Chiberta A New Life for a True Classic

PARIS – I have in my worn files a photo of Guy Savoy that I took in 1981, a year after he opened his first restaurant. Lean, black bearded, smiling as ever, he’s cooking with two young assistants in his then eponymous restaurant on Rue Duret in the 16th arrondissment. My notes say ” Savoy may have something here. He’s not just another fresh-faced kid making a splash.” In a subsequent interview he noted: I don’t pour over the kitchen, testing and re-testing. When dishes come, they come out right the first time. I think of things to make on my way back from the market in my truck.”

Then, I was wowed by his warm duck salad on a bed of wilted spinach and a touch of foie gras, and his always outstanding millefeuille, reflecting his formal training as a pastry chef. Savoy had no Michelin stars at the time, but certainly was on his way to one.

At the same time, one of the hottest tables in town was Chiberta, a streamlined Art Deco restaurant with lots of glamour and trendy nouvelle cuisine, as well as simple straightforward fare as a summer orange and strawberry soup with fresh mint.

Today, the Guy Savoy-Chiberta routes meet, as Savoy – with three Michelin stars at the restaurant that bears his name in the 17th -- adds restaurant Chiberta to his growing repertoire in Paris and soon, Las Vegas.

Many young French chefs complain that the days in which unknowns can open a small, family-owned restaurant and make a success of it – as did Savoy in 1980 -- are over. They also complain that unless you are or have worked with a Ducasse, a Robuchon, a Savoy or a Pourcel, your future is dim indeed. The truth of this is yet to be seen, but it’s clear that restaurant power is being condensed into a smaller and smaller group, with little room for the little guy to install, grow, and flourish.

If you go to Chiberta – totally redone and still glitzy in stark black, white, and red – you’ll no doubt meet Franck Savoy, Guy’s only son, and the spitting image of the little guy who began his climb back in 1980. Franck is in the dining room and will soon move to Las Vegas to direct the restaurant there.

But back at Chiberta, the place has regained the glamour and the popularity it had in years back, and since its opening in late August, its been playing to a packed house.

I am not sure that Savoy still drives his truck back from the market every day, but he’s dreaming up new ideas every day, as the new menu shows. There are, as always, his signature touches of green, brilliant use of unusual bowls and dishes, and an overall feeling of freshness. The staff is as accommodating as ever, and seems to actually love being in the restaurant.

We loved specials of the day that included a stunning wild mushroom soup, rich, creamy, elegant, just the sort of dish to escort you from the sunny summer days of tomato, eggplant and zucchini into autumnal wild mushrooms, leeks, and potatoes. Equally luscious was the platter of perfectly seared girolles mushrooms. I loved my rare-roasted pigeon, cut open down the back and seared “en crapaudine,” paired with an unusual but successful accompaniment of green beans tossed with a creamy mix of pigeon liver. We’re at the height of the French fig season, and warm figs with almond ice cream were better than an icing on a cake.

Wines here are reasonably priced with an excellent 28 € white Côtes-du-Rhone from Domaine de la Janasse, the 2003 a fine southern Rhone with plenty of verve, fruit and acidity.

But even more stunning was the Domaine d’Aupilhac “Les Cocalieres,” 2002, winemaker Sylvain Fadat’s remarkably open, fruity, and lush red from young grapes, honestly priced at 48 euros.

3, rue Arsène Houssaye
Paris 8
Telephone 01 53 53 42 00
Fax: 01 45 62 85 08

All major credit cards. Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday. A la carte, 55 to 70 euros, including service but not wine.