Seven-hour lamb with mushroom lasagna.
Le Cotte Rôti
1, rue de Cotte, in the 12th Arrondissement.
01 43 45 06 37. Lunch and dinner, Tues–Sat.
The good news is that Le Cotte Rôti, a contemporary Paris bistro near the Marché d’Aligre, has gotten a makeover. The new gray scheme is a marked improvement over the horrendous black and orange situation they had going before, but the old less-is-more dictum has been ignored, and the results feel dated despite being new.
There is a similar tendency in the presentation of the food here, too, which is overplated and overgarnished. I’ve never really minded, though (and I never really minded the old room, to be honest; there are many worse in this city). Because underneath the fussiness, the squeeze-bottle sauces and sprigs of herbs poking out, there is some very solid cooking.
Herring with mustard, nori and dill.
Case in point: the herring, pressed into a round mold, was dressed with mild mustard and nori, but those flavors—and the herring itself, no easy feat—were eclipsed by a high pile of dill. But the egg en cocotte (a Paris bistro classic) was simple and delicious. It came embedded with croutons, spinach and few chopped herbs, served in a wide-rimmed bowl that was elegant without being contrived.
In a reversal of what seems to be the norm at most restaurants, our mains were better than the starters. The winner, a standout in recent memory, was a seven-hour lamb shoulder—so tender, and served with a thin stack of egg noodles layered with deeply flavored mushrooms, the delicate pasta crisped around the edges. A ballotine of chicken filled with foie gras was served with fat Tarbais beans, well seasoned and satisfying. The dish was robust enough that we could disregard the mound of hay it was garnished with: a misguided, modish foray into Nordic territory that proves nothing, except perhaps that chef Nicolas Michel has read the Noma cookbook.
Dessert was forgettable, but that’s only because our evening had an early start around the corner at Le Baron Rouge. In fact, the figs Melba and pain perdu with peaches were great, unfussy late-summer finishers. We cleaned our plates and stumbled out through the full room of happy locals, pretty happy ourselves.
In a nutshell: Le Cotte Rôti tries very hard to be a contemporary bistro, but the best cooking here is classic.
Price check: Starter and main: 30 euros. Starter, main and dessert: 35 euros.
For truly contemporary cooking in this neighborhood, try Rino, just on the other side of rue du Faubourg St.-Antoine. Read the review.