Love Letter

June 3, 2008

It may never occur to those on the innocent outer fringers of publishing, but implicit in writing a book like HUNGRY FOR PARIS is the ongoing work of assuring that those restaurants I’ve recommended continue to be worthy of one of your precious meals in Paris. So on this rainy Tuesday night in June, it was a huge pleasure to go back to Le Baratin in Belleville (recommended in HUNGRY FOR PARIS)  and discover that chef Raquel Carena’s cooking is better than ever. In fact, everytime I go to this restaurant, I fall in love with her food all over again. Why? Carena, a charming and very handsome Argentine woman of a certain age, cooks from her heart and also cooks from a winsome artistic sensibility that she’s probably still unaware of. Think a sort of gastronomic Granma Moses, or a cook who paints with broad strokes of sincerity, innovative, and wit.

Artichokes barigoule–tiny pefectly whittled little artichokes–came in a gorgeously balanced vinaigrette, almost a la Greque, and marinated salmon was generously served as a thick slice with matchsticks of sauteed leek and a winey vinaigrette. Both dishes were superb, as was the bawdy buzz in the dining room (I never eat here without wanting to meet everyone in the room). Main courses were magnificent, too–pork roast with crackling, baby turnips and potatoes, fresh herbs, and pan juices added to a light vinaigrette and veal cheeks with mushrooms, carrots, baby potatoes and herbs. After gorging on a whole and exquisitely ripened Saint Marcellin that could only be described as dairy velvet, we split an apple and red-fruit crumble, a perfect from-the-heart dessert.

The only cloud over this meal is my apprenhension that further mention of this tiny, simple little bistro may overwhelm it. Watching various well-advised foreigners get out of taxis out front, I worried that too much attention could smother the sweetness and bohemian guilelessness of this place. So let my close this appreciation with a stern but well-intentioned warning–Belleville, where Le Baratin is located, is a pain-in-the-neck cab ride from anywhere most tourist are likely to be staying in Paris, the room is tiny and noisy and has little decor aside from a few paintings by local artists, and if you’re not sincerely interested in tasting a rare dose of la vie boheme in Paris today, this restaurant is not for you.

  • bobpet

    if you’re not sincerely interested in tasting a rare dose of la vie boheme in Paris today, this restaurant is not for you

    can’t wait to try it

    your humble follower and eater


  • Alexander Lobrano

    Dear Bob,

    It’s a terrific restaurant, but you’ll only be happy there if you accept that it’s a trek to get up to Belleville, that it’s often noisy, and that it’s so popular that you often eat cheek by jowl (and sometimes even cheeks and jowls!). Best, Alec