Sunday, July 3, 2011 at 13:21
Frédéric Hubig is one of the most inventive and ambitious restauranteurs in Paris. First he launched the very good but still under-the-radar Cafe Moderne near the Bourse in the center of Paris, and then he bought Astier, a much loved old bistro in the 11th, and shrewdly rebooted it. Next, he snapped up the space next door to Astier and opened Jeanne A, an epicerie (grocery store) a manger with a terrific comfort food menu that runs to rotisseried chicken, meats and fish, and now he's continuing his welcome conquest of the rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud with Sassotondo, a vest-pocket hommage to Tuscany, where he and his lovely wife Claudia often vacation, and all things Italian.
Since I was the first of a sextet to arrive at the restaurant last week, I was happily attempting to finish up an issue of The New Yorker from my ever growing backlog over a glass of white wine when Frédéric, whom I've known for many years, stopped at the table for a quick chat (when he's on duty, there's no other kind of prattle with him, since he has a true restauranteur's hawk-like eye for detail and is alert to the slightest shortcoming). "Foreign food in Paris is completely changing today, since a Parisians really want authenticity now," he told me. "In the past, Italian in Paris was sort of a muddle of spaghetti, pizza and risotto, a reflection of the now outdated folkloric way in which the French once saw Italy. Now they know better, and they really want authentic Italian produce and bona fide Italian regional cooking."
To make sure they get just that at Sassotondo, a terrific looking little restaurant, Hubig placed a Tuscan born sous-chef from Le Cafe Moderne in the kitchen--Michele Dalla Valle, and hired Sicilian Gianluca de Simone to create the wine list and run the dining room with his brother. De Simone has created one of the best lists of Italian wines in Paris, too, with a variety of really well-priced food-friendly bottles that are rarely seen here, including wonderful Gumphof "Praesulis Sauvignon" from the Alto Adige and two superb Umbrian reds.
Once our Franco-German-American gaggle had settled in, we started off with several cutting boards of charcuterie, including some of the finocchiona, or fennel-seed flavored salami I crave from one Tuscan visit to the next, and some burrata marinated with lemon and anchovies, and then sampled several different exellent pastas, the two best of which were the squid's ink tagliolini with shellfish and rougets and the superb homemade ravioli stuffed with rich winey ragout of roasted duck and garnished with tiny peas and fava beans.
Main courses were excellent, too, including grilled sea bream with a delicious medley of summer vegetables and some of the best roasted rabbit I've ever had. It's too easy to overcook rabbit, but this one was tender and flavorful. wonderfully garnished with baby artichokes and onions, and dressed in a light sauce of its own cooking juices--this, and the ravioli, are the dishes that I'd go back for.
It takes a while for any new restaurant to develop its own atmosphere, but the crowd of happy locals--here a film producer and his textile designer wife, there a dating male couple with fashion jobs, and in back, a well-dressed family just back from an early holiday in Sardinia, at Sassotondo and the smart, friendly service made this place feel like it's been around forever despite the fact that they just opened for business.
We finished up with a couple of shared cheese plates--gorgonzola, taleggio and pecorino di Pienza with a delicious chutney of pears stewed in muscat wine, and several desserts, including an excellent zuppa inglese and a torta della nonna to make anyone grandmother proud. Exigent Italian food lovers at the table all, we agreed that this is a very good little restaurant and an especially good new option for Sunday night dinners.
40 rue Jean-Pierre-Timbaud, 11th, Tel. 01-43-55-57-00. Métro : Parmentier. Dinner only, 7pm-midnight, Closed Tuesday. Average 40 €.