Como toda ciudad que recibe un mar de gente, Paris es una caja de sorpresa a la hora de comer. Puede uno conseguir un bistro maravilloso en la esquina menos esperada , un rico restaurancito étnico, una maravillosa crepe por 2 euros en pleno bouleverd; pero puede también terminar pagando una fortuna y comer muy pero muy mal.
Mi amiga Leyla me ha hecho llegar este interesante artículo del NYT dedicado a los buenos bistros parisinos. El artículo es de Mark Bittman, las fotos de Julien Goldstein para el New York Times.
Está lleno de buenos datos…
Alive and Evolving: the Paris Bistro
Julien Goldstein for The New York Times
By MARK BITTMAN
Published: July 5, 2009
WHETHER the Parisian bistro is dead depends largely on how you define “bistro.” If you need pigeonholes for your napkins, no wine choices because the owner’s brother-in-law makes Beaujolais, a dependable blanquette de veau every Tuesday, and the neighborhood plumber sitting in the corner, you’re out of luck. But if you want a small, cozy place, reasonably comfortable, with reliable and affordable food, it may be that the choices are better than they have been in years.
That’s my experience, anyway. The food in the places discussed here is often inventive but never silly, with the occasional deconstructed classic making an appearance, but a sound one. The atmosphere is friendly enough. You don’t sit shoulder to shoulder with your neighbors as you do in the ostensibly old-fashioned bistros (no one really likes that, do they?), and the places are often quiet enough for people actually to hear one another. The service varies, as it always does in Paris, from indifferent to efficiently friendly. And, at as little as 30 euros, the prices are impressively reined in.
Pressed to say why Le Gaigne (12, rue Pecquay, Fourth Arrondissement; 33-1-4459-8672, restaurantlegaigne.fr) is my favorite of the lot, I’d have to admit that it’s simply because it’s the most charming, the kind of place I’d love to see more of. It’s run by a husband-and-wife team, with him in the kitchen and her out front. (He worked with the star chef Pierre Gagnaire, in itself not necessarily a good thing.) They seem to deal with everything effortlessly: the food is on time, it’s hot, it’s good and it’s interesting; the wine list is solid, and even the wine service is pretty good, despite the fact that Madame’s attention is everywhere at once.
It helps that there are only about 20 seats, and seemingly only one seating. It helps, too, that the menu is small, not as small as Les Papilles’ (below) but far less ambitious than that of Itinéraires (also below). Still, it’s big enough, and on my three visits every dish was well executed. At 39 euros for five courses (about $55 at $1.43 to the euro), this is admirable. (You can order à la carte also, and the portions are enormous.) Money, obviously, is saved by the lack of staff, the likely relatively low rent (the location is a side street near the border of the Marais and Beaubourg, not exactly chic), and the décor — which appears to have been planned and executed by amateurs. (Except for the sink outside the toilet, which was brilliant.)
Essentially, the tasting menu is two appetizers, two main courses and dessert. Pig terrine made with foot, ear, jowl and a variety of vegetables — a real country-style dish — was perfect. It was served with little hearts of lettuce, a tangle of julienned ham, a little bit of grilled salami (in retrospect, maybe not that little) and vinaigrette. On the other end of the spectrum was an assortment of spring vegetables, sauced with spinach purée and served with a couple of twigs of thyme, set on fire. I could do without the pyrotechnics, but my companions enjoyed the show. White and green asparagus — lots of them — were served with confited gizzards and greens; the combination was lovely. Tempura shrimp with soy was less successful.
My favorite main course was roast veal with a sauté of mushrooms, potatoes and onions, as simple as could be and strikingly delicious. In a “real” bistro, these ingredients would have been stewed, or served with a sauce; this was better. Sautéed sole with a sauce of mussels and squid-ink noodles was another winner, as was duck two ways (breast and confited leg) with glazed turnips. Desserts are not the strong point, but in general they’re pleasant enough; if there is a good piece of cheese on offer (I had Muenster on one visit), I’d go that route.
Near Odeon, L’Epigramme (9, rue de l’Eperon, Sixth Arrondissement; 33-1-4441-0009) has the most tourist-friendly location of the restaurants discussed here, and yet it’s the least expensive: 30 euros for a three-course prix fixe. And it’s legit. (The chef here worked with Alain Ducasse, which again might or might not be a selling point.)
As at Le Gaigne, little is put into the décor; here it’s almost without decoration and what there is is generic but not unattractive. What money was spent went into very comfortable chairs, which is a plus. L’Epigramme is small — about 30 seats at the most — yet unlike Le Gaigne it has a professional rather than a family feel. This plus the serious food left us feeling that we were served a good, interesting meal at a fair price.
On one visit, following an amuse-bouche of fromage blanc with herbs and garlic, along with carrots and radishes — nothing wrong with that — I gambled on cream of lettuce soup, and won: it was a fantastic purée with bits of chopped lettuce, not at all bitter and instantly recognizable, with a few bits of bacon sprinkled about. Equally exciting was a fricassee of cuttlefish, braised in tomatoes, onions and probably red wine, with that rich, dark essence that stews of cephalopods get.
A boned lamb shank served with ratatouille and couscous was intended to have a North African feel but was a tad short on spice; still, the meat was silky smooth, flavorful and tender as could be. Nicely sautéed scallops on a bed of cauliflower and oxtail stew with vegetables were both better seasoned if not quite as luxurious. There is a sort of lack of surprise about the main courses that is at once comforting and somehow … well, I would have liked just a little more imagination.
I know that salted caramel is the flavor of the moment, so much so that it’s fast becoming a cliché, but on top of super-creamy rice pudding it’s just terrific — declared the dessert of the week by one of my companions, who’d been eating sweets for days. Pain perdu (French toast), made with brioche, was moist and tender, topped with orange marmalade.
Itinéraires (5, rue de Pontoise, Fifth Arrondissement; 33-1-4633-6011) features a handsome room, a handsome, young, talented chef (who seems to have worked for no one famous!), and exceptionally attentive service under the supervision of his wife. Relative to the other places here, it’s large (maybe 60 seats), bustling and nicely designed. It’s still priced right — 36-euro prix fixe — and, like the chef, the room, the service (and the servers), the food is gorgeous. Good smells assault you instantly upon your arrival.
The food is also mysterious, which is not always something I like, but here the experiments are restrained and flavor remains paramount. Still, because my French is not terrific, I couldn’t always ascertain the details of what we were eating. After one visit, I strolled by the next morning, just before lunch, and asked the chef just what I’d eaten the previous evening.
He was patient enough, and explained that my cooked and raw white and green asparagus (I knew that much) had been served with a foie gras vinaigrette, whipped fromage blanc and parsley gelée; a slow-cooked egg was served cold, with blood sausage, a hot cream of Jerusalem artichokes and ail d’ours (bear’s garlic, ostensibly because the bears eat it); creamy, slow-cooked pork had been cooked with Parmesan, more ail d’ours and very little else — it had a superbly crisp skin and wondrously tender meat.
Some dishes were more easily deciphered: a lovely piece of turbot was served over a delicious “risotto” of farro and vegetables; raw mushrooms came with clams, lemon, fennel and — I’m guessing — tiny croutons of spice cake. The cold poached egg made another appearance in a flan with morels, slow-cooked cabbage and a sweet mushroom chip.
Desserts were straightforward and well executed: mille-feuille with pastry cream, mint and strawberries; luscious, perfectly sweet strawberry soup; unsurpassingly bitter chocolate tart, just right for me; and a superior macaroon with strawberries and pistachio. (Obviously, I was there during strawberry season.)
Let me quickly get out of the way what Les Papilles (30, rue Gay Lussac, Fifth Arrondissement 33-1-4325-2079; www.lespapillesparis.fr) is not: elegant, quiet, spacious, pretty, flexible, luxurious or even a good-sounding idea. But here’s what it is: an idea that works.
Les Papilles is a wine shop, a provisions shop — you can buy jarred duck confit, for example — and, somehow, a good restaurant as well, so long as you don’t mind the lack of choice in what you eat or people standing with their thighs touching your table while you’re eating and they’re reaching for a bottle of wine they might have with their dinner. Or maybe they won’t, and will put it back, and continue to inspect the racks above your head, talking loudly all the while.
Are you still with me or have you already left to eat at Le Gaigne? Because this odd, always somehow annoying place is worth a visit. The food is often Michelin-star quality, and though the menu offers no choices — everyone gets the same soup, main course, salad and dessert — as long as your tastes are broad (or you’re a not-super-hungry vegetarian) you are going to be not only satisfied but happy. That is, assuming you’re tolerant.
Enough caveats. You can buy wine at retail here (there’s a 7-euro corkage fee), and the selection is sensational and reasonably priced, so between that and the rock-bottom prix fixe (31 euros, which, if I’m reading my notes correctly, is down from 39 euros on my last visit), the place is a bargain, which in part explains its popularity. But there are plenty of less expensive restaurants within a short walk, so obviously there’s more to it than that. And that is the food.
The makings of carrot soup arrive in a bowl: shredded carrots, chive, crisp bacon, herbs; a purée of carrots, stock and cream is ladled from a tureen over this. The soup pattern is repeated with other vegetables (one night I had potato purée, with mashed potatoes stirred into it, one night it was celery and celeriac) and it’s always a classic done right. The main course, also served family style and often out of copper gratin pans, might be a veal-and-vegetable stew with a side of awesome potato gratin, or a lamb shank with what amounts to ratatouille. It’s home cooking, but it’s better than mine, and probably better than that of most people you know.
I am not enamored of the little plate of greens served with fresh goat cheese and a little uninteresting toast spread with tapenade. In fact, I would rather just have a big bowl of greens and good dressing, but then again I’m not a goat cheese fan, and others seem to like it. Desserts can be fabulous — I particularly enjoyed panna cotta with pear and caramel — or not so (pineapple with mascarpone and some foam, for example), but in general the food here is so reliable that I, and many others, keep coming back.