Results tagged restaurant from David Lebovitz

East Side Burgers: Vegetarian Burgers in Paris

burgers

Two trends have swept across Paris over the past few years, which, paradoxically, are somewhat at odds with each other. Who would have predicted a decade ago that hamburgers and vegetarianism would both be buzzwords on the Paris food scene? One of the good things about the burger movement is that instead of the wan, overpriced (€15 and up) burgers that had been served in Paris cafés, people have seen that a good hamburger made with freshly ground beef of good quality, handmade buns, isn’t just industrial, fast-food fare.

(A third trend in Paris has been la cuisine mexicaine, or Mexican food, with a homemade tortilla shop on the way. ¡Ay, caramba!)

But when made with quality ingredients, it’s a treat worthy of the adulation it gets on its home turf. It’s like comparing the canned cassoulet made with hot dogs to the incomparable real cassoulet of the Southwest, or the rubbery supermarket camemberts to a sublime, oozingly ripe Camembert du Normandie.

eastside vegetarian hamburger in Paris

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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 The neighborhood was well known for the giant Les Halles market, which had been replaced by Rungis out by the airport, but a few of the restaurants that retain the feeling of the era have remained.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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Canceling Reservations

French menu

I’d arrived early this weekend at one of the “hot” restaurants in Paris, where I was meeting a friend for dinner, so I chatted up the barman while having a glass at the bar. Since it’s one of my favorite restaurants, I asked him how things were going because I want them to succeed and continue. He replied, “Well, we just had three groups of people who had reservations at 7pm, who didn’t show up.”

For a place that has fewer than a dozen tables, that’s a substantial percentage of places that could have gone to someone else. Many restaurants in Paris are small and it’s hard to absorb the loss of not having all – or most of – the tables filled, when they could be. And because costs to employ people are extremely high in France (higher than you might imagine), only the fancy places can afford to have a dedicated reservations person to keep track of who is coming and who isn’t. The rest rely on waiters or the bar person to answer the phone and write reservations in the book. So when you call and they seem harried, it’s usually because they are talking to you while serving customers or welcoming people walking in the door.

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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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Haj Kahil

fried cheese

When I left the restaurant Haj Kahil after lunch, I said to someone – “That was the best day of my life.” When Erin, who was dining next to me, took a bite of the fried Halloumi cheese, her whole body softened, her eyes dimmed, and she looked as if she had been lulled into a trance.

Labna with wild mustardpomagranite juicefried haloumi cheesewaiter at Haj Khil

And when someone tried to talk to her, she said – “I’m sorry. I’m just…having…a…moment..with…this….cheese…”

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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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