Saturday, 23 February 2013


Dining in Paris is the stuff dreams are made of: elaborate dishes made with top notch ingredients, artfully presented by passionate chefs.
Unless, of course, you happen into one of the infinite restos where instead of having a mind-blowing meal, you’re served mediocrity along
with impressive attitude. In fact, doesn’t it taste like those vegetables on your plate came straight from a bag?
Of course every town has its dining hits and misses. But for so long, it was unfavorably risky to gamble on your average neighborhood bistro in Paris. But finally the tides have turned. We seem to have arrived at a place where you don’t have to break the bank to have a fantastic meal that gets your heart and stomach juices pumping.
I recently had a handful of such experiences—mostly, unsurprisingly, in the tenth and eleventh arrondissements, where the most creative cooking seems to be happening these days. What was it about these experiences? They all had comfortable atmospheres, what with books stacked on the bar and crates of wine on the floor.
Lovely service with zero attitude—places where the staff actually smiled and indulged in a little banter. And loosened policies and philosophies where it was okay to have just one plat and noentrée or dessert, or to even make an adjustment to the ingredients. While I wasn’t blown away by any one meal, I’d happily go back to any of these places for their own brands of informal elegance.
La Pharmacie (22, rue Jean Pierre Timbaud, 75011, 33 01 55 28 75 98) is, as you might expect, situated inside an old pharmacy. It has a bold turquoise façade that gives way to a cheery, warm interior of bookshelves lined with wine glasses, a petite kitchen tucked in the corner, and an equally inviting staff.
The menu is simple—five entrées, five plats and five desserts—and the wine list, eclectic. Everything—from a fricassé of sautéed mushrooms to steak with Chimichurri sauce—fits in the “comfort food” category. My own yellow bass, served with a generous portion of mashed sweet potatoes was just the ticket on a cold winter’s night.
Though the ballyhooed American chef, Kevin O’Donnell, has left L’Office (3, rue Richer, 75009, 33 01 47 70 67 31), the restaurant’s menu is still arresting, thanks to Japanese chef Yosuke Yamasi. There are three options for each course, defined by three ingredients. For example,“Burrata / gazpacho / basilic” and “Bar / tomate fumée / speck.”
You can either allow your own imagination make the leap (and undoubtedly be pleasantly surprised by what’s delivered to you). Or ask the waiter for a full description. With Jimi Hendrix and Led Zepplin playing in the background, and neighborhood couples and friends crammed in at the small dining room’s tables, nothing is too sacred or precious.
My best meal was probably at Albion (80, rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, 75010, 33 01 42 46 02 44), a restaurant/wine shop in the gut of the tenth. I’m always drawn to appetizers more than anything else and love making a meal out of two of them, rather than the traditional entrée-platapproach—behavior that I once wouldn’t have deigned to display in Paris.
But our lovely waitress, who slid easily between French and English, didn’t bat an eye at my request and I had a most satisfying meal as a result. It started with delicious dish of rougetdecorated with shaved fennel, slices of grapefruit and sprigs of dill, followed by decadently creamy risotto, with fine strips of Comte on top. So it was mind-blowing. But still, pretty awesome.

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