On my way to meet a friend, Martine from Cahors, for dinner tonight, I passed the ghastly sandwich counter of the Royal Trinite Cafe at the counter of the rue Havre de Caumartin and found myself wishing that France would create a new level of national security agents--food police, who would have the authority to instantly confiscate and destroy anything as nasty as these pallid baguette sandwiches filled with fake mozzarella, industrial chorizo, and wane pink ham garnished with brown-edged lettuce and slices of unripe tomatoes.
These hideous sandwiches offer a terrible confirmation of the international blog chatter that would insist that France's best gastronomic days are behind it. And yet ten minutes later, I was seated in a quietly stylish bistro with perfect low lighting, pots of white orchids in the windows, and perfectly bleached ancient white beams overhead and staring at a truly superb menu. I'd been wanting to get to Pramil, in the ever trendier 3rd arrondissement, for a longtime, but it's rare that I have a night when I don't have to go somewhere that's new, new, new.
Martine, an elegant woman who loves good food and wine, is someone I've known for years, or ever since she invited me to an epic wine-tasting at Alain Senderens's gorgeous chateau outside of Cahors. Our paths cross much too infrequently, so I really wanted to take her somewhere that was, well, very Parisian and served food she might not run into in Cahors. A gaggle of friends had recommended Pramil, and so I decided to take a chance (I rarely invite anyone aside from professional colleagues to dinner in a restaurant I haven't been to before).
A warm welcome got things off to a good start, and I appreciated the comfortable distance between the tables in the front room, and the effort the waitress made to prevent our table from rocking. Next, the menu, which offered up a suite of temptations. Martine began with a salad of "ficoide glaciale," a fleshy succulent salad similar to the ice plant that's a feature of southern Californian landscaping, with grilled shrimp and roasted tomatoes, and I tried the white asparagus soup with a ball of foie gras ice cream. Martine's salad with excellent, and I liked my soup, but found the ice cream a bit gimmicky. A few ribbons of foie gras would have underlined the wonderful earthy flavor of the asparagus more effectively than the cold sweet ice cream, but the soup was beautifully made and pleasantly tinted with piment d'Espelette, which back-stopped its richness.
Next, exquisitely grilled scallops in a light cream sauce with wilted spinach leaves for me, and a succulent onglet de veau (veal steak) with olive-oil accented potato puree for Martine. A stunningly good white Savigny les Beaune was ideal with this main courses, and also worked perfectly with the excellent selection of cheeses, the best of which was a first-of-season chevre from the Loire, that I chose instead of dessert. Martine was very happy with her nougat glace, and asked for a card while I was paying the bill. "This is exactly the sort of restaurant I love finding in Paris," she said as we walked home afterwards, and I not only agree, but would submit that the brilliantly high incidence of restaurants like Pramil in Paris is the perfect retort to anyone who'd have you believe that Paris is becoming a gastronomic backwater. Now if I could only do something about those horrendous sandwiches at the Royal Trinite that I am forced to gaze upon everyday....
Pramil, 9 rue du Vertbois, 3rd, Tel. 01-42-72-03-60. Mo Temple or Republique. Open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday through Saturday, and also on Sunday nights.