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Jan/Feb 2010

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FEATURE

The Best Paris Restaurants of

2009 A look back at the pick of last year’s top tables reveals some interesting trends

T

hough reading too much runic meaning into restaurant menus is never a good idea, a look at the bills of fare in the best new Paris restaurants of 2009 reveals some intriguing and rather unexpected changes in the capital’s gastronomic landscape. Happily picking my way through a saucer of perfectly poached bulots (sea snails) with a stickpin at the copper-clad stone-faced bar of La Cave Beauvau the other night, it occurred to me that the French capital’s signature at the beginning of the 21st century probably won’t be any of those foaming and smoking high-tech molecular dishes that have been getting so much attention lately. Instead, it seems Parisians of all ages have an urgent new appreciation of the profoundly French hospitality and food to be found at wonderful old-fashioned bistros like this one. This doesn’t mean that Paris is going completely gastro retro, though. Some of 2009’s other best new tables – Yam’Tcha and KGB, for example – show off another important local trend, which is new cooking styles born of smart and delicious encounters between French bistro cooking and a foreign kitchen, in this case, Man20 Paris | January/February

Daniel Rose in his restaurant kitchen

darin Chinese and Thai, respectively. But since scarcity is the inevitable mother of luxury, it doesn’t surprise me that a place like La Cave Beauvau, a cozy, friendly 1950s vintage hole-in-the-wall just across the street from Chez Sarko, or the Elysées Palace, should have become so popular since it was taken over by Stéphane

Delleré, one of the best bistro-keepers in France (he previously ran both the legendary Le Gavroche in the 2nd arrondissement and more recently Le Duc de Richelieu in the 12th arrondissement before striking out on his own once again). “I see it every day,” says Delleré during a chat over a sublime glass of Cornas. “People are starved for food with a soul. I’m not going to pretend that La Cave Beauvau is gunning for a Michelin star, in fact this isn’t important to me, but what I aim to do is satisfy the very deep hunger that the people who come here have for France, for its wine, its cheese, its meat, the best of its cooking, which is often simple.” I ask Delleré for an example, and he picks up a big bone-handled knife and slices me a thick piece of his homemade terrine de campagne. He plates it with several cornichons, a smear of butter, and a hunk of good bread, and sets it on the bar. “Goûte (Taste),” he says. I do, and the coarse, earthy, piggy loaf sends me tumbling backwards to the first time I’d ever experienced such primal gastronomic pleasure, which was as an adolescent visiting Paris. When we crave bistro food, what we’re yearning for is cooking that takes time,

PHOTO: CHARITY LYNNE BURGGRAAF

by Alexander Lobrano


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cooking that’s consoling, maternal, caring and instinctive – honest wholesome food from a kitchen where the only reason anyone would glance at the clock is to make sure nothing is overdone. As Guillaume Delage, the chef at Jadis, in my opinion

PHOTO: JB RUSSELL

the best new Paris address of 2009, knows, the grande batterie of French cooking is stuffed with wisdom. The great chefs of the 19th and 20th centuries might not always have been able to explain the exact science of what they were doing in the kitchen, but they surely understood its gastronomic necessity. So any ambitious young chef ignores the past at his or her peril, which Delage admits with a telling quote at the bottom of his menu from the once renowned but now little-known 19th century French chef Edouard Nignon: “The chef who knows and understands the past well, who is inspired by it, will in turn become an innovator.” The lighthouse of Paris still attracts culinary talent not only from all over

Guillaume Delage’s restaurant Jadis

PHOTO: CHARITY LYNNE BURGGRAAF

Paris still attracts culinary talent not only from all over France but the world beyond

Gregory Marchand taking a break at Frenchie

France but the world beyond, a good example being Chicago-born chef Daniel Rose. His restaurant Spring, which relocates to the rue de Bailleul in the 1st arrondissement in March, is sure to be one of 2010’s major openings. In the meantime, I love what he’s done with the former premises of the restaurant in the 9th arrondissement. Now named La Table 28, it’s a friendly, cozy place with a big gas-fired rotisserie on which Rose or one of his collaborators cooks superb roast chicken and suckling pig, with other foods like duck and lobster in the wings.

“I wanted to create a place that was part of the neighborhood, a place where the locals could come to eat often and well,” says Rose, whose carefully sourced produce includes Coucou de Rennes chicken, a rare breed from Brittany. If Rose and Delleré privilege a certain Gallic authenticity in terms of both their produce and their cooking, chef William Ledeuil’s very popular new KGB, a standout opening in 2009 and the annex restaurant to his excellent Saint Germain des Prés table Ze Kitchen Galerie, has succeeded by suavely appealing to a contemporary Parisian desire to explore the food of other cultures and countries. “What I’m doing isn’t fusion – I don’t like that word, because it implies a blurring of identities,” says Ledeuil. “Instead, I like enlivening traditional French recipes with produce and tastes from foreign kitchens.” Delicious examples of Ledeuil’s global cuisine include capeletti (little pasta caps) with a fried quail’s egg, shavings of Mimolette cheese, greenolive tapenade and an Asian pesto sauce, and slow-cooked pork ribs with grilled potatoes in a hoisin-shoyu marinade. In a similar vein, talented young chef Adeline Grattard and her husband Chi Wah Chan have a hit on their hands with Yam’Tcha, a warming spot with exposed stone walls in an old street in Les Halles. January/February | Paris 21


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FEATURE orders as the new chef at Rech, a venerable seafood brasserie in the 17th arrondissement. “This is for reasons that are economic, gastronomic and ecological. The fish Parisians have long preferred – sole, cod, turbot, sea bass – are threatened by overfishing, so we need to eat everything that fishermen land, not just these so-called luxury fish,” says Maximin, who has added mullet, conger eel, mackerel and a variety of still abundant fish once perceived as “poor” to his menu. In a similar vein, most chefs at the best new restaurants to open in Paris in 2009 are ardently interested in serving local, seasonal produce, an imperative which explains why so many great new tables have short menus that change daily. “It’s more work, but it means better eating,” says Gregory Marchand, chef at Frenchie, a terrific

new bistro in a quiet cobbled street in the 2nd arrondissement’s Sentier neighborhood. Marchand’s menus change constantly, which allows him to scout out “the freshest local seasonal produce.” At L’Epigramme, a new cuisine du marché bistro on the Left Bank that is another of 2009’s best addresses, chef Aymeric Kraml also delights with a chalkboard menu that changes daily. During 2009, even the gilded precincts of Parisian haute cuisine began to respond to the locavore movement that has taken cities like London and San Francisco by storm, most notably three-star chef Yannick Alleno’s brilliant “Terroir Parisien” menu at Le Meurice, the restaurant of the Hotel Meurice. “A century ago, produce from the Ile de France fed Paris, which is why so many canonical recipes of the

Above: Aymeric Kraml at the door of L’Epigramme. Top right: Adeline Grattard and Chi Wah Chan. Bottom right: The warm, old-fashioned face of La Cave Beauvau

22 Paris | January/February

PHOTO: CHARITY LYNNE BURGGRAAF

Grattard previously cooked with Yannick Alleno at Le Meurice and Pascal Barbot at L’Astrance before spending two years in Hong Kong, which explains the elegant gastronomic rencontre between Gaul and Asia that she proposes through a regularly changing tasting menu. Highlights of a recent meal included a superb watercress soup with shaved chestnuts, razor clams with crosnes (Japanese artichokes), and veal breast with fermented black beans and girolles. Other notable new Paris tables reveal the extent to which the city’s chefs are realizing that a new part of their work is to entice food-loving locals to eat lower on the food chain. “What Ducasse asked me to do was to get Parisians to eat fish they’d never eaten before,” chef Jacques Maximin told me when I asked him about his marching


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French kitchen reference Parisian suburbs – Crécy always meant carrots, Montmorency, cherries, etc. Because of the way the Paris region was so heavily urbanized during the seventies and eighties, the local culture maraîchères has almost completely died out,” Alleno explains. “But there are still a few small producers around, so I’m sourcing as locally as I possibly can in the hope of not only keeping them in business but encouraging others to start up.” On the menu for 2010? The possibility of serving la poule de Houdon, a succulent race of almost extinct chickens produced in the Yvelines town of the same name. Two other highlights of Paris dining in 2009 were the ongoing move to authenticity in terms of the city’s foreign restaurants (the wonderful Caffè dei Cioppi could easily be found in a side street in Rome or Florence instead of a passage in the 11th arrondissement), and the acceleration of local awareness of sustainability issues, which is why it now comes as a shock to see red tuna on the menu of a place like the rather bogusly resurrected Jamin (an eighties flashback bistro, by the way, and nothing to do with the glory days of Joël Robuchon).

A welcome rebooting of the Parisian brasserie may be on the horizon In terms of what may be on the menu in 2010, I’m hoping for a revival of French regional cooking in Paris bistros, and maybe even the birth of a few new regional restaurants like Chez Maître Paul, the long-running Franc-Comtois table on the Left Bank. I also predict a new local popularity for Indian food, since that country is attracting growing numbers of French travelers who return home with a taste for its food, and the continuing proliferation of gourmet brand names (butter by Jean-Yves Bordier, vegetables by Joël Thiébault, etc.).

A welcome rebooting of the Parisian brasserie may be on the horizon, too, if Lyonnais chef Nicolas LeBec’s project at the Opera Garnier ever gets off the ground (FYI, his new Rue LeBec in Lyon, a sprawling new-style brasserie in an old salt warehouse, is terrific). 2010 will doubtless also see an accelerating and welcome French response to American-style fast food in a variety of formats, from Paris chef Yves Camdeborde’s wonderful new hors d’oeuvres bar

L’Avant Comptoir to Paul Bocuse’s new chain of French-style burger restaurants. I’m also looking forward to talented chef Jean-François Piège’s second restaurant (his first being a recent bling-bling makeover of the brasserie Thoumieux), in the hopes of rediscovering this chef’s wonderful culinary wit, and to brilliant meals prepared by cooks I haven’t yet heard of, since more than ever, Paris is where the world’s most ambitious young chefs want to hang out their first shingles. n

Top Paris Restaurants of 2009 La Cave Beauvau 4 rue des Saussaies 75008 Metro: Saint Augustin 01 42 65 24 90 Average price: 25€

Frenchie 5 rue du Nil 75002 Metro: Sentier 01 40 39 96 19 Average price: 35€

Yam'Tcha 4 rue Sauval 75001 Metro: Louvre 01 40 26 08 07 Average price: lunch 45€, dinner 65€

L’Epigramme 9 rue de l'Eperon 75006 Metro: Odéon 01 44 41 00 09 Average price: 30€

KGB 25 rue des Grand Augustins 75006 Metro: Saint Michel 01 46 33 00 85 Average price: 40€

Le Meurice 228 rue de Rivoli 75001 Metro: Concorde, Tuileries 01 44 58 1010 Average price: 78€

Jadis 208 rue de la Croix-Nivert 75015 Metro: Porte de Versailles 01 45 57 73 20 Average price: 45€

Caffè dei Cioppi 159 rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine 75011 Metro: Faidherbe-Chaligny 01 43 46 10 14 Average price: 30€

La Table 28 28 rue de la Tour d'Auvergne 75009 Metro: Poissonnière, Anvers 06 42 87 79 64 Average price: 35€ Rech 62 avenue des Ternes 75017 Metro: Ternes, Argentine 01 45 72 41 60 Average price: 65€

L’Avant Comptoir 9 carrefour de l’Odéon 75006 Metro: Odéon No telephone Average price: 3€ – 6€ per hors d’oeuvre

Unless otherwise noted, prices are per person without wine.

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