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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A New Season at Le V, Four Seasons George V

November 7, 2008

Though I suspect the clientele for meals in Paris that run at least $200 a head has dramatically diminished during the last few months, the arrival of a chef at the Four Seasons George V is still major gastronomic news and the 85 Euro lunch menu here is one of the best buys in Paris right now. Former chef Philippe Legendre, ex-Taillevant, put Le V on the map as one of the great tables in Paris after he won three Michelin stars, and then, talented though he may be, seemed to wobble when he lost one.

   Whatever transpired between Legendre and the hotel remains confidential, but suffice to say he left a few months back and was replaced by Eric Briffard. Who? Well, Eric Briffard, who came from the two star Les Elysees Vernet at the Hotel Vernet, which is where he’d taken refuge after having been unceremoniously swept out of the his post as chef at the Plaza Athenee some ten years ago to make room for Alain Ducasse.

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Memere Paulette: A la Rechere du Temps Perdu, B-

October 31, 2008

A crisp October day and a brisk walk down the rue du Faubourg Montmartre, one of my favorite streets in Paris for its being so guilessly eclectic. This ancient rue presents a classic Parisian cityscape before gentrification and luxury brand names disrupted so much urban turf. First, the wonderfully gemutlich windows of A la Mere de Famille, a first-rate confiserie, or candy and sweets shop that first hung out a shingle in 1761 and which sells the best marrons glace in the world, and then Les Pates Vivantes, a wonderful Chinese noodle shop. I notice a HALAL crepe maker—now there’s some fusion food for you—and stop to read the chalkboard menu at a very good wine bar, le Zinc des Cavistes at No. 5. This street, which always makes me think of New York with its density and vitality, offers up a lot of great eating.

Finally I reach the rue Paul Lelong (a name that would be perfect for a detective or a marathoner) and Memere Paulette, the tiny bistro where I’m meeting a friend for lunch.

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Chardenoux’s New Incarnation

October 24, 2008

For many years, Chardenoux was one of my favorite restaurants in Paris. This stunningly beautiful bistro in the 11th was opened by an Auvergnat couple of the same name at the turn of the last century, and they went all out on the decor with some of the most magnificent wedding cake moldings to be found anywhere in France, a dining room divided in half by a handsome beveled glass partition, and a long zinc bar posed on a stand of polychrome marble.

During what I now consider to be the restaurant’s hay day, chef Bernard Passavant was in the kitchen, and his superb market cooking pre-saged a major renewal of the bistro idiom as indicated by the one dish that I still desperately miss at his table: gigot de sept heures, or lamb cooked for seven hours until it fell off the bone, served with aligot, or that sublime Auvergnat elixir of potatoes whipped with Cantal cheese curds and garlic.

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Ozu: Good Food but Bad Vocabulary

October 17, 2008

Having come across several glowing reports of chef Thierry Marx’s new menu at Ozu, a Japanese restaurant tucked away in the aquarium at the Jardins du Trocadero, I went to dinner on Saturday with the blessedly indefatigible Bruno. For those who don’t know Marx, he’s the chef at Cordeillan Bages in Paulliac just north of Bordeaux, and he has two stars as one of the stars of the portentously and pretentiously named “molecular” cooking espoused by Ferran Adria, the grand priest of the movement. Oh–and what is molecular cooking? A lot of things, but mostly a cooking style that explores and highlights the chemical reactions that take place when food is cooked, which, of course, sounds more like NASA than Escoffier.

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Bonne Nouvelle in Bellechasse

October 8, 2008

For fifteen years I lived in the 7th arrondissement, first in the rue Monsieur and then in the rue du Bac right next door to the Couvent de la Medaille Miraculeuse. During this improbable stint in one of Paris’s swankiest arrondissements, I very rarely dined locally, which is to say within a five minute walk of my front door.

To be sure, there were a few good places nearby, notably L’Epi Dupin when it first opened and before it became so hopelessly overcrowded and manic. But as the nice woman in the now vanished bakery which used to fill the courtyard with wonderful buttery vapors every morning explained to me, my neighbors were more “gratte sou and Picard.”

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