Gourmet Paris, the Remix

24Jul09

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By Emily Waldorf

Many people have preconceived notions about French food.  They think it is too rich, too precious, and served by rude waiters that present them with a heart palpitatingly expensive bill, when they really would have rather had Italian.  Members of the anti-French cuisine camp have most likely either fallen prey to tourist traps or their American stomachs are simply too fragile for old world Gallic fare.

Of course, there are many gastronomes who flock to the temples of Michelin starred haute cuisine (Tour d’Argent, Grand Vefour, Hélène Darroze, etc).  However, it is important to remember that these types of restaurants do not define French food nor that good French food is by default expensive. Following are my recommendations for falling in love with a more contemporary and international French cuisine, à nouveau, on your next trip to Paris.

ze kitchen facade

Inspired by South East Asian cuisine, chef  William LeDeuil’s Ze Kitchen Galerie, is a good example of how French food has become increasingly light and inventive.  Not far from the Seine on the rue des Grands Augustins in the 6th, the contemporary space is best described as a “restaurant – atelier – galerie,” since it is decorated with works of art and the kitchen is visible to diners (a noteworthy trend, that splits with the more formal traditional French service).  The magical cuisine is served without attitude in a relaxed yet sophisticated environment.  Try the poisson marinés, the ravioli de veau aux herbes thaï, and the maqueuraux lacqués agrumes.

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While L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon is relatively expensive, it is definitely worth a visit.  They only take reservations at 6:30pm, but I recommend doing this because you will be eating for several hours and it is otherwise very hard to get in.  Clients sit at a bar that surrounds the entertaining kitchen “workshop.”  You can easily make a meal out of 5-6 small plates, such as les palourdes, l’os a moelle, le jambon “iberico de bellota, la sardine, and le crab “soft shell,” served with what can only be described as French guacamole that makes your whole body sing.  Complete your meal with the indulgent L’Arabica and Le Chocolat for dessert.  Both have enough caffeine in them that you could go dancing afterwards!  Located on the rue de Montalembert in the 7th.

Talented English chef Chris Wright’s aptly named stamp-sized restaurant, Le Timbre, serves wonderful traditional French fare with the menu written up daily on a small chalk board.  This gem of a restaurant is tucked away on the rue Sainte Beuve, close to the Luxembourg gardens in the 6th arrondissement.  Be forewarned that you will be packed in tightly next to your fellow diners, but this only adds to the charm of the ambiance.  Try the boudin noir, tarte d’anchois au pistou, filet de dorade aux olives, and the house speciality, the millefeuille, or in a nod to the English chef’s heritage, order the Stilton with port for dessert.  They have a wonderfully succinct wine list and are happy to point you in the right direction based on what you order.

If you are in the Marais, visit L’As du Fallafel on the rue des Rosiers for a casual lunch, including the best fallafel and shawarma you have ever tasted.  L’Assiette israëlienne is a good start to an unforgettable meal.  Afterwards, stop by patisserie Sacha Finkelsztajn for Eastern European delights such as gâteaux aux figues, strudel polonais, and vatrouchka, best enjoyed with an espresso.

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Stop by Pierre Hermé on rue Cambon on the right bank or rue Vaugirard or Bonaparte locations on the left bank for mouth watering macarons – these are the best in Paris, seconded, perhaps by Ladurée (skip the macarons at Paul).  Another worthwhile stop for an afternoon pause gourmande is the Grande Epicerie du Bon Marché, where you can sample many top shelf products, from cheeses, to meats, to a shellfish bar, more types of water than you have ever seen, and speciality products from Fauchon and Hediard.

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More Paris Food Resources:

David Lebovitz’ recommendations for moderately priced, casual restaurants

Patricia Wells’ recommendations, sorted by casual, bistro, and cuisine gastronomique

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