Le Restaurant du Palais-Royal, Paris | A Perennially Romantic Restaurant Gets a Great New Chef, B+

July 15, 2015

Restaurant du Palais Royal - Vue extérieure côté Jardin du Palais-Royal

When summer blooms, the urge to dine outdoors sweeps through many major western cities, but perhaps nowhere is the choice of an al fresco dining venue more fraught than it is in Paris. Why? Landing a choice fresh-air table is a great Parisian seasonal game. If anyone can decide to sit down on one of the city’s hundreds of cafe terraces and order one of the worlds best summer meals–a glass of rose, an omelette and a green salad (more often mediocre than not, alas, in the French capital these days, since cafes generally contend with a clientele that’s even more centime-sensitive than any fast-food restaurant. To wit, break an invisible mental price barrier–most recently fifteen Euros, now twenty—and your clientele starts melting; what this means, of course, is constant cost-cutting in the kitchen), not everyone has the well-filled purse and social wiliness required to bag a table at a place like Le Restaurant du Palais-Royal, which occupies a corner of the Palais Royal and possesses a small seasonal terrace which overlooks not only the magnificent arcades and facades of this former royal residence in the heart of Paris, but its the stunningly beautiful gardens as well.

So fiercely in demand are these tables of a given summer day when the weather is good, that Parisians have long ignored this restaurant’s formerly uneven cooking and eye-watering prices. Now, though, with the arrival of a new chef, Philip Chronopoulos, 28, ex L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Le Restaurant du Palais-Royal not only offers an ethereally charming setting for a meal but some superb contemporary French cooking as well.

Resto du Palais Royal artichoke poivrade

Artichokes poivrade at Le Restaurant du Palais-Royal

 

Just for the back story, Paris’s love of fresh-air dining in beautiful bucolic venues was born of the romantic movement in the 18th century and flowered during the 19th century, when many of the city’s then newly built parks included a restaurant or two. Then as an ancient Gallic fear of draughts–courants d’air, which were thought to be cause colds or that vast category of diseases once known as ‘fevers’ faded with access to better medicine, improved urban hygiene and new ideas about health which held that fresh air and sunshine was good for you, picnicking became a popular past-time and guinguettes, or open-air pleasure barges, came to line stretches of the Seine and the Marne. Cafe terraces long the broad avenues and boulevards that Haussmann drove through the city became a fixture of Parisian life, too.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find a great open-air setting and good food in Paris–traffic noise and pollution render many open-air settings unpleasant and the beautiful-terrace-with-good food is almost as elusive as the beautiful-view-restaurant-with-good-food, which makes the recent opening of the Grand Coeur in the Marais so noteworthy and the renaissance of Le Restaurant du Palais-Royal so welcome (note, too, that the cooking at both restaurants is so good and their venues so charming, that they’re well worth a meal even when you can’t sit outside).

What I personally love about the terrace at Le Restaurant du Palais-Royal is that it’s one of those very rare and precious places in Paris where the city loosens its psychological corsets during the summer and relaxes without imperiling its elegance. This incremental relaxing of a perpetual pose of restraint and discipline is deliciously provocative, and as much as the magical setting, this is what makes a summer meal here so romantic.

Eager to discover a favorite table in a new incarnation, I invited another longtime American-in-Paris, my friend Judy, to join me for dinner on a night when there was just enough of a trembling breeze to make it appealing to be outdoors after ten days of Saharan heat. I’d heard that the restaurant had a new chef, but the reason for coming was the setting, so I hoped for the best when we opened our menus to build our meals over a glass of supremely refreshing Chablis. “There are some lovely sounding things here,” said Judy, hopefully, and there were. In fact, the short menu comprised an intriguing offer of dishes that were wholly original but decidedly summery.

Palais Royal Fish with beet broth @ GdeLaubier-47

Out of curiosity, we shared a superb tartare of sea bream and fromage frais in a pool of fresh cherry juice with basil leaves. The acidity of the fruit tempered by the lactic edge of the dairy was a perfect foil for the fish.

Resto du Palais Royal rice cream w:shellfish

I ordered the creamy rice with shellfish and broccoli more out of curiosity than desire, and was pleasantly surprised by an airy dish of cockles and chopped razor-shell clam in a lightly acidulated marinade under a foam of baked rice foam garnished with a sprig and crumbs of baby broccoli. This brilliantly changed the equilibrium of our evening, too, since I hadn’t really intended for this to be a gastronomically interesting or adventurous meal and now it had suddenly become one. Judy’s baby artichokes poivrade, that lovely classic where the vegetable is poached in white wine, olive oil, lemon and herbs, came with a fascinating garnish of grilled Treviso, too.

Palais Royal lobster @ GdeLaubier-53

@GdeLaubier

 

Resto du Palais Royal sweetbreads

Roasted Breton lobster had a louche elegance that came from the fact that the fine flesh of the crustacean was dressed up but not overwhelmed by a lush garnet-colored sauce that incorporated a magnificent court bouillon made with its crushed shell, and wilted turnip greens and firm white asparagus tips brought a pleasantly gentle notes of  bitter punctuation to the almost custard-y richness of impeccably cooked veal sweetbreads. The sauce of deglazed cooking juices and fond de veau demonstrated that Chronopoulos is a seriously talented saucier, too, and also that sauces needn’t be banished from summer cooking if they’re light enough and deftly seasoned to be refreshing.

Palais Royal sorbet @ GdeLaubier-57

Resto au Palais Royal white peach dessert

We concluded this unexpectedly delightful meal with two lovely summer desserts, Mara strawberries in a hibiscus jus with bitter almond ice cream and meringue cartridges with white peaches in a lush rum sauce. My only reservation about this meal was that the service was neither as assured or as gracious as a restaurant with cooking of this caliber warrants, but I expect his will evolve with time.

Le Restaurant du Palais-Royal is expensive, but it’s a superb choice for a special occasion meal in Paris, whether that occasion is a momentous one like a 50th wedding anniversary or a more daily one, like the decision to get a new haircut.

110 galerie de Valois (via the gardens of the Palais Royal) or 41 rue de Valois (if arriving by taxi or car), 1st Arrondisement, Paris, Tel. (33) 01-40-20-00-27. Open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday and Monday. Average 120 Euros. www.restaurantdupalaisroyal.com    

  • Minor Sights

    We just had dinner here. The change is very noticeable and our food was lovely. We’ll be back.