Issue 5 – October 2001
The world of bistros and small neighborhood eateries has become the province of some of this city’s most exciting new chefs. Many have trained classically, some in Paris’ top flight kitchens, and they have taken what they’ve learned and gone out to create a world of casual, yet completely satisfying dining. Experimenting here and there, yes. Keeping a grounding in tradition, usually. Surprising and delighting, often.
While many of the best new restaurants in Paris are found in the outer arrondissment, it is well worth the effort to get there and have the added pleasure of experiencing a wonderful new neighborhood while enjoying some of the world’s finest cuisine.
The island of Corsica is not the first place I thought of when I started planning my dining itinerary in Paris. Two of my friends, temporary ex-pats (read that as “student visas”) suggested a visit to Alivi as a great way to begin our jaunt through the neighborhood bistros. Only a block or two off the main drag through the Marais, this turned out to be a charming, postcard scene of a restaurant. The food was damned good too.
The menu is in French and Corsican, a dialect based much closer to Italian. This helped immensely, since my French is almost non-existent, but my Italian is completely passable. Eric Gauthier’s food is a mix of classic and experimental Corsican fare-hearty and rich. The wine list is also Corsican, and outside of that island, where else are you going to find a couple of dozen selections from Patrimoniu, Aiacciu and Porti Vechju?
The menu changes somewhat regularly. A few dishes like the leek mousse and the chicken breast in Corsican honey seem to stay. We had some truly outstanding fare: cured sardine and fennel salad; goat rillettes; baby crabs stuffed with sausage; roast lamb stuffed with beet greens; and a citron tart with fresh figs, stewed figs with ice cream. Be sure to sample the Corsican cheeses. The menu and wine list are posted on the restaurant’s website (www.restaurant-alivi.com).
Restaurant Alivi, 27, rue du Roi de Sicile, 01-48-87-90-20. A three-course dinner with wine will be $35-$40.
This restaurant takes a special effort to get to, being on the far eastern edge of Paris. The young lady who took us there miscalculated metro stops, so we hiked a good mile along the rue du Faubourg Sainte-Antoine, a fascinating part of Paris populated by salsa clubs, street markets, aspiring fashion designer shops and furniture stores. We had been warned that we were in for a treat food-wise, but that the atmosphere was somewhat “off-beat.” In the Paris version of Zagat the food got a “21” and the decor got an “8.” Okay, it’s a semi-basement, whitewashed with plain wooden tables. The paintings on the wall tend to be abstract female nudes. The clientele is a trifle rough and tumble, but clearly “into” the food.
Being “into” food is a truly smart idea here. Chef Thierry Coué believes in experimentation. He has ventured into the world of vegetable, fruit and spice purees and enhancements, with fresh, clean flavors that are mostly on target. There are more hits than misses on the menu, and that’s what I want from an experimenting chef. The menu changes daily and is market driven, which, given the range of amazing produce in the local street markets, is a great thing.
Steamed asparagus with a fresh herb beurre blanc and a terrine of warm sausages with an onion and currant marmalade are amazing. A skate-wing with red cabbage and onion fries, and a truly outstanding seared calves’ liver with a carrot and ginger sauce were the winners of the evening. Desserts received mixed reviews, with raves going to a grapefruit gratin with grapefruit ice on top and gasps of “how odd” going to the warm crepe filled with a cardamom and eggplant compote topped with an intense orange sauce. A well-selected and fairly priced wine list features bottles from throughout France, but shows a special affinity for smaller producers, especially from the Rhône valley.
Les Amognes, 243, rue de Faubourg Saint-Antoine, 01-43-72-73-05. Three course dinner with wine will run $35-40.
Just as I think it’s a must in the United States to go to any place named Billy’s, regardless of what small town you find yourself in, in France, the ubiquitous venue is named Chez Michel. A bit off the beaten track, on a side street near the Gare du Nord, this place came with high recommendations for chef Thierry Breton’s inventive twists on the cuisine of Brittany. Unfortunately a week or two before we arrived, the restaurant had been “discovered” by a writer from Gourmet magazine. The room and sidewalk were jam-packed with American tourists, all with copies of the review in hand. We almost turned around and left. Fortunately, by the time your arrive in Paris, most of the tourists will have move on to the next spot that gets a rave-luckily, this Chez Michel will remain for you to enjoy.
What can be said about broiled lobster folded with a soft-roasted ostrich egg and served in the eggshell, except, get yourself on a plane to Paris and eat it! Also try the chilled Breton lobster soup with cucumbers and black olives, or maybe the baby clams roasted with herb butter and hazelnuts. Then move on to haddock brandade with roasted filets of rouget or the foie gras on spice bread with a beet vinaigrette and asparagus. Finish with traditional Paris Brest or Kouing Amman (a sort of stack of ultra-thin pastry leaves filled with butter and sugar). The wine list is decent, with a scattering of wines from throughout France. The selection of wines by the glass, apertifs and digestifs is better here and than most other venues I’ve seen.
Chez Michel, 10, rue de Belzunce, 01-44-53-06-20. Three-course dinner with wine will run $40-45.
Le Cottage Marcadet
Up in Montmarte, on the north side of the Sacre Coeur, is a little gem of a restaurant, Le Cottage Marcadet. Along a busy thoroughfare, this refined, elegant favorite is a bastion of customer service. The proprietor himself takes care of each table, functioning as waiter, busboy and bartender. Chef Robin tends to each and every plate, ensuring that his food meets his personal high standards.
This is not a restaurant for inventive, outré dishes. The cuisine is classic Parisian-simple pan roasted fish and meats, with classic sauces, beautifully presented. The produce is absolutely fresh, the flavors impeccably pristine. The wine list is short with a simple selection of inexpensive Bordeaux and Burgundy. Both a prix fixe (with wine included) and an a la carte option are offered. The short menu changes regularly to reflect market availability. The chef has a deft hand with fish – we had a simple filet of sole that was outstanding. Try the creme brulee for dessert.
Le Cottage Marcadet, 151 bis, rue Marcadet, 01-42-57-71-22. Three course dinner with wine will run $30-35.
Passport magazine is a relatively new, ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay travel magazine. My friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who have owned and run QSF magazine for many years, launched this publication recently. It has received industry accolades. They asked me to come along and write the occasional article for this venture as well.