PARIS - Ask most chefs and they will say autumn is their favorite season at the stove. The avalanche of wild mushrooms, abundance of game, plentitude of fall apples, quince, figs and Jerusalem artichokes, the sparkling freshness of cold-water fish and shellfish such as oysters and scallops, all make this season’s cooking a joy.
Not to mention ever-growing appetites to complement the bounty.
Recent visits to two old favorites unearthed some excellent seasonal meals. The simple thought of game and mushrooms in Paris turns into a seasonal pilgrimage to my all-time favorite city game restaurant, Le Petit Marguery, run by the always energetic Cousin brothers, Alain in the dining room and Michel and Jacques at the stove.
Take one look at the old-fashioned, handwritten menu for this popular neighborhood spot filled with classic gourmands, and three words come to mind: restorative, invigorating, fortifying. Right now, there are no fewer than seven varieties of wild mushrooms, and super-fresh game, from simply roasted wild duck on a bed of crunchy cabbage laced with bits of foie gras to young venison paired with wild rosemary. They don’t forget the sea, either, with a stunningly simple and satisfying roasted skate with mustard sauce; fresh oysters on the half shell from Isigny-sur-Mer; and a remarkably modern version of raviolis stuffed with fresh scallops in a wild mushroom sauce. It has been years since I sampled a souffle that brought me to my knees, but their airy classic with Grand Marnier did just that.
William Ledeuil remains one of my favorite Paris chefs, with a spark of creativity that always seems to match my spirit. A recent tasting menu at the modern and trendy Les Bookinistes, one of Guy Savoy’s bistros, proved that autumn is indeed one of his most inventive seasons. While fresh white beans from Brittany are still in the market, try his salad of nutty, creamy cocos de Paimpol, teamed up with wild mushrooms, strips of pungent, candy-like vieille mimolette cheese, and a few leaves of peppery arugula. Or, try the surprising minestrone of baby shrimp and periwinkles, served with toast topped with anchovy paste and watercress.
Main courses range from a hearty braised veal breast flanked by mashed sweet potatoes, salty bacon and mushrooms. For dessert, give in to his warm runny financiers of chocolate and coffee, anointed with a juice of cherry liqueur and licorice.
Le Petit Marguery
9 Boulevard du Port Royal
Closed Sunday and Monday. Credit cards: American Express, Diners Club, Visa. Menus at 165 francs (lunch) and 215 francs (dinner).
53 Quai des Grands-Augustin
tel: 01-43-25-45-94; fax: 01-43-25-23-07.
Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday lunch. All credit cards. Menus at 140 and 160 francs at lunch, and 180 francs for Sunday dinner. A la carte, 250 francs.