It's the Season

Paris -- It's the season. Sea bass, lobster, sole, herring, oysters, scallops, squid, and porgy are all at their peak of winter, cold-water freshness, so now is the time to reserve a table at your favorite fish and shellfish restaurant. Paris offers a grand variety of restaurants, including a newcomer and a classic spot with a change of ownership.

The newest spot is a sixth Francois Clerc bistro, this one devoted to fish and shellfish. Clerc started his first "good value" bistro in 1994, offering a fine varied menu at good prices along with a staggering array of exceptionally priced wines.

Les Bouchons de Francois Clerc Coté Mer is located right off the Champs-Elysees, in what was most recently the Androuet cheese restaurant. Decorated in butter yellow walls with linens a tone paler and bright blue, yellow and green upholstered chairs, the place is cozy and welcoming. The varied menu offers some fine choices, such as a an excellent grilled dorade (porgy) and a fine crayfish salad. But the real stars of the show are the wines and the prices: Didier Dagueneau's famed Loire Valley Pouilly Fume cuvee Silex, vintage 1999 for 273 francs; George Vernay's 1999 Condrieu from the Rhone Valley for 161 francs; and the delicious Roederer Brut champagne for only 159 francs.

The Place de la Madeleine landmark fish restaurant, known for years as Prunier, then Prunier-Goumard and now Goumard has had a series of owners over the years. The most recent owner is Philippe Dubois, and the food is better, fresher, and less expensive than it has been in years. Too bad the restaurant has all the energy and excitement of a drab hotel dining room and the sad-faced staff all but makes you want to turn around and walk out the door.

But the new Goumard offers some stunning dishes, including a classic sole meuniere (offered both bathed in butter and "seche," and filleted tableside); an extraordinarily fresh grilled bar; a brilliant fricassee of baby clams bathed in a mix of cream and fresh thyme, anointed with a touch of cherry-flavored kirsch; and some of the freshest scallops I have tasted in years, perfectly pan fried, making for a nutty, intense crust and a smooth, sweet interior.

The wine list here offers few bargains. A decent bet is a good value wine that loves fish and shellfish, the Saint Veran, Domaine des Deux Roches, vintage 1999, priced at 180 francs.

An all-time favorite Parisian fish spot remains the pleasant, personal, and discreet restaurant run by Paul and Sonya Canal. Here, amidst a bright blue and white décor and a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower, you can be assured of dishes that are inventive without being self-conscious. A case in point is Canal's fine first-course offering of fresh Brittany langoustines: They sweet, ultra-fresh shellfish are removed from their shell, very lighted breaded, and turned into an airy tempura. Teamed up with tempuras of pepper, eggplant, and zucchini, it's a sunny dish for a dark winter's day. The best main course items here remain the grilled sole and the whole sea bass cooked in a salt crust.

Les Bouchons de Francois Clerc Coté Mer
8 rue Arsene Houssaye
Paris 75008
Telephone 01 42 89 15 51
Fax : 01 42 89 28 67.
Open daily. All major credit cards. 234-franc menu.

9 rue Duphot
Paris 75001
Telephone : 01 42 60 36 07
fax : 01 42 60 04 54.
Open daily. All major credit cards: 25-franc lunch menu. A la carte, 350 to 450 francs including service but not wine.

Port Alma
10 avenue de New York
Paris 75016
Telephone 01 47 23 75 11
Fax: 01 47 20 42 92.
Closed Sunday and Monday. All major credit cards. 200-franc weekday lunch menu. A la carte, 300 to 440 francs, including service but not wine