What’s a Neo-bistro?

image_deserteurs_paris

My favorite Paris restaurants these days are Neo-bistros: small places, run by chefs with vision.

These chefs are classically trained, and gained recognition at grand, Michelin starred venues, in France and abroad. Then they stepped away from the constraints of the star system, to forge their own culinary paths.

Their restaurants are tiny; some fill with as few as 16 diners. And they’re affordable, with lunch formules costing as little as 24€, dinners a bit more.

Market-driven tasting menus change daily, and their originality and precision outweigh the lack of choice when ordering. I’ve come to look forward to letting the menu lead the way.

I’ve tried ingredients like Japanese dandelion and pouce-pieds, a mollusk hand-picked from the cliffs of Spain—which I might not have ordered if I’d had more choice.

I’ve also been delighted by surprising combinations of taste and texture, like white chocolate & parsnip purée, and wild mushroom soup with a hint of espresso, in the form of cappuccino.

Here is good article on the Neo-bistro trend, featuring 3 chefs — Greg Marchand, Yves Cambdeborde, and Bernard Doucet — who continue to dazzle.

Are you a Neo-bistro fan? What’s your favorite Paris Neo-bistro?

Restaurant Les Deserteurs in the 11th

image_restaurant_deserteurs

At Les Déserteurs, chef Daniel Baratier’s modern French fare changes daily, and his tasting menus (3 courses at lunch, 4 and 6 at night) are elegant and inventive.

We started lunch with sashimi: thinly sliced raw mullet with grated black radish, watercress, lime and angelica vinegar. Sweet and sour, crunchy and smooth, this starter was invigorating and comforting at once, a pleasure to behold and to eat.

The braised pork belly that followed was succulent, and accompanied by a horseradish sauce flavored with Japanese dandelion. The last was a new experience for me, and was one of the adventurous details that made Les Déserteurs so much fun—and sets it apart from traditional French bistros.

I would have been happy to end the meal with a slice of cheesecake made with vanilla and Earl Gray tea OR a quenelle of mandarin sorbet with a side of crumble. Mais non. The day’s dessert contained both. Like the previous courses, it was a study in subtle flavors, surprising combinations, and beautiful presentation.

Gracious hosts, sophisticated food, and an excellent value: I will return. Reservations advised, as it’s a small place,

46 rue Trousseau, 11th, Métro: Ledru Rollin, tel: 01 48 06 95 85. Closed Sat, Sun, Mon noon.

Restaurant Auberge Flora

Flora Mikula has been part of the Paris dining scene since the 90s, and I was sorry when her restaurant in the 8th closed. But her newest restaurant, on the ground floor of her new hotel near the Bastille, has diners talking.

Flora herself does the cooking. One of a handful of reputed women chefs in Paris, she has expanded upon her love of provençal cuisine. Where Flora’s last resto was elegant, formal and expensive, her new venue is casual, eclectic and an excellent value.

Food is served all day, every day. While breakfast is most popular with hotel guests, her generous brunch is a favorite with residents of the neighborhood.

A wide assortment of small plates is served cold and warm from lunch on. Servings are copious, and the selection runs from tapinades to duck samosas to foie gras with mango chutney, with prices from 6-18€. There are vegetarian options and market-fresh daily specials, as well.

In the evening, the 45€ tasting menu aleviates the need to choose. The meal unfolds via multi-tiered plates with a multitude of delicious tapas, followed by the meat or fish du jour, and wonderful assortment of desserts. Moderately priced wine and delicious bread, things I have learned not to take for granted, round out the experience.

L’Agrume

When my friend Sami emailed to say that the Herald Tribune had raved about his favorite neighborhood bistrot – L’Agrume – and invited me to dinner there, I accepted with delight.

We arrived on the early side (8pm), and took our seats at the counter, where we watched chef Franck Marchesi-Grandi create each étape of our 5 course tasting menu (35 euros) in his tiny open kitchen.

Buratta di Bari was new to me – and turned out to be a sweet, fresh mozarella, served with a coulis d’asperges vertes, and finished with sel de truffes. Oh my!

The next course – pousse-pieds – was also a first, and Mr Franck filled us in as he moved from workspace to stovetop a few metres from our seats.

The mollusks – which he pan seared then tossed with a garlic and basil vinaigrette – come from rocky cliffs in Spain, where the rough seas make harvesting the animals dangerous work. The dish smelled and tasted like the ocean, and I used my bread to sop up the last of the sauce.

Perfectly poached sea bass followed, then a moist roasted chicken breast with carrots and a lemon confit. Dessert consited of 2 taste treats, a delicious panne cotta with a raspberry coulis, and homemade ice cream topped with cocoa powder and floating on a mint cloud.

Portions were perfectly sized and came at nicely timed intervals, so I left feeling sated – and, while not wishing for more food right away, made a mental note to return on my next trip.

15 Rue des Fossés Saint-Marcel, 5th
01 43 31 86 48