Monday, January 7, 2013 at 08:15
Even though I've lived in Paris for a very longtime and go out at least five nights a week, there are still a few restaurants I always look forward to going to again and again--Le Paul Bert in the 11th arrondissement, for example. I've loved this place ever since the first time I stepped in the door a good five or six years ago, because it is such an almost studiously perfect example of a genus very dear to my heart, the Paris bistro. This place isn't some sort forgotten off-the-radar cat-sleeping-on-a-pie restaurant, though, but instead is an exactingly rendered summary of everything the whole world thinks of when it thinks of Paris bistros, from the saucy service to the zinc bar and wonderfully assorted (but again mostly artfully styled) flea-market enriched decor, and a menu that's meant to be a primer of great bistro dishes but which truth be told, somewhat undershoots this mark for lacking many plats mijotee, or long-simmered stews and casseroles like boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin. Instead, most of the cooking at the Paul Bert consists of prepped starters and a la minute grills, and it's very good indeed.
To be sure, I've had good and less good meals at Le Paul Bert, but I have such profound respect for and confidence in owner Bertrand Auboyneau, who also owns the very good Ecailler de Bistrot fish house a few doors down from Le Paul Bert, that when I heard he'd opened at second bistro, Le 6 Paul Bert, it was the first thing I did after returning from a Christmas trip to New York. Because we'd eaten lavishly well in New York, where the occasion was a big birthday for Bruno, he wasn't exactly champing at the bit for anything more than salad at our kitchen table on the night I roped him in trying this new place with me, but all reluctance faded immediately the minute we stepped in the door of this very handsome new restaurant and were promptly seated by a charming young waitress (she and the second server, a nice waiter, get kudos, too, for so cheerfully keeping up with orders in an very busy and challenging dining room--small plates mean a lot more to and fro at the table).
The menu came as a surprise for being an assortment of small plates in the idiom of such recent Paris restaurants as Saturne or Roseval, but these rather cryptically described compositions--as is true at Septime and many other new Paris restaurants, dishes are described haiku style as lists of their ingredients, sounded great, so we quickly decided to go with the 38 Euro 3 plates and dessert dinner menu. We negotiated the who was getting what, and then with a bottle of one of my favorite white Crozes-Hermitage wines (Les Baties from Dard et Ribo) and better bread than I've eaten from Jean-Luc Poujauran in a longtime to keep us happy, I mused on a more immediate dilemma--should I say hello to Le Figaro food critic Francois Simon, who was sitting at the table next to me, or desist for fear of calling attention to him if was hoping to remain as assiduously anonymous as possible; I decided to desist--it was very easy to relax in this exquistely decorated and well-lit room. With a small selection of groceries up front and a service bar, young Quebecois chef Louis-Philippe and sous-chef Elsa cook in a small open kitchen at the head of the room, and tables come in a variety of different sizes, including a rectangular one for six up front.
Our first two dishes--my 'ravioli' of daikon radish, chopped raw beet, tangerines and oysters in a delightfully gentle citrus vinaigrette, and Bruno's grilled squid in a herb oil coulis with baby salad leaves were beautifully conceived and intriguingly referenced by the subliminal tidal pools of the collective culinary imagination of young chefs around the world. While very much his own creations, these cameos indicated that Louis-Philippe is doubtless aware of what colleagues like David Chang (Momofuku, NYC), René Redzepi (Noma, Copenhagen), and Luke Burgess (Les Garagistes, Hobart, Australia) are doing, to say nothing of other l young turks in Paris, including Gregory Marchand at Frenchie, James Henry at the soon to open Bones, or Braden Perkins at Verjus. To wit, these plates exhibited a suave play of acidities and different textures, were sort of raffishly elegant, and packed some powerful pleasure with the freshness of exquisitely sourced produce.
Bruno's next dish, rollmops (herring) with a cucumber pickle, pickled scallion, beets and cream, leapt back across the Atlantic to the deli traditions of Eastern seaboard cities at the other end of the steamboat borne Eastern European diaspora a century ago, especially New York and Montreal, and was really fascinating for being framed by Paris, a city where Ashkenazic dining traditions have been fading for a longtime. I liked my chunky veal tartare, which made me think of the one served at Les Fines Gueules, although the seasoning was off balance due to too much mustard oil. Both dishes were worldly, well-prepared, and in the context of Paris today, shrewdly daring. Or in other words, anyone who knows what's cooking in New York or Stockholm and other cities right now might not find these preparations especially original, but in Paris they politely make a request to change the gastronomic conversation, and that's a good thing.
And with the arrival of our third course, something really fun and unexpected happened--I suddenly found myself in the presence of the first Dude Food I've ever eaten in Paris. People in other cities are actually a tad weary of this David Change cum M. Wells style of eating, but for me, a semi-assimilated Parisian, it was mighty fine. Bruno let me taste his succulent pork belly with baby clams and Japanese artichokes (crosnes, in French) and it was terrific--an immaculately conceived and cooked little still life that just left you wanting more. My barbecued pork on a carrot crepe sounded sort of awkwardly effete on the menu--I kept thinking of a high-school quarterback I once knew who is today married to a very handsome stock broker named Tad in Boston, or a study in troubled masculinity, but all of this smoke and mirror action vanished when my critical sensibility was snuffed out by a stroke-my-belly hit of unexpected pleasure. Hey, I know I'm no Dude, but on the other hand I love meat, smoke, everything fried, most fats and anything that's crunchy and edible. I'm trying damned hard to train myself to like healthy food, too, and this is why I loved getting a pass card with the 'carrot crepe,' which was really nicely seasoned root veg mash with some good crusting. So Louis-Philippe knows how to do North American Dude Food to suit a European sensibility, and that's a mighty fine gastonomic hat trick.
By now I'd decided I really liked this place, an impression that deepened with a good cheese course (mine) and an odd riff on cannoli, those deep-fried Sicilian pastry treats filled with ricotta and candied fruit that I used to crave in New York's Little Italy and Boston's North End. Here, though, damn it all, cannoli just meant a round tube of caramelized sugar filled with lemony cream. Bruno said it was great, but I was still in athletic- protector mode after my barbecued pork and only wanted to eat all of my really good cheese.
Aside from the charming service, what I most appreciated about this restaurant is that chef Louis-Philippe has the really long gastronomic antennae needed to cook in the context of what's happening all over the world right now, along with a really interesting nascent cooking style of his own and impressively solid kitchen skills, and these are the reasons I predict he'll become an important chef and that this swell little bisto will be packed solid within a week or two as the reviews roll in. It's imminent popularity notwithstanding, I intend to become a regular here, because they're so few restaurants in Paris today that issue themselves the almost nightmarish challenge of changing their menu every day.
6 rue Paul Bert, 11th, Tel. 01-43-79-14-32. Metro: Faidherbe-Chaligny. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Lunch menu 23 Euros, Dinner menu 38 Euros, average a la carte 40 Euros.
N.B. Several readers have recently reported problems with their reservations L'Ecailler du Bistrot and Le Bistrot Paul Bert, and when I went for my first meal at Le 6 Paul Bert, it took ten minutes to track down my reservation. All of which is to say that they're a bit overwhelmed these days, so to prevent a frustrating disappointment, my advice would be to book well in advance and reconfirm your reservation on the morning of the day you're going.
tagged Alexander Lobrano, Bertrand Auboyneau, Francois Simon, Le 6 Paul Bert, Le Paul Bert, New Paris Bistros, Paris Bistros, Restaurants Open on Monday in Paris in 11th Arrondissement:Bastille, Republique, Oberkampf, B plus, Bistros, Contemporary French Cuisine, Modern French Bistros | Print Article