PARIS - Some city restaurants have an uncanny way of allowing themselves to be reinvented for each generation of diners. Pierre au Palais Royal, situated behind the Comedie Francaise, is one of those endlessly flexible restaurants.
Owners, waiters and waitresses change, but this longtime beacon of true French bourgeois fare remains steadfast. Well, sort of.
The restaurateur Jean-Paul Arabian (formerly of Lille and Ledoyen in Paris) has taken over, giving the cozy restaurant a face-lift and wisely altering the menu to please a broader range of palates while remaining true to the cause.
Fashion has fads so why shouldn't food? And since it's not likely that the world will end its love affair with pasta and rice anytime soon, Arabian offers a bit of each, along with such Pierre favorites as foie gras, organ meats, steak, boeuf a la ficelle, roast duck with peas, and the extraordinary cheeses of Paris's best cheesemonger, Roger Alleosse.
A recent dinner there was close to perfect. It began with a modern and refreshing gazpacho - lots of minutely chopped vegetables in a slightly spicy tomato broth - set off with a tartare of tuna and a flourish of fresh herbs.
Less exciting, and an old-fashioned preparation that might as well be scratched from the books, was an overcooked, soggy portion of white asparagus topped with a needless rectangle of puff pastry, all bathed in a buttery sauce mousseline. Even at its best, I think this dish speaks of days past. Today we like our asparagus a bit less gussied up, and certainly less cooked.
The pastas and rice are a revelation, in that they are FRENCH versions, not Italian. And once the French learn how to cook pasta and rice - Italy, watch out. The spaghetti with palourdes was distinctly French tasting, with a broth that had a rich, substantive base. The clams could have been cleaned a bit better, but the overall effect was truly satisfying. Ditto for the risotto that bound delicious fresh girolles (chanterelles) and another variety of mushroom, mousserons, to the firm grains of rice, bathed in a densely flavored stock.
For the culinary classicists, Pierre offers giant portions of veal tongue, langue de veau, poached and served with a brilliant fricassee of seasonal vegetables. Perhaps the dish most often ordered here is the pan-seared entrecote, a beef rib steak beautifully cooked and served with a green salad and a gargantuan mound of crisp, hand-cut fries.
Desserts were fine but nothing to rave about. The millefeuille a la fraise, or thin squares of puff pastry layered with cream and fresh strawberries, was on the bland side, as was the traditional cherry flan, or clafoutis aux cerises. The wine list is limited but includes a nice selection of Chinon, the fine light red Burgundy Marsannay from Domaine Bruno Clair, the 1994 priced at 195 francs
On the evening of our visit, smokers were ubiquitous and annoying, so go forewarned.
Pierre au Palais-Royal, 10, rue de Richelieu, Paris 1
tel: 01-42-06-09-17; fax: 01-42-96-27-17.
Open until midnight. Closed Sunday and in August. Valet
parking, evenings only. Air-conditioned.
A la carte, 215 to 350 francs ($35 to $55), including service but not wine