The best 102 Paris restaurants are reviewed in Hungry for Paris. Since the Paris restaurant scene changes constantly, I regularly post new restaurant reviews and information on the city’s best places to eat on this site. I also review selected books with various gastronomic themes and comment on favorite foods, recipes, cookware and appliances. In addition to the reviews and writings here, I'd also invite you to follow me on Twitter @ Aleclobrano. So come to my table hungry and often, and please share your own rants and raves in the Hungry for Paris readers forum.
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So after hurriedly shedding my winter work uniform of black watch plaid flannel pajamas at 7.30pm and taking a shower, I was late for a change. But this time I had an excuse, sort of. I was engrossed in a fascinating article about chilis by Lauren Collins in The New Yorker, so by the time I looked up fifteen minutes after boarding a bus to go meet Bruno, Richard and Roberto for dinner, I was in front of the Gare de l'Est, well past my destination, the Bistro Bellet, in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis. Rushing through the streets of the 10th arrondissement on a rainy night, I was amazed by the speed with which this once endearingly shabby and rough-and-tumble neighborhood continues to morph into one of the trendiest quartiers in Paris--it seems as though a new restaurant, bar and cafe or five opens in this quartier every week. At the rate it's changing, it's just a matter of time, I fear, before the Kurdish bakeries and African hair-dressing salons are driven out of business by shops selling gluten-free pasta and hand-dipped candles.
For the time being though, enough of the scrappy real-life texture of the old Faubourg du Strasbourg-Saint-Denis survives that it was a surprise to get to the door of the Bistro Bellet and find such a sleek, good-looking bistro in a neighborhood dominated by kebab shops. This airy gallery like space is the latest restaurant of Nicolas Lacave, who runs the very good Niçois restaurant Réparate in the 11th arrondissement, and he recruited a really excellent cook, François Chenel (ex-Chez Michel, ex-Cafe des Musees) to execute a menu of bistro dishes so classic as to make a bistro-lover like me almost misty eyed.
The boys were nibbling squares of pissaladiere--Niçoise focaccia topped with sauteed onions, anchovies and black olives, over glasses of white wine when I blew in, and since everyone was hungry, we made fast work of the short but very appealing menu, which was provided by a lanky waiter in a black trilby hat that pointedly announced his hipster credentials. After he took our order, he returned to see what we wanted to drink. I told him we'd have a bottle of the 2011 Domaine des Schistes Cotes du Roussillon Villages, a supple medium-bodied red that's a terrific food wine. He nodded, and then he said, "Uh, where are you from?" with a sort of exasperated tone of voice. I knew why he was asking, too--the other three had all showed up in their office gear, i.e., nicely cut jackets and dress shirts, and were well-groomed and prosperous looking. And though everyone (but most of all Bruno) spoke fluent French at the table, there were those accents. "Venezuela, Connecticut, Ohio, and Valenciennes," I told him, and he shook his head as though this were just too much to take in, but we weren't going to let a little low-grade attitude distract us from our excellent bottle of wine and our first courses, which arrived promptly from the open kitchen at the back of the room.
Since I love their faint taste of fresh hazelnuts against a bracing backdrop of iodine richness, I couldn't resist tasting several of Bruno's mussels, which were perfectly cooked, parsley flecked and generously served. On this damp night, though, I was craving good old-fashioned Gallic grub, a yearning that Chenel's beautifully made terrine de campagne more than sated, since it had a perfect balance of ground pork and richly flavored fat and was served with cornichons and excellent bread from chef Thierry Breton's Sangaré Bakary (and no, that's not a typo--it really is spelled bakary). "This is a really good restaurant, Alec," said Roberto as our starters were being cleared. "And it's great to be eating some food that isn't intended to show off someone's creativity for a change," he added, and I agreed. There's no doubt that Paris has a flock of astonishingly talented and impressively creative young chefs, but sometimes all I want is the type of real old-fashioned French food which caused me fall in love with the French kitchen when I first came to Paris as a teenaged boy.
Blanquette de veau is baby food for people with sharp teeth, and it's as comforting as being under a heavy goose-down-filled quilt on a snowy night. The word that most often comes to mind when I eat it is kindness, since this dish is as reliably kind and comforting as my much loved grandmother Jean or Miss Lucy Gorham, the gentle woman who taught me to read when I was in first-grade. With me sitting nuzzled next to her, Miss Gorham smelled softly of lavender and vanilla pudding. Since she traveled during the summer when school was out, she had fascinating jewelry--Navaho turquoise bracelets, a pair of red coral earrings from Sorrento that look like little bunch of grapes with tiny gold leaves, a moonstone necklace from a London antique store, and after our lesson, she'd take off her treasures and let me examine them while she told me about where they were from. Her stories deeply nourished the incubus of my restless imagination, and I don't think she'd be at all surprised today to learn that I live in Paris and that blanquette de veau is a dish that profoundly sustains both my ever weedy imagination and my love of French food. This blanquette was one of the best I've ever had, too, and I know that Richard, who'd ordered it as well, felt the same way, since there was a polite tension between us as we served ourselves from the shared cast iron casserole it was served in--neither of us wanted this pleasure to end, and both of us wanted every shred of meat, every last drop of satiny sauce.
Bruno was very happy with his Erquy scallops in the shell with caramelized endive, and though initially wary that it would be fatty, Roberto loved his juicy Bigorre pork, which was fork tender from having been braised and then grilled and rich with the flavors of unjustly maligned fat. There's good fat and bad fat, of course, but when French food is as well sourced as it is at the Bistro Bellet, the fat is a gift for being so rich with flavor.
Just over the midway hump of a very successful meal, we were happy, and the conversation roamed from the serious to the silly in the way that it will inevitably do when old friends who don't see each other very often--everyone's just so damned busy--catch up, blow on the embers, have a laugh, remember why the friendship was born to begin with and relax. What we talked about: Venezuelan politics, a new luxury hotel in the Maldives, our upcoming trip to Vietnam, the insanity of how work is leeching leisure out of all of our lives, my new book, the threats to French raw-milk cheese culture, the madness of over-designed appliances, celebrity marketing, a brilliant Alice Munro story in a recent issue of the New Yorker, and where everyone will be for Christmas, leavened with gossip and hearsay about common friends.
Under 'normal' circumstances, the four of us might have been likely to skip dessert-- weight-watching and alarm clocks, oblige, but we were having too much fun to pack the tent early, and so Bruno ordered creme caramel, Roberto poached pears, and Richard and I had cheese, a superb Beaufort with a pretty little nosegay of mesclun.
So to our mutual regret, we paid the bill--the crowd in this restaurant was getting progressively more interesting during our meal, which ran from 8.30pm to roughly 10.30pm, because this place serves until midnight, rare in a city that's become wiltingly early-to-bed. We jammed Richard and Roberto into Bruno's Mini and drove them home. Fond farewells on the sidewalk, and then on our way home, Bruno said, "That was one of the best meals I've eaten in a long time." And it was for me, too--the food was excellent, the room was great looking, and despite that feathery flutter of condescension towards four 'mature' men by the waiters, they did their jobs well. So put Bistro Bellet on your go list--I've already been back since the meal described here, and as a place to enjoy seriously good traditional French bistro cooking in a setting that doesn't ape a farmhouse or a medieval auberge it was even better the second time around. Before I go back again, however, I might invest in a trilby hat
Bistro Bellet, 84 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis, 10th, Tel. 01-45-23-42-06. Metro: Château d'Eau, Gare de l'Est or Jacques Bonsergent. Open Tuesday to Saturday for dinner only. Prix-fixe menu 32 Euros, average 40 Euros.
In the recent Time magazine article about the world's most influential chefs, there were many omissions, but among the most important of those in France who weren't mentioned is surely chef Christian Constant. He trained the whole generation of chefs who created modern French bistro cooking, Yves Camdeborde (Le Comptoir du Relais), Christian Etchebest (La Cantine du Troquet and others), and Franck Baranger (Le Pantruche), and talented young chefs continue to emerge from the kitchens of his constellation of restaurants--Le Violon d'Ingres, Le Cafe Constant and Les Cocottes, on the rue de l'Universite in the 7th arrondissement.
The latest Constant student to spread his wings is Brazilian born Eduardo Jacinto who recently opened Le Pario, a handsome new bistro in the 15th arrondissement in a former cafe. I actually heard about it from Carla, a Brazilian friend who lives in London and who was very keen to try it while she was in Paris on a business trip, so we arranged to meet there on a rainy week night, and aside from the pleasure of discovering a new restaurant, I was really looking forward to seeing Carla again, since she's the only friend I've ever made as a result of being seated side-by-side during a long flight from Rio to Paris many years ago.
She got teary looking out the window at beautiful Rio as the plane took off, and so when she struck up a chat when dinner was served, I was not only happy to provide some distraction to a distraught young woman, but inevitably curious about what was causing so much emotion. It turned out that she was moving to Toulouse to live with a new boyfriend, a Frenchman she'd met on the beach a few months earlier, and never having been to France before, she was full of questions about the country. I think I put her at ease when I told her that I, too, had made an impetuous move or two during my life for romantic reasons, but discretely avoided her question as to whether or not those relationships had worked out, since they didn't. So instead I said that I regretted nothing, which I don't, because it was only by having taken a chance on an unknown future that I ended up with the very happy life I have in Paris today. Well, Carla only lasted a year in Toulouse, but today is happily married to a delightful Englishman and has a terrific job as an art director at a big ad agency in London.
When I arrived at Le Pario, she was chatting away in Portuguese with one of the waiters and introduced me as her "American airplane friend," which is the first time I've ever heard myself described that way before. In any event, the solidarity she'd established with the staff meant we were waited on with kid gloves all evening, but even if she wasn't so attractive and Portuguese speaking, I'm sure the service would have been more or less the same, since the young staff here are warm, friendly, alert, and very eager to please.
With its globe lights, service bar, and heavy velvet drapes at the door, Le Pario immediately seemed like a settled in sort of restaurant that had been around for a longtime, and it was full with a crowd of men and women in well-cut tweed jackets, who I guessed might have followed the chef to his new digs after enjoying his cooking in the 7th arrondissement. So we settled in over glasses of white wine and looked at the menu, which was an appealing roster of contemporary French dishes that very much recalled chef Jacinto's former master.
Though Carla was a little let-down not to find anything Brazilian on the menu, the waiter offered that they do serve feijoada on Saturday nights and also told us that the restaurant's name is a contraction of Paris and Rio. So she ordered a tartare of sea bass and oysters to start, and I went with the artichoke veloute with a cepe-and-bacon stuffed ravioli. If her tartare was well-made, it certainly wasn't breaking any new ground, while my soup exhibited a disappointing absence of artichoke and instead tasted most of warm cream. The ravioli stuck to the bottom of the bowl was pleasant enough, but also timidly seasoned.
With rain streaking the window next to our table, Carla confided that she still dreads the arrival of the European winter, "all those months of wet and grey that make people so grumpy," and also that she misses what she described as "American exuberance--in both of the Americas, the people are so much livelier and less reserved than they are in Europe," but she brightened up considerably when her wild duck breast on a bed of figs stewed in Port arrived. Cooked perfectly rare, it had a beautifully made fully flavored sauce of roasting juices and gizzards and the compote had a winsome high Victorian seriousness that brought old-school London men's clubs to mind.
My cod steak came with an unfortunate 'crust' of potato chips, a gimmicky garnish that added nothing to an otherwise pleasant piece of fish, and the accompany jus de viande reminded me again that Jacinto had worked for Constant, since this sort of pairing is a signature of his cooking. It was pleasant enough, but lacked any culinary distinction that might have made it memorable. Instead, I intuited that while Jacinto is a good cook, he remains very much a student of his former master. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I'd like to see him reference his Brazilian roots a little bit more, in the same way that the many Japanese chefs cooking French food in Paris still manage to infuse it with a subtle touch of their country's exquisitely refined culinary culture. I suspect, however, that Jacinto will become a more authoritative chef a few changes of menu from now, and for the time being he's working with excellent produce and certainly knows how to run a restaurant well.
I concluded with an excellent selection of cheeses from the superb cheesemonger Laurent Dubois, who has a shop nearby, and Carla finished up with a fig-and-marscapone tart on a sable base with a red-fruit coulis. She enjoyed it a lot, too. Then after a warm farewell in lushly whirring Portuguese, we stepped outside and opened our umbrellas. "He cooks like a man who was very close to his grandmother," said Carla. "His food is sweet and gentle and good, but maybe he needs to be a little naughtier." I agreed with this shrewd assessment of our meal, and then Carla added, "Wouldn't it be nice if we were in Rio and could go for a walk on the beach barefoot right now? There's just too much wet pavement in my life these days." And with that, I bid my Brazilian airplane friend good night, and was certain she'd return to her hotel near the Porte de Versailles to dream about romping in some warm Atlantic waves in a bikini. One way or another, Carla is the nicest thing Air France has ever done for me, and I'll definitely be going back to Le Pario some Saturday night for some feijoada.
Le Pario, 54 avenue Emile Zola, 15th, Tel. 01-45-77-28-82. Metro: Charles Michel. Open Monday-Saturday. Closed on Sunday. Average 35 Euros.
LES ENFANTS ROUGE--A Nice Little Bistro in the Marais, or How 'Bistronomie' Has Become the New Normal in Paris
Before I say anything else, let me state that Les Enfants Rouge, a new bistro in the Marais, is a good little restaurant and that Japanese chef Daï Shinozuka, who most recently cooked with Yves Camdeborde at Le Comptoir du Relais, is a solidly talented chef. This established, the two main things that I took away from a meal here with a friend the other night is that "la Bistronomie," or modern French bistro cooking as pioneered by Yves Camdeborde when he opened La Regalade in 1992, is no longer cutting edge or even particularly directional in Paris, and that the noise level in Paris restaurants is rising so relentlessly as to put them in the same deafening category as most new places in New York or London.
For anyone who doesn't know the back story, "bistronomie' is a contraction between "bistrot" and "gastronomie" that was coined in the 1990s by the French food writer Sebastien Desmorand, and it was arguably first championed by Camdeborde when he left the kitchens of the Hotel de Crillon, where he'd trained with chef Christian Constant, often referred to as the father of this movement, because he trained so many of the chefs who practice this style of cooking in Paris today, in 1992. The core idea was to lighten and enhance traditional bistro cooking by applying the exigencies of haute cuisine cooking to the bistro idiom. The idea was to revisit the traditional 'cuisine du terroir' with a certain creativity and to juxapose modest ingredients like offal or inexpensive fish like mackerel with luxurious garnishes, fresh herbs, lighter sauces, and tweaks of unexpected seasoning.
Perhaps the most ardent advocate of "la bistronomie" has been the French website and guide Le Fooding, which was founded to shake up the totemic conventions of restaurant reviewing and food writing in France in the same way "la bistronomie" was rebooting the much loved culinary traditions of the Paris bistro. What I realized during dinner at Les Enfants Rouge, however, is that this movement is now almost twenty-two years old and has become the new normal in Paris, and as the idiom has become mainstream, it's no longer surprising. Depending on the restaurant, it's often very satisfying, even superb, but today it lacks the originality it once had for the very fact of its omnipresence. In fact, it's now easier to find a 'bistronomique' meal in Paris than it is to find a traditional bistro feed. And in similar terms, Le Fooding has become a trend-arbiting institution alongside many of the other established French food guides. Don't get me wrong--I like Le Fooding, but its unconventional, anti-establishment edge has dulled as its business model has grown. Like almost every magazine in the world, they've bowed to the sirens of celebrity marketing and now have a dreary column of celebrities' favorite restaurants, and it also still surprises me that they don't invite readers to comment on their reviews when when even the venerable Michelin guide has opened itself up to feedback from the gastronomic peanut gallery. So ultimately, I find myself wondering, What's next?
Still, for anyone who wants to discover a textbook perfect example of bistronomique cooking, Les Enfants Rouge is a very good address, and it also goes some way to redressing the fact that the Marais still doesn't have as many good restaurants as the popularity of this Paris neighborhood would warrant. Arriving at this small attractive room off of the trendy rue de Bretagne, the space came off as sort of a small art gallery with contemporary paintings spot-lit on the white walls and a mixture of tables dressed with white table cloths--a break from the normal convention of bistronomique addresses, and a few, including ours, that were bare and looked like old linoleum topped school desks.
Service was attentive and charming, and after my friend Lady K from Washington and I had ordered, we were served little cups of foamy soup as an amuse bouche. It was so delicately flavored that we had trouble identifying its ingredients, but there was a vague but pleasant smokiness to the soup that suggest bacon. Next, Lady K was served a saute of mushrooms topped with an egg in a little enameled casserole dish perhaps that emphasized the stylized rusticity of the cooking here, and I ended up with a tureen of delicious chicken bouillon garnished with chopped mint, cubes of celery root and carrot, and, in very direct reference to Shinozuka's previous kitchen (Le Comptoir du Relais) tapioca, which sounds much better in French as "perles du Japon" (Japanese pearls). Both dishes were earnest and well-executed, if more polite than intriguing.
My roasted filet of cod with baby clams was impeccable, however--a perfectly cooked piece of fish with the gently briny baby clams adding both texture and gastronomic punctuation to the quiet flavors of the cod. Lady K's veal breast was beautifully cooked, too--browned so that it was crusted and caramelized and then slow-braised so that she could eat it without a knife. Her garnish of slivered griddled baby potatoes and chopped bacon in a light foamy cream sauce was excellent, too, for its bosomy autumnal earthiness. in fact the only problem mid-way through our meal was that the room had become so noisy that we had to shout at each other across the table to be heard. I think this was partially due to the full house in a small, low-ceilinged room with no sound-absorbing fabric in the windows, but also to the fact that the ambient noise level in Paris restaurants has risen dramatically during the last few years. I don't regret the whispery staidness that once prevailed in many Paris restaurants, but it's obvious that a certain aural restraint is falling by the wayside in Paris as its done long ago in London and New York. In New York, I'd note that many of the most amped up diners seem to be young Wall Street yahoos with absolutely no awareness whatsoever of those around them, while in Paris, it seems that an old Gallic taboo on being loud in public spaces has been discarded by a younger crowd out to have a good time.
I finished up with a generously served and well-selected cheeseboard, while Lady K had a nicely made Baba au Rhum, correctly soaked tableside from a good bottle of rum from the island of La Reunion. Because the room was so noisy, we decided to have coffee down the street at a cafe instead of lingering, and once we were in a calmer setting, Lady K said, "So what did you think?" "It was a good meal," I replied, "But it lacked any distinctive signature." Or in other words, it was like so many other 'bistronomique' meals I've had in Paris during the last twenty years, but I don't fault chef Shinozuka for this. Instead, I think he's a talented chef and a very diligent student of the idiom in which he was trained. But for the first time in years, I do find myself wondering, So what comes next in Paris?