Allard, a new beginning?

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Chef-entrepreneur Alain Ducasse has moved in to resuscitate yet another classic Parisian bistro (both Benoit and Aux Lyonnais are already in his stable), and he’s off to a start -- but he needs to roll up his sleeves. The standard dishes from the days of Madame Allard are there, including their landmark duck with olives (photo), garlicky snails, giant sole meunière. The etched glass windows, burgundy banquettes, and elbow-to-elbow seating remain unchanged, and unchanged also, it seemed on a recent Sunday, was the obvious detachment of the waitstaff.  But the trademark duck with green olives, the big garlicky snails and the sole meuniere were as good as they get, and the updated wine list includes some winners such as Henri Bourgeois’s fresh Sancerre, and Les Cailloux’s meaty Châteauneuf-du-Pape. But my salade de frisée (curly endive with cubes of bacon and croutons) arrived as an ignored orphan, without even a sprinkle of the classically vinegary dressing,  a very sad presence amid  the rest of the table’s offerings. The green bean salad starter was brightly dressed with a touch of tarragon cream, and the oeufs cocotte (eggs baked in a glass terrine) arrived warming and welcoming, dressed up with freshly cooked button mushrooms. Desserts have a way to go: The small round profiteroles filled with cream and sauced with chocolate were delicious if just chewy enough to make me think of yesterday, but both the fig and the blackberry tarts looked and  tasted as though they had been made for a much earlier date,  with under-cooked crust not worthy of a neophyte let alone this famed bistro, which was celebrated for its hearty fare since opening in 1932. The well-priced lunch menu is there for those who want to get at least a hint of what Ducasse is up to here. Though I don’t think I’ll be racing back right away.



41, rue Saint-André des Arts

Paris 6

Tel: +33 1 43 26 48 23

Métro: Odéon or Saint-Michel

Open daily

Prices: 34€ lunch menu. A la carte, 44 to 86€

Reservations recommended

Atmosphere smart-casual

Semilla: A new kid on the block

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Mushrooms Semilla 3 15 12

American Juan Sanchez and New Zealander Drew Harré have become favored food and wine fixtures in the Saint-Germain neighborhood (with restaurants Fish, Cosi, and wine shop La Dernière Goutte) and my good friends seem to have hit yet another all-bases-loaded home run with their newest endeavor, Semilla, a tapas, or small-plate style restaurant carefully designed for the way we want to eat today. A “soft” opening on Thursday produced winning dish after winning dish, with Meilleur Ouvrier de France chef Eric Trochon at the helm, dreaming up a mix of totally new and amazing to-the-point inventions, as well as soothing classics with a modern, updated edge. Here’s the idea: a nice mix of little and large tastes for vegetarians, meat eaters, lovers of the classics as well as the adventurous. Juan, Drew, and their crew have spent more than a year fine-tuning this lovely spot, updating the beams and brick décor into a clean white yet bistro-like space, with an all-stainless open kitchen. On the menu: paper-thin slices of delectable charcuterie from Corsica;  an amazing  starter of grapefruit, coconut cream and Asian herbs; a creamy velouté of mushrooms; a must-have plate of seared shitake mushrooms grilled-seared with just a touch of oil, salt, and pepper (photo); fabulous skate-wing topped with a peppy sauce vierge;  a state-of-the-art blanquette de veau; a rosy-rare côte de boeuf; a  dessert of winning citrus-based soupe d’agrumes. And more to come! The wine list is on its way, with always dependable and affordable selections from Juan the Magnificent. They are still in test mode, so lunch only this Friday and Saturday. Sunday will be brunch, then steaks and stuff for dinner. Coming Monday, it’s 7/7. To be continued…………..(By the way, Semilla is Spanish for “seed.”)

SEMILLA, 54 rue de Seine, Paris 6. Tel: +33 1 43 54 34 50.Métro: Saint-Germain des Prés or Mabillon. Open: Daily.

Lunch: 19€  unique menu. Open between lunch & dinner for charcuterie and drinks.

Dinner: A la carte 35-55 €

Yum tum dim sum

Yoom Boulettes Thai Pimentees aux Crevettes

When two Parisian friends came back from several years in Hong Kong, what they missed was dim sum, those endearing little steamed dumplings stuffed with meat, seafood, vegetables, and all manner of herbs. So the pair set out to learn the intricacies of dim sum with the help of Chinese chefs. Today they have not one, but two dim sum restaurants, their year-old spot on the fabulous market street Rue des Martyrs, and another just a week old on rue Gregoire de Tours in the 6th. Their places are hip and modern looking, and while you don’t have the grand-ballroom steamy setting of old Hong Kong, they’re fine spots for a quick, light lunch when you need an Asian hit. I love that their combinations are a little out-of-the-box, with vibrant-tasting dumplings filled with beef, ginger, soy, and basil; others stuffed with mushrooms, carrots, satay sauce, chicken, peanuts, and coriander. The small menu moves all over Asia, with some delightful Thai shrimp meatballs (photo), boulettes thai pimentées aux crevettes; and soothing Vietnamese rice paper crepes filled with chunks of smoked sausage, fish sauce and chile sauce. Yoom is a bit pricey (5 to 6 € for just two to three dumplings), and too many dishes arrive lukewarm, reducing the pleasure by half. So ask for everything to be served steaming hot, and the message is, don’t come too hungry or too poor.

YOOM, 5 rue Gregoire de Tours, Paris 6, Tel: +33 1 43 54 94 56, Métro: Mabillon or Odéon. Open: Monday-Friday. Closed Saturday & Sunday.Lunch & Dinner: Dim Sum from 5.50-6.50€

YOOM, 20 rue des Martyrs, Paris 9 Tel: +33 1 56 92 19 10. Métro: Saint-George or Pigalle. Open: Monday-Friday. Closed Saturday & Sunday. Lunch & Dinner: Dim Sum from 5.50-6.50€

Little Breizh

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This postage-stamp sized crêperie near Odéon is a real find. The buckwheat galettes are prepared with a very dense, black-flecked organic flour (blé noir) milled specially for the owners --- brother and sister team Pierre and Claire Goasdoué --  who put their heart and soul into this little enterprise. Stone walls, giant wooden beams and bistro chairs give it a true neighborhood air, setting it apart from the tourist restaurants that line this narrow little street. I could lunch here each day, sampling the elegant, filling ham and cheese galette, a creation that is like a love poem to Brittany. The galette is paper-thin, crisp and crunchy with a deep, rich freshly milled texture. Wash it down with a cup of chilled cider, and you’ve got a meal for under 10€. Their salmon galette is equally appealing, and service comes with cheer and a smile. This is a good place to know late in the morning (galettes for breakfast, anyone?) since they open at 11 am. It’s also child and vegetarian friendly.

LITTLE BREIZH,  11 rue Grégoire de Tours, Paris 6, Tel: +33 1 43 54 60 74 Métro: Odéon Open: Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

Email littlebreizhcreperie@gmail.comLunch: 13.50€ menu, cider included. A la carte, 10-19€ Dinner: A la carte, 10-19€

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.

How insipid can we get?

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So this was probably the most insipid restaurant meal I have eaten in Paris in 32 years. Yes, that’s saying something. I walk past the 6th arrondissement Chardenoux des Pres almost every day on my way to work, and have eagerly watched its transformation from a tired old bistro into a chic, must-go-to restaurant  run by TV star chef Cyril Lignac. OK, I am not kidding. Our lunch trio waited 20 minutes for someone to notice us and take our order. Our wine came, a few drops were  poured into my glass for approval, and then the bottle was set on the table as the waitperson disappeared, on to better things. We were happy to pour our own. Every dish was a disaster, void of taste, texture, personality. No one ate more than two or three bites of each, it was that bad. I have never eaten Picard prepared frozen food, but I have a feeling that the Picard food across the street on Rue du Dragon may be more delicious. A bowl of girolles tasted as though the mushrooms had sat in water for days, and yet they were still gritty. Peas and broccoli were on the menu in August. Perhaps the most dishonest of all was a dish billed as chipirons – now rare baby squid from the Atlantic – which certainly seemed to be the less desirable cuttlefish,  cut into rubbery French-fry-like strands (photo). Overcooked and limp  ravioles of langoustines had that 1980’s nouvelle cuisine sauce that, sorry, tasted canned. Wonder of wonders, the chic, well-heeled crowd seemed oblivious to the disaster, and ate on with abandon. The  local Le Monde newspaper vendor -- always the comedien --  came in shouting this headline:   "DSK fathered the maid's son!" Need I say more? Run, don’t walk away from this place!

LE CHARDENOUX DES PRES, 27, rue du Dragon, Paris  6. Telephone : 01 45 48 29 68. Métro: Saint Germain des Prés, Saint Sulpice, Mabillon, Sevres-Babylone. Open daily. 25-euro lunch menu. A la carte, 45 to 60 euros, not including beverages.

Agapé Substance: Of bold flavors and creativity

Egg with Fresh Almonds, Garlic Cream, Thyme, Lemon Verbena

This is not the last time you will be hearing about David Toutain,  the brilliant, 30-year-old chef at the week-old Agapé Substance on Rue Mazarine in Paris’s 6th arrondissement. Think explosions of concentrated flavors, gorgeous food, pristine ingredients, and toss in a friendly, easy atmosphere for good measure. Toutain has studied with Marc Veyrat as well as Alain Passard, and while he flirts with a mountain of unusual ingredients (when did you last eat a root called benoite urbaine?), loves to play with yuzu and feves de tonka, and creates a pesto of the wild green consoude, there is nothing really unfamiliar about his food. As does chef Jean-Francois Piège at at Règle de Je(u), Toutain presents guests with a list of ingredients --- egg, zucchini, crab for a first course; carrot, cod, monkfish as a second course; pigeon, veal, mushrooms as a third; hazelnuts, chocolate, cherries, for dessert. You pick one from column A, etc. deciding whether you want 3 or 4 courses or just let the chef go wild. Not since my first taste of Pascal Barbot’s food at Astrance many years ago have I been so immediately taken with what an inventive chef is trying to convey. This could oh so easily become just too precious, but it’s not.  In a brilliant starter with the tangy citrus yuzu as the star, he managed to include bitter, sweet, salty, crunchy, velvety in a single dish. A single egg starter (photo) combined fresh almonds and garlic cream, thyme as well as lemon verbena. Forward flavors lead the way in his combination of crab and grapefruit in a shrimp broth that was a home run for me. A mélange of the tastiest of wild mushrooms arrived with a pesto of the wild green consoude (its leaf has an oyster-like flavor) and was topped with a welcoming hazelnut “crumble.” The wine list here is strong on natural wines, and I appreciated the pairing of a 2009 Aligoté´ from Alice and Olivier de Moor, a wine that seemed to simply hold hands with Toutain’s modern, approachable fare. There is room for just 24 guests, mostly as one long shared table, making this a convivial place to discover some of Paris’s newest taste sensation

AGAPE SUBSTANCE, 66 rue Mazarine, Paris 6. Tel: +33 1 43 29 33 83.

Métro: Odéon. Open lunch and dinner  Tuesday through Saturday.

Lunch menus at 39, 51, and 65 euros. Dinner menus at 51, 78, and 99 euros.

Angela delivers bread to Fish

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I confess that I could easily lunch or dine at the wine bar/restaurant Fish La Boissonerie once a week, and would be totally happy just sipping some delicious wine (our own Clos Chanteduc Cotes du Rhone is on the list now!) and eating the warm and golden brick oven bread from Cosi, just across the street. The friendly Anglophone spot reminds me of the coffee shop from Friends, where you always run into someone you know and always feel at home. Sunday’s lunch was no exception, with the charming Colombian Angela Jaramitto taking orders and delivering fresh bread every few minutes or so (photo). I always love the simple arugula, date and Parmesan salad, as well as the daurade on a welcoming bed of poached vegetables, including leeks, tomatoes, potatoes, and bits of citrus. Yesterday’s wine was a delight, the Macon-Villages Quintaine 2009, 100% Chardonnay from Pierette and Michel Guillemot, a white with a surprising amount of acidity and vigor. (And, no, the 2011 Gault-Millau guide is dead wrong: Barack Obama did NOT eat here!)

FISH LA BOISSONERIE, 69, rue de Seine, Paris 6. Telephone +33 1 43 54 34 69. Métro : Mabillon/Odéon.

Soba satisfaction

Yen Soba Noodles

Where to lunch on a cold, grey, January day in Paris? Fresh, homemade soba noodle heaven, of course. YEN, a  Zen-like, two-story affair just steps behind Café Flore in  the 6th arrondissement is a  Japanese treasure, offering silken tofu that’s as smooth as pudding; feather-light tempura; and deliciously satisfying al dente soba noodles bathed in a fragrant mahogany-toned broth that both fills and satisfies. With every bite, every sip, you feel as though you are offering yourself a “good health” treatment. We sampled a soba noodle and broth paired with the shrimp and vegetable tempura, as well as version offering plump and pleasingly moist poached oysters touched with a flourish of brilliant green spinach. The tofu starter, served in gorgeous white bowls and topped with pungent fresh ginger, thin rounds of spring onion, sesame seeds, and soy sauce, was subtle, but simply ethereal. For dessert, try the unusual black sesame ice cream, smoky, with a touch of crunch, and the intense green tea ice cream. As I walked out the door, my soul was full of sunshine, and I hardly noticed the dense gray sky above.

YEN, 22, rue Saint-Benoit, Paris 6. Tel: + 33 1 01 45 44 11 18. Métro: Saint-Germain-des-Près. Closed Sunday and two weeks in August. Lunch about 20 € per person, not including beverages. 35 € lunch menu. 68 € dinner menu.