markets, especially because I try to avoid going to restaurants on the weekends in favor of cooking at home, which both Bruno and I love. There are times, however, when Morpheus just pulls you back into bed, and when this happens, we’ll make a run to Terroir d’Avenir, a terrific pair of boutiques in the rue du Nil where you can get your hands on the same superb fruit, vegetables, herbs, cheese, fish, and meat this small select company supplies to many of the best young chefs in Paris. And so on a recent Saturday morning, we decided to make a run to this shop, because it’s tomato season, and I trusted they’d have good heirloom tomatoes (they did, too).

Frenchie to Go - Reuben sandwich

Frenchie to Go - Pulled pork sandwich

After we bought some of the best white peaches I’ve ever eaten, several kinds of tomatoes, herbs, yellow squash, eggplant, fennel, and enough other vegetables to stuff the drawers in both of our small fridges at home, we were hungry. So Bruno suggested we go next door to Frenchie to Go. It’s been open for a couple of years now, but never finding myself in this neighborhood in the middle of the day, I’d never been for lunch, just breakfast, and so this was the perfect occasion. Right from the start, I’ve loved the fact that this place serves non-stop, so that if you tumble out of the Louvre starved at 2.43pm, you can hoof it over here and get a bacon sandwich with egg and cheddar, the best lobster roll in Paris,  a hot dog (homemade, mind you, in a roll from star baker Gontran Cherrier), a pastrami sandwich, fish-and-chips, a Reuben or a pulled pork sandwich.

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Le Restaurant du Palais-Royal, Paris | A Perennially Romantic Restaurant Gets a Great New Chef, B+

July 15, 2015

Restaurant du Palais Royal - Vue extérieure côté Jardin du Palais-Royal

When summer blooms, the urge to dine outdoors sweeps through many major western cities, but perhaps nowhere is the choice of an al fresco dining venue more fraught than it is in Paris. Why? Landing a choice fresh-air table is a great Parisian seasonal game. If anyone can decide to sit down on one of the city’s hundreds of cafe terraces and order one of the worlds best summer meals–a glass of rose, an omelette and a green salad (more often mediocre than not, alas, in the French capital these days, since cafes generally contend with a clientele that’s even more centime-sensitive than any fast-food restaurant. To wit, break an invisible mental price barrier–most recently fifteen Euros, now twenty—and your clientele starts melting; what this means, of course, is constant cost-cutting in the kitchen), not everyone has the well-filled purse and social wiliness required to bag a table at a place like Le Restaurant du Palais-Royal, which occupies a corner of the Palais Royal and possesses a small seasonal terrace which overlooks not only the magnificent arcades and facades of this former royal residence in the heart of Paris, but its the stunningly beautiful gardens as well.

So fiercely in demand are these tables of a given summer day when the weather is good, that Parisians have long ignored this restaurant’s formerly uneven cooking and eye-watering prices. Now, though, with the arrival of a new chef, Philip Chronopoulos, 28, ex L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Le Restaurant du Palais-Royal not only offers an ethereally charming setting for a meal but some superb contemporary French cooking as well.

Resto du Palais Royal artichoke poivrade

Artichokes poivrade at Le Restaurant du Palais-Royal

 

Just for the back story, Paris’s love of fresh-air dining in beautiful bucolic venues was born of the romantic movement in the 18th century and flowered during the 19th century, when many of the city’s then newly built parks included a restaurant or two. Then as an ancient Gallic fear of draughts–courants d’air, which were thought to be cause colds or that vast category of diseases once known as ‘fevers’ faded with access to better medicine, improved urban hygiene and new ideas about health which held that fresh air and sunshine was good for you, picnicking became a popular past-time and guinguettes, or open-air pleasure barges, came to line stretches of the Seine and the Marne. Cafe terraces long the broad avenues and boulevards that Haussmann drove through the city became a fixture of Parisian life, too.

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Etoile sur Mer, Paris | Guy Savoy’s Very Good New Fish Restaurant, B+

July 1, 2015

Etoile de Mer salle

After chef Guy Savoy moved his eponymous three-star table to La Monnaie de Paris, the magnificent Paris mint building on the banks of the Seine in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés two months ago, his former premises on the rue Troyon have been transformed into a chic little seafood restaurant called Etoile sur Mer. This punning name requires a bit of explanation for English speakers, since etoile de mer is not only the French word for a starfish but a reference to the tentacular circular intersection around the Arc de Triomphe, which the French refer to as l’étoile (the star) and which is just around the corner from Etoile sur Mer.

Be that as it may, chef Clément Leroy, Savoy’s right-hand man, runs the kitchen here, and Savoy’s favorite interior-architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte signed the new decor, which includes bare sea-foam-colored anodised tables and dishes that look like they were inspired by shells and drift wood. The atmosphere in this intimate place is confidential and perhaps a bit too hushed, but ultimately it made me think of the the subtle sultriness so beautifully depicted in Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s 2000 film “In the Mood for Love.” Though I expect it’s busy with a business crowd at noon, in the evening, it becomes the kind of place you’d chose to go with a lover you have a hard time keeping your hands off of, because the lighting is low, the dining rooms are flirtatiously private, service is discreet, and a meal of impeccably fresh beautifully prepared wild seafood is perhaps the greatest gastronomic luxury you can share these days.

Etoile de mer sardine

Having astutely observed the ongoing evolution of the international beau-monde’s culinary predilections from his perch on the rue Troyon for nearly thirty years, I think Savoy knows this, too. To wit, the inflection point between the scarcity that always informs luxury and gastronomic pleasure parsed out according to the principles of healthy eating is seafood, but this doesn’t have to mean monastic minimalist preparations either. Modern French seafood cookery basically banned added fat or dairy when it was first birthed by chefs like Paul Minchelli some forty-five years ago. So this is the idiom in which chef Clément Leroy, 33, came of age, and the one from which he so shrewdly innovates. A perfect preview of Leroy style and that of the meal to come was an amuse bouche of sardine sushi on a bed of chive flecked potato puree–what it told was Leroy’s Asian style restraint with fresh seafood and also his attachment to intensely studied but simple looking Oriental aesthetics on the plate.

Etoile de Mer lobster salad

Etoile de mer octopus and artichokes

 

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Grand Coeur | A Delightful New Brasserie in the Marais, B+

June 20, 2015

Grand Coeur courtyard shot flower dress

Tucked away in a courtyard in the Marais, and occupying the same space as The Studio, a long-running but not regretted Tex-Mex restaurant that claims a flickering wick of memory only by reminding me of how much I miss authentic Mexican cooking in Paris, Grand Coeur is a delightful new brasserie that serves a very good contemporary French menu. It also has one of the city’s loveliest terraces for out door summer dining, which is a Parisian passion. Grand Coeur (The Big Heart) comes with a seriously impressive pedigree, too, since it’s the creation of seasoned Marais restaurateur Julien Fouin (Jaja and Glou, neither of which I much like) and Argentine born chef Mauro Colagreco, whose restaurant Mirazur in Menton is one of my favorite tables in France and who is widely considered to be one the country’s five or six best chefs. Talented acting chef, Brazilian born Rafael Gomes, has cooked everywhere from Eleven Madison in New York City to an Alaskan fishing trawler, and he brings a lot of nonchalantly cosmopolitan finesse and creativity to this restaurant, too.

Grand Coeur courtyard crowd shot

I hadn’t been to this address in many years, so coming for dinner the other night unexpectedly brought-on a little avalanche of fuzzy flashbacks when I stepped into the courtyard. Rather surprisingly–given how much the Marais has gentrified, the dance studio at the head of the courtyard is still in business after all of these years, which explains the constant stream of impressively lean and lithe dancers trailing across the big flat cobblestones. I also couldn’t help but being impressed by the architectural beauty of this 18th century setting, which once housed the Aigle d’Or (The Golden Eagle), a coaching inn that eventually became the premises of The Studio.

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Le Bon Saint Pourçain | A Change for the Better in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, B+

June 5, 2015

saint pourcain long view street

In Paris, the assiduously institutionalised exultation of the city’s past poses the same sort of risk as the sugar water in a bee trap. Like many people who live here, however, I forget how easy it is to succumb to the easy nectar of memory and to gloat over the beauty of a place that has pretty much shunned modernity, or at least inside of Le Peripherique, or the beltway that separates the city from the suburbs it ignores.

Provence 1970 2

So as luck would have it, just before going to dinner at the new version of Le Bon Saint Pourçain, a Saint-Germain-des-Prés bistro I’ve know for years, I’d just read Luke Barr’s fascinating and beautifully written book Provence 1970, which puts the relationships of many legendary American and British food writers under a magnifying glass as they interact during a series of cross-hatching visits to Provence. What especially intrigued me in these pages was that two of my heroes, M.F.K. Fisher and Julia Child, were both so wary of becoming trapped by the past. Both women saw that France was changing, in ways both good and bad, and so they sought in their own ways to re-situate themselves in their relationship to Gaul, not loving it less but perhaps not needing it as much as they once had. And both women also felt a powerful eagerness live in the present and discover new things, which struck a chord with me, because so many people, myself included a lot of the time, don’t want Paris to change.

saint pourcain sidewalk shot

But the city will change, and it does, and often that’s a good thing, especially in the kitchen. And for all of the dozens of very happy meals I’ve had at Le Bon Saint Pourçain through the years, the best dish here was always off-menu, since it was the ineffably charming and rather clubby conviviality of the place. And the food? Depending on who was in the kitchen, it was usually just fine, if rarely better than that, or the type of cuisine ménagère (home cooking)  your French maiden aunt might have served you, where the pleasure was derived more from her good intentions than her skills in the kitchen. To be sure, I always liked the leeks in a vinaigrette sauce and the boeuf aux olives (braised beef with green olives), and sometimes there was a good fruit tart to be had as well.

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Lucas Carton | The Rejuvenation of a Mythic Parisian Table, A-

May 24, 2015

Lucas-Carton art nouveau detail

They’re few dining rooms in Paris that are so deeply invested with a long and mostly very happy album of memories for me than Lucas Carton, the magnificent landmarked restaurant with a spectacular art-nouveau decor by Louis Majorelle just across the street from the Église de la Madeleine in the heart of the city.

So I was a little anxious when I went to dinner here the other night for the first time in a very long time–my purse doesn’t allow me to be a regular, and ultimately relieved but not surprised to rediscover that young chef Julien Dumas’s cooking makes him a brilliantly worthy successor to Alain Senderens, who had billing as head chef here for almost thirty years, despite the fact that it was his lieutenant Jerome Bactel who’d actually been running the kitchen on a daily basis for a while.

LUCAS CARTON INTERIEUR bis 2

In fact Bruno said that our meal reminded him of his initial experience of Yannick Alleno’s cooking, or a dazzling first encounter with a startlingly talented and rapidly rising young chef, and I quite happily agreed. Dumas is exactly what Lucas Carton needs to remain a relevant and desirable restaurant in Paris in 2015. So ultimately I was able to add another gastronomic sketch to the brief but privileged album I carry around in my head of occasions spent on these premises.

To be perfectly honest, the one that really sticks out in this slender volume of memory is deeply tinted to this day by trauma. When I arrived in Paris from London to work as an editor in the rue Cambon offices of Fairchild Publications, this restaurant was the setting for one of the most excruciating meals I’ve ever had in my entire life. Sifting through the still tender shards of remembrance attached to that evening, I don’t find the name of my host or hostess, but I know it was a Paris fashion designer and that the chic little supper was intended to size me up and ‘welcome’ me to Paris, in that order of importance.

To say that things did not go well that night is a massive understatement. My eight years of French failed me miserably within minutes of being seated between the attache de presse who’d organized the evening and a druggy middle-aged Countess who immediately told that she thought les Americains were “des sauvages” (savages) and who regularly left the table for five minutes or longer to then return with white-powder-rimed nostrils. In retrospect, the least she could have done in those days before I became sensible and settled was to offer to share her loot. In any event, the meal was a horror, and the worst of it was a starter salad, a tumble of pretty little leaves, that looked innocent enough until I noticed a tiny gnarled bird’s leg sticking out of the greenery. This leg was so tiny I couldn’t imagine anyone would actually want to eat it, and I found myself wondering if it might have found its way into my plate by dint of some horrific accident in the kitchen, or maybe it was a practical joke, or maybe….

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