Les Allobroges: Return to an Old Time Favorite

PARIS – Some chefs work as architects, creating food that is well-constructed, beautiful, pleasing to the eye. All too often that food ends up being timid, falling short of flavour and long term pleasure.

Other chefs – and it’s Olivier Pateyron of Les Allobroges that I have in mind – go for the big bang, creating food that sort of grabs us by the collar, wraps itself around us and makes us very happy.

It’s been years since I made a return visit to Pateyron’s cozy restaurant hidden in the city’s 20th arrondissement. And as soon as I stepped inside once again -- the warm welcome, the cheery fabrics all about, the big smiling face of chef Pateyron and careful service of his wife, Annette -- made me realize I’d been away too long.

It’s hard to believe that he has been behind the stove of the tiny family spot for 20 years, offering a very personal, generous cuisine that is easy for anyone to understand. Still on the menu you’ll find his ultimately delicious braised lamb shanks, cooked long and slow, until the meat falls off the bone in perfect tenderness, paired with an avalanche of sweet garlic cooked in its jackets.

His current 31 euro menu is a bargain-hunter’s dream, including a brilliant rendition of a celery remoulade, flecked with sheep’s milk cheese, granny smith and a gelatine of Espelette pepper, and an usual combination of scallops on a bed of ratatouille. For some reason I would never have paired the southern vegetable mixture with the northern coquilles saint Jacques but each have enough flavour to create a bright, dense flavor combination.

I didn’t quite get the point of the terrine of blue d’Auvergne though the idea had great appeal. The grey color, the timid flavour just didn’t make it for me, though the accompanying toasted bread and dried figs made we want to figure out a way to make the dish work.

The compote of beef cheeks was excellent, served in a small molded round and paired with a sweet potato purée. I quickly devoured the perfectly prepared duck -- cooked with spices and the sweet Banyuls wine, and served with a fine dried fruit chutney.

Desserts offer plenty of room for exploration, including a truly wonderful fromage blanc mousse, set in a soothing mango sauce and teamed up with a honey-laced crispy pastry made from the Moroccan feuilles de brique.

The wine list is brief but offers some new surprises. I could not have been more pleased with the 2001 Saint Joseph from the Becharas family. This pure syrah from the Northern Rhone was full of fruit and vibrancy, with perfect acidity and a nice, long finish and was well priced at 31.20 euro.

And bravo, Olivier, for the well priced – 26 euros – vegetarian menu. The current selection includes an artichoke soup, a dried cepe risotto, and fromage blanc mousse, and a cocoa sorbet.

Les Allobroges
71, rue des Grands-Champs
Paris 20
Telephone: 01 43 73 40 00

Menus at 18, 26 and 31 euros.