As a foreigner in Paris of a certain profusely fertile age group, I often wonder what it would be like to raise a child here. These reveries fill me with dread. One day I would wake up surrounded by an ideologically French family. It's cute when French toddlers obediently proffer their cheeks to relative strangers for goodnight kisses before toddling off to bed. It's less cute when French employees explain they took a fourth cigarette break because they needed a little pause.
And it's frankly pathetic that over half the country agrees that François Holland's right to philander with spectacularly clumsiness shouldn't be questioned by journalists. The President's recent press conference reminded me of the climactic scene from the Wizard of Oz: "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." (To which the obvious response is, if you want us to do that, you should begin by keeping it behind the curtain.)
But sometimes I wonder if I'm becoming indoctrinated, too. I already demand room-temp cheese and fresh bread wherever I go, which means I can't live anywhere else in the world. And a real red flag went up the other day, when at the devilishly charming Montmartre restaurant Il Brigante I genuinely enjoyed a locally popular foodstuff I've heretofore foresworn entirely: Parisian pizza.
I've had a few slices here and there in the City of Light Familiarity With Italian Food. Pizza, the undisputed world champion of shareable reheatable convenience, is unavoidable in contemporary life in the Western hemisphere. I was dismayed once to discover that the majority of restaurants in the Savoyard town of Annecy serve pizza. I was once even more greatly dismayed to have a hot, not terribly good pizza launched into my face by an irate Italian restaurateur in the 13ème arrondissement. To be fair, I had insulted him, and his pizza.
|The menu at Il Brigante.|
I like to think I have certain minor qualifications for judging pizza. My first job was at Little Nicky's Pizza on the boardwalk in Wildwood, New Jersey. Later in life I managed and wine-directed for a year at the original LA location of what became an outrageously successful pizza empire, Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton's Pizzeria Mozza. And back during my formative years, since my family were vegetarians, we made groundbreakingly bad pizza each Thanksgiving as substitute for turkey. (Really. The truly awful years were those when my mother insisted on using a vegan substitute for mozzarella, subsequently banned for years until its use was quietly reinstated at Guantanamo Bay.)
With this vast experience in mind, I can quickly dispatch every other pizza I've had in Paris. Most are anonymous places that give you packets of pepper-flavoured olive oil condiment without asking. Cantina Clandestina in the 9ème ought to remain hid. The only Paris pizza joint I can think of with any reputation to lose is Al Taglio, the Oberkampf-Marais mini chain, whose al taglio or by-the-cut rectangular pizza is distinguished by its high price, pre-re-heatedness, and the glacial slowness of everyone serving it. It bears mentioning that the wine at Al Taglio is awful as well, basically inexcusable in a chain with only two locations. (Fun fact: at uber-touristy Pizzeria Vesuvio, located in Saint Germain and on the Champs-Elysées, you can find Foillard on the wine list. So it can be done.)
What, you might ask, after this truly Homeric introduction, sets Il Brigante apart? Besides its dark-side of Montmartre location.
Half of the pizzas I've eaten at Il Brigante have possessed enjoyable crusts. Specifically, the white pizzas, which, at the best of times, are fulsome and brittle-soft, like a new cotton duvet. Chef-owner Salvatore Rototori's dough seems to misbehave slightly under red sauce, remaining lean and unimpressive.
But toppings are all top-tier. I greeted the glimmering guanciale on a "Carboni" pizza like an old friend. The broccoli rabe on "La Salina" was pickled and delightfully piquante.
Here I might as well mention that I strongly disagree with the practice of giving pizzas fantasy names loosely connected to their ingredients. For certain baroque combinations, maybe. But a "Ronzatti" would be much more memorable as simply "pizza with sausage, scamorza, and broccoli rabe."
Prices are a steal. You could try to spend a lot of money on food at Il Brigante, but you'd die trying.
The wine list, unfortunately, is where Il Brigante justifies its name to some extent. Mark-ups of 2.5 are ambitious for this level of restaurateurism in Paris. Wines worth drinking constitute about half the tiny list. Veneto winemaker Angiolino Maule's pleasant if slightly piffling unoaked Garganega "Masieri" is 28€. At 11° alcohol, it gets overwhelmed by Pellegrino, let alone pizza.
Sicily star Arianna Occhipinti's beloved Frappato-Nero d'Avola blend "SP68" is 39€. And one wonders how these winemakers would feel having their wines offered beside Riunite Lambrusco, as they are at Il Brigante.
But at this point I'm pleased to encounter even one decent wine at an Italian restaurant in Paris. And Il Brigante frames its uneven wine list and above-average pizzas in a truly inspired service style, one that ought to serve as a model for Parisian micro-restaurateurism.
Il Brigante, famously, is only 20m2, and, just as famously, serves nothing other than pizza and dessert. The kitchen is right in the dining room and the oven belches ham-fumes and if you're at one particular unlucky seat the chef will be garnishing oregano in your face all night. All larger tables are communal, and the two-tops are relegated to a dim narrow hallway. Basically, Rototori has succeeded in creating an environment where Parisians can't or won't linger. So without recourse to rudeness - in fact, while providing really superb service - the restaurant does up to three turns in a night, not to mention a booming take-out service. There's almost nothing else like it in Paris, to my knowledge.
I've dined at Il Brigante twice, and to be honest after both meals I've felt slightly ill. It's either because in my joy at rediscovering edible pizza I'm greatly overeating, or because after five years in Paris I've lost the stomach for melted mozzarella. I need to return to Il Brigante a third time to find out.
14, rue du Ruisseau
Métro: Jules Joffrin or Lamarck-Caulaincourt
Tel: 01 44 92 72 15
Le Fooding loves Il Brigante, as they do any ethnic food in Paris by default.
A positive blurb on Il Brigante at Le Figaroscope.
Ten Days In Paris cited Il Brigante in June as part of a list of (otherwise quite sub-par) Italian places in Paris.
Vanity Fair's artistic director loves Il Brigante.
Vogue also recommends Il Brigante.
Le JDD waited an hour and still enjoyed Il Brigante.
More on Italian cuisine in Paris:
La Retrobottega, 75011
Caffe dei Cioppi, 75011
Come a Casa, 75011
Procopio Angelo, 75010