Thu 1 Apr 2010
Escabèche of rouget with white asparagus.
46, rue Trousseau, in the 11th Arrondissement.
Tues-Sat, dinner; Wed–Sat, lunch. 01 48 06 95 85.
I am a latecomer to the Rino parade, having been away for nearly three weeks, when this little address received big press. In addition to snagging multiple hearts in Le Figaro, Rino earned the always trusty Alexander Lobrano’s eloquent seal of approval, and GG2P contributor Meg Zimbeck was delighted by her dinner.
I was surprised, then, that my same-day request for a table on a Saturday night was so easily fulfilled. I’m going to chalk it up to the holiday weekend.
An open kitchen greets you when you walk in the door, with a couple of high tables along the wall. In the back of the room, bright red banquettes and wooden chairs seat only about 18 more in this pleasantly spare space.
In full view is chef Giovanni Passerini, an Italian-born autodidact, who put in time at a starred restaurant in Germany before working for Petter Nilsson at nearby La Gazzetta. Passerini’s food is light and bright, his cooking respectful of the individual ingredients. It’s modern, not overly manipulated and beautiful to behold.
The Mediterranean influence is dominant in his menu, which is no-choice. A recent dinner started with escabèche of rouget (red mullet) with white asparagus and garlicky bread crumbs. It was utterly delicious. Next were sardine ravioli accompanied by an intense broth that contained nothing but fennel. “Pas de sel?” I asked Passerini. “Pas de sel,” he replied with a smile—just fennel put through a juicer and clarified with egg white like a traditional consommé. It was fantastic with the pasta, which was filled with flaked sardine filets and flecked with fresh dill.
Lieu with cabbage and mushrooms.
Then came a plump, barely cooked piece of cod with pil pil sauce (a Basque specialty) and chard. Rosy slices of duck followed, accompanied by a spear of roasted endive caramelized at the edges and flavored with a bit of orange. It worked.
The wine list is delivered in an envelope like an invitation to a party you will definitely want to attend. It’s a mix of French and Italian bottles, mostly organic or biodynamic, all priced below 40 euros. Pietro Russano is responsible for the wines and is also your waiter. You can trust him.
At dinner you can do four or six courses, for 38 or 50 euros, respectively. The two extras in the larger offering were the ravioli and a generous plate of three cheeses. Everyone gets dessert, though, which last Saturday was a “cheesecake” with blood orange ice cream and pistachio sauce. I use quotes here because it was actually a light-as-air mousse with an almost marshmallowy texture. It was the only point during the meal when I longed for a little more richness.
At lunch there is the option of two or three courses, outrageously reasonable at 18 and 22 euros. My girlfriends and I enjoyed restrained portions of gnocchi cacio e pepe (a pasta preparation available in every Roman trattoria) and a choice of mains: line-caught lieu or a falling-apart joue de boeuf (beef cheeks), each served with greener-than-spring cabbage and tender little mushrooms, all as memorable as the dinner a few nights before.
An Italian chef, an Italian sommelier, cacio e pepe on the menu . . . Is this an Italian restaurant? No, not exactly. Rino is not entirely French either, but it’s definitely the Paris restaurant of the moment.
Price check: Lunch is 18 or 22 euros for two or three courses, respectively; dinner, 38 or 50 euros for four or six courses. All wines are priced under 40 euros, with most under 30.
In a nutshell: Rino serves modern, market-based Mediterranean food. Book now or forever hold your peace.
If you like the sound of Rino but want to see where Passerini cut his teeth:
29, rue de Cotte, in the 12th.
01 43 47 47 05.