Great Food in the Marais

September 19, 2008

The Marais, the 4th arrondissement and part of the 3rd, has always been one of my favorite parts of Paris. I think the Place des Vosges is the perfect urban square a la francaise, I love the neighborhood’s architecture, and, most of all its diversity. The Marais was the original Jewish quarter in Paris, later became the center of Gay life in the city, and today is a deliciously overlapping mix of smart, tolerant, liberal-minded people who love to read (they’re lots of good book stores) and talk (great cafes abound).

Curiously, though, this part of the city has always been sort of a letdown for anyone who loves good food. To be sure, there’s the wonderful L’As du Falafel (world’s best as far as I’m concerned) in the rue de Rosiers, and a few other decent spots, like Chez Omar in the rue de Bretagne, but over-all, it’s never been a great food neighborhood.

Now this looks like it might be changing. Le Dos de la Baleine, a long-running place in the charmingly named rue des Blancs-Manteux, has been taken over by a delightful young couple, and after being sort of a post-gym, pre-bar gay pit-stop for a longtime, it’s morphed into a real restaurant, and a very good one. I had lunch there with a friend I hadn’t seen since we both graduated from Weston (Conn.) High School a very longtime ago (I ran into her in the street in Amsterdam, where she now lives, two months ago, and I guess we should both be encouraged that we recognized each other), and distracted though I was by the fascinating saga of her life, I also ate very well. Kathy started with cream of mushroom soup garnished with grilled peanuts (delicious) and I had an excellent shrimp ceviche, then I went with grilled salmon with pesto and she had a perfectly cooked filet with snow peas. This good, fresh market cooking was framed by a 16.50 Euro lunch menu, a really excellent buy.

Just before everything shutdown in August, I met friends for a dinner at Le Gaigne, a new and truly tiny little bistro in the Mararis. The food was so good that all during the summer I looked forward to going again, especially since exceptionally talented young chef Mickael Gaignon changes his menu regularly. Gaignon was most recently chef at Pierre Gagnaire’s Le Gaya, a Left Bank fish house, and he has a brilliant way with fish. I had brill poached with thyme and served with new-season choucroute (sauerkraut) and a sautee of girolles last night, and it was superb, an intriguing mix of textures and a perfectly balanced composition in terms of taste. Gaignon’s good with everything, though—his royale of duck as a starter was sublime, and a friend who tried the rabbit stuffed with marinated peppers and garnished with tiny florets of romanesco (green cauliflower) was very happy, too. We split a serving of incredible farmhouse Munster, and a dessert, a compote of Mirabelle plums with a meringue and light caramel sauce, and now I’m yet again keenly looking forward to my next meal here.

Le Dos de la Baleine, 40 rue des Blancs-Manteaux, 4th, 01.42.72.38.96.

Le Gaigne, 12 rue Pecquay, 4th, 01.44.59.86.72.

  • Alexander! Thank you so much. We went to Le Gaigne tonight and had such a wonderful dinner. They’re so sweet and their food is just delicious.