26 November 2013

a landmark : chez michel, 75010

An address that often seems to get overlooked or underrated in the perennial 'Best Bistrot' features these days is chef Thierry Breton's first restaurant, Chez Michel, opened in 1995.

The reasons why are manifold. For one, it's near Gare du Nord, and despite now owning practically the whole block, Breton has proved unable to single-handedly disperse the neighborhood's tenacious loiterers and miscreants. The Paris gastronomes who do brave the trek to the restaurant might still be put off by its glamourless clientele, mainly tired train-travelers and Asian tourists. In my own case, I neglected to dine at Chez Michel for years because the restaurant retained a reputation for being incongrously pricey, a result of an ill-advised and since abandoned highbrow push sometime in the past few years. (This 2011 blog post by Bruno Verjus, for instance, reports that the menu then was 50€. It's 34€ now.)

Whatever the restaurant's ups and downs over the years, it's in a fine groove right now, having attained an effortless sweet-spot consisting of informal service, an idiosyncratic, well-priced wine list, and a menu rendered exotic for its unswerving devotion to Bretonne country-cooking.

13 November 2013

an oyster bar for a better paris: clamato, 75011

I squirmed with embarrassment reading a recent NYTimes opinion piece bemoaning "How Hipsters Ruined Paris." Not because I consider myself a target.* But because I recognised another addition to the annals of expat self-hate, a genre to which I contribute from time to time. The author, Thomas Chatterton Williams, drapes his tirade in art history references worn as thin as the five-euro foulards for sale beneath Sacre Coeur. Degas, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec - swaddle it on as thick as he may, nothing can bandage the authority-hemorrhage that begins with the opening clause of paragraph six: "When my wife and I first moved here in 2011..."

Seemingly dismayed that other New Yorkers preceded him to Paris, Chatterton Williams takes particular aim at the proprietors of Glass / Mary Celeste / Candelaria, incorrectly disparaging them as "a bunch of NYU grads." (Only one went there, to my knowledge.) It's hypocritical flanneur posturing to claim, as Chatteron Williams does, that brothels provide a better service to the South Pigalle area than Glass' sharp cocktails. But that author's  desire for a vaguely Parisian experience is something I share, at least with regards to restaurateurism.

Its why I'm delighted that Bertrand Grébaut and Théo Pourriat, the consummately tasteful duo behind Septime, have opened a third establishment on their stretch of rue de Charonne. Clamato - a no-reservations oyster bar with seven tables and a long L-shaped counter - cements their reputation as the standard-bearers for fine contemporary French restaurateurism, unself-conscious and ungimmicky. Clamato's stellar cuisine is accompanied by the same well-selected natural wines and polished service that mark Septime and Septime Cave. The only sign that Grébaut and Pourriat might be succumbing to globalist trends is the goofy name.

04 November 2013

at my most parisian : la cagouille, 74014

I can pinpoint the precise moment at which, despite language struggles and disgust with service norms and volcanic resentment of patrician social structures, I began to feel at home in Paris.

It was when I was first able to pass along to a colleague a recommendation I had once received for a miracle-worker dry-cleaner. (In this case, a stuffy teinturier who is, at reasonable cost, able to remove tar and bloodstains from garments. Don't ask.) For city life is an agglomeration of knotty problems - from stained shirts to subway strikes to where to entertain on Sunday nights - and to feel at home among it all one must possess ready solutions. For expats, cut off from the oral tradition by which great addresses for obscure services are usually handed down, the challenge is that much greater.

So it's a great comfort to me to have been introduced* to La Cagouille, a poorly-designed, fusty, Charentais seafood restaurant tucked behind Montparnasse in the 14ème arrondissement. Deeply uncool and far removed from any part of town I frequent, La Cagouille nevertheless ranks among the city's best back-pocket addresses, simply by dint of offering very good food and wine - and abundant table availability - on Sundays.

01 November 2013

yonne bike trip: le pot d'étain, isle-sur-serein

Isle-sur-Serein isn't the most picturesque village in the Yonne.

That honor might go to Noyers, a medieval town containing a superb butcher shop and an impossibly cute gallery-café where my friends from the blog TheTrailOfCrumbs do projects on occasion. My fellow bike-trippers and I got caught in a biblical downpour just before passing through Noyers this past June. So we paused in that town for coffees and beer. I ate like seven gauffres from the gallery-café. We sat around damply and considered how nice it would be to just stay in Noyers.

But nearby Isle-sur-Serein - kind of a one-horse town, by comparison, and not all of it historical - is home to L'Auberge Le Pot d'Etain, a hotel whose rather trad, stuffy restaurant is distinguished by one of the most heartbreakingly great wine lists any of us had ever seen. That list puts the village of Isle-sur-Serein on the map : one glance makes a traveler want to stay a week.