PARIS -- You might call Jacques Lacipière a revolutionary. When he opened his traditional little bistro in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in the 1990’s, it became an instant hit. Somehow, it hit a chord for what we wanted at the moment; The place was always sure to be jam packed, so you felt you were at the right place, and the energy from the sounds of the good times within was always infectious. At a time when only the top restaurants were caring more about the quality of the ingredients than just about anything else, bistrotier Jacques was up there with them.
Now, after shutting down for several months for a facelift to the dining room, kitchen, and the menu, he has emerged with another small revolution on his hands. And I love it. Lacipiere has transformed the tiny dining room that now seats about 25 elbow to elbow into what might well be the first Elegant Bistro. The walls are wood, the recessed lights are halogen, the chairs are cozy, the napkins a pale grey linen, the napery a crisp white. The menu is still ingredient based --- fresh sole from Saint Gilles Croix de Vie and milk fed lamb from Pauillac – and the dishes are way beyond bistro. But the noisy, welcome sounds of good times are still there, the wait staff still don their black Bon Accueil work aprons, and everyone seems to come with fun in their pockets.
The food and the wine list chart new territory. The food is light and complex, full of surprises, but most of all, satisfying. I loved the tiny roasted langoustines teamed up with cebettes – tiny spring onions – bits of bacon and a dark, rich jellied consommé. (Jellied fare is the kiwi fruit of the moment, showing up everyone and with every course.) Fresh green asparagus from Pertuis, in northern Provence, sits upon a bed of tiny minced vegetables, showered with shards of Parmesan.
A main course poultry – volaille du cros de la Géline – is first poached, then roasted, making for a bird that is both moistly tender and crisp at the same time. Placed on a spoonful of creamy morels bathed in sweet vin jaune from the Jura, it made a very traditional combination taste brand new indeed.
Desserts get points for pretty as well as taste. The thin apple tart appears as a golden rose, almost too beautiful to eat, but we did. Served with a salted caramel ice cream, it made for a perfect ending. Equally fine is the tiny raspberry tartelette, with the plumpest and ripest raspberries set on a crunchy cookie-like pastry.
The wine list offers some real treasures. It is full of little treats, with wines from well-respected winemakers who are not widely known, such as Dureuil-Janthial and Domaine Joblot in Burgundy, Domaine Montvac in Vacqueyras, Domaine des Espiers in Gigondas, Daniel Barraud in Saint Veran and Domaine H. Pellé in the little known Menetou Salon. I was delighted to discover Domaine Joblot’s rich, juicy, smokey white Givry Clos de la Servoisine 1999, decently priced at 46 euros a bottle. Equally exciting, and beautifully priced at 23 euros a bottle was the 2001 white Chateau l’Ermitage Costieres de Nimes, cuvee Sainte Cecile, a wine rich with the Northern Rhone flavours of Roussanne and Marsanne and loaded with pleasantly oily, mineral richness.
As part of the face lift, the restaurant – redecorated by the Parisian design firm of Joelle Sultan-Marouani – also features a new exhaust system. It was put to a tough test as a constant smoker sat next to me, and not a whiff of smoke found its way across the table. Thank you, Jacques, for thinking of the non-smoker!
14 rue de Monttessuy
Telephone: 01 47 05 46 11
Menu at 29 euros, including service but not wine. A la carte, 40 to 60 euros per person, including service but not wine.