The New Cool, Hip, “Branché” Paris “Restos”
I can’t keep up. Every day (it seems) some new cool, hip, “branché” “resto” opens up by some new cool, hip “branché” chef that everyone is talking about or writing about in some very ‘off-the-beaten-track’ Paris spot.
When Candelaria Bar and Taqueria opened up on my street and became the RAGE of the foodies of Paris, it was not such a happy moment. My once quiet little Marais street has become a hotbed of activity with a lot of loud-voiced youth smoking and talking outside and adding something new — violent and aggressive activity on the street. Yep, several times there have been brawls just under my windows.
So, I refuse to patronize Candelaria, regardless of how yummy or hip the place might be…and have fantasized about dropping water balloons on their unsuspecting heads or calling the police — even more powerful! My daughter says, “Mom, you are getting SO VERY ‘FRENCH!'” Not sure about getting like the ‘French,’ but am sure that with age, tolerance has waned.
In the past the cool, hip, “branché” “restos” were to be avoided for fear that they just won’t ‘cut the mustard’ as restaurants that one can really patronize on a regular basis and get good value for your money…or have that ‘feel good’ atmosphere classic French bistrots ‘should’ have. (I still love old-fashioned bistrots with bentwood chairs and lace curtains in the windows.) Restaurants like these could be anywhere — New York, Los Angeles, Miami…even London, Rome or Berlin, so why make such a big deal about them in Paris? Is that because the cool, hip, “branché” people would rather be cool, hip, “branché” than satisfied? Or are they happy and satisfied and I’m the one ‘missing the boat’ here?
This is when I had to start finding out for myself what all the hullabaloo was about.
One of my close (gay) friends uses an expression to describe the kinds of servings one might find in these cool, hip, “branché” “restos” which cannot be repeated here. In ‘code,’ one might call them “kitten dishes” (you can figure it out for yourself, right!?) And while the expression is chauvinistic and disgustingly funny, it’s so true!
When we’re exchanging notes on new restaurants and he asks, “Tell me, did it serve ‘kitten dishes?'” I know just what he means and if it’s true, we scratch it off our list and move on to the next restaurant…or go back to one of our ‘tried and trues’ that don’t serve such delicate portions or think they are so cool, hip or “branché” that we can actually get a table without too much hassle.
This is the problem with all the new cool, hip, “branché” “restos” — getting a table takes an ‘act of God.’ If you’re the owner of one of the new cool, hip, “branché” “restos,” then you might relegate your clientele to make reservations “only between 4 and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday” or never allow the answering machine to actually take messages or simply make it so difficult to be contacted that one thinks it’s even cooler, hipper or more “branché” and that just makes you want to try it even more! Am I too uncool to get this logic?
Another problem is that once inside a cool, hip, “branché” “resto,” because it’s been ‘all over the blogs’ or touted by David Lebovitz or Alec Lobrano or some other cool, hip, “branché” restaurant ‘maven,’ that it’s filled with Americans, who of course talk loudly above anyone else so you can’t hear yourself think. (I thought seriously about ‘accidentally’ spilling wine on the American woman next to us at dinner last night in one of my favorite classic French bistrots.)
And on top of it all, the prices at a cool, hip, “branché” “resto” tend to be higher than those that are not. So, in the end, you’ve paid for a lot, gotten very little and been annoyed by your neighboring diners, just for the sake of being cool, hip or “branché.” Is this being cynical? In my ‘book,’ being cool, hip or “branché” is when you don’t care about being cool, hip or “branché” and therefore you just are.
At any rate, most all the a cool, hip, “branché” “restos” I’ve tried recently have been at least tasty, or the “kitten dishes” have been artfully arranged, or have had some attributes, but not so many as to warrant a return. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try them for yourself. By all means, don’t take my word for it! You are entitled to your own opinion, but don’t look to me for a recommendation!
Those that fit this category of cool, hip, “branché” “restos” that I don’t necessarily recommend are:
Bistrot Urbain: While the diners are mostly French, they are even louder than the Americans and there is no way to hear your dining partner sitting across from you. We were not impressed.
La Bonne Cecile: Better than most, the atmosphere lovely and the food certainly nice enough, but why do I have to leave hungry or remembering what I ate?
Le Petit Commines: This restaurant has been a dozen different restaurants since living in the neighborhood. It’s lovely enough and the food acceptable, but it doesn’t pass the ‘so-what test.’ Drat! I was hoping for yet another good one in the ‘hood’ I can count on. Oh well.
Au Passage: Click on the link and you’ll never get to their site. (Not a good sign. This link is better.) You really have to know the back streets of Paris to find it and the decor is nothing to ‘write home about.’ Yep, filled with foreigner who are reading the food blogs. Lunch is a VERY LIMITED “formule” menu, so if you don’t like it, you’re out of luck and one thing that really makes this a no-go — when we complained that the service was extraordinarily slow (and I DO MEAN SLOW), instead of the wait person saying, “I’m sorry, it will be right out,” she gave us a defensive ‘song and dance routine’ about why it was the way it was making us feel as if it was all our fault since we were the ones who chose to dine there in the first place! That’s when I draw the line.
And those that I’ve been to recently and one might go back to time and again, but may not be so cool, hip or “branché” are (but are because they’re not trying to be):
Chez Margot: Dining outside on the terrace in good weather is heavenly. Be adventuresome and try the “Cuisses de Grenouilles Persillées (16) and I swear, the warm leek salad was the best I’ve ever had anywhere.
L’Autre Café (main photo at the top): It’s been around a long time and the colorful decor is fun and frivolous. The plates are copious and delicious. The waitstaff more than agreeable. My friend and I decided these were definitely not ‘kitten’ portions!
Le Bistrot Mazarin: If you click on the link to “Le Bistrot Mazarin” you’ll get the review I posted on TripAdvisor.com. It was shocking to see bad reviews on one of the few surviving classic bistrots left in the 6th arrondissement where tourists fill every cool, hip or “branché” “resto” they can find. This is where the neighboring loud-mouthed diner was lucky to escape my wrath and an ‘accidentally’ spilled glass of wine! But the steamed whole artichokes with vinaigrette and the Coq au Vin was “delish” and filling. They serve bread that’s impossible to refrain from eating…with butter. They were also nice enough to set me up at a table near a plug for my laptop, pour a tall glass of cool Côte du Rhone and set a big bowl of chips on the table while I waited for my compatriots to arrive.
Naturally, this is just the beginning. With thousands of restaurants in Paris and new ones opening every few seconds (or so it seems), how would one decide where to dine? As it turns out, I’ve been eating out regularly and writing about dining in Paris since shortly after landing here. It’s appropriately known as the “Adrian Leeds® Top 100 Cheap Insider Paris Restaurants” and it’s been online since 1996. So, if you prefer to find the not-so-cool, hip “branché” “restos” that really are cool, hip and “branché” just because they aren’t trying to be, and that serve up high quality meals that are not “kitten dishes,” you may want to give it a try.
Happy dining in the City of Light!
A la prochaine…
Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC
(at favorite, Café Charlot)
P.S. Join us tomorrow, June 11th at 3 p.m. for Parler Paris Après Midi when Canadian Singer and Songwriter Kim Bingham discusses “How to Make it a Success in the Music Industry.” She is sure to play and sing for us, too! Don’t miss it — upstairs at La Pierre du Marais on the corner of rue des Archives and rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris, Métro Lines 9, 3 et 11, stations Temple, République or Arts et Métiers. Costs nothing except for what you drink. I look forward to seeing you there!
And at the same venue, on Wednesday, June 12th at 6 p.m., please join us for a fantastic reading in celebration of the University of Southern Californias The Poet in Paris Program directed by poet and long-time part-time Paris resident Cecilia Woloch. With readings by USC The Poet in Paris faculty and friends Jeffrey Greene, Kate Noakes, Cecilia Woloch and Heather Hartley. Entrance is free, but the café expects you to order at least one drink.