Rendezvous at Café Varenne

The other day Walter and I were having lunch at our neighborhood Paris café, Café Varenne, and just as we were finishing a superb dish of ultra-tender and meaty tendrons de veau (breast of veal)  tossed with fresh pasta, carrots, and slivers of Parmesan cheese (perfect for a cold, rainy day in May!)  two women addressed us: “You’re Patricia Wells, and we are here because of The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris.” Indeed, the mother and daughter duo from Boston had just been to the Rodin museum, and as the guide and iPhone app suggest, this is a great address nearby. Owners Sylvain and Agnès Didier are gracious hosts and the food just gets better and better. Enjoy a sip of their white Quincy from the Loire and the fine, crusty baguettes from Boulangerie Secco right across the street.

36, rue de Varenne, Paris 7, Tel: +33 1 45 48 62 72, Métro: Rue du Bac or Sèvres-Babylone, à la carte 30€.

Open Monday through Friday 7:30AM to 10:30PM, Saturday 9AM to 8PM. Closed Sunday, holidays, and 2 weeks in August.

Atao and Galette Café: Good small bites

Atao Langoustines, Turnips, Mint, Basil 10 11 12

It was one of those dark, dreary, damp Paris days when not even the sturdiest umbrella could keep you dry. So what a delight to walk into the pristine blue and white restaurant Atao near the Batignolles covered market in the 17th arrondissement. Dining in the  small, 28-seat restaurant is almost as good as a trip to the Brittany seashore (without an umbrella!) with an original selection of shellfish, including a must-have serving of plump langoustines wrapped in a "leaf" of tender blanched turnips, showered  with the bright, welcoming flavors of mint, basil, and chives and brushed with a touch of top-rate olive oil (photo). This is a dish I will surely copy at home: quick, easy, healthy, delicious. A beautiful serving of daurade (sea bream)  carpaccio was executed with elegance and flair, though even this citrus-loving gal found the seasoning  a bit on the tart side. The palourdes au saké were correct but no more than than, and the generous serving of lieu jaune (a version of cod) flavored with a  coating of the zest of the brightly flavored  Japanese citrus, yuzu, was a great idea, but the fish was a tad overcooked. Despite a few hiccups here,  I'll be back, hopefully on a sunny day to enjoy Aota's oysters and savor once again the incomparable mixed herb and green salad from  Annie Bertin, vegetable grower to the stars.

Atao, 86 rue Lemercier, Paris 17. Tel: +33 1 46 27 81 12. Métro: Brochant.  Closed Monday. About 35 euros per person.

Galette Cafe 10 12 12

Bretons seems to be storming Paris these days, and that's a good thing. The newest member of the Breton family is the Galette Café, a small, bright, casual creperie on rue de l'Université in the 7th arrondissment. The organic buckwheat galettes are downright  delicious, almost cracking on the edges, infused  with butter that all but seeps from the  pores of these lacy treats. Always the traditionalist here, I loved their classic galette complete, an almost crunchy perfectly cooked buckwheat galette filled with cheese, ham, and egg, a perfect small bite lunch. I was not as convinced about the daily special with an added touch of tomato sauce (photo), an ingredient that somehow seems at odds with traditional Breton fare. Briny oysters from Brittany are another specialty here, and arrive with a warm rolled galette and plenty of butter to go with it. Students from the various universities in the neighborhood have already turned it into a hangout, making the cafe a lively, fun spot. Service could not be friendlier or more sincere. I think I'll become a regular here.

Galette Café, 2 rue de l'Université, Paris 7. Tel: + 33 1 42 60 22 04. Métro: Saint-Germain des Prés. Open Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday. Galettes from 7.50€, 6 oysters for 12.80€.

Quite simply, oyster heaven


Early yesterday morning I walked past Huiterie Regis on my way back from a sunny run in the Luxembourg Gardens, and there on the doorstep were two huge sacks of crushed ice, waiting for Regis to arrive and begin opening oysters. My brain went into overdrive and shouted, LUNCH! A few hours later, there I was. From the moment you approach this spotless, all white postage-stamp sized oyster bar, you know that you are in for a treat. Clean, briny, top-of-the line oysters are what you will find here, especially the Marennes-Oléron from the Poitou-Charentes in Southwest France, aged in ocean beds for up to two months once they come of age. At Regis there is room for only 14 diners indoors and 8 on tiny sidewalk tables outdoors. Regis is simple and efficient: You must have at least a dozen oysters per person here, and you can watch as the oysters are opened before you eyes. You should have no trouble polishing off their tiny fine de claires, delights that taste of the ocean; or my other favorite, the meatier spéciales de claire No. 3 (the smaller of the two choices), with a true hint of  hazelnuts, oysters that leave your palate with a welcoming, cleansing aftertaste for hours to come. Now I know that we have all been taught different rules of etiquette on oyster eating. Many people return empty shells to the platter. I was taught that this is bad etiquette. Rather, one carefully stacks one's empty oyster shells on the dinner plate, avoiding any possibility of contamination to the original platter. (photo). There is wine by the glass, carafe, or bottle. A favorite here is Alphonse Mellot’s Sancerre Desmoiselles, a truly stunning Sauvignon Blanc with chalky, mineral-rich overtones. The oysters and wine seem to shake hands at the table! Depending upon the season, Regis may also have a few cooked shrimp, some sea urchins (oursins), raw palourdes (clams). There is a carry-out as well as delivery service for opened oysters. From 11 to 37 euros the dozen.

HUITERIE REGIS, 3, rue Montfacon, Paris 6. Tel: +33  1 44 41 10 17. Métro: Mabillon/Saint Germain des Prés. Open: Tuesday-Sunday, 12-3 pm and 6:30-11 pm Closed Monday Email: 26, 29, and 31-euro tasting menus. Oysters 18.50-59 euro per dozen.

Of fish and Basque fare

Fables de la Fontaines Tuna Tartare with Wasabi, Avocado and Mousse of Lemon and Kaffir Lime 7 11

Sébastien Gravé and David Bottreau are quite a duo. With Les Fables de la Fontaine, they’ve created a one-of-a-kind fish restaurant with a true personality. And you’ll feel as though you’ve hit the jackpot if you arrive on a warm, sunny day and dine on the compact terrace facing the fountain on Rue Saint-Dominique. (Though it would be nice if they could hide the garbage cans.) Thanks to Gravé’s Basque heritage, the menu is slanted towards specialities of France’s southwest, including a ttoro, or Basque fish soup. Here it arrives in its classic form  -- several varieities of fish and shellfish in a wine-based sauce, garnished with a spicy mayonnaise -- as well as a modern gelée version.

All manner of fish and shellfish are featured, from oysters and langoustines, to smoked eel, cod, turbot, sole, and maigre, a seasbass-like fish from the Atlantic. A starter of red tuna tartare was my kind of fare, with the wasabi-seasoned fish set on a soothing bed of avocado puree and topped with a delicate, bright-flavored mousse of kaffir lime (photo). Modern, refreshing, satisfying. The maigre was perfectly seared à la plancha and teamed up with seasonal white beans from Paimpol to the north, tossed with a touch of pesto from the south, and a Basque touch in the name of tender baby squid, or chipirons.My neighbor’s turbot – simply seared – looked fabulous, and I’ll be sure to seek that out on my next visit. Weekday lunches are well-priced, with a 30-euro special, that includes a glass of wine. With our terrace lunch we enjoyed Leon Beyer’s always dependable, bone-dry Riesling Les Ecaillers. The 2004 vintage could age for many more years, but we were happy to capture it now, with overtones of peach and lime, a perfect match for offerings on the Les Fables de la Fontaine menu. Note that the restaurant is open daily, and in August. I am eager to try their newest restaurant, Pottoka, a tiny, Basque-inspired quick-bite place around the corner at 4, rue de l'Exposition (Tel +33 1 45 51 88 38). Here, meat is the featured theme.

LES FABLES DE LA FONTAINE, 131, rue Saint Dominique, Paris 7.

Tel: +33 1 44 18 37 55. Métro: Ecole Militaire, La Tour Maubourg. Open daily 12:30 to 2:30 pm and 7:30 to 10:30 pm. Open in August. Weekday lunch menus at 30 and 35 euros with a glass of wine. Tasting menu at 90 euros. A la carte, 65 to 80 euros, not including wine.