by Lana Bortolot and John Foy
Since much of the world is sheltering in place, April in Paris is (we imagine) empty or a memory from 2019. You may not be able to get there this month, but you can take an armchair travel tour and plan for the future.
To help set your wine and dine itinerary, I’ve asked John Foy, a wine consultant and former award-winning chef in the New York City metro area to contribute his Paris secrets. Foy owns The Wine Odyssey, a consultancy and fine-wine tour company, and his yearly sojourns include exploring Paris’s dining scene, mostly by bike.
“It’s easy to get swept away in Paris–after all, it is the city for and of lovers. But it’s not always so easy to find places for dining off the beaten track that deliver both delicious food and memories,” he says. High on his list: “Quality neighborhood restaurants, wine-oriented restaurants with fair prices, chefs putting their talent on every plate and dining room staffs serving you with care.”
This installment features Foy’s favored lunch spots. I’ve taken his advice more than a few times and have not been disappointed. But here, he’ll speak for himself.
LEFT BANK “La Rive Gauche”: The southern bank of the river Seine
Ze Kitchen Galerie, 4 Rue des Grands Augustins (6th arrondissement). What a pleasant surprise was this one-star Michelin! I went there expecting the restaurant was part of or adjacent to an art gallery. but I found the real artistry was in the kitchen, where a team of chefs were blending French and Asian flavors. I chose an appetizer of zucchini flower stuffed with a shrimp mousse in a buttery shrimp broth seasoned with miso-harissa, surrounded by embryonic zucchini sliced in half, making Lilliputian raft-sized images. Not only visually appealing, it tasted so good I decided on the spot to have lunch there the following day, something I have never done before. The menu is a set of formulas: the first day I choose two courses, appetizer and main course; the second day I choose main course and dessert (either is 41 euros). There are also three-course and six-course options. The next day, my turbot with the tinniest griolle mushrooms, steamed and sliced potatoes, green beans, cream foam, and a necklace of green herbs and puree only added to my appreciation for the kitchen’s gallery of talent. A brilliantly conceived dessert featured a garnet cherry sauce as background to intensely flavored cherries, sliced apricot, candied basil leaf and pistachio ice cream.
Au Bon Accueil, 14 Rue de Montlessuy (7th arr). Established in 1870, this charming restaurant has been family-owned since 1980, now serving a modern version of bistro fare. My 36-euro, three-course menu began with tempura-style sardines with a lemon flavor that diminished the sardines’ saltiness while being mouth-watering. My main dish of Pave de Dorade (filet of bass), with a palette of tricolor peppers, cherry tomatoes and puree of potatoes pleased both my eye and palate. A good selection of fairly priced wines included the biodynamic Domaine Pierre Cauvin Cremant de Loire Brut Nature, which was too tart as an aperitif, but balanced by both fish presentations. And deep appreciation went to the dessert course: brioche baked with autumn fruits and accented by passion-fruit foam and garnished with a wedge of persimmons. Only two streets away from the Eiffel Tower, this is the kind of restaurant every neighborhood should have.
Champeaux, Forum de Halles (1st arr). A 21st-century Parisian brasserie owned by Chef Alain Ducasse, and located on the ground floor of Paris’ the three-level subterranean shopping center in the city’s historic meat market, Les Halles. All the classic plates are offered, some with a cheeky edge: sauce options are listed under “Pimp your Ride” for steaks Aux Poivres, Bernaise or L’Echalote. I started with a glass of the biodynamic Fleury Rose Champagne, and chose the most classic of all French bistro dishes: steak tartare. But I was not happy with the serving of unseasoned chopped beef. Missing were the traditional condiments of chopped gherkins, capers, mustard, Worchester sauce and crushed black-peppercorns. Only the delicious thick, dark brown bread that I requested be toasted made the dish acceptable. A glass of Stephane Montez Collines Rhonaniennes “Syrah a Papa” was filled with the black-fruit pleasure for which northern Rhone wines are known. (Pro tip: Collines Rhonaniennes are great value Syrah wines; look for one when red-wine shopping.)
In “Passage des Panoramas” (2nd arr), Paris’ oldest glass shopping arcade, you’ll find Racines, one of the hottest bistros of the past decade. Chef Simone Tondo, who hails from Sardinia, commands the kitchen. I ignored the Boudin Noir and other French dishes and went with Chef Tondo’s Italian offerings, settling on the Vitello Tonnato. The velvety pink veal carried a coating of tuna-infused mayonnaise that showed that while Tondo is Italian, he knows how to make mayonnaise as only someone who worked under a French chef can. Chef Tondo’s Tiramisu is the ultimate tribute to his heritage, French techniques and your pleasure.
La Bourse et La Vie, 12 Rue Vivienne (2nd arr). This 17-seat restaurant is another successful gem by American chef Daniel Rose, whose restaurants in Paris (Spring, Chez la Vieille) and New York (Le Coucou) are praised on both sides of the Atlantic. From the limited wine list, I selected the 2015 Christian Venier, Le Clos des Carteries, a tasty blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir. This single-vineyard Loire Valley wine is organically grown, fermented by carbonic maceration (a traditional method for Beaujolais’ Gamay grape), and bottled free of sulfur dioxide. My gavlox appetizer was unusually a half-inch thick rather than the traditional paper-thin slices, which gave the delicious, silky salmon a texture I immediately preferred. The extra-virgin olive oil and dill sauce was a great replacement for the classic sour cream-dill mix. The veal pot-a-feu was the perfect dish for a chilly Parisian day. From the copper pot in which it was served, I pulled forkfuls of fatty veal, root vegetables, and used the crusty brown bread as a sponge to drain the pot of the savory broth. The dish was worth every cent of its 32-euro price.
Frenchie, 5 Rue du Nil (2nd arr). This tiny, one-star Michelin restaurant was the most difficult reservation to make in memory, but it was worth the year-long effort. I sat alongside the window at the rear of the room sipping a glass of a heretofore unknown Champagne: Fallet Prevostat Blanc des Blancs (non-dosage). Its white nectarine flavor finished with a mineral kick and was a perfect match with my sea scallop carpaccio appetizer with oyster mayonnaise, and fried black rice. A sautéed chicken breast arrived with what I consider the silliness of modern cooking: a single grilled leek, a single carrot shaving, and a single grilled salsify. It all tasted good, but I prefer food over abstract art on my plate. My glass of 2014 Crozes-Hermitage, Alain Griollot provided a splendid middle ground between the intense flavors and weight of Hermitage and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. A refreshing dessert was clever and tasty: hidden under the Meyer Lemon Curd was the diced lemon itself sealed with a rosemary-flavored gelatin. Unequivocally, Frenchie was worth the effort.
Lavinia, 3 Blvd de Madeleine (8th arr). I eat at his must-go place for lunch every time I’m in Paris, but it’s also great for a late-afternoon glass of Champagne. The restaurant, filled with French business folks enjoying excellent food and wines by the glass and bottle, is on the second floor of a high-end wine shop. Bonus: you can take any bottle from the wine shop bring it upstairs to your table and pay the wine shop price; no corkage nor service charge. Or, choose from the large wine list and enjoy glasses of high-end cuvees such as Clos St. Denis, Charmes-Chambertin and Vosne Romanee. One memorable lunch introduced me to a pleasant, new wine: Domaine de Bellieviere, a biodynamic winery in Loire Valley’s Jasnieres appellation. The 2014 Clos des Truffieres I tasted was very perfumed, light as a feather and weighted with raspberry and black-cherry flavor that was excellent with my steak tartare. Discovering wines like this is why you go to Lavinia.
Brassierie Lazare. La Gare St. Lazare (9th arr). On the upper floor of the Paris-Saint- Lazare train station, this is a first-class kitchen run by chef Eric Frechon (La Verrier, Restaurant Frechon, Le Bristol, Le Crillion). My lunch was a delicious charcuterie plate and cheese selection at the bar. Wines by the glass are very good: mine included a Cru Beaujolais and a red Sancerre, both poured from magnums. On another visit a glass of rose Champagne and Morgon accompanied my lunch of country pate and coq au vin, and on a third visit at the communal table, the roasted pigeon and fall mushrooms were outstanding. On yet another visit, two glasses of Duval-Leroy Champagne accompanied a delicious lunch of succulent gigot d’agneau (leg of lamb) and mussels in a curry broth. Following that at my now usual place at the bar, I enjoyed the classic quenelles de brochet with a bright and fresh haricot verts and white mushroom salad. Pro tip: After your meal, take the escalator downstairs to Jeff de Bruges for a box of Belgian chocolates.
Gare au Gorille, 68 Rue des Dames (17th arr). I discovered this storefront with its industrial design and pleasant young staff on a side street a few blocks from the Rome Metro station, and found the food and service good, and the prices fair. Lunch is a great deal: three courses for 27 euros. The wine selection is organic, biodynamic and natural. I love Beaujolais, so the 2011 Michel Guignier, Beaujolais, La Bonne Pioche was spot-on.
Next installment: Dinner in Paris. John Foy served in the Peace Corps, ran award-winning restaurants in New Jersey, outside of New York City, helped build the country’s largest privately owned wine cellar at Crystal Springs Resort. He consults for private collectors and runs yearly tours of wine regions.
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