Racines, Paris | A Delightful Bistrot a Vins Gets a New Chef, B+

February 8, 2018

Racines - Entrance

Racines - Dining room framed

In taking over the kitchen at Racines, a charming bistrots a vins ( a bistro that specializes in wines) in the Passage des Panoramas, talented chef Simone Tondo returns to his roots in more ways than one. Just after arriving in Paris, Tondo worked alongside chef Sven Chartier when the latter ran the kitchen here, so this new chapter in his career is a homecoming of sorts. And then there’s the chalkboard menu, which offers a brilliant market-driven selection of mostly Italian dishes, including several from Tondo’s native Sardinia (many of the wines are Italian, too).

Happily, these dishes display the same earnest, endearing, elegantly earthy style of suave comfort-food cooking that is Tondo at his best. In fact at lunch there the other day, I found his food to be more confident and more assured than ever, which makes for a change from the last time I sampled his cuisine. To wit, Tondo recently had an eponymous restaurant in the 12th Arrondissement where I found his bistronomique (modern French bistro cooking) cuisine too complicated and lacking the imprint of his personality to be really convincing. To be sure, the food he cooked there was good, because he’s an excellent cook, but I missed the sheer charm and amiability of the dishes I ate the first time I discovered his cooking some six years ago.

Racines - Grilled langoustines@Alexander Lobrano

Grilled langoustines @ Alexander Lobrano

 

After working in a variety of kitchens, including Cracco in Milan, Mirazur in Menton and with Giovanni Passerini at Rino in Paris, Tondo first really came on the Paris dining scene in 2012 when he launched an excellent restaurant, Roseval, deep in the 20th Arrondissement with British chef Michael Greenwold (today it’s called Dilia). Dining there with friends on an early summer night, we were dazzled by the excellent produce, imaginative culinary constellations of taste and texture, and the stunningly precise cooking times this pair managed to achieve in a tiny  galley kitchen. The dish that stopped the conversation that evening was one I still crave–a gossamer puree of smoked potatoes with sautéed onions, baby clams and a crunchy veil of buttered bread crumbs. The crustaceans’ juices spiked the potato and the crumbs added some provocative texture to a dish that was apparently angelic, but stealthily quite sensual. Sliced sirloin with anchovy cream and riced and pureed cauliflower and a scattering of fresh tarragon leaves strewn across the plate was outstanding, too, as was pork with smoked eggplant, pomelo, fingerling potatoes and dill.

I ate often at Roseval until the pair of chefs went their own ways and sold up, with Tondo eventually opening his own place in the space formerly occupied by Gazetta, the contemporary bistro of chef Peter Nilsson in the 12th. And now following that adventure, it was a pleasure to find Tondo in this charming new setting with the delightful Stephanie Rockford running the dining room.

Racines - Hors d'oeuvres@Alexander Lobrano

While we were settling in over very good glasses of Chenin Blanc, Tondo sent us a pair of grilled langoustines to nibble on, and they were superb–napped with excellent olive oil, perfectly cooked, delicately perfumed with rosemary. And so we ended up sampling all of the first courses on the menu that day, including a gorgeous Mozzarella, treviso with speck and a superb plate of Italian charcuterie, including some of finocchiona, or fennel-seed seasoned salami, that’s reason alone to buy a plane ticket to Italy. Not pictured: the best polpette (meatballs) I’ve ever eaten.

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Comice, Paris | A Deliciously Suave New Table, A-/B+

January 3, 2018

Comice restaurant, Paris - Exterior @alexander Lobrano

Comice restaurant, Paris - Dining room with tree paintings

With the opening of Comice, I’ve finally found a delicious reason to head for the 16th arrondissement, since this restaurant is the suave but relaxed address with outstanding contemporary French cooking this quiet bourgeois part of Paris has so sorely been missing. Traveling to meet a friend here for lunch just before Christmas, I found myself in the midst of a long meditation on my relationship with this part of the city as first I took the Metro many stops west from my home in the heart of the city, and then I walked many long blocks on pavements made pretty but slippery by random collages of the year’s most tenacious yellow leaves finally pelted off the trees by a hard cold early winter rain.

Truth be told, for reasons variously financial, sociological and psychological, this isn’t a part of Paris with which I’ve ever had much kin. To be sure, they’re a few restaurants in this demure, well-tended zone of restrained privilege that I’ve always liked, including Les Tablets de Jean-Louis Nomicos, L’Astrance, Le Stella, Pages, and Monsieur Bleu (more for Joseph Dirand’s sublime decor than the food). But with the exception of the 9th Arrondissement where I live, my axis of good taste has been decidedly tipped towards eastern Paris, or the 3rd,  the 10th, the 11th, the 12th, and more recently, the 18th arrondissements for many years for the simple reason that these are the neighbourhoods of predilection for a whole generation of talented young Parisian chefs. Why? That’s easy. These are the quarters where the rents for both flats and commercial spaces are still relatively affordable, which means that they’re also among the youngest parts of the city.

Comice, Paris - Sideboard

For my part, and as someone who will always be in life-long recovery from a childhood in a safe, well-groomed, and very polite suburb of New York City, I prefer neighbourhoods with more edge and human variety than I’ve ever found in the 16th, and when I was single, I liked living somewhere central that made it easy to walk home after a night out in the clubs. The 16th has also always failed my anonymity test, which is to say people observe one another day in and day out, because these zones are rarely troubled by unknown faces. Myself, I like unknown faces, thrive on diversity, and like my neighbours sparse and mostly kept at a friendly arm’s length.

The last time I’d spent any real time in this neighborhood, as in coming here once or twice a week, was over thirty years ago when I’d lingered in an emotionally inappropriate affair, as one does, because the sex was so good. Waiting to cross a street on the way to lunch, this furtive fumbling connection came back to me vividly, but now, instead of making me cringe as it had for so many years before, I finally laughed out loud at the absurdity of the time I’d spent with a handsome Belgian man who’d once been a monk but who had gone on to become an unhappily married insurance executive instead. Doubtless it was this lurid if good-humoured recollection that finally landed me at the door to this notably attractive dining room in high spirits and with a ravenously well-honed appetite, my revenge, perhaps, on the gimlet-eyed concierge in the Belgian’s building who always eyed me through an index finger’s pullback of ivory lace window veneer as Satan himself.

My lunch date from Los Angeles hadn’t arrived yet, so I chatted with the delightful Etheliya Hananova, who explained that she was originally was from Winnipeg but had arrived in Paris with her husband, chef Noam Gedalof, also Canadian, when he got the job as sous-chef to Antonin Bonnet at Le Sergeant Recruteur on the Ile Saint Louis. So I went back to the open kitchen to say hello to Gedalof, and learned that he’d also worked at Thomas’s Keller’s The French Laundry, an experience that he found ‘invaluable’ and had done a stint with chef Pascal Barbot at L’Astrance. “My cooking is all about produce, making it more eloquent while respecting its natural tastes and explained, adding that he enjoyed the challenge of sourcing as much of his produce from small producers he finds himself as possible. “There should be an element of surprise at every meal, and so I don’t want to use the same suppliers everyone else does,” Gedalof said with a smile. An example? “The poularde (a chicken that’s more than 120 days old and which has been fed on a special diet) of farmer Simon Graf at La Ferme du Poc in Gascony. This bird is incredibly succulent and has the most amazing flavor.”

So I already knew what I wanted for lunch when the lady in black, chic as ever, finally darkened the doorway and raised my spirits.

Comice, Paris - Scallop carpaccio @Alexander Lobrano

Comice, Paris - Foie Gras parfait @Alexander Lobrano

“What a good-looking room, ” she said after settling down and inspecting her surroundings. “Who did it?” Well, that would be Parisian architect Nicolas Kelemen, with the beautiful flower arrangements coming from the exceptionally chic florist Debeaulieu in the rue Henri Monnier, and the handsome paintings of trees that are the focal point of the spacious dining room in tones of gray, petrol blue, almond and bittersweet by the Berlin based Canadian painter Peter Hoffer. “Chic but relaxed,” she said, adding, “And I’m hungry.”

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Le Flaubert, Paris | A Truly Excellent Bistro, A-/B+

December 10, 2017

Le Flaubert - Dining room @Lisa Klein Michel

Le Flaubert - Laetitia and Romain

Laetitia and chef Romain Brechignac @Lisa Klein Michel

 

A really excellent recent meal at Le Flaubert, which was originally called Le Bistrot d’a Cote when two-star Michelin chef Michel Rostang first opened it thirty years ago, got me to thinking about the impact of the internet on restaurant writing. To wit, the only reason I had this fine feed at a restaurant I’d once loved but hadn’t been to in over ten years is that some visiting friends from South Africa had been advised to eat there by a good hotel concierge. Otherwise, I am usually so caught up in the cycle of the new, new, new–Hello, SEO (search engine optimisation) that I very rarely find the time to go back to places I’ve enjoyed to see how they might be evolving, holding up, changing.

Le Flaubert - Mackerel, onions, seaweed @Lisa Klein Michel

What this does, in effect, is penalize the careers of established chefs and well-run restaurants, since after the initial blaze of publicity when they open, how do they remain sought-after, talked about, and most of all profitable when the whole dining-out gig is so gamed towards the new? To be sure, a great chef can win a solid following of regulars who fill his or her dining room day in and day out, but the ferocity of the new remains hard to overcome, since it’s become a given that novelty is the best driver of cyber clicks, because–it is hoped–they will translate into on-line advertising, assumed to be the last bandage of ever more seriously ailing print publishing.

It’s not that the New hasn’t always driven media, but rather how fierce this has become as we read more and more online, with the websites’ infinite need for fresh content, than we do in print.

Le Flaubert - China head of a cock@Lisa Klein Michel

As someone who ardently loves good food, my goal here isn’t to open the back of the cyber business models that drive the internet, but to simply observe that they are changing the way we eat in ways which often reward good public relations more than they do good cooking. When it comes to Le Flaubert, I still remember the flutter this place caused when it first opened, because it was so surprising in 1987 that a Michelin two-star chef would turn his hand to affordable everyday dining. But insofar as this idiom is concerned, Michel Rostang is every bit as much a father of “La Bistronomie,” or modern French bistro cooking, as chef Christian Constant and the band of young chefs he trained, notably Yves Camdeborde, Eric Frechon and Thierry Breton.

Le Flaubert - Detail of menu@Lisa Klein Michel

Le Flaubert - Jambon persille@Alexander Lobrano

After the meal I had here the other night, I can also say that this table is not only better than ever but has become one of the finest bistros in Paris. So what lucky happenstance it was that delivered me to its door, and my thanks to my Capetonian friends for getting me back here. As soon as we stepped through the door, the atmosphere was terrific–the dining room had that wonderful winter fug generated by people who are eating and drinking well, and the hostess here, Laetitia, was delightful from the moment she brought us our menus with that sort of saucy, bemusedly wry social posturing that’s bistro service at its best. We ordered glasses of Condrieu, because who wouldn’t, and after they came to the table Laetitia followed with a slice of excellent homemade jambon persille (a Burgundian terrine of chunks of ham in parsley-brightened aspic).

The South Africans were as excited as baby seals to be in Paris again after a very longtime, and since neither of them speak French, I sherpa-ed them through the menu, which left them squirming in their seats with anticipation. And since even after many years as a Parisian, I could never become blasé about the city myself, we were an eager audience when our starters arrived.

Le Flaubert - Pate en croute@Lisa Klein Michel

Le Flaubert - Gnocchi, ris de veau, cepes@Lia Klein Michel

Caroline’s mackerel poached in white wine was beautifully plated with pickled vegetables and poached spring onions with an iodine rich seaweed vinaigrette, while Hunter slipped into sort of a monastic meditative bliss as he ate his duck and foie gras pate en croute, which was encased first in buttery pastry and then in a shimmering garter of dark amber aspic–I forked in here, and it was in a mouthful everything that has always defined this restaurant, or a sort of exalted rusticity produced by applying steely haute-cuisine technique to bistro dishes. Much as I adore these friends, it was a struggle against a surge of animal avarice to allow my friends to taste my airy gnocchi a la Parisienne with roasted ceps and sweetbreads, since this was not only one of the best dishes I’ve eaten all year, it was ecstatically consoling on a cold, damp winter night. That said, I hate to think of how I might of reacted if either of them had asked for a second taste.

Our food was so soothing that it allowed us to unload our respective burdens–them, the corruption of the Zuma government, me–well, just guess, without denting our pleasure and move on to happier subjects of conversation, like the beach house that Hunter had designed for them on a pristine stretch of the Indian ocean in Mozambique, one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited, or the intriguing way that Cape Town is slowly but surely recovering its essential DNA as a city once known as “The Tavern of the Seas.” To wit, they said that there’s more racial comity than ever there, and that it’s less and less self-conscious. Caroline asked me about “the handsome Macron” and all of us confessed that we didn’t have a clue as to what Bitcoin might be and couldn’t care less one way or another. We also chatted about the impact of the internet on our lives, the ways we love it, the ways we don’t, with Hunter expressing exasperation that anyone could become famous just for knowing how to grab our increasingly shattered attention spans in cyber space, as opposed to having some real talent.

Le Flaubert - Artichoke and octopus @Lisa Klein Michel

Le Flaubert - Poached cod with bean and mushrooms@Alexander Lobrano

For mains, Caroline ordered the roasted octopus with artichoke and onions, because, as she later admitted, she’d never eaten octopus before (“it’s odd, but delicious,” was here take on this tentacled treat), and I couldn’t resist the olive-oil poached cod on a bed of Paimpol beans and ceps. Both dishes were made with superb produce, impeccably cooked and deeply satisfying, which put them at a notable difference from a lot of the wearisomely chef ‘bistronomique’ I’ve been eating too often lately.

Le Flaubert - Scallops with parsnip puree@Alexander Lobrano

Hunter went with the daily special, seared scallops with parsnip puree and pickled cauliflower. “It’s rare to find fresh scallops in South Africa, and if you do, they’re no where near as good as these–so firm and such a nice gentle sweet taste,” he said in praise of these succulent marine morsels from Normandy.

Le Flaubert - Petits Pot @Lisa Klein Michel

Le Flaubert - Poached pear @ Lisa Klein Michel

As part of a losing, but hopefully not futile, battle not to become a client of a chain of stores called the Big & Tall Men’s Store, a plus-sized place  where I once worked as a college student for a few weeks one summer–my father insisted I get a job before I went away to my ‘real’ summer job as a waiter on Nantucket, because he didn’t want me “loafing around,” I don’t normally eat dessert. Still the South Africans insisted, so I told them about the first day on the job at the Big & Tall Men’s Store, the only store in a suburban Connecticut strip mall without a front door–the clients parked in back and came in through the back door, presumably because they were too embarrassed to be seen going into such a place, and I was astonished to discover box shorts the size of small circus tents and suits that would fit a redwood.

During the dull hours when there were no customers, I’d sit on a stool by the cash register reading, and then when the door bell rang, signaling the arrival of a client, I never knew what shape of misery I’d find when I looked up, often way up, or wide, often very wide. These men were hurried, furtive shoppers, because they were miserable being in the store and just wanted to get it over with in a hurry. I’d mostly leave them alone, since I knew they wanted as little interaction as possible, but occasionally I’d try to help, especially during the summer, when I’d ask them if they needed a bathing suit, too. Nine out of ten of them were hugely relieved by the suggestion. “Do you sell them?” “Yes” “In my size?” “Of course,” I’d say, and steer them away from the tropical prints and stripes to the solid colors.

My memory shared as a protest got me no where, though. “Well, you have thickened up a bit since we last saw you (note to self: never be coy about your weight), but that’s no reason not to have dessert with two dear friends,” said Caroline. So I ordered some honey ice cream with roasted prunes and raisins, because it sounded more healthy than anything else. Hunter went with the petits pots de creme au chocolat a l’ancienne (the world’s best chocolate custard) and Caroline, the poached pear with whipped cream and walnuts. And so there was a sweet ending for all of us to a wonderful reunion and an excellent meal.

Le Flaubert – Bistrot d’a Cote, 10 rue Gustave Flaubert, 17th Arrondissement, Paris, Tel. (33) 01- 42-67-05-81, Metro: Pereire, Wagram or Ternes. Open Tuesday to Friday for lunch and dinner. Saturday dinner only. Closed Sunday and Monday. Prix-fixe menus 45 Euros, 36 Euros, 32 Euros, Average a la carte 50 Euros. www.bistrotflaubert.com

Le Flaubert - Antique bottles@Lisa Klein Michel

Vins des Pyrénées, Paris | A Marais Bolthole Gets a Clever Reboot, B

November 21, 2017

@Yann Deret

 

Tinkering with a neighborhood institution is always risky, but the new version of Vins des Pyrénées is a solid success. Why? Truth be told, this wonderful old hole-in-the-wall that’s been open in one guise another since 1906 is actually more appealing now than it’s ever been, with much better food than it served in the past, a great-looking new decor that respects its past rather than overwhelming it, friendly service, and a terrific cocktail menu. Best of all, it’s still one of those rare places–for the time being, where you can decide to go at the last minute without having made a reservation (reservations are preferable, bien sur, but sometimes a date just happens, and this place privileges such spontaneity rather than imposing the tyrannical straight-jacket of a reservation on a spur-of-the-moment good time).

Vins des Pyrenees - neon sign@Alexander Lobrano  This is a rare good news story, too, at a time when income-inequality driven gentrification continues to ravage the sociological ecosystems of the world’s most desirable cities. Even though Paris is subject to the same forces have sadly dulled and pasteurised so many of the most wonderful parts of New York and London, and the French capital has been less disrupted than those latter two, the Marais continues to go relentlessly upmarket. But at Vins des Pyrénées, owner actor Florian Cadiou has shrewdly respected the enduringly democratic DNA of the quartier enough to draw up a menu that lets you pop in for a single course–maybe their excellent Croque Monsieur made with truffled Gouda, and a glass of wine for twenty euros, which is what goes a bargain these days in Paris.

To be sure, some of the old timers, like the vociferously cranky middle-aged British music critic in a vintage black leather Perfecto jacket and his equally grumpy companion who sat next to us at dinner the other night, won’t be pleased. But hey, the days when Jim Morrison liked to hang out here aren’t coming back. That said, this place still manages to be cool without calling a tedious amount of attention to its hipster cred, and that’s something to be grateful for in an age of wiltingly over-hyped and over-conceptualised restaurants. After all, who doesn’t love an address where you could actually become a regular without having to spend a small fortune or reserve in advance?

Vins des Pyrenees - dining room @Yann Deret

@Yann Deret

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Origins 14 – La Régalade | Chef Ollie Clarke’s Great Bistro Cooking for the 21st Century, B+

November 7, 2017

 

Origins 14 - La Regalade @chef Ollie Clarke

Chef Ollie Clarke

 

Origins 14 - La Regalade - Smoked lamb carpaccio@Alexander Lobrano

Smoked lamb carpaccio at Origins 14 – La Regalade

 

British chef Ollie Clarke has bought the legendary La Régalade in the 14th Arrondissement and is transitioning it towards a new name, Origins 14 – La Régalade. In all likelihood, this will be shortened to Origins 14 once Clarke has settled in, but for the time being, the moniker La Régalade is being retained as a sort of placeholder, because so many people know where this restaurant is located and also that it was the birthplace of la bistronomie, or modern French bistro movement, when chef Yves Camdeborde first opened it in 1992.

Origins 14 - La Regalade - Table top

Since modern French bistro cooking has become the dominant culinary idiom among ambitious young chefs going out on their own, it’s almost hard to imagine that this cooking style barely existed twenty-five years ago. That was when a band of young chefs who’d worked with chef Christian Constant when he was head chef at the sadly now vanished Les Ambassadeurs at the Hotel de Crillon began going out on their own and applying the haute-cusiine lessons they’d learned from Constant to bistro cooking.

Origins 14 - La Regalade- Dining room @Alexander Lobrano

This included the idea of using luxury foods liked foie gras and truffles as garnishes on bistro dishes, shorter cooking times, a lavish use of fresh herbs, and a preference for jus (deeply reduced meat or seafood stock) and vinaigrettes in place of traditional French sauces made by deglazing cooking juices with wine and then elaborating them with rich dairy products like butter and cream. Vegetables suddenly achieved a new importance in the context of this cooking style, too, and homelier cuts of meat, including a lot of organ meats, and less expensive fishes (mackerel, herring, red mullet, etc.) took pride of place on the menus at this new breed of bistro, which also dismissed the canon of traditional bistro cooking, including such grand Gallic dishes as blanquette de veau and boeuf bourguignon, as too rich and too heavy.

French food writer Sebastien Desmorand coined a name for the new movement, La Bistronomie, and a raft of new guides and publications, including Nova (no longer publishing) and Le Fooding (now partially owned by Michelin and so part of the establishment it once took such iconoclastic delight in ridiculing and rejecting) championed it. So it thrived, and to such a degree, in fact, that it’s now much easier to find a bistronomie style meal in Paris than it is a traditional bistro feed.

Origins 14 - La Regalade - Menu@Alexander Lobrano

On my way to the restaurant on a cool autumn night, I remember the spectacular first meal I had at the original La Régalade. First we gorged ourselves on the superb loaf of terrine de campagne that arrived at the table with excellent bread compliments of the house, and then I had ravioli stuffed with foie gras under a thatch of truffle shavings and a sublime dish of grilled rougets with cep mushrooms and roasted chestnuts. This meal was so good that thinking about still makes me ravenous many years later. So I was very curious about how Clarke would reset the pendulum of this very famous place en route to meet Bruno there for dinner.

Origins 14 - La Regalade - Dining room and bar@Alexander Lobrano

Arriving, the look of the dining room hadn’t changed in any perceptible way, which allowed me the pleasure of some umami-rich gnawing on old bones nostalgia for all of the excellent meals I’d eaten here through the years, with different people and on different occasions, over a glass of excellent Cotes du Roussillon Domaine Modat while I waited for Bruno. The crowd seemed little different from the last time I’d been here, perhaps five years, ago, as well, since it remained a mixture of locals, guidebook-following foreigners, French out-of-towners staying in inexpensive hotels around the Porte d’Orleans and solidly fed Parisian regulars of different stripes who’d probably arrived by Uber. There was, however, a sprinkling of younger types, who probably knew Clarke’s cooking from the days he was chef at Fish La Boissonnerie, a popular expat table in Saint-Germain-des-Pres.

So I found myself musing like some kind of an uncle on the idea of having known this restaurant for its entire lifetime and also wondering why I hadn’t been here in such a longtime. In the end, the reasons this address fell off my list had to do with the fact that bistronomie became so ubiquitous it no longer required a journey to an out-of-the-way corner of the 14th Arrondissement to enjoy or not enjoy it and also because as good as the cooking of chef Bruno Doucet may be–Doucet took this place over when Camdeborde moved to Saint-Germain-des-Pres to profitably play to his international reputation in a front-row setting where he could command higher prices, it lacked the sinewy originality and occasional thrillingly primal bluntness of Camdeborde’s style. All of this probably explains why Doucet decided to sell the restaurant to Clarke and concentrate on the two other Paris restaurants that bear the La Regalade name, La Régalade Saint-Honoré and La Regalade Conservatoire at the Hotel de Nell. Odds are good that he probably wants to make some money off of a good globally known brand name on his own count, too–and who can blame him, without having to worry about maintaining the allure of the original location.

Origins 14 - La Regalade - Terrine de Campagne@Alexander Lobrano

When Bruno showed up we ordered right away, since he was hungry at the end of a long day. After the waiter left our table, I found myself earnestly hoping about what would happen next, and then it did. The help-yourself terrine de campagne brought to the table as a complimentary hors d’oeuvre arrived with a thump, and then there was second thump an earthenware jug of cornichons was set down on the table, along with a basket of excellent bread. And we shamelessly savaged the terrine, which was superb. Oh, and by the way–don’t even think about scolding the fat edging this terrine, since it was as delicious, maybe even more delicious, as good butter. Just for the record, maybe it’s Instagram fatigue or something, but I’ve also gone completely off super-styled food photography and am now besotted with photographs that tell the truth.

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Spoon 2, Paris | A Curious Carrousel of Flavors, B-

October 21, 2017

Spoon 2 - entrance @pierremonetta

Gastronomic entrepreneur Alain Ducasse’s new version of his restaurant Spoon (the original  closed after a long run just off the Champs Elysees several years ago) is called  Spoon 2. It occupies the former premises of one of Yannick Alleno’s Terroir Parisien restaurants in the Palais Brogniart, the old Paris stock-market building in the heart of the city, which were redesigned in a curiously nondescript way by the otherwise tremendously elegant interior architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte .

Spoon 2 - Shrimp Toast@Alexander Lobrano

I ate here a week ago, and I am still trying to make sense of the experience. Suffice it to say that Alain Ducasse could never do a bad restaurant–he’s much too talented and savvy for that. But I just can’t find the modus vivendi–gastronomic or economic, for this place. Supposedly, it’s about showcasing the remarkable foods and dishes Ducasse has recently discovered during his incessant travels. But the first dish that came to the table, “shrimp cake, katsuboshi,” identified as being from Taiwan on the menu, is a delicious Cantonese classic that was on the take-out menu of the excellent Cantonese Chinese restaurant in the town where I grew up in Connecticut as “Shrimp Toast.” The only thing that made it different at Spoon 2, were the bonito flakes, which were oddly lacking in flavor.

Spoon 2 - Shrimp ravioli @ Pierremonetta

Spoon 2 @ sea bream, salmon, mackerel @pmonetta

It’s still very good at Spoon 2, though, but hardly a revelation, and neither was the Thai salad of green papaya (fiery but otherwise more a study in texture than taste), the three variously garnished raw fish dishes, or the two in the menu category dubbed “Vapeurs,” because good quality shumai, or shrimp dumplings, and pork-and-cabbage wontons can be found all over Paris and also purchased at Picard, the popular local frozen food chain of respectable quality.

Spoon 2 - Chili sin Carne @Alexander Lobrano

Just before we became completely bewildered by this place–I mean why would I come to Alain Ducasse for straight up Cantonese, Thai, Peruvian or other cuisines when I can go to the source elsewhere in Paris, a very clever dish arrived. Crunchy golden beignets filled with chilli sin carne (meat-free chilli, or chilli made just with beans) arrived at the table in a molded cast-iron baking dish with salsa verde and peppery tomato sauce, and they were an urbane and witty riff on a Mexican comfort-food classic.

With his knowledge, talent, and imagination, this sort of nimble, even occasionally wry, culinary reflection is what I came to Spoon 2 expecting from Ducasse, since he is one of the world’s most assiduous catalogers of tastes, produce and recipes. The first Spoon, Food and Wine, later shortened to just Spoon, spun on just such an axis of disruptive innovation, reflection and imagination, which is what made it so original when it opened in 1998 (the fact that the original wine list was almost exclusively American was a real brickbat to Gallic sensibilities, too).

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