Le Bistro des Gastronomes
Wed 11 May 2011
Asparagus with calf’s-foot croquette.
Le Bistro des Gastronomes
10, rue du Cardinal Lemoine, in the 5th Arrondissement.
01 43 54 62 40. Tues–Fri, lunch; Tues–Sat, dinner;
Sunday, brunch buffet (not the normal menu).
Back in January, my pal Alessandra told me about a new Paris bistro she had discovered. She had been there a few times and loved it, but was worried about its future; the place was never more than half full, and she hadn’t seen anything about it in the press. I didn’t make it there then, but a few weeks ago I saw that John Talbott had written it up and credited Alessandra with the discovery. Others followed, and it finally made the French press last week, with a two-heart write up in Le Figaroscope.
Needless to say, the restaurant was full when I walked in on Friday night.
Chef Cédric Lefèvre worked at Chez Michel long ago and was the first chef at the posh Bistro Volnay, two Paris bistros that I regularly recommend. Now he’s installed himself in the 5th Arrondissement, in a retro space—not quite retro enough to be charming, but bland enough that it doesn’t offend—on the rue du Cardinal Lemoine. The name is cumbersome, not least because it is easily confused with Les Bistronomes, another relative newcomer with plenty of press.
In any case, I was looking forward to finally visiting.
We had the langoustine nems, or spring rolls, not filled with a mix of ingredients (and not, perhaps what you consider typical Paris bistro fare) but whole langoustines wrapped and fried, scented with basil and served atop a salad. It was fine and fresh but immediately upstaged by the razor clams drenched in parsley and garlic, and topped with golden fried leeks. The copiousness of the dish and the heap of frizzled alliums conjured mid-’90s American dining (as did the plates, an oversized rectangle for the asparagus, a square for the langoustines, and a large rimmed bowl for the clams), but the appeal of fried onions—not to mention parsley and garlic—surely transcends trends. I enjoyed my bright green asparagus, too, served with a calf’s-foot croquette. The few accompanying gnocchi were soft and pasty, nearly raw, but the dish succeeded without them. Sometimes less is more.
Sweetbread with foie gras.
Sometimes it’s not: the purée that came with the roast chicken—a dish that could be considered a litmus test of a Paris bistro—desperately needed butter or some other fat to loosen it up (I suspect, and hope, that this was a one-time error). But otherwise the main courses worked. A crisp sweetbread sat with seared foie gras and golden potatoes, a study in caramelization. Line-caught bar was served en papillote (in a transparent plastic balloon, not parchment paper), with a colorful, fresh mix of spring vegetables.
The lemon tart served autrement—differently—arrived in a teacup with a mound of meringue atop pieces of crushed sablé, an attempt at cleverness with cloying results. No matter, though, because while there is a 35 euro prix fixe, it is not forced, so you can skip dessert.
I understand why Alessandra wants this place to succeed; most of the food is solid, the service is friendly and the young chef clearly aims to please and impress. And? It’s a block from her apartment.
In a nutshell: Le Bistro des Gastronomes might not merit a crosstown trip, but is a decent neighborhood bistro. And that, to me, is a reason to love Paris: you don’t have to go far to eat well.
Price check: Three-course menu 35 euros; à la carte, main courses run 21–26 euros.
If you like the sound of Le Bistro des Gastronomes but your neighborhood is the 15th, try Le Casse Noix. Read the review.
Le Casse Noix
56, rue de la Fédération, in the 15th.
01 45 66 09 01. Mon–Fri, lunch and dinner.
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