Good Contemporary French Cooking: Le Jardin d’Ampere, B+; Cafe Moderne, A-

October 3, 2009

If terrific little bistros like Jadis, Frenchie and Yam’Tcha have recently provided delicious evidence of the fact the Paris restaurant scene is livelier and more diverse and inventive than it has been for several years, the real proof of how well you eat in the city these days is sometimes found at under the radar places that don’t receive quite as much media attention.

These were my thoughts as I sipped an excellent Sauvignon Blanc from the Languedoc while waiting for friends at Au Coin des Gourmets, the wonderful Indochinese restaurant on the rue Dante in the 5th arrondissement that’s one of my favorite casual restaurants. This week I had two excellent meals at restaurants that haven’t caused a media furor, and so are available to anyone who wants to reserve at the last minute instead of calling weeks ahead of time.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from Le Jardin d’Ampere, the restaurant in the Hotel d’Ampere in the 17th arrondissement. It’s a pleasant place, but has a decidedly corporate following, and I was having dinner there because that’s where an old friend from Boston in town on business was staying. She only had one night free and was ghastly jet-lagged and so asked if we could eat in. Little did I know that I was just about to have a truly memorable meal. We started with beautifully made duck foie gras which came with a delicious black cherry chutney, a great idea for tempering the liver’s richness, and sublime langoustine ravioli with curcuma and an intriguing emulsion of toasted bread crumbs. Next grilled veal sweetbreads with wild mushrooms in carrot jus for me, and John Dory cooked with lemongrass and served with a delicious sate (peanut) jus and gnocchi with black olives for Laurie. We split a wonderful and dramatic lemon dessert, and finally I was curious about the chef and asked the waiter, who told me that young Laurent Tessier previously cooked at La Maison Blanche. Tessier also offers two very good value 24 Euro and 28 Euro lunch menus, and the courtyard garden next to the sleek contemporary dining room must be a lovely place to dine in good weather.

A few days later, I had a superb tasting menu at Le Cafe Moderne, a terrific restaurant with a somewhat difficult location behind the old Bourse, or French stock exchange, in the 2nd arrondissement. Busy at noon with a executive lunch crowd, it’s much quieter in the evening, which is when I like to go. Frederic Hubig-Schall, one of the best and hardest working young restaurant owners in Paris, is the host and sommelier. Hubig-Schall knows and loves his wine, and generously serves some really excellent bottles from little known vineyards–we drank a terrific all Syrah red from vineyards adjacent to those that produce Condrieu, one of my favorite white wines, for very fair prices. His chef is Jean-Luc le Francois, a solid talent whom I first discovered when he was cooking at L’Astor. The other night we were six and made our way through an outstanding tasting menu, with each dish a wonderful miniature that intrigued with the architecture of its tastes and textures. Foie gras with tiny flecks of fruits confit was wonderful, as was beef with pepper and a celery millefeuille, but the stand-out was sea bass with a gently sweet and wonderfully earthy sauce of chestnuts and grilled cepes mushrooms, an autumnal dish par excellence. With its low lighting, friendly service, and great wines, Le Cafe Moderne is an excellent choice for a casual but memorable meal.

Cafe Moderne, 40 rue Notre Dame des Victoires, 2nd, Tel. 01-53-40-85-10. Metro: Bourse. Open Monday-Saturday. Saturday dinner only. Avg 50 Euros.

Le Jardin d’Ampere, 102 Avenue de Villiers, 17th, Tel. 01-44-29-16-54. Metro: Ternes. Open daily. Average 60 Euros a la carte.

  • John Mihalec

    Alec, we lived near where Avenue Villiers crosses Blvd Malesherbes, so I walked by Le Jardin d’Ampere many times (including 3 miles to work in Courbevoie during le greve), but always thought it was too hotelish and pink (!) to consider for real food. Am both glad and (now) disappointed to hear that’s not the case.