Anne-Sophie Pic plays her cards right

Anne-Sophie Pic Pea Soup 9 12

Anne-Sophie Pic's week-old La Dame de Pic near the Louvre is the sensation of the rentrée, a pure and calming all-white space,  with crisp white linen table runners, sturdy modern wooden tables,  her black signature knives from Forge de Laguiole in the Auvergne, all punctuated by a series of vases holding single, long-stemmed pink roses. The restaurant -- whose name translates as queen of spades --  is not a place for compromise. Nor is her herb, spice, and aroma-filled menu. Like the dining room itself,  it offers a balance of elegance and comfort, haute-cuisine and everyday fare, all bearing her unique, ultra-modern signature. She sports her feminine role, but does not flaunt it or play it cute. Ingredients are impeccable, preparations are complicated but not overdone, and the taste theme throughout is one of  softness and smoothness with a required touch of crunch. I would never think of pairing warm oysters with cauliflower, but Anne-Sophie offers a regal, cloud-like presentation of warm Gillardeau oysters bathed in a frank and fragrant cream of cauliflower and jasmine, surprising as well as satisfying. Sardines are paired with some of the best tasting leeks I have witnessed, punctuated by thé matcha, making for an exotic turn on the everyday fresh Mediterranean sardine.

Bresse chicken breast arrives meltingly tender, paired with a blend of cooked and raw spinach and a touch of finely sliced couteaux (razor clams) adding a bit of texture to the soft greens. But for me, the triumph of the meal was the vibrant pea soup (le petit pois de montagne) flavored with a touch of réglisse and galanga, and tasting as though the peas had been picked in palace gardens only seconds before (photo). Her flavored butters are not to be missed -- one anise, another thé matcha -- to be carefully if  not sparingly spread on whole wheat or rye-miso bread. The cheese course consists of three perfectly aged picodon goat's milk cheeses from the Anne-Sophie's home Département of the Drôme --- one young, one slightly aged, one firm and well-aged -- served with a delicate rosemary gelatin and another gelatin of beer and honey. Although I am not a huge fan of baba au rhum (usually too boozy)  hers is a delicate delight: tiny mouthfuls of light baba, paired with a burst-in-your-mouth passion fruit creation.The staff is casually but impeccably dressed in crisp blue jeans and  blue shirts. And they all actually seem to be having a wonderful time serving the guests at La Dame de Pic. A  tiny powerhouse of a woman with endless energy, Anne-Sophie will of course continue running her Michelin three-star restaurant in Valence, south of Lyon. She says she'll probably be in Paris a day or so a week. Most of the youthful chefs -- cooking in a beautiful all plancha and induction open kitchen overlooking the street -- spent the summer working in Valence to learn  the tricks of the trade. They seem to be playing their cards right, as well.

La Dame de Pic, 20 rue du Louvre, Paris 1. Métro: Louvre-Rivoli. Telephone: +33 1 42 60 40 40. 49-euro lunch menu. Other menus at 79, 100 and 120 euros. Open Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday. and

Chez Denise: Midnight madness


Thank goodness for old-time bistros like Chez Denise, those red-checkered tablecloths, efficient waiters, liter bottles of Brouilly, and nearly every bistro classic in the books: well-seared, rare and juicy hanger steak (onglet), decent fries, steak tartare, lamb’s brains (cervelle d’agneau), stuffed cabbage(chou farcie), veal kidneys (rognons) in mustard sauce, and cassoulet (white beans and varied meats). This is a good-time place for feasting, sitting elbow to elbow with your neighbors, living in carnivore utopia. We love the copious frisée aux croutons, wintry curly endive topped with croutons freshly made with the famed pain Poilâne, as well as the haricot de mouton, not mutton at all but a casserole of creamy white beans and the tenderest of lamb. Chez Denise is open until 5am, so if you can’t sleep and have a hunger for grilled pig’s feet, (pied de porc) you know where to go.

CHEZ DENISE/À LA TOUR DE MONTLHÉRY, 5 rue des Prouvaires, Paris 1.Tel: +33 1 42 36 21 82.Métro: Louvre-Rivoli or Les Halles. Open: Monday-Friday. Closed Saturday, Sunday, mid-July to mid-August. Open until 5am.Lunch & Dinner: A la carte 35-50€

Willi's: Don't forget old friends


As diners, all too often we only look forward, to the newest address, the chef with biggest current hype,  and we race to keep up with the flavor of the week. Rather, we should stop every now and then and reflect upon great places we seem to have  forgotten in the rush. The solid and classic, dependable, old friends who will always be there once the hyped up spots have been forgotten or closed their doors. I confess it had been years since I visited Mark Williamson’s now landmark wine bar, established in 1980 and still going as strong as ever. My last meal was a revelation: food with character and history, a chef with a classic education at the stove, a wine list that’s hard to beat anywhere in the world, a staff that is clearly well-trained and seem to enjoy being there. I love their attention to detail, food that seems intent on satisfying the customer, a place that is what it is (fabulous!) and not trying overtly to prove anything. The food on that visit was superb: a beautiful plate of Roseval potatoes, warm, bathed in a light and tangy sauce, showered with the freshest grilled walnuts and bits of salty bacon; a flavorful, wintry bed of mixed wild mushrooms topped with a round of fresh pasta. The chef, Francois Yon, there since 1993, understands searing like no one. That evening our moist and perfectly cooked farm-raised breast of veal had a thick, mahogany-toned exterior and a delicately tender interior, all set upon a bed of mixed vegetables, carrots, leeks, potatoes, turnips. The same can be said of his super-seared farm-raised guinea hen (pintade) set on the same soothing bed of vegetables. His chocolate terrine (photo) should go in the record books as one of the best ever, and of course Willi’s wine list will bring any wine lover to his or her knees. The 2005 red Chateauneuf-du-Pape Domaine du Marcoux from sisters Sophie and Catherine Armenier is a dream, a balance blend of opulence and refinement, as well as tons of pleasure.

WILLI’S WINE BAR, 13 rue de Petits-Champs, Paris 1; Tel: +33 1 42 61 05 09. Métro: Bourse or Palais-Royal or Pyramides.

Open: Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday. (reservations on line). Lunch: 20.50€, 23.40€ and 26.50€ menus.

Dinner: 33€ & 36€ menus.

Quick bites, Japanese-style

Domburi Izakaya Isse 7 11

Always in the mood for  Japanese food, I walked into Izakaya Issé on the rue de Richelieu, hoping for a quick, flavorful, inexpensive and light lunch. And that’s just what I got, in the name of domburi, the Japanese bowl of rice covered with a diverse assortment of fish, shellfish, meat or poultry. The salmon and avocado domburi (photo) was just what I had in mind: strips of bright-flavored salmon, chunks of avocado with a personality, delicious well-cooked rice topped with just a touch of soy. The sprinkling of crunchy nori strips was as welcome as the frosting on a cake. Equally worthy was the domburi topped with carefully grilled eel and fine strips of omelet. At lunch, the tiny 20-seat diner offers four different domburi, priced at just 12 to 15 euros, with a small selection of desserts. The dinner menu features an assortment of brochettes, salads, vegetables, and sashimi. Wash it all down with sips of sake, choosing from a selection of more than 50 offerings.

IZAKAYA ISSE, 45, rue de Richelieu, Paris 1. Tel: +33 1 42 96 26 60. Métro: Palais-Royale ; Pyramides. Closed Sunday and holidays.

12 to 15 euro lunch; Dinner a la carte, about 35 euros, not including beverages.

Palais Royal Greenery

Palais Royal Green Risotto 6 11

Historic settings ultimately create their own ambience and turn into romantic stage sets. Such is the case with the Restaurant du Palais Royal, nestled under the arches of the 17th-century palace originally built for Cardinal Richelieu and overlooking one of the city’s most alluring gardens. During the summer months, I have spent many agreeable evenings seated on the terrace that tumbles out beyond the arches, watching smiling joggers and groups of men play boules, all the while enjoying the simple, light, and sun-drenched cuisine of chef and owner Bruno Hees. In cooler weather (and on rainy days) one must move indoors, where the setting is less romantic, yet the dining room has the feel of an elegant bistro, with crisp ochre linens and mirrors reflecting the arches, metal gates, and garden beyond. If you are in the mood for a simple arugula salad showered with Parmesan, a half dozen briny oysters, or an ultra-fresh scallop tartare, the chef is happy to accommodate.

Likewise, a half portion of his all-green risotto, a mosaic of peas, green beans, snowpeas, and spinach hits a fine spring note, though I wish he would cook the rice a bit more al dente. Hees has a fine touch with fish, and a giant portion of turbot set on a bed of spinach and topped with fresh, full-flavored girolles mushrooms, and whole sea bass cooked à la plancha are both good choices. The brief wine list offers some real bargains, including Roger Sabon’s 2008 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages at 22 euros and Louis Michel’s 2009 Chablis at 36 euros. And when in search of a pleasant private dining room, consider the two upstairs rooms overlooking the gardens, with room for 4 to 15 guests.

RESTAURANT DU PALAIS ROYAL, 110, galerie de Valois, Paris 1. Tel: +33 1 40 20 00 27.Métro: Palais-Royal-Musée du Louvre or Bourse. Closed Sunday. A la carte, 45 to 65 euros, not including wine. Garden terrace. Private dining room for 4 to 15.;

All's rosy at Le Runis

Le Rubis Tete de Veau

Some 30 years ago I remember wandering around the Marché Saint Honoré for what seemed like hours, trying to find the famed 1936 wine bar Le Rubis. I must have been circling the place, not the rue, but eventually found it, and fell instantly in love. Today the hangout remains virtually unchanged, just as boisterous, pushy, and old-fashioned, the spot for a bargain 11-euro platter of confit de canard (duck cooked in fat) and a thick potato gratin; meaty petit salé aux lentilles (braised salted pork with brown lentils), as well as a roborative and succulent tête de veau (braised calf’s head), served with boiled potatoes and the biggest portion of tangy sauce gribiche (mayonnaise with capers, cornichons, hard-cooked eggs, and herbs) that I have ever seen. (Photo)

Though Le Rubis is known for its wine, I found the Chiroubles ("mis en bouteille par l'acheteur" or bottled by the buyer) thin and forgettable. The cramped upstairs dining room is the sort of place where you can strike up a conversation with your neighbors (dining here is about as elbow-to-elbow as it gets) and we spent almost an hour chatting with the French teacher from Andorra who sat to my left, and the Irish-born architect from Sydney who was on my right, talking of everything from our shared love for Paris to the sadness of the brain drain of the young French. We left sated and satisfied, and you should too. In good weather you can lunch outdoors, standing at the wine barrels that serve as makeshift tables.

Le Rubis, 10, rue du Marché Saint Honoré, Paris 1. Tel: +33 1 42 61 03 34. Métro : Tuileries or Pyramides. Hot meal at lunch only. Closed Sunday.

Yum yum Yam'Tcha

Shrimp and Water Chestnut Wantons Yam T'cha

Is it worth the wait? Three months or more for dinner, a tiny bit less for lunch. That’s for you to decide, but a recent lunch at Yam’Tcha, a 1 1/2-year old postage stamp of a restaurant was not only memorable for the food, but throughout was even-handed, carefully paced, not the least bit precious, and just a perfectly nice place to be on a rainy November day in Paris.

Chef Adeline Grattard (pedigrees include time spent with chefs Yannick Alléno now of the Michelin  three-star in the hotel Meurice and Pascal Barbot, of the Michelin three-star L’Astrance) and her Chinese tea sommelier husband Chiwah Chan make a rare pare, she working elegantly in her tiny box of an open kitchen at the entrance, he with great ceremony (but not ceremoniously) delivering tiny cup after cup of soothing and remarkably matched teas that pair lusciously with her carefully constructed French-Asian cuisine.

The meal included a myriad of ingredients and flavors, tender Brittany mussels merged with fermented beans and pumpkin noodles, anointed with just the right touch of brown rice vinegar; a duet of giant wontons (pictured)  stuffed with plump and full-flavored shrimp and deliciously crunchy water chestnuts;  a pad of steamed foie gras shook hands with a delightful blend of wakame seaweed and julienne of turnips, with a foam of dried scallops that emerged much like a sprig of parsley, not essential to the dish, but a pleasant nod.

There’s no menu choice at this small, 20-seat restaurant, but I won’t complain. The food is remarkably light, not a bit show-off, and just different enough for all of our everyday fare to make one sit up and take notice. I love the décor, simple and elegant with lovely little chopsticks and must-have Italian porcelain in pale earth tones. The brief wine list is remarkable. We enjoyed two delicious and well-paired Burgundies. The white Nuits St Georges Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier Clos del a Marechale was chardonnay to perfection, almost as though the winemaker was thinking of Grattard’s fare as he vinified. Equally well-paired was the red pinot noir Nuits St Georges Les Boudots from Michel Noellat, a wine with a gentle touch of spice and smoke, elegant and right at home in this little jewel box of a restaurant. The name, by the way, is Mandarin for “drink tea,” and you will!

Yam’Tcha, 4, rue de Sauval, Paris 1. Telephone From 50 to 65 € per person, without wine. Closed Sunday evening,  Monday, and Tuesday.  Metro: Louvre-Rivoli.