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Paris Update-OrientExpress

One of the cars of the famed Orient Express, on show at the Institut du Monde Arabe. Photo: Eric Tenin of Paris Daily Photo.

 

Restaurants - Bistro

 

Le Bistrot des Faubourgs

Far from the Fadding Crowd
With its high-quality ingredients and homey dishes, Le Bistrot des Faubourgs is sure to become a neighborhood favorite.

Among my acquaintances are a number of artists: a painter or two, a sculptor, a brace of photographers, and a maker of experimental films whose choreographic camera creates a world of shard-like images. Artistically challenged myself, I often wonder how they can work in the long shadow cast by Pablo P. Where do they get the sheer nerve to take on Big Art?

The same goes for cooks. What do you do if you’re not a Bocuse or a Robuchon? A cook who will never recline alongside the gods on the towering heights of culinary Olympia? Presumably, you leave worries like that to people like me and get on with it.

These thoughts crossed my mind as I booked a table at the Bistrot des Faubourgs, which was opened in January by Emmanuelle Gaspard, erstwhile yogurtista at Danone. She runs the dining room, while Irish chef Carolyn Buckley handles the kitchen. Their debut venture – in a pleasant, smallish space with white walls, 1930s-ish wooden tables, a little wooden bar and red styling cues – is located within spitting distance of the trendy Canal Saint Martin area, and I wish them every success. Gaspard’s warm, friendly welcome gets things off to a good start.

The restaurant’s food has a certain pragmatism, with nothing fancy on the menu, no show-off pièces de résistance. Much of it is the sort of food you could make at home if you put your mind to it, had the time and knew where to source the same high-quality ingredients. You will not be blown away by the originality of the cuisine, which aims to concentrate on seasonal ingredients, and it’s not the kind of place you’d take someone you want to impress, but it’s perfect for a leisurely, comfortable, reasonably priced meal with old friends or ex-lovers, where the talk is the thing, and the pleasant, unpretentious food doesn’t upstage the gossip.

I began with a terrine of oxtail and leeks, in which the pressed beef ticked all the right flavor and texture boxes – the leeks had retained their green, salty flavor and sang a pleasant counterpoint to the mellow beefy flavors. This was garnished, like everything else I ate that evening, with lambs’ lettuce – one of two things that irritated me. A chef should have some idea of who’s ordering what and steer clear of using the same garnish on each plate. Or the customer should be warned when ordering that the garnish is the same and offered an alternative.

My companion had no such problem; she was delighted with her comforting starter of poached eggs in a rich, creamy cep sauce.

It was surf and turf for the main course: she had surf – a grilled fillet of the ubiquitous sea bream with mashed potatoes – and I had more beef. Both were judged to be good. But I had been spoiled earlier in the week at the Café des Musées by one of the tastiest, tenderest and best-cooked steaks it has ever been my good fortune to eat, so Ms. Buckley was up against some stiff competition. The fish was a tad overcooked and the mashed potatoes not up to my friend’s high standards, but I found myself wanting more of them.

At dessert time I went for a generous quarter of well-ripened camembert that was all a camembert should be, except that it arrived on the table quite a few degrees below room temperature – the second minor complaint of the evening. My companion chose the apple crumble, a fine version of this homey dessert. The wine was a fruity Corbières with a rakish spring in its step, very more-ish.

Le Bistrot des Faubourgs is the kind of place locals will adopt as their canteen. You won’t find people who have jetted thousands of miles for the privilege of eating here – just folk who’ve walked a few blocks at most – but that’s part of the joy of sharing food with friends in a congenial atmosphere.

Richard Hesse

Le Bistrot des Faubourgs: 55, rue des Vinaigriers, 75010 Paris. Métro: Gare de l’Est. Tel: 01 42 05 19 05. Open Monday-Friday for lunch, Friday and Saturday for dinner. Fixed-price lunch menu: €14. A la carte: around €30 (not including wine).

© 2007 Paris Update

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