Les Petits Plats, B; and La Tete dans Les Olives, a Taste of Sicily in the 10th

March 1, 2010

It was a relief to see the fire-engine red painted facade of Les Petits Plats when I finally arrived for dinner the other night after a long Metro ride and then a bracing walk, and the welcome at this very happy restaurant couldn’t possibly have been warmer either. If I was late, the friend I was meeting for dinner was even later, and so we were both a bit rattled by the time we were seated as two at a bare wooden table for four, always a welcome development, since it offered not only the luxury of more elbow room but more psychic space into which we could relax. One of the terrific young servers promptly came by to pour us an excellent glass of Saint Veran and brought us a little plate of very good saucisson and we studied the appealing chalkboard menu, the work of a young chef who previously worked with Alain Reix when he was the head chef at the Jules Verne. Looking at the bill of fare, I immediately thought of Le Paul Bert, that usually very good cult bistro in the 11th, and in fact Les Petits Plats is clearly gunning to become a similar destination bistro with an excellent wine list and simple but appealing food that distinguishes itself as much by the quality of the produce used in the kitchen as any particular flight of culinary imagination. A singular originality here, though, is that you can order all of the main courses in half portions, a nod to weight-watchers and anyone who wasn’t born with the same trencherman’s appetite I have.

The restaurant, which is low-lit (but not too) in the evening is decorated with retro funky flea-market finds and was packed with an interesting cross-section of Parisians, including a lot of young media types, all of whom were having a really good time, and as is true of such places, this conviviality, which is generated by an exceptional cordial and good natured-staff, proved to be contagious.

I started with a little cast-iron cocotte of eggs baked in cream with a delicious chunk of foie gras, and if it needed salt and might have benefitted from a unifying garnish, maybe a judicious sprinkling of chopped fruit, it was very good, as was my friend Laverne’s terrine de campagne–nicely seasoned, not too fatty and generously served. Next, I had a yearning for tartare and because an adjunct slate to the main menu vaunted their Aubrac beef, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt–they’re only a handful of restaurants in Paris where I eat steak tartare and I’d almost never order it the first time I was trying a new place, and see what they’d get up to. Though it wasn’t aux couteaux, or hand-chopped, the beef was outstanding and it came with ramekins of all the condiments you’d want to prepare this dish correctly–chopped capers, cornichons, Tabasco, etc. With a tartare this good, I’d have preferred frites to the over-roasted grenaille potatoes, but they were good, as was a small side salad of mache. Garnished with the same spuds, Laverne’s lamb was a nice juicy piece of meat, too, and the cheese board we shared showed that attention to quality is consistent throughout a meal here. She loved her moelleux au chocolat, and with an excellent bottle of Beaucastel Cote du Rhone this was a fine feed for a fair price.

Since most visitors to Paris tend to cling to well-known neighborhoods in single-digit districts, I’m not how much of an international trade the charming crew at Les Petit Plats is likely to pull, but it’s a very nice address for locals and an ideal spot for a large group of friends to go for dinner–book the round table for six in the back room and let it rip.


Ever since I rebooted my life in Paris twelve years ago by moving from the Left bank to the Right, I’ve had a growing soft spot for the 10th arrondissement, not just the trendy precincts around the Canal Saint Martin, but the funky and almost antically international neighborhood in and around the rue Faubourg Saint Denis. For me, the 10th is the Paris I dreamed of when I poured over books of photographs of the city by great photographers like Edouard Boubat and Robert Doisneau in the art-department of the Weston, Connecticut public library when I was an adolescent library page seething with scorn for my suburban surroundings and aching to climb into one of those earthy images. So I was happy to head off to meet friends for dinner at La Tete dans Les Olives, an off-beat address on the rue Sainte Marthe that’s already received a lot of attention in the French press.

To be sure, this place isn’t really a restaurant, but rather a table d’hotes that seats six in owner Cedric Casanova’s olive oil, olive and grocery shop cum kitchen in a pleasantly cluttered and very cozy old atelier space. The way it works is that you round up your clan and book the place for a B.Y.O.B. evening that starts off with a superb selection of giant caper berries, olives, tapenade and olive oil for dipping. Casanova imports his sublime oils directly from small Sicilian producers, and used by a variety of famous Parisan chefs, they’re reason alone for any Parisian to make a bee-line for this place.

The next course here is a wooden tray of mushroom caps stuffed with a delicious caper-olive tapenade that would be terrific on pasta, a clever and very Sicilian nibble of carrot shavings wrapped around ricotta salata with fresh mint leaves, and chunks of candied squash. Our gang decided to try Casanova’s bottarga (pressed salted tuna eggs, the best of which comes from the region around Trapani in the northwestern corner of Sicily), anchovies, and preserved tuna with a creamy iodine rich taste and a consistency not dissimilar to fine pastrami shavings, and then it was time for la pasta, which Casanova’s colleague Marco cooked up on a single electric burner across from the shop’s sink.

With a choice of two pasta main courses (the other was pasta with bottarga) we chose the pasta alla Norma, a Sicilian classic of Durum wheat pasta dressed with Casanova’s own tomato sauce–maybe the best I’ve ever tasted, more ricotta, cubes of fried eggplant and a terrific blast of mint and parsley pureed in olive oil. I could easily have eaten a second, and then even a third, bowl of this pasta, which was Sicilian home cooking at its best.

Casanova joined us at the table that night and we yammered away in a mix of French, English and Italian about our travels on this wonderful island, shared addresses–the restaurant at the Hotel Moderno in Erice, a perched village just outside of Trapani, emerged as a crowd favorite, and overall had a great time.

This is, however, a place that I think is likely to be more appreciated by Parisians than anyone visiting the city for the simple reason that most travelers crave French food, and also because they’re not a lot of visitors who could round up the quorum necessary for a meal here. But if you live locally, though, La Tete dans Les Olives is a guaranteed great night out with friends.

Les Petits Plats, 39 rue des Plantes, 14th, Tel. 01-45-42–50-52. Metro: Alesia. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Lunch menu 15 Euros, Prix-fixe 32 Euros, a la carte 35 Euros.

La Tete dans Les Olives, 2 rue Sainte-Marthe, 10th, Tel. 09-51-31-33-34 or 06-73-75-74-81. Metro: Goncourt or Belleville.  Prix-fixe menu 30 Euros. Closed Sunday and Monday.