In the Heavenly City of Gourmet Delight, how does one even begin to pick three of the best restaurants in Paris? Ultimately, by simply trying them, one at a time. It’s often said, ‘beauty is in the eyes of the beholder,’ so epicurean choice is on the tongue of every taster.
Here’s a taste teaser.
High among the cobbled streets of Montmartre, Chef Antoine Westermann has created a multi-room niche restaurant specializing in what is known in ornithological terms as ‘aves’ or ‘endothermic vertebrates,’ of which there are more than 10,400 living species worldwide.
While chef Westermann has not managed (yet) to invent delicious dishes out of all of them, he has succeeded in carefully crafting some very impressive tastes.
Seating options comprise simple white tables facing the street, a back room with a long central table for communal-style eating and a bar counter. Designed with whitewashed wooden walls and bare stone, the ambience reminds one of a farmyard barn.
Here you can sample duck, squab (young pigeon), chicken and guinea fowl from different regions including Dombes, Perche, Landes, Vaucluse and Brittany. Not only are the regions diverse so are the cooking methods, with duck breast glazed with spice, roasted squab and poule-au-pot, to name but a few.
For us, a generous salad arrived in a large shallow bowl. Poached then chilled root veggies including mushrooms, carrots and celeriac dusted with fresh coriander contrasted with warm jus of chicken stock with morsels of the bird, looking like a stew but tasting like a salad.
Our offal starter came on a wooden platter with chicken heart slices on a stick with apple, liver with horseradish and mustard on coins of bread, wings and bonbon of deep-fried curried chicken.
Next up were two thick wedges of duck breast surrounded by glazed stumps of carrots, reminding me of ancient mounds in Brittany, sweet and moist on a platform of orange.
My companion chose breast of pigeon, slow cooked, pink and tender, with a side of wings.
As for dessert, go native. The sweet island of whipped egg white in a velvety, sunny-colored crème anglaise – ile flottante – is one of those examples where ‘less is best.’ But that ‘less’ is still a ‘must-have.’
Being so close to Élysée Palace, just around the corner, you will also probably enjoy the privilege of police protection as the friendly ‘gendarmerie nationale’ are usually in the vicinity. Perhaps, you’ll be lucky to see incumbent President Emmanuel Macron out for a stroll.
Chefs here are particular about the raw materials they use in the kitchen. Beef, for example, is straight from Italy – from special Piemonte Fassona cows – and the olive oil is the aromatic extra virgin variety Gran Cru Franci from the ‘Villa Magra di Franci’ grove.
We launched into our three-hour dinner with an amuse bouche of Millefoies tricolor of carrot, beetroot and Mashed potato crème brûlée with parmesan presented charmingly in a tiny jam-jar and burrata in a miniature glass.
Tartare of juicy langoustine followed, astride what could best be described as miniature ‘sun-beds’ comprising caramelized cubes of yellow and orange melon titillated with ginger with a dressage of cress leaves and dollops of sauce.
For beef lovers, Fassona tartare is presented as a generous bloc, with a shy tart of onion confit, a sweet and creamy olive oil ice-cream, all paired with a touch of outspoken tuna bottarga.
While it may have looked like a plateful of tiny baked beans, the house risotto announces its entrance with a veil of flavors from southern Italy that met my nostrils in a most enticing manner. That’s because it was created from three types of tomatoes – the dry variety, sammarzano from Naples and datterino from Sicily, as well as baby aubergines and Puglia sttacciatella ice cream.
Our mains may have been contrasting choices but there was one characteristic they shared – layered taste. Mine was a succulent saddle of juicy lamb with a ‘priest’s collar’ of fatty skin juices hemmed in with roasted shallots and ‘tomato bread.’ My companion opted for a fillet of turbot dusted with pistachio from Averon in southern Italy.
Convinced we had bene teleported to Italy, we dared not refuse the home-made ice-cream and sorbet, before returning to the bustling Parisian streets. Delighted we didn’t.
Close to the iconic architectural delicacy, the Paris Opera on essential address ‘Avenue de l’Opéra,’ this street-level contemporary restaurant inside the Edouard 7 Hotel entices with a creative menu ranging from sweetbread to scorpion fish, all served in a bright, rotund room with leather-clad tables and abstract wall photos.
Kick-off with that French ‘old faithful,’ a glass of champagne. In this case, the house version, a Charles Heidsieck vintage, a company with an impressive legacy dating back to 1851. The owner, who is credited with popularizing bubbly in the US, was aptly known as ‘Champagne Charlie.’
A starter of luscious creamy dome of burrata combined with the crunchiness of hazelnuts and chilled pear slices spattered with Szechuan pepper created an eruption of taste in the mouth.
Creamy, decadent white buttery delight flowing out to meet the oriental pear that had been poached and chilled, the hazelnuts scattered on them like stepping-stones. Refreshing in its decadence.
A soft-boiled organic egg veiled in a thin parsley crust on a base of creamed potatoes and crisp myrtle leaves reminded my companion of carefree youthful summer days spent on her grandparents’ farm.
My pasta looking like a large grain risotto, its first waft indicating a perfectly balanced umami dish, reminiscent of a hearty, healthy countryside meal of sausage, parmesan crust and tomato paste. Don’t make the mistake of eating an unaccompanied chunk of the Calabra sausage, it’ll set your tongue ablaze.
As a perfect contrast, a hefty slice of veal sweetbreads is offered, on a soft bed of crushed peas and lemon zest, with berry capers and sage gnocchi bestowing an added touch of tang.