Recently in Restaurants category

Le Louchébem

paris bistro

Where do you go on a rainy afternoon if you find yourself near the middle of Paris? Quite a bit of the town has emptied out, as people make their exodus away from the city for the holidays. Those of us here are celebrating at home – or from the looks of things out there – doing a little last-minute scrambling for holiday gifts. There are cases of oysters on the sidewalk, sold by the dozen(s), and store windows are featuring foie gras, Champagne, candied chestnuts, and a few early galettes de rois (frangipan tarts.)

We were out-and-about near Les Halles, where the city has finally torn down the building which many feel has been a blight on the city since it was built, so there’s a bit of construction going on around there while they work on the new project. But those folks, too, seem to have taken a holiday breather as the regular sounds of jack hammers and cranes were replaced by, well, nothing. The neighborhood was well known for the giant Les Halles market, which had been replaced by Rungis out by the airport, but a few of the restaurants that retain the feeling of the era have remained.

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Shang Palace

bbq pork at Shang Palace in Paris

Quite a while back, I worked at an Asian restaurant in San Francisco. The food was amazing. Fresh shrimp were cooked up, chopped, then smeared on bread, then deep-fried for shrimp toast. All the dumplings had freshly cooked ingredients in them – no canned peas or frozen shrimp. And each one was hand-rolled. All the meats were well-sourced and cooked daily, then shredded for fillings and claypot dishes. And the seafood was sparkling fresh.

The restaurant hobbled along for a few years then, sadly, closed. There were number of factors, but the one that I heard from most people is that they balked at paying regular restaurant prices for Chinese food.

For some reason, people think that Asian food needs to be cheap. (Last time I was in New York City, I went to a place that is famous for serving dumplings that could be had five for $1. It was recommended by a lot of people and they were so awful I threw them away, mainly because I was concerned about the meat – or whatever was inside – that I was eating.) I don’t know why people will easily pay $20 for roast duck at a regular restaurant but scoff if it’s more than $8 at an “ethnic” restaurant, especially if the ingredients are sourced with the same care at both.

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Noglu, Gluten-Free Restaurant in Paris

poulet fermier rôti

A long-lost acquaintance of mine got in touch with me a few months back. And I don’t know if there is a French name for phone-tag, or playing the game via e-mail, but we finally fixed a date once the long summer of vacations, closures, and hectic schedules of the rentrée (the annual September return to Paris) were all finally behind us.

Laurent, who runs Grom gelato in Paris, suggested we meet up at Noglu, a gluten-free restaurant that recently opened in the lovely Passage des Panoramas. As a performance cyclist, he avoids gluten for a variety of reasons. And as fans of food trucks, we invited Kristin, owner of the hugely popular Le Camion qui fume, the first hamburger truck in Paris, along for lunch as well. Like both of the places where they scoop and grill, respectively, the buzz at Noglu was obviously good because when we arrived, they were turning away a steady flow of walk-ins; the news had evidently traveled fast.

Noglu menu gluten-free bread at Noglu restaurant

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Philou

Philou

I always want to put Philou in my Paris favorites list. It’s got so much going for it; a friendly staff, it’s just enough out-of-the way that it attracts a good mix of mostly people who live in the neighborhood with others who come from other parts of the city, their menu features game and wild birds when in season, and when I look at the handwritten chalkboard, everything on it looks good. Plus the prices are gentle, at just €25 for a 2-course menu, or €30 if you choose three courses*. It’s what I would like to call an eminently likeable restaurant, but I’m always afraid I’m going to spell ‘likeable’ wrong and get in trouble for it. So let’s just say that it’s the kind of place that I really like.

wine sardines and semoule philou

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Da Dong/Squid/Les Jules Verne/Yquem

geoduck

I now have conclusive proof that I’m not imagining it: There is an international conspiracy to get me to eat squid. Before you say, “You should try it breaded and dipped in spicy sauce!” or “You haven’t tried had my Thai-style squid!” – I should let you know that I’ve installed a special filter on the site that bans the words “You should…” or “You don’t know what you’re missing” just to save folks the trouble.

I was invited to a Chinese lunch, cooked by Da Dong, who is considered one of the best chefs in China. Because I’m from San Francisco, Asian food feels like it’s part of my culture and although more and more good Asian places are opening in Paris, I still miss digging my chopsticks into salt & pepper crab or a big pile of fresh pea shoots sautéed in chicken fat. Paris was a horrible, horrendous mess – one of those crummy days when the wind is blowing sideways, deep puddles are everywhere, and the heavy rain just refuses to stop blasting away at you, and the entire city. I felt sorry for all the tourists lined up in the watery blitz to visit the monument, because just one lone elevator was operating as the rest in the tower were out-of-service.

Fortunately when I reached the Eiffel Tower, there was a canopy for refuge for restaurant patrons and the elevator to the restaurant was functioning fine. I was happy to be inside and making my way up, with a spectacular view of Paris, and ready for a Chinese feast. Lunch was sure to be a bit more refined than the family style Chinese fare that I often wolf down with pals, but I was interested in tasting a few things that I was completely unfamiliar with. I am fairly astute when it comes to knowing ingredients, but I was thrown for a loop by most of what was served, and came face-to-face with my aforementioned nemesis.

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Aux Tonneaux des Halles

steak frites

Every once in a while, it hits me: I need steak-frites. It’s an infrequent indulgence, but when I do have it, I like my steak with a crisp exterior, pan-seared until saignant (medium-rare), with a large pile of real frites. Most my French friends like their beef bleu, which is close to uncooked, and if you order it that way, when you cut into your steak, it’s raw in the center. (My other half will ask for bleu froid, or “cold” in the middle.) I don’t mind raw beef in carpaccio or tartare, but it’s not really my thing to attack a large block of nearly uncooked meat.

Another difference is that American beef tends to be aged and easier to cut, and I’ve learned to only buy beef from a very good butcher in Paris because the difference if phenomenal. In restaurants, sometimes you’ll be served a piece of French beef that slices nicely, and other times you’re faced with something that even the best steak knife – and sharpest incisors – might have trouble ripping into.

telephoneNos assiettes
red wine at barsteak frites

So I tend to be fairly choosy about where I eat beef. Many of the classic Parisian bistros have been scooped up by restaurant chains, so there’s a dwindling number of places where you can find steak-frites done right in this town. But at Aux Tonneaux des Halles, honest bistro fare is still offered, with the daily menu scribbled on the chalkboards. And if you’re looking for a traditional steak-frites, done right, this is the place to get it.

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Restaurant Alain Ducasse

Uncharacteristically, I’ll spare you the specifics, but I need to catch up on about 147 hours of sleep. And while we’re at it, I could use a hug. And since the former isn’t necessarily easy to come by here, as is the latter, I was embrassé by dinner at Alain Ducasse restaurant. While it’s been tempting to remove the “sweet life” byline from my header until things return to normal, since one of the sweeter sides of Paris is an occasional foray into fine dining, I dusted off my lone, non-dusty outfit, and rode the métro to a swankier part of town.

When I was in Monaco and I went to visit the chefs and the kitchen at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant, Louis XV, the pastry chef asked if I could possibly stay and taste their lovely desserts. Unfortunately I had to catch a ride back to Paris because I didn’t want to miss, well..nothing – I couldn’t stay. Then a few weeks later, a lovely invitation to his Paris restaurant arrived in my mailbox and I cleaned myself up, then headed into the aquarium.

waiter at Alain Ducasse Alain Ducasse restaurant

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Fête de Charcuterie

basque charcuterie plate

Someone recently asked me if people in Paris have started raising chickens in their backyard. I had to pause for a minute, and wanted to remind folks that Paris wasn’t Brooklyn, nor does anyone have – at least in my circles – a backyard in Paris. And if they did, they could afford a country house and would raise their chickens out there. But French people also don’t celebrate “the pig” with the same enthusiasm as the current craze in America, England, and other anglophone cultures.

There’s no overpraising meat, fat, or pork products; things like pâté, rosette (salami), saucisson sec, and even museau (head cheese) because in France, they’re all extremely common. Although things have changed a bit and nowadays, I would venture to say that many young folks would wrinkle their noses up at a plate of head cheese or tête de veau, and I was recently at a dinner party with a mix of French, Swiss, and Italian friends and everyone squirmed when the subject of consuming rabbit came up; I was the only one who said that I sometimes do eat it.

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