Wed 22 Dec 2010
Poitrine de cochon (pork belly) with choucroute de navets (turnip sauerkraut).
56, rue de la Fédération, in the 15th Arrondissement.
Mon–Fri, lunch and dinner. 01 45 66 09 01.
Le casse-noix means “nutcracker,” and at the end of a meal at this recently opened bistro near the Eiffel Tower, you’ll be presented with a dish of walnuts in their shells and a metal cracker to break them open. It’s a charming and generous touch, and not the only one you’ll encounter during dinner here.
While a friend and I waited for another two to join us, premeal nibbles arrived with bread: a jar of whole garlic cloves, marinated in oil and vinegar, crunchy but mild, and another jar of pickled peppers, just slightly piquant. A dish of chicken liver pâté kept us happy, and so did the warmly lit room, decorated with bric-a-brac and vintage posters.
Having spent some years working at La Régalade, it would seem safe to assume that the chef Pierre-Olivier Lenormand knows something about bistro cooking. His menu is a mix of straightforward-sounding classics and more inventive fare, and there are surprises (mostly pleasant) on both sides.
I splurged for the foie gras, beautifully seared and almost upstaged by some seriously good wedges of caramelized quince, their aromatic flavor concentrated and going very well with the savory glaze. The other hit was magret de canard (duck breast), cooked rare, sliced thinly and marinated, served with a bright and vinegary arugula salad studded with ribbons of sweet red pepper. The smoked chestnut soup, which sounded promising, with crispy lardoons and croutons, was a bit muddled, the smoke flavor overpowering.
Main courses included beef cheeks done like pot-au-feu, lieu (black pollock) with oyster mushrooms and line-caught bass with mushroom risotto. One pal ordered a jaw-droppingly good boudin blanc, served with a potato purée. Another chose the poitrine de cochon (pork belly) served with an intriguing choucroute de navets—a sauerkraut made of turnips—tangy with (again) vinegar, slightly sweet and perfect with the rich meat. A bright salad of herbs and greens topped off the dish.
I was excited for my sifflet of scallop mousse with pig’s foot ravioli, but it left me confused. The components (the sifflet a sort of seafood sausage, the tender pasta envelopes of sweet pork) were fine independently, but neither one did anything for the other. A dill-laden herb salad did not help.
Dessert left a good taste in our mouths, however. The massive île flottante is not to be ignored; it’s one of the best versions of this classic I’ve ever had. A comforting riz au lait made the idea of heading back out into the cold and slush a little more tolerable.
In a nutshell (ha ha): Le Casse-Noix offers a mix of modern and classic bistro cooking in a charming, old-fashioned room.
Price check: Lunch menu, 20 euros; three-course dinner menu, 32 euros, with some items carrying supplements. Very reasonable wine list, with bottles starting at 19 euros, and several by-the-glass offerings from 4 to 8 euros.
If you want to continue your bistro trip of the 15th, try Le Grand Pan. Read a full review here.
Le Grand Pan
20, rue Rosenwald, in the 15th. 01 42 50 02 50.
Mon–Fri, noon–2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.–11 p.m.