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Archive for the ‘Paris’ Category

Antiques market near Place de la Republique. "I just happened to have these lying around in my house."

Often you hear that there’s nothing like Paris in the springtime.  But actually, I’d say there’s nothing like Paris for the winter sales, which generally run from early January to mid-February.  Wait for the first couple of weeks to pass by.  The crush will have died down in most stores, and many things will be on secondary markdown.  Although price tagging is haphazard at best and some of the fancier stores make you ask which items are on promotion, the bright-colored SOLDES signs everywhere is, to my mind, very festive.

As my opening paragraph suggests, Jon and I were in Paris for the first weekend in February to take advantage of a little sale shopping.  Of course, while there, we had to eat.  (Shoppers among you, if you’re at Le Bon Marche – and why wouldn’t you be? –  my fave place for a quick, cheap and tasty lunch break is at Cuisine de Bar, next to Poilane on Rue Cherche-Midi.  Tartines, hot open-faced sandwiches, is their specialty, and the Saint-Marcellin-and-ham one is stellar.)

And if I haven’t mentioned it before, in general, if you’re looking for a well-edited and up-to-date list of restaurants in Paris, you can’t beat the “Editors’ Pick” feature of Paris by Mouth, a collective effort by well-established food writers and bloggers in Paris.

mackerel in "bread soup" at Rino

rare duck breast at Rino

Our favorite meal this time round in Paris?  Dinner at Rino.  4 courses for 38 euros and 6 courses for 55 euros.  Go for the 6 courses.  You’ll get a nifty offal dish and a cheese course.

The dining room is super casual and lively.  Most diners seemed to be in their 30s and 40s and having a rollicking good time.  A great place to visit with friends.

The food was delicious and creative.  Our dinner started strong:  potato tortellini with a hint of lemon, served in salty smoked fish consomme, with hits of sweetness from onion and bites of octopus.  So many subtle flavors with each bite.  I definitely wasn’t expecting that sort of sophistication given the casual atmosphere.

Fillet of mackerel in a bread soup was firm and meaty, and I loved the addition of sweet cabbage and nutty brussel spourts with tiny breadcrumbs for texture.  Rabbit kidneys were a tad rubbery but visually fun to see them on a skewer with similarly-sized escargot.

Duck course was outrageously bloody but delicious.  Cheeses were well chosen, and our dessert was simple and refreshing:  a bergamot-scented semi freddo-covered fresh fruits, dried fruits and candied nuts.

Service was super attnetive (we must have gone through at least six carafes of tap water).  Bonus points for being within walking distance of the hotel we always stay at, the much-loved Grand Hotel Francais.

Rino, 46 Rue Trousseau, 75011 Paris, +33 (0)1 48 06 95 85; closest metro stop:  Ledru-Rollin (8).

profiteroles at Bistrot Paul Bert

It may be listed in every english-language guidebook and blogged about repeatedly, but I suspect that because of its location in the 11th arrondissement, Bistrot Paul Bert still feels like a local joint.  Jon and I turned up for Friday lunch without a reservation, and it was pas de probleme to find a table.

As is the case with most places in France, the 3-course prix fixe lunch menu (16.50 euros) was incredibly good value.  Bonus points at lunch for my learning a new word in French:  topinambour.  Jersualem artichoke.

Highlights of our lunch: the rich cream of topinambour soup, perfect for a winter’s day; the roast lamb, served with incredible char and juicy, pink meat; and a heaping huge serving of chocolately profiteroles and cheese.  Simple, classic, well-executed bistro food.

I tried to sneak a side order of their famous frites into our order, but our waiter replied: “je ne vous promets rien” (I promise you nothing), and of course frites never arrived.  Can’t win ‘em all.

Bistrot Paul Bert, 18 Rue Paul Bert, 75011 Paris, +33 (0)1 43 72 24 01; closest metro stop:  Rue des Boulets (9)

crab avocado (18 euros) at L'Agrume

veal chop (32 euros) at L'Agrume

It’s no exaggeration to say I’d been looking forward to eating at L’Agrume for at least the last 12 months.  Great pedigree; rave reviews.  For a sampling of the hype, read John Talbott’s January 2010 rave review, and of course this April 2010 blurb in the New York Times.

In any case, our dinner there was nice, but not what I was hoping for, which was something more like what we had at Rino – creative fare at good prices.

We weren’t keen on the prix fixe menu (reasonably priced at 35 euros), so we choose from the a la carte menu, which was much pricier, with starters hovering around 15 euros and mains generally in the low 30s.

L’Agrume was generous with luxury ingredients (Jon’s starter was packed with crab meat, and mine with lobster meat), but didn’t seem to do much with them.  And while I did, in fact, devour my veal chop (and Jon the same with his fillet of Dover sole), neither dish was prepared with any sort of twist.  I wish I’d read this Gourmet Traveller June 2010 post before going to L’Agrume, because she’s right on the money to say the food didn’t seem like anything you couldn’t cook at home.

Based on our visit, L’Agrume seems to be a strong choice if you want large portions of tasty, straightforward cooking in a casual setting.  The place was still packed at 10 pm on a Friday night, so the atmosphere is nice and buzzy.   We were especially happy with the wines-by-the-glass options.   But if you go, know that the a la carte gets pricey.

L’Agrume, 15 Rue des Fossés Saint-Marcel 75005 Paris, +33 (0)1 43 31 86 48; closest metro stops:  Saint-Marcel (5) or Les Gobelins (7)

worst loh boh gao (radish cake), ever, at Le Pacifique

Ahh, Sundays in Paris.  I’ve stopped bothering trying to book restaurants.  There are so few good ones open that day, and because most boulangeries and places in Chinatown stay open on Sunday, I find that planning on baked goods and banh mi is a something to look forward to.  On this particular trip, it was the weekend after Chinese New Year, so Jon and I headed to the Right Bank Chinatown around Belleville to rustle up some dim sum (“cuisine a la vapeur” en francais).

We took a recommendation from Clothilde Dusoulier’s “Edible Adventures in Paris” and sought out “Le Pacifique.” And you know what?  It sucked.  Possibly the worst dim sum meal I’ve ever eaten in my life, and you know I’ve eaten a lot of dim sum.

I’ll let the above photo of stodgy, *deep fried* and radish-and-pork-less loh boh gao represent what our dim sum meal was like.  And each steamer still cost 4.50-5 euros, which I’d hesitate to pay even at a Michelin-starred place like Yauatcha or Hakkasan, much less at a greasy-looking spot surrounded by French people ordering nems. Avoid like the plague.  If this is the best Paris has to offer by way of dim sum, then I weep for Parisians.  For your Asian fix in Paris, stick with the Vietnamese food.

On the plus side, we bumped into Chinese New Year dragon dancers on our way down the street to pick up banh mi at the reliably-delicious Dong Tom/Panda Belleville banh mi takeaway shop.

Dragon dancers for Chinese New Year in Belleville

Le Pacifique, 35 Rue Belleville, 75019 Paris, +33 (0)1 42 49 66 80; closest metro stop:  Belleville (11).

Dong Tam (Panda Belleville) banh mi, 16, rue Louis Bonnet, 11th; closest metro:  Belleville (11).

(the seeingly ubiquitous) Henry Moore at the Rodin Museum

Not food related, but just a brief note that Jon and I have started to make trips to Paris to coincide with the First Sunday of the month.  Free museums.   Whereas I wouldn’t pay another 12-15 euros to visit a museum for the third, fourth, fifth time . . . for free, I don’t mind popping in and out to see a few faves and move on.  I love it.

This time around, the weather was sunny, so we revisited the Rodin Museum, which has lovely sculpture gardens, of course, and is a manageable size.  There’s a Henry Moore exhibit going on as well, so in case you haven’t had your fill of those, you can get two big-name sculptors for the price of one if you head now to the Rodin Museum.

Musee Rodin, 79 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris; +33 (0)1 44 18 61 10; closest metro stop:  Varenne (13).

Grand Hotel Francais

Where to stay in Paris:

Everyone has their favorite place to stay in Paris, I know, but I can’t say enough good things about the boutique hotel, Le Grand Hotel Francais.  We’ve been staying here on every trip to Paris since reading positive TripAdvisor reviews about it in 2008 (maybe since 2007, even?).  The rooms are great value for Paris – clean, modern, comfortable.  The hotel owner, Zyad, is incredibly hard working and friendly, and despite the hotel’s recent recognition by TripAdvisor as one of the top 25 hotels in France, Zyad is still at that front desk, working 90 hours a week to make customers feel welcome and cared for.

At this point, I look forward to seeing Zyad every time we’re in Paris, and so in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll share that sometimes, like this time, Zyad upgrades us to higher-floor, larger rooms when they’re available.  But he did that for us the second time we stayed there, long before we were what you’d call “regulars.”  And even when rooms are full and we end up in a ground floor room, I think paying 110-135 euros a night (depending on the time of year) is still good value.

I’m also a huge booster for the 11th arrondissement, in general, especially if you’re a food lover and want to explore a pretty but non-tourist-fied neighborhood in Paris.

Grand Hotel Francais, 223, boulevard Voltaire, 11th; +33 1 43 71 27 57; closest metro: rue des Boulets (9) or Nation (1, 2, 6, 9, RER A)

To read a sampling of other Paris posts I’ve written over the last couple of years:

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Le Chateaubriand restaurant, still busy at 10 pm on a Friday in late August

En route to Burgundy for a week of cycling and wine tasting, Jon and I decided to spend a weekend in Paris.  Trouble was that our trip fell in late August, when lots of desirable restaurants are still closed, pending la rentree in September (L’Agrume, I’m looking at you).  Of course, Paris is a big city, so of course we didn’t starve.  The executive summary?  Le Chateaubriand and Spring Restaurant are worth visiting even when you have all the choice in the world (i.e., even if it’s not August).  And I won’t be revisiting La Fontaine de Mars and L’Aromatik anytime soon.

Le Chateaubriand has a number of attractions despite its lack of Michelin stars.  For example:

  1. It’s passed muster with familiar and trusted London food bloggers like Gourmet Chick, Gourmet Traveller and Greedy Diva.
  2. It has the distinction of being number 11 on this year’s San Pelligrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (gotta love the chutzpah of claiming to rank every restaurant in the *world*, no?);
  3. It’s in the 11th arrondissement, which, over the last three years, has become my favorite area for exploration.  Between the Vietnamese wonders of Belleville (yes it’s technically in the 20th, but close enough), the presence of several other food-lover hotspots, and the charms of my fave hotel in Paris, the 11th is worthy of many blog posts, which I will spare you for now; and
  4. It’s open in late August.  Bonus points for having a walk-in-only 10 pm seating.  Meaning that if your Eurostar pulls into Gare du Nord a bit later than expected on a Friday night, no worries.  Parfait.

grilled squid at Le Chateaubriand

Le Chateaubriand’s menu is simple:  for your 50 euros, you’re served five courses with a few amuses thrown in.  As you’d expect from a kitchen that changes its menu daily and pushes the creative envelope, there are hits and misses.  For me, the hits were the grilled squid course, served practically raw but somehow still charcoal-smoky, and the rare, tender pigeon, complemented in texture and flavor by blanched almonds.  Dessert, comprised of berries with ice milk made of corn milk, was a miss, tasting mostly like Cap’n Crunch cereal, except not as tasty.  There’s good cheese and bread (Poujauran, bien sur), and a quirky wine list (our server’s recommendation of “La Roumanie Conte” was a hipster’s homage to La Romanee Conti, I suppose).

Definitely a place to return with friends.  Not so much for a quiet night out, though.  In fact, much as I loved Le Chateaubriand’s casual bistro decor and buzzy mood, I wouldn’t bring my parents here.   The vibe was pretty rockstar and even I, in my energetic 30s, felt a bit old and dowdy.  Maybe it’s different if you show up before the 10 pm seating?  And note the restaurant no longer serves lunch, which makes perfect sense considering that when Jon and I left at well after midnight, the place was still packed.

The newly-reopened Spring restaurant in the 1st

lobster roll at Spring, 24 euros (served only during Saturday lunch in August)

Spring is much adored by the Paris food press (click here for a sample of the adoration).  Chef-owner Daniel Rose is American, and the restaurant is located around the corner from the Louvre, so I wasn’t surprised to find a heavy anglophone contingent among diners when we turned up for Saturday lunch.  I reckon the jewel box, zen-chic restaurant would normally close for August, but seeing as how Spring’s snazzy 1st arrondissement location just opened several weeks ago (in July 2010), it’s no surprise they stayed open in August.  Lucky for me.  The trick is that when you book for Saturday lunch in August, you’re agreeing to eat only one thing when you arrive:  lobster rolls.

I’ll admit I felt kind of silly showing up in Paris to eat such a classic American sandwich.  But I was eager to see the new space, and I figured that with a week of eating in Burgundy ahead of me, an early break from “French food” would be no bad thing.

Thumbs up on the lobster roll:  sweet, almost-raw chunks of lobster meat, lightly dressed and carefully arranged on a buttered, toasted roll.  For 24 euros, I thought the portion was a bit meager, but that’s where the 6-euros-a-portion fries come in.  With the restaurant floor-to-ceiling windows thrown open on a sunny afternoon, the atmosphere was relaxed and summery.  A good lunch, but I left without a sense of what makes the restaurant so highly regarded.  So I’ll look forward to the inevitable flood of blog posts about dinner there.

escalope of foie gras (30 euros) at La Fontaine de Mars in the 7th

Finding an open restaurant on Sunday is challenging under the best of circumstances in Paris (which means I usually spend Sundays in Belleville for Vietnamese food).  In August, the task seems impossible.  This is when popular-with-anglophone tourist spots prove their value.  They’re always open, it seems.  And so we found ourselves meeting a friend for an early Sunday lunch at La Fontaine de Mars, whose latest claim to fame is last summer’s Obama visit.  The food ranged from mediocre-and-expensive (roast chicken with mashed potatoes for 20 euros) to pretty-good-and-expensive (escalope of foie gras for 30 euros).  All the bistro classics are there, with nods to Burgundy (oeufs en meurette and escargots).

Pet peeve alert:  when we arrived, the servers told us all the outdoor tables were specifically reserved, so we were seated at an indoor table.  And when we left – I kid you not – all the outdoor tables were still empty.  All of them.

Overall, the place could have been worse, but unless you find yourself dying of starvation while visiting the Eiffel Tower, there are plenty of other, similarly-attractive bistros serving the same dishes at half the price.  I will give them this, though:  supremely clean, comfortable loos.  No wonder my countrymen love it so.

L'Aromatik in the 9th

roulade de cabillaud (cod) at L'Aromatik

Exacerbating the “everything’s closed in August” problem was my failure to make restaurant bookings until two days before we arrived in Paris (Rino actually laughed when I rang up on Wednesday looking for a Saturday night table).  So I scoured the blogs of two trusted sources of Paris restaurant intell and came across this post and this post about L’Aromatik in the 9th.  Attractive bistro serving simple, well-prepared dishes on its 35-euro prix fixe menu.  Sounds good, no?

Sadly, while the art deco-tiled space is indeed attractive, the food was pretty mediocre.  Take, for example, Jon’s roulade of cod (pictured above).  There was way too much going on on that plate, and really, I can make bacon-wrapped cod at home.  My supreme de pintadeau Maury et nectarines caramelisees au sechuan wasn’t much better.  The nectarines were crunchy and raw (definitely not caramelised), and I didn’t taste or see any sechuan influence.  So basically, I was served chicken with nectarines on the side. Desserts were of the sort that get served at large catered events.

Our server, perfectly nice, kept trying to steer us away from the prix fixe and towards the much-pricier a la carte, so that was a bummer, too.  On the whole, L’Aromatik struck me as no good.  Not even good as a neighborhood place, really.

Le Chateaubriand, 129 Avenue Parmentier, 11th arrondissement; +33 1 43 57 45 95‎; closest metro:  Goncourt

Spring Restaurant, 6 Rue Bailleul, 1st arrondissement; + 33 1 58 62 44 30; closest metro:  Louvre-Rivoli

La Fontaine de Mars, 129 Rue Saint-Dominique, 7th arrondissement; +33 1 47 05 46 44; closest metro: Ecole Militaire or La Tour-Maubourg

L’Aromatik, 7 Rue Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, 9th arrondissement; +33 1 48 74 62 27‎; closest metro: Trinite d’Estienne d’Orves, Saint-Georges or Liege

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Jacquemart Andre museum

Love Paris but been there more times than you can count?  Need something to do in between meals besides shop?  Two weekends ago, that’s the enviable position I found myself in.

First stop:  the Petit Palais to see if we could catch the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit.  Alas, it was the last weekend of the exhibition and the queue was too long.  No worries.  From there it was a quick velib ride over to the Jacquemart-Andre Museum, which was wonderfully empty and peaceful (metro:  Miromesnil).  Included in our 10-euro admission fee was an audioguide that was actually pretty good, explaining not just the “what” of everything in the house, but also the “how” and “why.”  It’s a lot like visiting the Frick Collection in New York, giving you a glimpse into the life of a wealthy 19th-century family.  In this case, that of a couple (Edouard Andre and Nelie Jacquemart) who had no kids but instead directed their passion towards art collecting.  The house was beautiful, and the museum’s Rembrandts and Canalettos were just icing on the cake.

courtyard gardens at the Musee Carnavalet

Much as Jon and I love the Marais and the Place des Vosges (take a quick peek at Maison de Victor Hugo in the square’s southeast corner – it’s free), the area can be super crowded on Sunday, mostly because it’s one of the rare neighborhoods with shops and restos that stay open that day.  (By the way, I know the Marais has long been a Jewish nbhd, but has anyone noticed how much Rue des Rosiers is thriving as a Jewish-themed amusement park?  See e.g., the guys eagerly displaying tefillin on card tables and the multiple roving klezmer bands performing the entire Fiddler soundtrack.)

So for a little peace and quiet after, say, a visit to tried-and-true L’As du Falafel, Jon and I like to pop into the quiet courtyard garden of the Musee Carnavalet.  It’s a museum dedicated to the history of Paris, but I think its real attraction lies in the two gorgeous old hotels particuliers that house the museum’s collection.

the gardens at the Hotel de Sully

Speaking of hotels partculiers, the Marais is packed with them.  The trick, though, is that by design, they’re not easy to spot from the outside.  If you’re looking for a shortcut from noisy, busy Rue St. Antoine (aka Rue de Rivoli at its eastern end) into the Place des Vosges, look for the Hotel de Sully.  If you’re like me, you’ll be astounded that it’s one of those gems that’s been right under your nose forever.

outdoor performance pavillion at the Parc Floral

When in Paris, Jon and I like to stay at the stylish, welcoming and affordable Grand Hotel Francais in the 11th, which is not only close to food-lover hotspots like Bistro Paul Bert and Le Chateaubriand, but also it’s just a few metro stops away from the Parc Floral (metro: Chateau de Vincennes). On weekends, the Parc Floral charges 5 euros admission, which enables you to stroll around a gorgeous botanical garden with an outdoor performance space feauturing some great classical and jazz musicians.  Catch a performance on a sunny afternoon and be sure to make time for the impressive collection of lovely bansai trees (I swear I’m not as old as this last sentence is making me sound).

Those with kiddies will appreciate the mini golf course, which sadly doesn’t feature windmills or scary clowns with moving mouths.  Rather, there are serious-looking miniatures of French landmarks.  So French!

Winged Victory - an oldie but a goodie, esp when it's free admission at the Louvre

These days, I skip the “big” sights when I’m in Paris, mostly because I’ve seen them lots already, and they’re expensive and crowded.  But our last trip to Paris fell on the first Sunday of the month.  Which means?  Museums are free!  It seems I’m happy to drop by the Louvre when I don’t have to shell out 9.50 euros.  After all, even the aggressive camera-wielding crowds don’t seem as awful when you’re there for free.

Tuileries

The Tuileries, of course, are always free.  And with a Pierre Herme boutique just off the Rue de Rivoli (4, Rue Cambon), I’m a happy lady if I can snag a coveted metal chair by one of the fountains and savor the latest and greatest macarons by le maitre.

It seems that as much as I enjoy the less-heralded bits of Paris, some things are popular and timeless for good reason.

Dear readers, what are your favorite things to do in Paris?

Pierre Herme - a nice way to end every trip to Paris

For more on Paris, click on this post, “Paris Odds and Ends (May 2009)

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kaiseki-style starters ("zors d'oeuvres") (6 for 20 euros)

Hype. We’ve all fallen for it. Last weekend, having read a few blurbs in favor of William Ledeuil’s recently-opened “casual” venture, Kitchen Galerie Bis (see here in French, here and here in English, for example), I thought we’d give it a go, despite the fact that the earliest available table was at 10:15 pm. (On the flip side, I figured if the only table available was at 10:15 pm, then at least I knew for sure it was a much-in-demand place).

We arrived on time, and yes, the place was packed. And KGB really looked the part of an art gallery with its high-ceilinged, spare white room and walls hung with paintings.

The food is Asian-accented (unlike at Thoumieux, we knew this part going in). The first courses are named something hokey –instead of hors d’oeuvres, you get “zors d’oeuvres” in a nod to Ledeuil’s flagship “Ze Kitchen Galerie“– but they were the best part of our meal. Zors d’oeuvres can be ordered in sets of 3, 4 or 6, so Jon and I split six, and what arrived at our table was a kaiseki-looking treat of small dishes. See photo above. Clockwise from top left:

  • Foie gras cubes in a duck consomme
  • Prawn avocado with beets and citrus-zesty reduction
  • Seared tuna with radish and a sugary-salty miso condiment
  • Pork won ton with coconut milk and ginger Thai-style frothy-brothy deal
  • Deep fried lamb kofte with sweet chilli dipping sauce
  • Carrot-turmeric soup froth with grilled mushrooms

The prawn, tuna, lamb and carrot soup were stand-outs for the mix of textures and flavors. Great examples of French food with an Asian accent. From the zors d’oeuvres (it pains me to keep writing that), I can see why Ledeuil has die-hard fans.

scallops with a hint of lemongrass and coconut milk

The rest of the meal was fine, but not super exciting. Our two mains (scallops for me, sea bream for Jon) looked more interesting than they tasted. I figured if the dishes are going to be “just” well-prepared but unsurprising, then I’d rather be eating in a warm, comfortable old bistro than in a see-and-be seen contemporary art space.

sea bream

Our server was professional but perfunctory. He must’ve been slammed that night because he was awful about getting us our carafe d’eau, which is usually never a problem in Paris.

Main courses mostly fell in the 20-25 euro range, so with a cheap and cheerful bottle of wine (from Gascony, I think), our total for starters and two mains was 95 euros.

I’d go back if I wanted to impress super-trendy friends or if I stopped in only for a few zors d’oeuvres.

KGB, 25 rue des Grand Augustins, 6th, +33 (0)1-46-33-00-85. Metro: Odeon.

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interior of Thoumieux in the 7th arrondissement, now owned by the Costes brothers

interior of Thoumieux brasserie in the 7th arrondissement

I was back in Paris last weekend, and of course had to eat.

Thoumieux is one of these places that’s been around for a hundred years and is too close to a tourist attraction (Les Invalides) to  interest me normally. But about a year ago, the Costes brothers and a pedigreed chef, Jean-Francois Piege, took over, and last week, Francois Simon wrote that Thoumieux’s soul was “back,” which was “sans doute one of the best pieces of news of the season.” So how could I resist?

 

Thoumieux bread and butter and sardine pate

We knew we were in for a treat based on the quality of the freebie bread (crusty and crackly), butter (so rich it’s better than cheese) and sardine pate.

 

frisee salad with a poached egg and royale of smoked lardons (10 euros)

Years and years ago, I had the best frisee, lardons and poached egg salad of my life at Au Moulin a Vent (Chez Henri) in the 5th. I’ve tried to recreate that classic salad’s creamy porky glory at home to no avail. But the updated version at Thoumieux finally surpasses my memory of even that long-ago salad. Instead of lardons, there was a rich lardon-infused cream waiting to be scooped up from the bottom of my bowl, along with bites of crispy croutons for texture. The acidic tang of vinaigrette balanced all the creaminess of warm egg yolk and meaty deliciousness.  I’d go back to Thoumieux just for this salad.

 

wild calamari salad prepared in a carbonara style (10 euros)

Jon’s “calamar sauvage prepare a la carbonara” was served as slivers of fresh calamari “spaghetti,” which was playful and delish. There’s no more comforting a combo than warm egg yolk and hot, crispy lardons.

Basically, if I’d ordered my frisee salad along with this calamari salad, I’d have had the perfect lunch at Thoumieux.

 

slow cooked "Oteiza" pork belly with onion crackling and Puy lentils (19 euros)

But alas, the mains we tried were much less successful than our starters. There was a lot more “Asian” influence that just didn’t work out. My pork belly had a strong turmeric/curry flavor, and one of the two pieces of pork belly on my plate was 100% fat. Now, I love pork belly as much as the next girl, but even I draw the line at a block of pure pork fat. Especially for 19 euros.

 

fish of the day: scallops prepared Thai style with a rice cake (21 euros)

Jon’s scallops were a bit anemic-looking and -tasting and overwhelmed by the accompanying Thai-coconut sauce.

 

chocolate, apple and lemon tarts (8 euros a slice)

Overall, Thoumieux was a wonderful place to have lunch, because the salads were so outstanding; the servers so professional (I love when tap water is constantly refilled unobtrusively – and oh, did I mention?  the servers were extremely good looking); the room so congenial; and the atmosphere so buzzy (the room was packed with happy groups of families and friends by 1 pm).

Though I was eh on our mains, based on the excellence of our two starters, I’d give other items on the menu a try.  The place certainly does have soul, and based on our starters, it also has talent in the kitchen.  So order something other than the scallops and pork belly, and let me know how it goes.

Our tab for two starters, two mains and a half-bottle of wine totaled 82 euros.

Thoumieux, 79 Rue Saint-Dominique, 7th arrondissement, Paris; +33 (0)1.47.05.49.75; closest metro: La Tour Mauborg.  Icing on the cake:  Thoumieux is open 7 days a week (i.e., it’s a place to eat on Sunday!)

[For the French speakers among you, see also this 17 Nov 09 review in Le Figaro, and this 19 Nov 09 review in L’Express, both glowing with praise.]

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Le Cambodge Restaurant, Canal St Martin, Paris

Le Cambodge Restaurant, Canal St.-Martin, Paris

Jon and I started our Loire Valley cycling trip by taking the Eurostar to Paris last weekend. In fact, we set off for Chartres just as the Tour de France pulled into town.

Predicting that we had a full week of French-only food options ahead of us, we wanted to avoid eating French food while in Paris. Additionally, thanks to last year’s Frugal Traveler Grand Tour series, Jon and I have been meaning to visit the much-hyped Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood of Paris (which somehow we haven’t had time to visit during our three other visits to Paris over the last few months).

So, I looked up Canal St.-Martin restaurants on this BlackBook site, which is great for searching by neighborhood and has well-edited, up-to-date Paris restaurant tips, and voila, it was between Le Cambodge (serving Cambodian food) and Japanese-inspired Ploum. Knowing that it’d be the last weekend of the Paris sales (Bon Marche, je t’aime) and not wanting to commit in advance to a dinner reservation time lest I run out of sale shopping time, I opted for the walk-in-only appeal of Restaurant Le Cambodge.

As the photo above attests (and as described in Blackbook’s blurb about Le Cambodge), there was indeed a queue when we rocked up at just after 8 pm on a Saturday night. On the plus side, everyone queuing spoke French and I figured the food *must* be good for a queue to be forming. On the down side, it was annoying to queue. The restaurant will take down your mobile number and ring you when a table is free, but we waited around in case the restaurant didn’t want to bother calling a UK number and just skipped us.

pate imperiale at Le Cambodge in Paris

pate imperiale at Le Cambodge in Paris

Le Cambodge had a lively, intimate atmosphere. In fact, it’s much like a charming, hidden-away bistro, except that it serves Cambodian food. The server hands out menus, papers and pens, and your job as a diner is to write down your own order. At first I thought that this system was genius (to speed things along in light of there being a single server for the entire restaurant). But then I realized that while you saved time writing down your own order, the sole server had a b*tch of a time keeping up with all the dishes as they were completed. We could see our dishes on the bar counter, waiting to be served. Perhaps Le Cambodge should just do away with the server all together and go self-service all the way.

Not knowing anything, really, about Cambodian food, Jon and I ordered haphazardly. Pates imperiaux sounded impressive. They turned out to be cha gio, which of course is hardly a disappointment. Even though they looked a bit ugly (seems like they were fried in a re-used oil?), they tasted good, chock full of pork, prawn and rice noodle bits and served with a nuoc cham. At 8.50 euros for six, it’s a fair deal, but pricey in an absolute sense. My personal preference would be for a smaller portion at a lower price.

prawn roulade at Le Cambodge in Paris

prawn rouleau at Le Cambodge in Paris

The prawn rouleau was a bad value dish, even at the modest price of 6.50 euros. I wasn’t expecting it to look like a loosely-packed burrito. In any event, the stuffing consisted of two prawns sliced paper-thin, which were overwhelmed by the tons of rice vermicelli stuffing. Very bland and not worth ordering unless you love to eat flavorless rice vermicelli wrapped up in an equally-flavorless rice-flour crepe.

lacquered pork at Le Cambodge in Paris

lacquered pork (porc au caramel) at Le Cambodge in Paris

While the porc au caramel turned out to be more braised than lacquered, it was tender and fragrant. After polishing off the indulgently-fatty pieces of pork, I downed all the sauce as well. It was one of those sauces that you could eat all day when accompanied with plain, white rice.

Our total for two starters, two mains, and a 13-euro bottle of wine came to 50 euros.

Le Cambodge is a fun place in a currently-cool part of town. It serves enjoyable, simple dishes that seem to have a lot in common with Vietnamese food. The bottom line is that if you tire of French food while in Paris and/or want to eat where the other diners are all French, Le Cambodge is worth a try.

Restaurant Le Cambodge; 10, avenue Richerand (quai de Jemmapes), 10th arrondissement; +33 1 44 84 37 70; closest metro: Republique.

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mackerel tartare starter at Restaurant Itineraires (Paris, 5th)

mackerel tartare starter at Restaurant Itineraires (Paris, 5th)

Jon’s parents visited us in London last week, so we decided to take a quick 4th of July trip to Paris. Our 32 hours there didn’t allow for too many meals, but we did manage to revisit Itineraires for dinner and Le Comptoir for lunch.

Itineraires was just as (if not more) delicious and wonderful an experience as it was last November when we first ate there. Le Comptoir, however, was much less appealing than it was last March.

Despite the restaurant’s ever-growing fame, the menu at Itineraires is still 29 euros for two courses and 36 euros for three. The portions are still large enough that we didn’t make it to dessert; the food is still creative and delicious; and the service is still warm and friendly enough that we couldn’t help lingering for hours after we’d finished eating.

creme de lentilles soup at Restaurant Itineraires

creme de lentilles soup at Restaurant Itineraires

Given how sweltering the weather was in Paris last weekend, we were *very* happy that Itineraires offered a number of cold, refreshing starters: white asparagus soup and creme de lentilles were chilled and pretty much best in class. My mackerel tartare starter, while a bit over-colorful, was perfect for the summer weather – meaty but cool. And did you see? Itineraires got yet another star turn in the New York Times last weekend , courtesy of Mark Bittman. [Of course, in the same article, he was also super pleased with Le Gaigne, which I didn’t think was in the same league as Itineraires. But you can’t ignore Mickael Gaignon’s pedigree, I suppose.]

In any event, be sure to try Itineraires if you haven’t already. It’s impossibly lovely, especially considering it’s located in tourist ground zero, about ten minutes’ walk from Notre Dame.

As for Le Comptoir - this was our third time there for lunch. Le Comptoir’s appeal lies in its super-handy location in the 6th, its movie-perfect old-fashioned bistro looks, and the tons and tons of hype it gets. But I think it’s suffering from its popularity. Service was brusque and needed lots of reminding; the greens in three of our salad starters looked and tasted bruised and tired; and I didn’t enjoy having to explain that they’d over-charged us 5 euros on an already-pricey lobster bisque (of which we’d ordered three). Overall, it was still a decent place for lunch in that part of town, but everything from the service to the food seemed sloppy. Even at a relatively-modest 25 euros per person for starter and main, it was too much money. Next time I’m in the 6th, I’ll try L’Epigramme instead.

Restaurant Itineraires, 5 rue de Pontoise, 5th, 01-46-33-60-11; closed Sundays and Mondays. Closest metro: Maubert-Mutualite (10).

Le Comptoir du Relais, 9, Carrefour de l’Odeon, +33 (0)1 44 27 07 97. Closest Metro: Odeon

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