Dining with the Angels

PARIS -- I have fond, distant memories of my first days in Paris in the early 1980’s, when Sunday lunch meant sitting amidst large family tables of Bourgeois Parisians at the traditional, Burgundian Chez les Anges. Food was plentiful, robust and serious, with such classics as oeufs en meurette, coq au vin, and boeuf bourguignon, sharing star billing with Charolais boeuf en crôute, accompanied by the obligatory, creamy Dauphinois potatoes. The wine – mostly the white Rully and red Mercurey – flowed easily, and surely the meal would end with a few sips of heady marc de Bourgogne.

Now, the place that was all red velvet and Rabelaisian, is pristine, white, and modern – even a bit playful – and very much on its way to becoming a current-day institution. Jacques Lacipière – who also owns the hugely popular bistro Au Bon Accueil, also in the 7 th arrondissement – is a romantic at heart, taking over a failing business that was last a trattoria, but that also had a rather good run as Paul Minchelli’s namesake restaurant. It was home to politicians (belated president François Mitterrand) and the fashion world (Pierre Berge of Yves Saint Laurent) and of course fish lovers from all over. You were never sure what the eccentric Minchelli was up to – he loved to charge outrageous prices for cans of vintage sardines – but you were always assured of impeccable fish and shellfish, albeit the price of an arm and a leg.

Lacipière dream is to bring Les Anges back, creating a contemporary brasserie that’s convivial, open, and refreshing. If anyone can do it, Lacipière can, for he has impeccable taste, high standards, and an almost genetically coded passion for the business. He still does all the middle-of-the-night marketing for both restaurants, returning with impeccably fresh fish and shellfish, fruits and vegetables, as well as autumnal game. The current menu is loaded with seasonal stars, including wild mushrooms, romanesco and pumpkin, along with wild duck with turnips, partridge with apples, venison with salsify, and wild hare. In season fish and shellfish are abundance with scallops grilled with a curry-infused oil and turbot teamed up with wild mushrooms, pumpkin, and romanesco broccoli.

I began my little feast with half a dozen chilled, plump, briny oysters set on a pillow of thick cream nested in the oyster shell. The oysters, deftly marinated in a touch of sherry, were topped with ultra-thin Japanese style strips of crunchy red radish and a slight touch of horseradish, making for a surprising, refreshing, dish providing contrasts of color, texture, and flavor.

Another worthy starter is his offering of oversized warm – and warming – ravioli of giant shrimp, aloft in a coral-toned bisque made of rich baby crabs, or etrilles. Flavors here are full and forward, but unmasked. What you see is what you get.

Generous portions of plump, moist monkfish, or lotte, were bathed in a gentle Thai-inspired mixture of lemon grass and fresh coriander, a soothing, successful dish that surely makes me want to come back for more. And sole meunière lovers will have a field day here, with a gorgeous, fresh, alabaster sole, filleted tableside, and paired with a butter laced with lemon confit.

The wine list is brief but well-selected, and includes treasures from conscientious winemaker Jean-François Coche of Coche-Dury in Burgundy. We opted for an affordable, straightforward Bourgogne blanc (a veritable bargain at 48 euros) 2002, a textbook example of what a 100% Chardonnay should be, creamy, lush and satin-like. A wine that insists you sit up and take notice.

Chez les Anges
54 Boulevard de La Tour Maubourg
Paris 7
Telephone: 01 47 05 89 86.

Closed Saturday and Sunday. All major credit cards. Menu at 35 euros. A la carte, 42 to 72 € per person, including service but not wine.