Saturday, 25 July 2009

Paris dining in July

Some great restaurants that are open until late July and where you will get wonderful meals; straightforward restaurants with regional cuisine; a stir-fried "choose your own ingredients" place; haute Japanese; and the best fellafel in Paris

Kazumi-san, my enthusiastic Japanese friend, works everyday with only Sunday off. When she found out that I was staying put in Paris for the summer, she suggested that we dine out together and that I choose the restaurant. That is a small challenge at the end of July on a Sunday but I found Le Petit Nicois--open daily except for a vacation in August--in the 7th arrondissement. What a find!! The menu presents food from the sunny south of France including a superb bouillabaisse redolent of saffron and chock full of seafood and pieces of fish. It is served with rouille and toasts. But before I get into our main course, let me praise the appetizers. I had marinated raw sardines that were so fresh that they seemed to bring the sunshine with them; Kazumi had a luscious salad of gambas with a delicious garlic dressing.

The other main courses all have the theme of Nice and Provence in them: Ratatouille, Petits Farcis, Pieds et Paquets, Marmite de pecheur, Loup roti, to name some of the classics.

Le Petit Nicois proposes a three-course menu, but really, when you have bouillabaisse, that it enough!! However, the appetizers came as one of the abbreviated menus and that is why we indulged. We had to forego the desserts (Baba au rhum, Ile Flottante, Candied cold lemon filled with strawberries, and a chocolate mousse). Next time, I won't get the bouillabaisse and will choose the three-course dinner for 32 euros.

Friends I met in Puerto Vallerta were in Paris for two weeks and asked me to reserve dinner for us. We went to one of my favorites: Le Cameleon. It was a classic and tired bistrot that was taken over by the restaurant maven, Jean Pierre Arabian. He is a terrific host and knows how to create the perfect space and find the best chefs. This is really a great place--right in the center of Montparnasse. There were four of us and we were able to sample a number of the specialties. Patrick started with a delicious gazpacho that had a tomato stuffed with langoustine floating on it. The two Lees (there was another in our party) had a very refreshing lobster salad with shaved celeriac and a lime vinaigrette. Stephen chose hearts of lettuce with a delicious dressing garnished with baby summer vegetables.

For our main courses, three of us chose the meat offerings and they were all perfectly prepared. I ordered gigot d'agneau and stressed that I like it rare and that is how it came. So often, they overcook lamb in restaurants but this was terrific. Lee got the specialty of a thick slice of calf's liver deglazed with a red wine sauce and served with macaroni and melted parmesan. Stephen had never had tournedos Rossini and so he treated himself to that. It was served with a lobe of sauteed foie gras. Patrick was the conservative member of the group and got cabillaud (flakey codfish) with a vegetable sauce. Everything was excellent including the reasonably priced Margaux we ordered: exquisite!!

Desserts were great too: Baba au Vieux Rhum, Mousse au Chocolat, Nougat aux Fruits Rouges. I don't like nougat desserts but this one was special.

Kyoko Kato was in from Japan. She is so much like me. She lived in Paris for two years and spent the whole time discovering the best restaurants. This activity included making trips to the provinces to try some of the three-star palaces that I have made pilgrimages to over the years. Tonight, I chose a new place, Ozu, which is open everyday as it sits in a public museum. The kitchen is overseen by Thierry Marx (I dined at his wonderful restaurant outside of Bordeaux about two years ago and wrote it up in this blog), who did a lot of culinary learning in Japan. I was sure it would be fusion food and I didn't want something totally Japanese so that the restaurant would be new and amusing for Kyoko.

The restaurant is in a wonderful space--part of CineAqua in the Jardins du Trocadero. Our blond oak wood table was right next to a floor-to-ceiling glass case behind which were many different types of fish swimming freely. It was a lovely sight. The chefs are all Japanese and there is a choice of a large number of small plates with different Japanese offerings. Your meal consists of your choice of dishes. Kyoko and I chose about 14 delicious jewels of Japanese food. We had delicate gyoza (pork dumplings) in a clear broth. I am only familiar with the fried gyoza and this preparation was much more subtle. We had slices of roasted pork with endives and a delicious fried fish dish with tiny bites of fish to savor with different vegetables. There was a crab and seaweed offering and (the only fusion dish) magret de canard sushi--fantastic. We also had assorted crispy tempura of three different types of fish and shellfish, and a wonderful crispy salmon-skin maki. Although this was not fusion food, we were very happy with what we ordered as well as the price. 14 dishes with wine and sake came to 50 euros apiece.

To keep up with the Asian trend, I went to a place in my neighborhood called Wok Cooking. I have passed by it many times and have always wanted to go in. There are a variety of appetizers but on my first visit, I opted for the main course only. You are given a bowl with your choice of rice, egg noodles or rice noodles. After that, you go to the wok bar to choose from a bevy of vegetables, meat and fish. I chose shrimp, salmon, squid, and a variety of vegetables including oyster mushrooms. After that, you go to the cooking area and order a sauce and herbs and spices. I chose the spiciest sauce (Thai Sauce). The chefs cook up the mixture for you and you have a very healthy meal full of fresh ingredients for just 15 euros. I can't wait to go back. This is my kind of food: light, healthy and spicy and close to my house.

Finally, I have never spoken of L'As du Fellafel--known far and wide as the best fellafel sandwich this side of Israel. There is nothing more to say except that you can order at the window and eat it on the street or pay 2 euros more and sit at a table. This is another place where your order is filled just as you make it. All the vegetables are fresh and crunchy; the eggplant is sensational as are the fellafel. The first time I went there was a year ago. A friend's daughter was studying in Paris for the summer and she mentioned it to me. After my first visit, I make a point of going once every 4-5 weeks. It is always open except on Shabbat and on Jewish holidays.