A Disappointing Search for the Perfect Fish

PARIS - Say ''fish restaurant'' and I'll be the first to get in line at the door.

So the second my calendar was clear, I reserved a table at the city's newest restaurant devoted to the fruits of the sea,

Nestled not far from the Palais Royal, this 40-seat restaurant is an all-white affair, greeting you with a welcoming entry that reminds you of a clean, white front porch in the country.

Unfortunately, the second I stepped inside I was hit not by a fresh sea breeze but a stale, stagnant, fishy odor. And the evening pretty much went downhill from there.

Gilles Le Galles, last seen cooking at La Barriere de Clichy just outside Paris, has received a warm and positive response from the French press, an enthusiasm I simply cannot share.

Service at Aristippe - named for the Greek philosopher Aristippus, who maintained that people should devote their lives to the pursuit of pleasure - was slow as slow can be. Waiters seemed to have no training (except in how to ignore diners), and the food was universally boring, uninventive, stuck in the mud.

The most disappointing dish of the evening was named for one of France's greatest and most inventive fish chefs, Gilbert Le Coze, who died in 1994. With his sister, Maguy, he lit up the Paris food world in the 1980s at the popular fish restaurant Le Bernardin, which set new standards for freshness and simplicity.

Le Galles's version of Le Coze's langoustines roties was dull and faded, a meager serving of langoustines seared in their shells and bathed in a ho-hum sauce. (I dearly wanted to march into the kitchen and say to the chef: ''I knew Gilbert Le Coze. And you are no Gilbert Le Coze.'')

Equally drab was the main-course blanquette de lotte, not much more than a dreary portion of monkfish in a creamed sauce, topped with a slice of grilled bacon and a mound of
basmati rice. Likewise, the turbot (nicely paired with salsify, a most under-utilized winter vegetable) could have been any white fish, it was so lacking in personality.

If I had made the dull tarte fine aux pommes - thin apple tart - I would have thrown it in the garbage and gone back to the pastry board. The pastry had all the flavor of a piece of cardboard and the fruit lacked that delicious winter acidity that France's best apples supply.

The only redeeming quality came from Domaine Mardon's flinty white Quincy - a Sauvignon blanc with a smoky, spicy nose - well priced here at 95 francs (about $16) a bottle -

This is not a good moment for fish. Sushi lovers will not be happy after a trip to the new and trendy Lo Sushi, one of the chic and modern restaurants in the neighborhood of the

Oh how I wish it were better, for the lively, beautiful spot - designed by Andree Putman with its conveyor belt of sushi at the bar, multimedia screens clicking away, pastel-colored saucers to denote the price of each dish, and cheery waitresses - could be just what the doctor ordered. Alas, the sashimi was bland, while the rounds of rice-filled
sushi just made it to the edible mark.

Best bets here were anything filled with a touch of rich mayonnaise or sweet, ripe avocado. The cold sake was insipid. But the spot is so popular that the doorman (who, I'm sorry, more resembles a bouncer) turns hordes away. For this, you have to reserve days in advance?

Aristippe, 8 Rue
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Paris 1;
tel: 01-42-60-08-80; fax: 01-42-60-11-13. Credit cards: Visa, Amex. Closed
Saturday lunch, Sunday and two weeks in August. 170-franc lunch menu;
220-franc tasting menu. A la
carte, 175 to 245 francs, including service but not wine. Lo

Sushi, 8 Rue
de Berri, Paris 8; tel: 01 45-62-01-00; fax: 01-45-62-01-10. Credit cards:
Visa, Amex, Mastercard. 15 to 40
francs a plate. About 150 to 250 francs a person, including beverages.