Thursday, January 14, 2010

Paris restaurants 2009/2010 : the year (partly) in review

2009 was a surprisingly good year for food in the City of Light. In recent years , with the exception of the bistronomic movement, there wasn't really a whole lot happening in town, and other cities such as New York, London and Spain were starting to get the upper hand in innovation. This past year started to put Paris back on the map again, and what follows is my personal opinion on the most interesting culinary movers and shakers :

Passage 53: Located in a charming turn of the century passageway not too far from place de l'Opera (across from the Hard Rock Café, yikes!) is probably my favourite restaurant of the year. Run by the delightful Guillaume Guedj (whose father in law happens to be famed butcher Hugo Desnoyer), what started off as a slightly flawed bistro de luxe, turned into a small gastro of great note and promise. When early diners and reviewers complained that the dining room wasn't comfortable of spacious enough, he immediately rectified it. And then he did an about face, and went from bistro to gourmet, with a staff strengthened by a charming young Japanese sommelier who worked at Tokyo's three star Quintessence, and allowing Japanese chef Shin(ichi) Sato free reign with a lunch or dinner tasting menu only. Dishes such as the veal tartar on a bed of chopped Gillardeau oysters or artichoke tempura on a bed of chopped, yuzu flavoured oysters were not only the ultimate surf and turf, but some of the best dishes of the year.

Yam T'Cha: The year's most mediatized newcomer, this small table , not far from the Louvre museum, offered what I hesitate to call a fusion cuisine. Chef Adeline Grattard and her Chinese husband, Chi Wa, run this modern little dining room , all minimalist with exposed brick and open kitchen, offering a tasting menu including French and Asian products (Challans duck with Szechuan pepper, hot foie gras with Pok Choi and mustard leaves), that is subtle and completely unique. No surprise then, that Grattard trained with some of the best, the Meurice's Yannick Alleno and Astrance's Pascal Barbot, as well as a stint in Hong Kong at the two star Bo Innovation. Chi Wa, a former graphic designer runs the tea service with elegance and professionalism. But the press coverage was brutal and immediate, and getting a table at either lunchtime or dinner is nearly impossible, and time will tell if they can withstand this pressure. As a chef friend of mine recently said "Adeline is stressing out too much, you can feel the stress in the dining room, and I wonder if you can even taste it in her cuisine".

Frenchie. Another one you'll be hearing alot about soon is this restaurant owned by Gregory Marchand, a young French chef whose culinary training was exclusively outside of France in places like Jamie Oliver's 15 and at New York's Gramercy Tavern. His tiny little place, not far from the garment district and the ancient rue Montorgueil market street has drawn raves for his (very) short daily market menu (changes weekly) and bargain prices. A lot of local press has guaranteed very hard to get table status. Marchand recently imposed a two week before only booking policy to encourage local diners to get reservations.

Another unlikely table that has recently become one of Paris' hottest tables is the joint venture between Thierry Costes and former two star Crillon chef Jean-François Piege, Thoumieux. The old 1920's brasserie located in the chic seventh had been flagging in recent years, and Piege's redesign of both the dining room and update of the classic French menu (with additions such as the pizza soufflé and "carbonara" of calimari) have pleased diners as much as the reasonable prices. The upcoming renovation of the hotel and his future upstairs chef's table , (perhaps) called "Le Piege", will, according to rumours serve anywhere from 8 to 25 lucky diners. We'll see in a couple months.

Other interesting addresses include (in no particular order) : Tartes Kluger ,a modern pie-house/factory opened in an old, disaffected bakery in the Upper Marais neighborhood, all sleek surfaces and exposed brick, offering a limited selection of homemade sweet and savory quiches. O'trement, located on the upper floor of the classic brasserie Flottes, an arty, cozy modern dining room with a cuisine taken over by Nicolas Vernier (formerly of one star Caffè Minotti) , and a menu conceived by Frederick e. Grasser-Hermé: chic, relaxed with luxury comfort food and excellent products. Zinc Caius , spice crazed chef, Jean-Marc Notelet's annex to his main restaurant Caius, with an excellent selection of products and list of small production wines, and less than 20 seats. KGB one of the hottest entries of the year offers a Thai inspired world menu from young Israeli chef Yariv Berebi, who trained with owner (and chef of the motherhouse, Ze Kitchen Galerie, William Ledeuil). The menu is comprised of a fusion hors d'oeuvre selection, followed by pastas and crockpots, and a less than stellar dessert menu. Soundproofing is a little iffy, but worth a try with a foodie friend. Bob's Kitchen , a new lunch table from Marc Grossman of Bob's Juice Bar in the grungy/chic Upper Marais offers vegetarian salad, soups, stews and great desserts and smoothies, perfect for a detox lunch/brunch. Caffè dei Cioppi had all the Parisian food critics/writers on the bandwagon for a well conceived Italian menu from a former chef of the Relais Plaza. Price is right, and the place is charming, with an open kitchen, and located in a small passageway near the Bastille. Beware of restrictive seating times however, strictly enforced. La Patisserie des Reves the (finally!) new age pastry shop from famed chef Philippe Conticini opened to a media fanfare for his updated versions of French classics in a modern setting in the chic 7th.


** WORK IN PROGRESS ALERT **I'll be expanding on this post in the coming days, feel free to chime in...

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