Les Fines Gueules

carafes of water

It’s funny because I used to pass the building that houses Les Fines Gueules and think “Gosh, I would love to live in that building.” It’s just off the stately Place des Victoires, on a corner lot, and really, how nice would it be to sit on that balcony and catch some sun while having my morning coffee? Then one day a few years ago I made a reservation to eat at Les Fines Gueules and I was surprised when I arrived and found out that it was the restaurant on the ground floor, which I’d always thought was just some random café.

Les Fines Gueules jambon

It’s a place that’s on my radar because they have reliably good food prepared with excellent ingredients. And the wine list is lengthy and not that I know that much about wine, but whatever I read it, I’m always interested because it has a lot of wines I’ve not seen before on it.

At a recent lunch, my friend and I started off sharing an astounding plate of burrata and mozzarella di buffalo. True, it’s kind of hard to screw those up. (But believe me, I’ve seen it.)

Here the burrata is sprinkled with the tiniest bits of gently toasted almonds, which actually bring out the flavors of the milky cheese by providing a bit of contrast, giving them a change to play off the other. A nice pour of olive oil flows over the two and wispy slices of ham sliced behind the bar were draped on top. People talk about using great ingredients and not doing much to them, and this dish was a textbook-perfect example of that.

ham, burrata, and mozzarella

We both sighed when we took our first bite, looked at each other, and nodded. Les Fines Gueules also has boards of excellent charcuterie to start with, although my usual order is the veal carpaccio. (All the meats are from famed butcher Hugo Desnoyer. And because he supplies the beef, this is one of the few places I’ll order the excellent Steak Tartare, and carpaccio, with confidence.)

The wine list is extensive, and heavy. I should know because I had to hold it up to keep it from falling over and crashing down on the lovely carafes of water lined up on the bar while we decided. Most bottles are also available by the glass of carafe and since it was lunch, before my arm gave out, I ordered a lovely Alsatian Riesling and my friend had a glass of Sauvignon blanc from the Touraine which she pronounced as “…Dry!” – which is probably the world’s shortest wine review, but at least she didn’t complicate it using a lot of fancy language.

noix de veau Les Fines Gueules

Two of my pet peeves about restaurants in Paris. One is cooks hardly ever sear meat long enough, if at all. Searing adds flavors and yes, takes a little longer. Although the kitchen may be in a hurry, I’m happy to wait for a crusty steak or piece of fish with crisped skin. There’s nothing worse than a ropey steak and I rarely order steak out anymore for that reason.

The other is the inattention paid to vegetables. True, good vegetables can be a challenge to track down and prep, and presenting them well takes a little more finesse than just heating up some rice or purée (mashed potatoes) and plopping a mound on the plate. But how nice is it at the beginning of spring to be presented with a lively mixture of barely cooked peas, tiny turnips, and even fresh carrots and broccoli, cooked just right?

merlu with quinoa

The Noix de veau (veal tenderloin) that my friend ordered was generous, and came out with a heavily seared exterior. I almost wish I ordered it, until I saw how enormous it was. (She only managed to make it through half.) My merlu (hake) was served on quinoa, which is a grain that I have trouble with, personally. I love eating it but when I’ve tried to cook it at home, it always comes out mushy. At Les Fines Gueules, the pile under my fish was lighter than couscous and while it could have used a bit more salt, the slender swirl of pesto was a nice touch alongside the simple fish.

To finish, we had the ever-present Le Café Gourmand, the trendiest dessert in town. While it seems to be a fixture on every single menu here, along with the ubiquitous warm chocolate cake (they’re a great dessert, but isn’t there any other chocolate cake people can make?), often it’s a rewarmed frozen macaron, a tiny chocolate cake (likely pulled from the same freezer), and if you’re lucky, maybe a financier from an actual bakery.

Here they offer up a thick pot of ganache made with Valrhona chocolate, a generous crème brûlée (whose flavor we had a hard time discerning – but the texture was just right), and a moist, hefty slice of orange pound cake, along with a well-made café express. (Wait. Did I just say that?)

café gourmand

The other great thing about Les Fines Gueules is that they’re open every day of the week. So if I lived upstairs, I could go down any day I wanted to. If I ever left my balcony.

Les Fines Gueules
43, rue Croix des Petits Champs (1st)
Tél: 01 42 61 35 41

UPDATE (2012): A few reports have noted that the service at the restaurant has been rather lax and people have been indifferent about the food. My own experiences have been generally favorable, but it’s true that something seems to have changed here, in terms of the service as well as the food. I hope the restaurant gets back on track because I previously had only positive experiences here.

Related Links

Paris Restaurant Archives

My Paris

Two Delicious Paris Dining Guides

French Menu Translation Made Easy

The A-Z of French Food

Valrhona Chocolate School

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  • Nancy
    April 1, 2011 2:21pm

    Always on my radar but I have yet to visit, your review and pictures makes it a frist stop for lunch or dinner next time in Paris. Thanks, and envious.

  • April 1, 2011 2:27pm

    How have you cooked quinoa? What works for me is to use twice as much boiling water as quinoa (so for 2 people 1/2 cup quinoa and 1 cup boiling water), with a pinch of salt, bring back to the boil, stir, cover, turn down the heat to the absolute lowest possible (we are thinking candle-flames here) and cook for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat and let sit for a further 5-10 minutes. This absorbs all the water, and I find it far from soggy.

    The restaurant sounds lovely – I seriously envy you your merlu!

  • April 1, 2011 2:30pm

    Quinoa indeed is a love it or hate it sort of grain. If served at home I eat it, but generally avoid ordering anything Quinoa at restaurants.

    Aside that piece of cake for dessert, the whole meal looks gluten free to me.

  • April 1, 2011 2:33pm

    Had an awesome dinner here a few months ago. And I too have had my eye on that apartment upstairs…so we’ll have to duke it out if it ever comes on the market!

  • April 1, 2011 2:42pm

    OMG, Can it get any better??????? Beautiful architecture, great food and great dessert!!!! Love Paris!!!!!!

  • BettyG
    April 1, 2011 2:54pm

    I had a good deal of beginner’s luck with quinoa, but I think my grace period has ended. The last few times I’ve tried just boiling it, its ended up either soggy or undercooked. Slightly more fussy (but not really!) is this method http://www.gourmet.com/recipes/2000s/2009/04/quinoa-couscous which indeed has given me lovely fluffy couscous-y quinoa each time I’ve tried it.

  • April 1, 2011 2:55pm

    I feel the same way about rice as you do about quinoa. I’ve made peace with both of those by becoming good friends with my rice cooker. I get a perfect pot of each every time now.

  • April 1, 2011 3:06pm
    David Lebovitz

    Molly: I used to have a rice cooker back in California but my little kitchen hasn’t much room for one. However I was passing by a thrift store a while back and there was a brand new one for just €5, and I couldn’t resist.

    BettyG: Will take a look at that. I think I used to make it a while back, and it was light and fluffy. But the last times I’ve tried, it was soggy and leaden. Merci!

  • April 1, 2011 3:30pm

    It’s been a year since I last dined there but I remember having one of the best meals in Paris. Wonderful write-up!

  • April 1, 2011 3:39pm

    I love quinoa (kinwaaa), but you’re absolutely right, it can get weird and really mushy. I found that if you heat up 2-tbsps.oil and lightly toast and coat the quinoa (1-cup) and equal parts water 1-cup, and here’s the trick place it in a rice-cooker. When it’s done, open to release some the steam, and fluff it with a forth. Otherwise it will get sticky and mushy! I’ve also added nuts, ginger, garlic… lots of spice options.

  • April 1, 2011 3:40pm

    May I please have that pot of ganache??

  • April 1, 2011 3:54pm

    I think Quinoa would make a nice name for a child but not really for a meal. I once put it into a soup to thicken things up. Let’s just say things didn’t turn out so well…after half an hour I no longer had a soup to speak of.

    That carpaccio looks divine by the way as does the dessert…I think my entire day might be ruined if I don’t find something similar to eat today…it’s still morning so I guess I have some time…

    And rice cookers are the best…they make amazing sticky rice.

  • April 1, 2011 3:55pm

    A pot of ganache? Wow.
    And I’ll move in w/ you.

  • April 1, 2011 3:56pm

    You had me at “burrata.” The toasted almonds are an interesting addition. Sounds absolutely delicious.

  • sillygirl
    April 1, 2011 4:14pm

    Quinoa. The other day I tried a soup recipe and I thought 2 1/2 cups was an awful lot but went ahead anyway. I ended up with a deliciously flavored pilaf! Now it was good but I think the recipe might have meant 2 1/2 TABLESPOONS – don’t you think? Imaging the expression on my face – your laugh for today!

  • janele
    April 1, 2011 4:15pm

    As I’ve mentioned on other sites, when it comes to quinoa, I can’t get past the fact that cooked quinoa looks like condoms rolled up to their tip. Also, the taste is horrid.

  • DebG
    April 1, 2011 4:23pm

    One of my favourite places in Paris – I’ve been here 3 times in the last 6 weeks, with different people. Consistently wow, lunchtime and evening with very friendly and informative staff and owner.

  • April 1, 2011 4:28pm

    I’ve been here many times but for some reason I’ve never written about it. I agree that they do simple very well. The more elaborate plats sometimes seem bogged down by too much…something. But the veal and hake look you had look pretty alive and and fresh, so maybe I’ll venture past the tartare next time.

    Also, you are so right about the under-searing. What gives?

  • Ed Kwan
    April 1, 2011 4:35pm

    Great write-up! Will definitely eat there when I get to Paris in May! Thanks for all your write-ups which give me lots more to do and try when I spend my annual 2 months in Paris. Thanks. Wish I can get you to come by the apartment to try my curries and meet you.

  • April 1, 2011 4:37pm

    I had to smile at your “buffalo”, which of course is the male of the species. That’s why the mozzarella is referred to a “mozzarella di bufala”.

  • April 1, 2011 4:55pm
    David Lebovitz

    Barbra: I just figure the local taste isn’t for crisp or for crusty things in prepared foods (although that doesn’t explain why the Kentucky Fried Chicken in the Place de la République is always packed), or else cooks are just lazy and want to get the food out. So it’s always a pleasure to go somewhere like this where the kitchen is conscious about those things. And I usually go with the tartare as well – although I wish they had frites!

    Gina: That’s one of the accepted spellings of the term. But because I’m now used to folks offering other spellings of things (such as when I use terms French people use, such as café express, folks in the states wish to offer corrections) I spend the time when writing a post to find the right definition or one that’s most commonly-used. So I simply went with the spelling in the Food Dictionary at Epicurious.

    sillygirl: Yikes! 2 1/2 cups isn’t soup – it’s stew! : 0

    DebG: The fellow who is often working who runs the place is super sweet. However yesterday was his last day. But the other folks are indeed nice as well.

  • April 1, 2011 5:41pm

    Looks like a great place David. I like the idea of pesto in quinoa. I’ve thought about trying it, but was skeptical. Nice to know a nice resto out there is giving it a go as well. Too bad your quinoa comes out mushy. I eat it at least once a week. I put curry in it as well. Love it and it’s very healthy.

  • April 1, 2011 5:49pm

    The cheese and ham made me swoon, but then I saw the crispy-skinned hake …. oooh, one of my favourite fish when perfectly cooked! I love simple food prepared with attention to detail. This is a must-visit on our next trip to Paris.

  • April 1, 2011 5:49pm

    You just enlightened me about a dessert plate served at Cafe des Artistes, a wonderful restaurant in Puerto Vallarta. The chef/owner is Thierry Blouet, a member of the French Academie Culinaire and a Maitre Cuisinier de France.

    A glass tray is served, upon which are five or six different, small desserts that are over the top in taste and presentation. I had never seen dessert served like this before. Thierry must be doing his version of Le Cafe de Gourmand.

    If you are ever in Puerto Vallarta, and can tear yourself away from Mexican food, I hope you can try Cafe des Artistes.


  • D
    April 1, 2011 5:54pm

    omg, they give you a plain bowl of ganache?! i wish i lived there!!!

  • April 1, 2011 5:57pm
    David Lebovitz

    cooking in mexico: Cafe Gourmand is one of those things that’s actually a very good idea (a lot of little tastes of things to go with coffee), but then everyone starts doing it and places do a poor job because they know everyone will order it because it’s trendy. (One place I ate at had some berries in an artificially violet-flavored syrup – it was so awful, and scary-colored, I can’t believe someone put it on a plate to serve to a customer.)

    So it’s nice when it’s done right, like here. I would imagine with all the lovely fruits and things in Mexico, a good chef could make a nice plate of desserts.

  • Joan
    April 1, 2011 6:01pm

    You’re right, David, that is an amazing balcony. Perhaps, when you move in there, you can convince the restaurant to deliver. ;)

  • April 1, 2011 6:02pm

    The trick with quinoa is to put a dish towel over the pot after cooking and a lid on top for about 10-15 minutes.
    I make mine in the nuker for about 6-8 minutes and there is always liquid on top.
    But after the towel – perfect seperate grains.
    No mush ever.
    It’s similar to Persian rice..

  • April 1, 2011 6:31pm

    I can see why you’d want to move in – it is a lovely building and from the looks of the food you would rarely need to leave your apt!!!

  • April 1, 2011 7:13pm

    Looks wonderful David. I’m smacking my lips looking at the photos. And that building is beautiful. We will put this on our list for our next trip to Paris. Have you seen the red quinoa as well? Pretty color.

  • Ed
    April 1, 2011 7:42pm

    I came upon this place on my first visit to Paris back in 2007. I think they had just been open a short time as I believe only the bar area was open, and all they had available were plates of meats and cheese. I totally enjoyed it and hope to revisit on my next trip. Thanks for reminding me,David!

  • April 1, 2011 8:34pm

    i just want that dessert! or maybe just the creme brulee! also i agree with you on the importance of searing meat.

  • Coffeygirl
    April 1, 2011 9:18pm

    Thanks for the great resto-review, David! Always looking for non-touristy spots to dine in the 1er.

    Thanks everyone else for those perfect quinoa recipes – that bag in the cupboard that always seems a bit scary to cook up won’t be around for long! Merci!

  • April 1, 2011 10:07pm

    Thank you for this beautiful evocative missives from Paris. It’s such a pleasure to find your regular e-mails in my inbox. I’m compelled to add my opinion on cooking quinoa which I make in my restaurant and serve cold as a kind of quinoa tabbouleh. We wash the quinoa five times to get rid of any residual saponin clinging to the seeds – rinsing not soaking each time. We cook uncovered – I qt of quinoa to 6 cups of water, then we spread on sheet pans to cool. We add copious amounts of chopped fresh mint and parsley about 1cup each chopped, 2 cups plumped dried cranberries, 2 finely diced fennel, lemon zest, lemon juice and olive oil.

  • stephanei
    April 1, 2011 10:58pm

    Finally !! A restaurant reviewed by DL that I have already eaten at !! I loved Fines Geules.

    Funny you mention the café gourmand trap because I have been known to send them back ! I now only order one after a 5 minute discussion with the waiter….if his eyes light up while he describles the mini desserts, I get it. Any other response and skip dessert.

  • April 1, 2011 11:31pm

    I love your blog.
    Just sayin’.

    I learn stacks of good stuff.

  • April 2, 2011 12:32am

    Best café gourmand I ever had was some random resto in Dunkerque a couple of years ago – for once, the desserts weren’t all chocolate. I often do order it, even when they are, as my husband eats the trumph-of-hope-over-experience chocolate cake and doesn’t have to choose between it and tarte aux pommes! I like the rest of it, though.

  • tara
    April 2, 2011 1:17am

    Do you just spoon up the ganache on its own or does it get drizzled over the cake?

  • April 2, 2011 1:26am

    I also had problems cooking quinoa to a pleasing texture until I came across
    this technique in the New York Times. Works like a charm.

  • April 2, 2011 2:22am

    I use the boil/steam method, but I’ve never heard of the dish towel trick. I have to say steaming after a boil gives me fluffy grains every time.

  • junglegirl
    April 2, 2011 3:34am

    Quinoa: soak over night (I know, but if you get past that it’s worth it), rinse in a seive then put into a pot with only enough water to come to the top of the grain. NO more. Then cook uncovered until, by listening carefully and using a few exploratory swirls of the spoon, you know the water is absorbed. Turn out onto a plate or large bowl immediately, couscous style, and fluff to release the steam. Perfect fluffy, nutty quinoa!

  • Judith
    April 2, 2011 6:48am

    For years I had difficulty getting the waiter to bring the coffee with the dessert, not after, as is the tradition. Now, with cafe gourmand, the French get it. Coffee and chocolate, or whatever sweet, are so scrumptious ensemble.

  • April 2, 2011 6:53am
    David Lebovitz

    Judith: I didn’t think of that, but you’re right – it’s one of the few times you get coffee with your dessert in France. Interestingly, Romain (who is French, of course..) likes coffee with dessert, no matter what, and he’s always trying to tell the waiter that he wants his coffee with dessert, not after. And it’s funny to see the interchange because it’s so uncommon.

    stephanei: I usually take a look at the other tables before ordering one. So many places just plop a few cookies (fresh or previously frozen) on the plate and charge €7 for the dessert just because they know people will order it anyway. It’s nice here to find housemade desserts and good coffee. (Which justifies the €10 price tag.)

  • Skippy
    April 2, 2011 8:31am

    I was glad to read that you haven’t had much luck with quinoa. I haven’t either–I get it to the right light, fluffy texture, but it still tastes watery to me somehow and I jsut can’t stand that, yuck…

  • Excellent tips on quinoa from everyone – might just be bold enough to try again at home.

    Are there more restaurants serving it now in Paris? I do love to order it…

    (3 more weeks ’til vacation!)

  • Richelle
    April 2, 2011 1:51pm

    To bring out the nutty taste of quinoa I dry roast it in a skillet first for a minute or 2. Just until the first grains start to pop. Then transfer to cooking pot, add water and boil/steam until done.
    Love your blog, enjoyed reading the paperback edition of your Paris-book as well. Thank you for sharing!

  • Fiona
    April 2, 2011 6:55pm

    Hi David

    I’m afraid this comment has nothing to do with this post but I had a question regarding your Dulce de Leche brownies and I couldn’t figure put where to comment under that. My brownie mixture curdled irrepairable after I added the eggs – it started with the first egg and just got worse. Please let me know what you think the problem is – should I cool the chocolate mix before adding eggs or add eggs in a trickle? Also my dulce de leche curdled but I could rectify this – do you know why that happens? – is the water too hot?
    Sorry to be putting this comment in a random place but I really would apprecietd yor help – clearly I’m having a curdling crisis!!


  • April 2, 2011 8:18pm

    Right about the veggies–nobody seems to pay enough attention to them any more–and I always sort of depended on French places to carry on that noble tradition. They don’t have turn them–but wouldn’t a nice assortment and a little care be pleasant to see?

    As for the POT of ganache on the dessert tray–good grief. If the French start serving that as just one of the sweet temptations for the diner, folks are going to start suffering the fate of so many Americans and end up waddle away from their tables. Is this becoming the norm?? Seems like a couple little truffles rolled in cocoa would suffice and be far more sensible for the diet. Mon Dieu!

    Re Fiona’s question above: Yes, if the chocolate mixture for the brownies is not cooled to warm first, it will curdle (cook) the eggs as they are added.

  • Bridget
    April 2, 2011 9:41pm

    It’s always a pleasure to see something new on your website every couple of days. Already directed some friends who are staying in the Marais to this restaurant and hope to get there myself in the near-ish future.
    BTW-have you every been able to bring lentil du Puy back into the US?

  • April 2, 2011 9:56pm

    Great post, but it confirms to me how Italianized French cuisine has become. That a well known French restaurant would have served an Italian cheese like burrata (from the Puglia area) or mozzarella di bufala (from the Naples area) would have been unthinkable several years ago. And that sure looks like a superb prosciiutto di Parma in that photo. Carpaccio (as you know) is an Italian term for a shaving usually raw, of meat or fish. The coffee you say to look out for is the Italian variety which has that ‘crema’ swirl on top, making it pure heaven.

    Interesting, huh? Odd that no one has made this observation.

  • April 2, 2011 10:50pm
    David Lebovitz

    Gilda: Actually it used to be quite rare to find reasonably authentic Italian food in Paris. (In spite of the fact there were plenty of good Italian food shops.) Then people starting taking Italian food a little more seriously as a “cuisine” and a wave of pretty good Italian restaurants opened up. This place puts quite a bit more care into all their food than other places which is why I find it reliably good.

    Bridget: I didn’t know you could not get lentilles de Puy in America. I’ve seen French green lentils so I assumed the ones from Puy were available as well.

  • Leah
    April 3, 2011 2:01am

    Here’s a great quinoa recipe: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Lemon-Scented-Quinoa-240587.

    It’s light, fluffy and lemony. I also like to make it with lime. Mmmm.

  • April 3, 2011 11:10am

    Coincidentally a friend and I ate there the night before this post arrived! A great spot, and friendly staff. The fresh pea soup on the menu that night was fabulous. Can’t wait to go back!

  • April 3, 2011 1:04pm

    I have never been but long to one day visit Paris.

  • Tom
    April 3, 2011 1:39pm

    I’ve always been surprised by the meager or non-existent vegetables that are served with a main course in restaurants in Paris. I once had a meal that was accompanied by three different preparations of potato!

  • April 3, 2011 7:32pm
    David Lebovitz

    Tom: Some visiting friends of mine, who are vegetarians, went to a vegetarian restaurant in Paris.

    When I asked them about it the next day, they replied, “There were no vegetables on the menu!”

  • GMichaud
    April 3, 2011 7:54pm

    Great building as well as great looking food. I looked for additional images of the building and found that the unusual cantilever is on both sides of the building, although outside dining only appears to be on one side. Someone said Jean-Luc Poujouran makes the bread for them so apparently in addition to the famed butcher they also try to make sure their baker is of high quality.
    The building is so unique it does bring up the question of how much the decor and the dining environment influences the perception of the food. Not that a nice decor could ever overcome bad food, nor a rough and tumble decor take away from excellent food.
    Super post as always.

  • April 3, 2011 11:24pm

    It looks lovely! How far in advance do you recommend making reservations? That’s one thing I’m getting used to about living in Paris: dining out can’t always a spontaneous activity! I finally have a reservation at Frenchie next week (that I made 3 weeks ago). So excited!

  • April 4, 2011 7:40pm

    I WILL visit this place when I’m in Paris and order exactly those desserts!!! can’t wait

  • Tom
    April 5, 2011 3:18pm

    I just cannot get beyond the texture of quinoa: baby fingernails, n’est pas?

  • Danielle
    April 5, 2011 3:29pm

    David, I followed your guidance and I experienced the most amazing Le Cafe Gourmand I have ever before. Went to Les Fines Gueules last sunday, started with the fromage assortment, a bordeaux and ended with Le Cafe Gourmand and oh my gosh – was one of my most favourite days in Paris so far! Thanks! Keep interesting places coming!

  • Villas in France
    April 7, 2011 4:24pm

    Paris is such a beautiful place, and the food is most exquisite, I think I will have to visit there soon, this restaurant looks brilliant!

  • Suomi
    April 9, 2011 5:37am

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  • SBlack
    April 16, 2011 5:58am

    I still have the card in my wallet from my visits to this lovely place three years ago. An anomaly to an American wanting all things at all times… Inspired wines, excellent meats and cheeses.

  • Rebecca
    April 20, 2011 8:31pm

    First time commenting to tell you of my experience today. A friend and I were working when suddenly we realized it was already past 1:30 and we were starving. I dashed to your blog for the newest review I could find, then rang the resto to ask how late they could give us lunch. Half an hour or so later we were enjoying the best supreme de poulet fermier of our lives, with lovely mushroom sauce and a grilled polenta that was marvelously crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside, followed by a simple but superb-quality cheese selection, all washed down with the Coteaux du Languedoc our server suggested. We of course ended with the café gourmand, which was all that was promised and then some. My friend was very impressed at my coming up with a new place for a late lunch on such short notice. Thank you, David!