Smoked mackerel with radishes and dill.
6, rue Victor Letalle, in the 20th Arrondissement.
01 47 97 25 77. Dinner, Wed–Sun.
A late-summer surprise has sprung up in Ménilmontant. Chatomat, a Paris bistro in the far reaches of the 20th, has garnered plenty of buzz in its early days, and I don’t expect it to die down any time soon.
Chatomat looks like a lot of other new Paris bistros these days: white walls, exposed brick, industrial light fixtures and not much else. It’s a style that’s more international than Parisian, and so is the young, energetic team behind the place. A Brazilian named Antonio works the floor with plenty of charm, and the cooks, Alice and Victor, have a collective résumé that spans the globe.
The menu, however, is not all over the map, offering just three choices of starter, main and dessert. While we mulled it over, a handful of cod fritters arrived, a very tasty welcome. I started with a long finger of mackerel in a party dress of radishes, lightly pickled cucumbers and a fringe of dill. It was reminiscent of a now-classic Frenchie dish in both taste and appearance. Celery root, that humble knob, was also gussied up, salt-roasted until tender and pearly, served with champignons de Paris and an ethereal froth of Parmesan.
Salt-roasted celery root.
As for mains, I loved the cod with wilted romaine and a pile of feather-light amaranth, a rarely seen grain. The whole dish got a salty jolt from bits of dried black olive. A pork chop “maggiore”—a cut usually reserved for ham, we were told—was served with a few members of the cabbage family, including a purple cauliflower and a purée marred by too much melisse (lemon balm). This was a funny dish, pretty but also bulky, and oddly subdued for containing such assertive vegetables and rich meat. Still, I like what this kitchen is trying to do, even if not every attempt is entirely successful.
For dessert we shared a dish of tiny babas, vodka standing in for the rum, with two kinds of melon and mint-flecked chantilly. There was also a semolina cake with figs, raspberries and pistachio ice cream. Both were direct and not too sweet—logical extensions of the savory menu.
Not many visitors make it to Ménilmontant, a funky mixed neighborhood high in eastern Paris. “Off the beaten path” is an overused descriptor, but it definitely applies in this case. So is this a destination restaurant? I’m not sure. Will I go back? Definitely.
In a nutshell: Fresh and colorful cooking, youthful energy and reasonable prices make Chatomat an address to watch.
Price check: Starters, 8–12 euros; mains, 16–20 euros; desserts, 4–8 euros.
If Chatomat sounds good, you might also like Rino. Read the review.
46, rue Trousseau, in the 11th. 01 48 06 95 85.
Tues–Sat, dinner; Wed–Sat, lunch.