SPOON: Great Modern French

December 16, 2008

The 10th anniversary of Spoon, Alain Ducasse’s world food restaurant just off the Champs Elysees, offers an intriguing year-end opportunity to muse on how much eating in Paris has changed over the course of a decade.

  When Spoon first opened, it was an almost seditious challenge to Parisians to wake up to the rest of the world’s cooking, and discover some of the foreign flavors and dishes that had seduced the globe-trotting Monsieur Ducasse. It was pretty bold gambit at the time, too, since you never saw food served in bamboo steamers in Paris restaurants in those days, and the wine list was–shock, horror–almost entirely Californian. 

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JADIS: A Superb New Bistro, B+

December 12, 2008

  As anyone who lives in or regularly visits Paris now knows, the best food in the city is most often now found in outlying neighborhoods that are long Metro ride away. Happily, the Paris Metro system is fast, inexpensive and safe, which means that there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever to miss Jadis, which is one of the best new bistros to have opened in a very longtime.

  Occupying an attractively renovated corner-cafe space in a quiet residential neighborhoood near the Porte de Versailles convention center–this explains the odd crowd of food-loving local hipsters mixing it up with the execs in suits, this burgundy-and-gunmetal gray spot is the new perch of young chef Guillaume Delage, a major new talent with a very impressive resume. Delage was mostly recently at Pierre Gagnaire’s Gaya fish house on the Left Bank, and has also cooked at Michel Bras and Le Pré Catalan.

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December 5, 2008

At long last, I finally had a really good meal in a brasserie.

Unfortunately, it’s not a place I’ll be going back to anytime soon, however, because Le Cafe Anglais is in London, not Paris. For anyone who’s curious about how the great Paris brasserie tradition could and should be resurrected for the 21st century, I’d highly recommend this place, since its only consistent flaw is ratty service–everytime she poured our wine, the waitress spilled it, so that by the end of our lunch a pretty pattern of pale pink dots and splotches had been applied to the white linen. And of course the other problem was that 500 centiliters of Rasteau cost a preposterous 24 pounds (roughly $40).     

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November 28, 2008

2045616-2180890-thumbnail  With Paris tucked under a quilt of low gray clouds for most of the next four months, a new Thai restaurants offers a welcome opportunity for a voyage gastronomique without leaving town.

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Bad Mama, Good Mama

November 20, 2008

The new Mama Shelter hotel (109 rue de Bagnolet) in the 20th arrondissement couldn’t have opened with better timing. The brain child of Serge and Jeremie Trigano, whose father Gilbert founded CLUB MED, slings a lot of style, comfort and fun for a bargain price (rooms start at 79 Euros, or about $115) and the rooms here were designed by Philippe Starck, who obviously had some fun converting this former parking garage into a hotel. All rooms come with an I-MAC, good quality bedding, a little kitchenette with sink, fridge and microwave and Kiehl’s toiletries in the well-designed bathrooms. To be sure, this place is a hoof from central Paris, but on the other hand, the immediate surroundings–the Menilmontant and Belleville neighborhoos–are just about as bona fide bohemian as Paris gets these days.

Aside from the fact that I enjoyed a night I spent at the hotel, I also liked the simple supper we had downstairs in the bar-lounge-restaurant–a decent caesar salad, pasta with decent pesto sauce and nicely served beef carpaccio. The friendly waiter told us that Mama’s “real” menu would be coming in a few weeks later and was being created by none other than chef Alain Senderens.

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Chez Ernie, or La Closerie des Lilas

November 14, 2008

As a rule of thumb, restaurants that make too much of their illustrious past patrons tend to be a disappointment. Though it may be vaguely interesting to know that Colette or Ernest Hemingway appreciated a given Paris table, viewing a restaurant through a scrim of nostalgia is an often perilous distraction from what really matters, which is the quality of the food right now.

Last Saturday night, however, a small group of us wanted oysters and steak tartare in an animated, open-late setting, and it occurred to me that we might try La Closerie des Lilas, the famous old bar-brasserie-restaurant in Montparnasse. This inspiration came mostly from my desire to avoid La Coupole, which so often brings to mind one of those sprawling Soviet Union vintage restaurants with dreadful service and food that used to be just about all you could find in Moscow.

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