Fish Club, Paris | A Good Catch in Les Halles, B

May 19, 2016

Fish Club - diningroom with girl @ Alexander Lobrano

When the Fish Club, the seafood oriented cousin of the Beef Club next door, first set sail several months ago with a vaguely Peruvian themed menu that spun on carpaccio and ceviche, it never really caught on. Now this address in a former butcher’s shop on the edge of Les Halles with a stylish decor by the parent Experimental Cocktail Club group’s favorite interior designer, Dorothée Meilichzon, has been rebooted with a really appealing menu by chef Julien Burlap. What makes it so attractive is that it’s unpretentious in a city where brand-name food–bread by, carrots grown by, chickens hatched by, etc.–is becoming an alarming new gourmet meme.

What irks me is the accelerating brand-naming of gastronomy, since the wheels of big money have now spotted it as another perfect target for ‘affordable everyday luxury,’ the new motor of consumption in major western cities. So whether it’s deliberate or not, the menu at the Fish Club sort of ignores these rules in favor of a time-tested fail-safe old-fashioned marketing method: quality, which never needs a bold-faced name dangling from it.

Fish Club - Diningroom @ Alexander Lobrano

Here, names are named when they’re useful, rather than to diddle you with aspirant gastronomic shorthand, i.e, butter by Bordier, meat by Hugo Desnoyer (such a shame about what’s going on with him since he was bought by Alain Mikli, the eye-wear designer, etc.). Oh to be sure, a half Saint Marcellin cheese is ID’d on the menu as coming from La Mere Richard, a formerly famous Lyon cheesemonger that was also scooped up not long ago by a big industrial dairy, but at least the staff here–almost unnervingly charming, helpful and informative–remain on the side of the diner; when I asked if the Saint Marcellin, one of my favorite cheeses, was ‘coulant‘ (runny, the way I like it, the way it should be), the waiter said, “No, if that’s the way you like–and you should!–what we have won’t make you happy.”

Instead, the idea of this place, as the well-briefed waitress explained before we ordered is “to offer good quality seafood at a price point that’s in between the insane prices of haute cuisine and the quality compromised ones of brasseries and chain restaurants.”

This sounded promising, so we decided to splurge on absurdly expensive flutes of Champagne and an order of croquettes des crevettes grise, a Belgian comfort food that makes me ecstatically happy. These amber-colored crispy beignets came to the table with deep-fried parsley, as they should, and lemon halves, and they were so good it didn’t even occur to me to photograph them, such was my haste for this pleasure of crunchy cartridges filled with runny pink gently marine tasting béchamel filled with tiny gray shrimp caught off the Belgian coastline. What explained their presence here is the fact that consulting chef Julien Burlat, who’s from the north of France, has worked in Antwerp for several years at an excellent seafood brasserie there called Le Dôme sur Mer.

Fish Club - Baby Squid with arugula @ Alexander Lobrano

Fish Club - Shrimp carpaccio @ Alexander Lobrano

Though there was a nice selection of oysters and other shellfish on offer, we decided to order slightly more elaborate starters out of a desire to understand this place. So I went for the grilled baby squid with arugula and Bruno chose the red shrimp carpaccio with citrus segments and lamb’s ear lettuce.

I liked the quiet fire of piment d’Espelette that enlivened my generous tangle of tender milky squid, and Bruno’s shrimp was impeccably fresh, iodine bright, and very pretty on the plate. So we became hopeful, because more and more what we really love eating these days is good seafood, and as we know, our ardor is projected upon the screen of the harrowing reality that wild seafood becomes scarcer by the day, which is what explains its eye-watering prices in Paris. Continue reading…

Les Arlots, Paris | A Stunningly Good New Bistro A-/B+

May 1, 2016

Les Arlots, Paris @Alexander Lobrano

 

So there are two things you need to know right away about Les Arlots, an excellent new bistro near the Gare du Nord in Paris. The first is that this tiny place is going to become very popular, so if you want to go, please pause now, pick-up the phone and make a reservation. And the second is that despite its diminutive size, it signals a major change in the gastronomic landscape of Paris. To wit, La Bistronomie, or the modern bistro movement that was born in 1994 when chef Yves Camdeborde (along with other Christian Constant alumni) opened the original La Regalade in a remote corner of the 14th Arrondissement, has now run its course to the extent that many of its memes are becoming embarrassing, even a little irritating.

What made me finally certain about something I’ve been sensing for a while was the avidity with which the four of us savaged every course we ate Les Arlots the other night. To be sure, there were a few dishes on the chalkboard menu that nodded at the better ideas of La Bistronomie, notably beets with goat cheese and a deconstructed fraisier (a strawberries-and-cream dessert usually made with sponge cake but here concocted with crumbled shortbread and dollops of pleasantly acidulated raw milk creme fraiche instead). The fact of the matter, however, is that beyond the catchy (or not so catchy) name, La Bistronomie was always essentially just about applying the basic principles of La Nouvelle Cuisine to bistro cooking, i.e. shorter cooking times; a preference for jus (reductions) over elaborated sauces; the eager use of fresh herbs, citrus and other ingredients that convey bright notes of taste; a respect for vegetables and also the aesthetics of the plate. La Bistronomie also prefers layering or contrasting tastes to those that meld together and would not exist without the skills of the cook. This is why Bistronomique menus can be interesting and refreshing but often lack the gastronomic draft of traditional bistro cooking, which, it would seem, Paris is suddenly craving all over again.

Les Arlots - Langoustines @Alexander Lobrano

What we yearned for the other night was real food, or mostly traditional dishes that here were beautifully cooked from superb produce and also generously served. I didn’t come to dinner in search of gastronomic revelation, but rather in the hopes of being well-fed in the best French traditions of culinary simplicity by people who honestly love working in a restaurant, whether in the dining room as servers or bar tenders, or the kitchen as chef and assistants.

But what was it exactly that clued me in to the fact that we’d be eating a really really good meal? The reflexive unselfconscious friendliness of the dining room staff and the small saucer of excellent slightly warmed Corsican sausage that the kitchen sent out for us to nibble with our Saint Andre Sauvignon, one of the really good natural and/or organic wines from the open-shelf wine list here. Message: We love what we do, and we want you to have a great meal and a good time.

We stared at the chalkboard menu for a longtime before we were able to commit to our respective meals, because there were so many things that all of us wanted. Since pâté en croûte is such a great dish upon which to judge the quality of a bistro, I wavered, but in the end I couldn’t stay away from the langoustines with homemade mayonnaise, partly because I adore them, but also because they’re rarely seen in such settings and these were so reasonably priced at 15 €. What I did not expect was the lavishness of the portion that eventually came my way, or their perfect cuisson, or mayonnaise so good I ended up finishing it up with torn pieces of excellent baguette.

Continue reading…

Canard & Champagne, Paris | A Delicious New French Couple, B

April 15, 2016
Canard & Champagne @Stephane Adam

@Stephane Adam

 

Canard & Champagne, a new restaurant in the Passage des Panoramas in Paris, has a very clever concept. Occupying the magnificent landmarked former premises of an 18th century stationery shop with black-and-white marble floors and a magnificent carved wooden shop in the moody Passage des Panoramas, this casual convivial place specializes in two of the most quintessentially French products imaginable, duck and Champagne. It’s the brainchild of shrewd young restauranteurs Jean Valfort, who previously launched Blend, Paris’s first gourmet burger chain, and Pierre Dutaret, who comes from a famous foie-gras producing family in southwestern France.

C&C-bar_01-@stephane-Adam

Bar at Canard & Champagne @ Stephane Adam

 

“Our concept is unabashedly cocorico (this is how the French hear the crowing of the cock that is their national symbol, and the word is also slang for patriotism),” says the amiable Valfort. “We also wanted to promote Champagne as a table wine, or a wine that pairs well with food. Too many people think of it only in terms of being a party drink or a special-occasion quaff, but it goes so well with a variety of different foods, including duck and foie gras, the staples of our menu,” he added.

foie gras - canard et champagne @alec lobrano

canard et champagne - magret @alec lobrano

canard et champagne - confit de canard @alec lobrano

Indeed, it’s easy to order here since you have a choice of two starters—excellent foie gras that comes with an intriguing chutney of fruit and nuts or a green salad, three main courses—magret de canard (grilled duck breast), confit de canard (duck preserved in its own fat) or a steak. Desserts come from the Boulangerie BO in eastern Paris, and they’re superb, especially the Madagascar vanilla and chocolate tarts. And to add to the fun of a meal here, the sommelier is happy to suggest a different Champagne for each course.

Continue reading…

Le Champ des Lunes, Lauris | A Dazzlingly Creative New Chef Arrives in Provence, B+

March 30, 2016
Domaine Fontenille by Serge Chapuis

Domaine Fontenille by Serge Chapuis

When the summer throngs descend upon the Luberon, the tenderloin of Provence, this year, I have no doubt that Le Champ des Lunes, the table gastronomique of the magnificent new Domaine de Fontenille hotel outside of Lauris near Lourmarin, will become one of the season’s most sought-after reservations. Chef Jérôme Faure may be a native of the Jura, the mountainous region of eastern France on the border of Switzerland best known for its Comte cheese and Montbeliard sausages and the place where he won a Michelin star, but in the space of a few of months, he has brilliantly created a very personal and strikingly creative new contemporary Provencale cuisine that’s based on superb local seasonal produce.

Chef Jerome Faure of Le Domaine Fontenille by Serge Chapuis

Chef Jerome Faure of Le Domaine Fontenille @ Serge Chapuis

“It’s not exactly breaking news, but the best thing about Provence for a chef is the incredible produce,” says the amiable Faure, who scouted local markets and chatted up farmers to create his own unique network of suppliers for the two restaurants he runs at the hotel, Le Champ des Lunes, the gastronomic table with an open kitchen overlooking a dining room with polished cement floors, dangling lamps with Edison bulbs, and re-editions of classic modern furniture, including Charles and Ray Eames chairs, and La Cuisine d’Amélie, a simpler bistro with a southern accent.

Le Champs des Lune, Le Domaine de Fonteville

Lunes Domaine Fontenille by Serge Chapuis

During the course of an overnight stay at this lovely new hotel, I was lucky enough to eat twice at Le Champ des Lunes, and aside from the wonderful food, one of the things I liked best about these meals was the dining room itself. I love Provence but it was refreshing to dine in a space that was more worldly and urbane than most of the restaurants in the region. There wasn’t a ribbon tied bunch of lavender, a faience cicada or an inch of fussy Souleiado fabric to be seen anywhere in this cool, hip space with a lot of natural light. Like the decors throughout the Domaine de Fontenille, this bracing good taste is the work of owners Frédéric Biousse and Guillaume Foucher, who own art galleries in Paris and Brussels.

Continue reading…

Kult, Paris | Good Casual Dining in Saint-Germain-des-Pres, B

March 16, 2016

Kult restaurant in Saint-Germain-des-Pres, Paris

Inspite of its dopey name, Kult, the stylish but easygoing restaurant in the just-opened hotel Le Saint, is a welcome new option for good casual dining in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Surprisingly, the restaurant offer in this storied Left Bank neighborhood, the most loved district of Paris for upmarket visitors to the city, is relatively meager. To wit, if you want a good French meal within a five-to-ten-minute walk of the Cafe Deux Magots or the Cafe de Flore, your best choices are pretty much Fish La Boissonnerie, Semilla, Le 21 and, a little bit further afield, the excellent Cafe Trama on the rue du Cherche Midi.

Kult - Restaurant in Saint-Germain-des-Pres, Paris

The good-looking new hotel Le Saint was created from a legendary local hotel, the Hotel Lenox, a place I loved, because I lived there for three months in a beautiful duplex suite at the expense of the publishing company I was working for when I first moved to Paris. Day in and day out, the Lenox offered me, a gangly unknowing neophyte, lessons in the ways of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the neighborhood which remains the boiler-room of a certain eternal style of that distinctively Parisian off-center bourgeois chic the world just can’t get enough of.

So what did I learn there in those early days? Oh, well, lots of things, but among them, the fact that true beauty is always flawed, personal and a tiny bit eccentric. That charm comes from a dared but never excessively scrutinized mixture of social confidence, verbal wit, graciousness and self-deprecation. And that even if it isn’t always easy, it’s better to listen for a long time rather than to speak too quickly. Oh, and also that opposites are always style friends, as in cheap and expensive, new and old, and bold and conservative. H & M and Hermes, Marks & Spencer and Comme des Garcons, mais pourquoi pas?

My gastronomic lessons in the neighborhood were of less importance, since even in 1986, Saint-Germain-des-Prés wasn’t exactly heaving with good bistros aside from the long gone but still much missed La Cafetière in the rue Mazarine. That said, my take away from Saint-Germain-des-Prés was an infinitely valuable lesson about great French food, which is that the true axis of this country’s exalted cuisine is a triumph of exceptionally good seasonal produce cooked simply.

Kult restaurant, Saint-Germain-des=-Pres, Paris - the Bar

So after I was seated on a stripped velvet banquette at the end of the bar and watching the bar tenders slowly, slowly, slowly mixing drinks, I wondered, would Kult ‘get’ the food ways of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, or would it be a silly gimmicky place like the Costes brothers glamorous but mediocre La Société?

Continue reading…

Papillon, Paris | Chef Christophe Saintagne Escapes From the Island With a Good New Bistro, B-

February 27, 2016
Papillon, Paris - Chef Christophe Saintagne

@Pierre Monetta

 

Papillon, chef Christophe Saintagne’s new bistro in the 17th Arrondissement, brings a bracing shot of hipster energy to a very bourgeois part of Paris. From its cobalt-blue facade to its friendly suspender-wearing waiters and market-driven Nordic inflected modern bistro menu, this relaxed, happy place with a decor of oak tables, parquet floors, and suspended lamps looks like a restaurant you could as easily find in Santa Monica or Sydney as western Paris. And that is a mostly good thing, since this Gaullist redoubt is long overdue for a good social, political and gastronomic shakeup.

Papillon also marks a high-profile change in the life of Saintagne, a talented and hard-working chef who most recently ran the kitchens of the Hotel Meurice under the auspices of Alain Ducasse. Suffice it to say, that Saintagne moved on after the decidedly Machiavellian machinery of the Michelin guide foreshadowed the demotion of this restaurant from three stars to two even before the 2016 Guide was released.

So just an aside here; from my point of view, it would considerably augment the credibility of Bibendum, i.e. Michelin,  if they posted their inspectors’ reports online after their annual guides have come out. This way any curious diner could read their assessment, like you can read my assessments of dozens and dozens of restaurants on this site, and come to their own conclusions. Not showing your cards when you’re in the business of food criticism rather smacks of antiquated king-making in my book. But then the high dudgeon of the guidebook company is notoriously well-known in both media circles and the food world: it may be the wick of their business, but they themselves do not take kindly to criticism.

Papillon - Paris - Marinated Salmon @ Pierre Monetta

@ Pierre Monetta

 

At Le Meurice, Saintagne was deputised to launch Ducasse’s new healthy haute cuisine for the 21st century, and I think he pulled off this very difficult task brilliantly, because health and ecology have not heretofore been among the main reasons people go to haute cuisine restaurants. Bon, for reasons we don’t currently know, Michelin didn’t agree, and since their ratings still have staggering commercial impact in terms of any restaurant’s bottom-line, the deer caught-in-the-headlights was Monsieur Saintagne, which struck me as very unfair, and this is why I went to dinner at this new restaurant with great expectations. Like Steve McQueen in the film that inspired the bistro’s name, Papillon, Saintagne had escaped from the island (McQueen escapes from Devil’s Island, the infamous penal colony off the coast of French Guiana), and I was eager to see what he’d do with his freedom.

Continue reading…