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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THE SUNKEN CHIP--A Good Chippie in Paris, B; LA ROTISSERIE D'EN FACE--Fowling Out in Saint Germain des Pres, C
I have to admit that it took me a longtime to become a fan of fish and chips. The first hurdle was overcoming an aversion born of regular exposure to Gorton's frozen fish sticks (fish fingers in England), a staple of my New England childhood that was only tolerable as an excuse to eat a lot of ketchup and tartare sauce. To do this day, however, my heart still sinks at the sight of the little round portrait of a bearded-skipper-in-a-yellow-slicker that's the pictorial trademark of this Gloucester, Massachusetts based brand, now owned by a big Japanese seafood company.
Then, as a hard-up student in London when I was 19, I was introduced to proper English fish and chips from a place around the corner from our shabby unheated 'maisonette' (duplex shared with four others) in Fulham, a neighborhood that was in those days the preserve of hard-working immigrants and civil-service pensioners in wooly jumpers (today, to my never ceasing amazement, Fulham, which I disliked because living there meant endless waits between connecting trains at the Earl's Court tube station, has become quite smart). Knowing the fridge was bare, Peter, my Australian flat-mate, bounded through the door one night with several newspaper-wrapped parcels from the chippie around the corner and we ate. Grateful to be fed when I had only two pounds in my pocket, I kept my critical facilities at bay while silently thinking that this grease fest was more about crunchy batter than anything else.
All of this changed, however, during a weekend trip to Brighton with a boyfriend--Tim from Coventry who worked as a verger in a famous London cathedral. He said he knew where to get really good fish and chips from a hole-in-the-wall near the pier, and this time round and surely abetted by the fact that I was besotted with him and had some welcome sea air in my nostrils, they were delicious. Nice fat crunchy chips (French fries, in American parlance), long strips of cod encased in golden batter and sprinkled with malt vinegar and a pint of Strongbow cider made for a great cheap feast at a nearby pub table, and since then I've never had a chip on my shoulder when it comes to Blighty's favorite comfort food. Instead, I really love a good fish-and-chip feast now and again.
So when I heard that Englishman Michael Greenwold, half of the chef team at the terrific Roseval restaurant in Belleville (Simon Tondo is his culinary partner) and fellow Brit James Whelan had opened a chippie near the Canal Saint Martin, I was off like a shot even though it was a very hot day. I'm not enough of a scientist to know why deep-fried food appeals even when the temperature is soaring, but I arrived with a real appetite for lunch, and I wasn't disappointed. The pal I was meeting, a fellow Connecticut Yankee, and I decided we'd go for the yellow pollack platter and, in the interest of research, a deep-fried battered sausage platter as well.
While waiting for our food to come up--you can eat in here at wooden picnic tables or to do takeway and find a shady spot on the banks of the nearby canal, I was liking this place right away for no other reason than that it wasn't another hamburger joint. I love a good burger, and I initially welcomed the first few burger trucks and places that opened in Paris, but the trend has now gained a seriously dulling momentum for anyone who really likes French food. For a further explanation of my reaction to the current burgermania in Paris, you might be interested in reading this essay.
Well, the fish and chips platter won me straight away, because the fish was so fresh--the seafood here comes from Thomas Saracco, a young small-boat fisherman in Brittany who's won a reputation for his best-quality catch, and the batter was almost tempura like. Alas, the chips were soggy--I think the fryer needs some adjusting, but the dreaded side of mushy peas, a traditional Anglo garnish for this feast and something I haven't touched since an encounter with a stodgy scoop of same at Harry Ramsden's in Blackpool about ten years ago, were delicious--bright green, sweet, and garnished with chopped fresh mint. Our neighbors were eating monkfish nuggets and squid, also on offer that day--the menu varies according to what Saracco lands, and they also looked delicious.
Since my sausage preferences run to the fennel-seed or hot-pepper spiked coarse-grind Italian sausage I grew up eating in Connecticut, or, more recently, morteau or Auvergnat sausage--and I do love my sausage, I won't bang on about the bangers, because I don't think I have the DNA to appreciate them. Boudin noir, morcilla, other soft sausages, yes, but aside from their gentle whiff of sage, my pulse rate just doesn't move for these. I do love the malt vinegar that was on the table, though--there's something decidedly medieval about that taste, and I'm a big pickled onion man, too, a craving that could have been satisfied by the big jars of same on the white Metro-tiled back wall with canisters of classic English sweeties.
So for a good off-the-cuff summer feed, The Sunken Chip is a lot of fun, and I also like it for the fact that it chalks up a win for gastronomic diversity in burger-mad Paris these days.
The dog days of August are a challenge in terms of finding places to eat when friends come to town, but they also offer me a rare opportunity to revisit places I haven't been for a very longtime. So when a gaggle of pals decided on dinner the other night and wanted somewhere in Saint Germain des Pres, it occurred to me that we could go to La Rotisserie d'en Face, a place I hadn't been in years.
When chef Jacques Cagna opened this studiously 'Country French' style dining room specializing in roast chicken in 1992, I lived on the Left Bank and went often, because the straightforward food was good and it was reasonably priced. You often saw Cagna here, too, because his eponymous two-star main table was just down the street, and he was rightly proud of the simple but good-quality French comfort food he served here. So the La Rotisserie d'en Face got a lot of press coverage, and then became a listing i most of the world's major English language guidebooks to Paris. It remains in these pages today, too, although I rather doubt that most of the writers have been back recently.
Cagna retired several years ago and closed his main restaurant, but this place soldiers on and fills a need in a popular tourist neighborhood for simple uncomplicated French food as much today as it did on the first day that it opened. I think concierges must love it, too, since it hits the right buttons for being within walking distance of their front doors, and also moderately priced with a menu to please almost all comers.
The fact that it's August and many Parisians are away on holiday notwithstanding, this is a restaurant that people who lived in the neighborhood pretty much stopped going to many years ago, because it became known as a tourist table. Rightly or wrongly, this is just a fact of living in a heavily touristed city. When a restaurant's clientele becomes largely transient and mostly foreign, Parisians don't want to eat there anymore. The other night, though, there was a large well-dressed family from Bordeaux, but as far as I could hear, almost everyone else was foreign, including the four of us, Americans who have all lived in Paris for a very longtime.
Eyeballing the menu, we agreed it looked more innocuous than interesting, but no one had any trouble finding something to eat. As it was a warm night, three of us had the cold tomato-zucchini soup with basil and the fourth chose the chicken liver and duck pate with watercress salad. Served in white porcelain bowls, the soup brought business-class dining to mind, since even at the height of tomato season in France, it lacked any depth of flavor or the rich scarlet color of ripe tomatoes and was timidly seasoned. The translation of the French word 'courgette' to 'zucchini' on the menu was another indication of their predominantly American clientele, too, since the British and most other northern European call them courgettes. In America, the vegetable must have either arrived with or gained popularity after the arrival of Italian immigrants. Though it was served too cold and defaced with a squirt-bottle dribble of sticky brown sauce that was probably some derivation of Balsamic vinegar, the pate was "correct," as the French would say, the adjective in this instance meaning something that's acceptable. Of more interest, actually, was the accompanying watercress salad, since these crisp peppery greens seen to infrequently on Paris menus were ideal for rousing heat-dulled appetites.
Our exceptionally attentive and polite waiter, who automatically spoke to us in English, because who else comes here but English-speakers and he'd overheard us speak English, asked the three of us who ordered the roast chicken with potato puree if we wanted a wing (i.e. breast) or a leg, a nice touch, and told me when I asked that he sells many more wings than legs. The fourth diner chose the 'pastilla' of guinea hen, eggplant and pine nuts in a honey sauce. Well, the birds were sad fowl, with dry compact meat with very little flavor and the sort of elastic skin that's created by heat lamps. They were described as 'spit-roasted' and 'free-range,' but the hopefulness elicited by these phrases sputtered as soon as we tucked in, and almost as if to emphasize the sorry anonymity of these poor poulets was the way they were garnished--with a single sprig of flat parsley and a few cubes on unripe tomato. The accompanying potato puree was 'correct,' but the jus that sauced our plates was remarkable only for nearly total absence of flavor.
Meanwhile, the pastilla had flown the coop in terms of what this word should mean in Moroccan cooking, where it's a specialty. Instead of flaky layers of pastry interleaved with fowl, my friend got a floppy confectioner's sugar dusted crepe-like reticule stuffed with a "correct' ragout of guinea hen and eggplant. Almost as some sort of vegetal consolation prize, her sack was accompanied by a large serving of salad and a few cubes of unripe tomato were scattered on her plate as--as what? Well, something decorative rather than edible. Not surprisingly, a pall briefly settled over the table as we tasted our food, and it was only banished by good conversation, a nice bottle of Saint Veran, and the well-intentioned ministrations of our very nice waiter. No one was tempted by dessert, and when we sat down on a cafe terrace for a coffee after dinner, one of the gang accurately judged the meal we'd just eaten as "Correct, sans plus," or acceptable, but not more than that, helas!
The Sunken Chip, 39 rue des Vinaigriers, 10th, Tel. 01-53-26-74-46, Metro: Gare de l'Est, Chateau d'Eau, Bonsergent, Closed Monday and Tuesday, Wed-Sat open for lunch and dinner, Sunday noon-6pm. Average a la carte 15 Euros, www.thesunkenchip.com
Since he left the Hotel de Crillon in 1996, chef Christian Constant has slowly been colonizing the rue Saint Dominique in the 7th arrondissement, a propitious location for a restaurateur because it's an affluent neighborhood favored by young professionals and also a part of Paris that gets a lot of tourist traffic. After a brilliant career at the Crillon, where Constant was the mentor of a whole generation of talented young chefs who relaunched the Paris bistro, among them Yves Camdeborde, Thierry Breton and Christian Etchebest , and also trained such talents as Eric Frechon (L'Epicure, Hotel Le Bristol) and Emmanuel Renaut (Les Flocons du Sel, Megeve) both of whom have three Michelin stars today, he opened his one star restaurant Le Violin d'Ingres. This dressy table was followed by the very popular Cafe Constant and Les Cocottes, both in the rue Saint Dominique.
The no-reservations Café Constant was an immediate success for offering good-value bistro cooking in an expensive neighborhood, and I used to go often when it first opened. Their no-reservations policy eventually caused it to fall off of my go-to list, though, but after Bruno and I left a birthday cocktail party in the neighborhood the other night and knew we had an empty fridge at home, I suggested we go for dinner. Not only did I wonder what it might have become after a long absence, but it's a useful address for travelers, because it's open daily and all summer long.
Arriving, a crowd was already filling the sidewalk out front, including a group of young Japanese women who were admiring the metal Eiffel Towers they'd just bought, a large number of Americans with Rick Steves' guidebooks in hand, a pair of very chic young Italian women, a band of Australian ladies, and a child of Gaul or two. Bruno went inside to see how long it might be, and I was surprised when he returned and said twenty minutes. So we sipped rather anonymous glasses of Languedoc Chardonnay and watched the world go by until our turn came. We were standing off to one side, when I heard overheard a middle-aged French lady remark to her similar friend, "I only go there during the winter now, and not so often. It's not really cheap anymore and during the summer it's a canteen a touristes." I hate the assumption that tourists don't know good food--these days most of them have done a huge amount of research before coming to Paris, and I also dislike condescension towards them. I mean, who hasn't been lucky enough to be a tourist themselves?
After almost exactly twenty minutes, we were sent upstairs to the very busy first-floor dining room and shown to a small table elbow-to-elbow with two other small tables. Happily, the couple at an isolated deuce was standing up to leave, so I asked if we could sit there instead, and the amiable young waiter--the service is excellent here, said sure, but please wait until I reset it. Seated, we looked at the menu, and all starter were 11 Euros, all mains 16 Euros, and all desserts 7 Euros (with the exception of a special or two). So a three-course meal here would run 34 Euros a head before wine, which struck me as moderately priced rather than cheap, especially since the wines were ambitiously marked up.
Still, it was a nice looking menu with lots of appealing choices, so it was easy to order, which we did. "It doesn't feel like we're in Paris anymore," said Bruno, glancing around the room at tables where people were avidly studying maps of the city and ready to tackle incomprehension with translation dictionaries, which were unnecessary, since the staff all speak good English. Then our nearest neighbor, part of good-looking young couple from Atlanta, leaned over and asked if we could help with the wine list. "They don't have any of the wines we like at home, like Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay," said the Southerner and Bruno, who finds American wine behavior mystifying, explained that these were grape varieties not actual wines themselves, which came as a revelation to the Georgians. Since Bruno doesn't have a mean bone in his body, there was nothing intimidating in what he'd taught these two, and I later told him that what he'd done was actually very nice, because the reason most people travel is because they're curious and want to learn new things.
The moment I laid eyes on our starters, I was a bit letdown. Bruno ordered salmon, sea bass and oyster tartare seasoned with ginger, while I liked the idea of the "tarte fine aux gambas grillee" with a small salad of baby spinach leaves and lemongrass sauce (alarmingly translated as 'citronella' for English-speakers). The problem was that this food looked like it had been catered rather than cooked. The oyster shell containers for Bruno's tartare were clever portion control, while my 'tart' translated to two pieces of puff pastry, which is definitely not a tart in my book. And the same portion-control was evident in this dish as well, since I got three shrimps. Both dishes tasted good, although Bruno's tartare tasted more generically marine than distinctly of the individual components, but they lacked any culinary signature and brought up-market wedding-lunch cooking in my native Connecticut to mind.
Happily, our mains were generously served and displayed more gastronomic muscle in the kitchen. I liked my cod with potatoes, broccoli and carrots and a side of nicely made aioli, an old-fashioned provencale dish (minus the broccoli) that I love, while Bruno was happy with his sliced steak with a shallot and herb vinaigrette and a side of silky potato puree. The kitchen was clearly working with respectable produce, too, and this food was light years from the tourist-trap hellholes of the Latin Quarter and the Champs Elysees. On the other hand, for almost exactly the same money, I'd much rather have been at Pierre Sang Boyer or La Regalade Saint Honore, since both of our mains came off as the sort of formatted high-volume cooking the French might refer to as "correcte," or honest, while exhibiting no perceptible creative flair. Ditto the creme caramel we shared, right down to its squirt bottle blazes of caramel sauce. And perhaps even more gravely, despite the well-meaning and conscientious service, this restaurant had little charm.
Oh, to be sure, you can do much worse in this part of the city, and it's a useful address when so many other Paris restaurants are closed for the summer holidays. I might be tempted, too, on a Sunday night, another time slot that can be challenging, if I found myself in the neighborhood again, but I wouldn't describe it as a destination restaurant. Instead it's an honest tourist restaurant that's been very carefully calibrated to appeal to a transient international crowd who are mindful of what they're spending and relieved not to run into alarming French grub like kidneys or tripe. Note, too, that they have a couple of sidewalk tables if you want to dine al fresco on a hot night.
Café Constant, 139 rue Saint-Dominique, 7th, Tel. 01-47-53-73-34. Metro: La Tour-Maubourg, Pont de l'Alma or Ecole Militaire, www.maisonconstant.com Open daily for lunch and dinner, Average 34 Euros.