Wed 7 Dec 2011
5, rue de Pontoise, in the 5th Arrondissement.
01 46 33 60 11. Lunch and dinner, Mon–Fri.
I’ve visited this contemporary Paris bistro a handful of times since it opened in 2008, and I remember walking away feeling as though I’d paid very little for food that rivaled—in imagination, if not always execution—meals I had eaten at much pricier restaurants. But after a hectic dinner nearly two years ago, marred by serious service issues as well as problems on the plate, I soured on the place.
I took it as good news, then, that Itinéraires recently underwent a makeover. Tables have been taken out, the bar has been removed and the once bright, crowded dining room has been reduced to a calm, white-on-white space, warmly lit by candles in the evening, with a view of the kitchen beyond a glass wall.
They’ve also changed menu formats. Before, chef Sylvain Sendra’s creative cooking, full of bold flavors (and plenty of foam) was priced at 39 euros for three courses, with several choices of entrée, plat, and dessert. Now the only decision is whether to have the four- or six-course menu. What arrives will be a surprise.
Like most tasting menus, this one comes with extras, starting with a round of amuse-bouches. Ours included a cloud of vanilla-scented potato purée that I haven’t stopped thinking about. The sunchoke ice cream, garnished with raw slices of the vegetable, didn’t stand a chance after that, but the ruby red beet with a Parmesan cracker was a fine sweet and salty bite.
The first course was called “moules marinières” but was really a curry, mild and sweet with coconut, plus a strong jolt of mackerel and a shower of cilantro—tasty, if inelegant. Next came a fantastic lobster ravioli in a meaty reduced sauce; this was the highlight for sure. We loved the richness, but it also made the following course, lièvre à la royale, a real challenge. This dish, one of the great achievements of French game cooking, involves the slow treatment of a wild hare in a sauce of its own blood, garnished with foie gras. Sendra added his own flourishes, too. The quenelles of cocoa and hazelnut were an interesting idea, maybe, but ultimately superfluous; the only thing that can really stand up to this long-eared, long-cooked creature is a hearty red wine, and here I was grateful for the robust rioja we were drinking.
Apple “tart” with lemon balm ice cream.
Cheese arrived, a pair of chèvres long past their best season. The dessert, a deconstructed apple tart, had a tough crust—really just a thick tuile cookie—and the fruit was overpowered by the perfumey lemon balm ice cream. Based on this last course, I’d be unlikely to order dessert here again. That is, if I had the choice.
In a nutshell: There’s plenty to like about the new Itinéraires, including improved service and a calm, elegant dining room. The contemporary cooking doesn’t always hit the mark, but it’s never boring. The question is whether you’re ready to hand over total control—and at least 59 euros—for the experience.
Price check: Four- and six-course menus at 59 and 79 euros, respectively.
If Itinéraires sounds good but you’re on a budget, try Chatomat. Read the review.
6, rue Victor Letalle, in the 20th.
01 47 97 25 77. Dinner, Wed–Sun.
Editor’s note: For a gourmet walking trip, check out our DIY downloadable trips.