La Végétable d’Alain Passard


Le Printemps (literally “the spring”) is one of the four Parisian department stores, located in the ninth arrondissement on boulevard Haussmann. In addition to the twice-yearly sales and the promotion weeks, they occasionally organize themed events in their stores, setting up temporary stands and attractions, and showing artists’ work.

One such event was Les Invasions Gourmandes in November of last year, during which I hosted a Bar à Veloutés. For the two weeks of the event, they had set up a restaurant éphémère (a temporary restaurant) called Restaurant Elémentaire, with a menu by Pierre Gagnaire and a décor designed by Christian Ghion.

They are just now hosting a similar event called Parenthèse Végétale (vegetal parenthesis) until June 4, and the ephemeral restaurant this time is designed by the über-famous (and medievally coiffed) Matali Crasset and serving food by no other than, drumroll please, Alain Passard of L’Arpège fame.

The restaurant is called Végétable, which sounds more of a pun in French (as the contraction of végétal and table) than in English, but in both cases, it is a good illustration of Passard’s deep love for veggies. The dishes served here are taken straight from the Arpège menu, the vegetables come from Passard’s private garden, and the cooking as well as the service are handled by his usual staff (which wasn’t the case with Gagnaire’s temporary restaurant). This is a unique chance to taste Passard’s cuisine for a fraction of the regular price*.

I went there for lunch on Friday with my friend Alisa, and here is what we sampled, switching half-way through so we could taste everything. (And I apologize for the quality of the pictures which don’t really do the dishes justice, I only had my phone with me.)

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La Colombie à Paris

Colombian tamale

Update: Sadly, Tienda Nueva is now closed. If you’re looking for Colombian goods, however, there’s a new shop selling Latin American goods just a block from there. It’s called Mercatienda Latina, and it’s at 78 rue de Dunkerque in the 9th (01 45 26 11 80).

Isn’t it amazing how you can still discover new things right in your neighborhood, even after living there for two and a half years and spending a large part of your free time walking around and exploring?

Case in point: a small Colombian grocery store on rue Rodier, literally three blocks from me in the 9th (and facing the restaurant called Radis Rose — “pink radish” — which I haven’t yet tested but have heard good things about. Also, they have a huge pink Smeg fridge just behind the door.)

The store is called Tienda Nueva (I speak no Spanish but Babelfish tells me this means “new store”) and we found it by pure serendipity as we were taking a little stroll last Sunday. It was closed then, but I made a mental note to go back, sooner rather than later. Why? The jars of Dulce de Leche in the window, and the mention of the magic word “tamales” on their take-out menu.

I paid them a visit on my way home from work on Tuesday night, and discovered a bigger store than I thought it would be from the outside, selling all manner of goods from Colombia — mostly shelf-stable products as can be expected. Innumerable kinds of corn flour, salsas and sauces, jams and spices, jarred cactus, candy, but also a range of convenience products, things that looked like soap and cleaning supplies, CDs and DVDs. I browsed around, but most of the food products were pretty cryptic for me as I know very little about Columbian cooking: I will have to read up a bit and go back!

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The Paris I Promised

The Paris I Promised
Photograph by Marie Hennechart

Two weeks ago I mentioned that I had written an article for the May issue of Budget Travel magazine, in which I shared some of my favorite food-related addresses in Paris. Well, ze article is now available online for your perusal…

Au Fil des Saisons

Au Fil des Saisons

GO:: Au fil des saisons had been on my to-try list for a while: I had been told good things about the chef, his use of fresh products and his “homemade everything” approach (including bread and sorbets). I had dinner there with my friend Marion a few weeks ago, when it was still remarkably cold — hence the wintery menu choices as you’ll see below.

The restaurant is located on a teeny tiny street off the Place de la République, and the room itself is very small too, no more than fifteen tables, in a “country inn” décor with bare brick walls and dark wood furniture. Not necessarily my first choice aesthetically speaking, but it is welcoming enough and goes well with the food.

EAT:: I started with the Aiguillettes d’agneau, purée d’aubergine et asperges: tender strips of lamb, a little mound of eggplant caviar and a few al dente asparagus. Perfectly seasoned and a great mix of flavors.

I went on with a Fricassée de pigeonneau, sauce au porto et au romarin: a pigeon stew in a porto and rosemary sauce, served with a delicious gratin dauphinois (potato gratin). The meat was very tender and juicy, and the sauce was aromatic enough to hold up to the strength and gaminess of the pigeon.

For dessert, Marion and I shared a Trio de fondants au chocolat: three small coquetiers (eggcups) filled with a velvety, semi-cooked chocolate cream — crusty on top, liquid inside — in white chocolate, milk chocolate and dark chocolate. My favorite was the dark chocolate, the other two were a tad too sweet for my taste, but this was still the perfect dose of chocolate to end the meal. I even dreamt about these a few nights later — that has to tell you something!

PAY:: Chalkboard menu. 26€ for two courses, 31€ for three courses.

FORGET:: I would have liked a little more warmth to the service: while it was efficient and diligent and professional, I like a few more smiles sprinkled on top. The lady was waiting on all the tables by herself and maybe it just wasn’t her night, or I irked her with my curiosity and questions — that happens. But we had a nice little chat with the chef before we left (he was sharing a post-service drink with a few friends) and this attenuated the impression.

REMEMBER:: The skewers of mini-loaves of homemade bread, fresh from the oven. The careful — yet not showy — plating. The deep and well-rounded flavors of all the dishes. The mix of tradition and creativity, the respectful use of quality products.

RECOMMEND:: A great place to go for traditional French with a twist (especially for meat-lovers) and an excellent value meal. Now I have to go back and see what Spring brings on the menu!

6 rue des Fontaines du Temple
75003 Paris
01 42 74 16 60
M° Temple ou Arts-et-Métier

Chocolate & Zucchini Meets Chez Pim (and Vice-Versa)

Clotilde & Pim

Pim and I had been talking about meeting for a while : it was just a matter of patiently waiting for the opportunity to arise, since her job has her fly into Paris regularly. It finally did, and we had dinner yesterday at Flora, a restaurant operated by the young lady chef Flora Mikula, and about which I had read good things.

We had a fabulous time together, talking animatedly about myriads of things, blogs and food and restaurants and wine and jobs and books and jam and chefs and travel, chatting away like there was no tomorrow and laughing the whole time.

The restaurant experience itself was unfortunately not as stellar as I would have hoped for such a special meeting. We chose to have the Menu Dégustation Surprise (the surprise tasting menu), which turned out to lack harmony as a whole. It started out well, with a soft-boiled egg with a morel cream and truffle mouillettes (toasted fingers of bread to dip into the egg), and then a lobster tempura on a bed of ceps, with a velouté de cèpe poured all around.

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