To say that I love food would be a vast understatement. When traveling the world, besides enjoying the blissful discovery of restaurants both established and new, I can often be found roaming the aisles of markets, both formal indoor ones and outdoor farmer’s markets, even when not actually shopping for food. But simply to partake in the glorious gestalt of food and possibilities of enticing sustenance.
While there are certainly countless excellent restaurants in every major city and many minor ones around the world, dining in the French capital always seems to evoke a particular allure. Part of it of course is that Paris, a city I once lived in and loved, happens to be one of the world’s most beautiful. Although geography and architecture are delightful, those are not enough to satiate physical hunger. For that I spent a week eating my way through the City of Lights. Here is a shortlist of my new favorites.
Alliance Restaurant: Fantastically French with a Twist
On a small street in the food-loving 5th arrondisement, not far from rue Mouffetard and Place de la Contrescarpe, is Alliance Restaurant. Michelin-starred and with three Toques – chef’s hats – from Gault & Millau, Alliance is unassuming from the outside, which for me is always a good sign. Inside, a calming, elegantly off-white minimalist, modern interior with subdued artwork allows guests to focus on the real craft, serious culinary art. Under the direction of Osaka-born chef Toshitaka Omiya, and French owner, Shawn Joyeux, these self-designated ‘brothers from another mother,’ together provide an utterly magical dining experience in a delightful setting.
The chef’s inspiration Résonance menu that evening comprised 10 courses after an amuse-bouche of mushrooms and tarragon in a folded rice paper envelope, followed by crispy, light Gougéres. Each dish that followed was plated, delectable art. The microscopically cut steak tartar on a bed of smoked potatoes with caviar was divine, while the cooked oyster with lemon jelly nearly made me weep with delight. The dreamy potato gnocchi with white wine sauce had just enough caviar to tickle my taste buds. When I reached the lamb course served with foamy cappuccino bouillon, I was already plotting my return.
Once I learned there was a small, pre-dessert dish involved – apple, almond, Greek yogurt mélange – I fell resolutely in love with these self-proclaimed brothers. Men who grasp that dessert should be two courses are definitely my people. The pear dessert with melilot seeds and some of France’s finest cheeses were a perfect ending to a magnificent meal. This was enough to profess my undying love. However, the deal was completely sealed when on departure, Joyeux sent me off with a small cellophane sac containing a pair of financiers – bite-sized almond cakes made with brown butter – to savor with the next morning’s coffee and relive the great night before. 5, rue de Poissy 75005
When Asia Calls, Head to Shang Palace at Shangri-La Hotel Paris
If you’re in Paris on a Sunday evening, as any Seinfeld aficionado knows, one should eat Chinese food. Certainly, Seinfeld and his pals would forgive you if you craved Chinese food any other day of the week.
The backdrop of the Shangri-La Hotel Paris is the iconic Eiffel Tower, appearing even more stunning at night with lights sparkling. The hotel treats guests and visitors to a bygone era of glamor and panache that includes its notable marble lobby staircase, museum quality art and intimate public spaces. Inside is Shang Palace, conceivably the most elegant Chinese-inspired dining room in France, with luxurious oriental carpeting, delicately painted screens and unique chandeliers containing hundreds of tear-shaped bulbs. Opened in 2011, Shang Palace in 2012 became France’s sole Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant, a star which has been retained for 10 years, and has also acquired three Gault & Millau toques.
Lulled into a relaxed state with the delicate sounds of live Guzheng background music and a glass of champagne, the seven-course tasting menu with paired wines showed off the skills of Executive Chef Samuel Lee and his master team of four who together bring Cantonese finest cuisine to France. Highlights were the beautifully presented salmon sashimi, mouthwatering signature roasted Peking duck and the blue lobster with spring onion and ginger. The meal ended with sweet rice flour dumplings served with mango salad.
With impeccable Shangri-La service coupled with perfectly prepared Chinese delicacies amid European splendor, dining at Shang Palace is a pleasure. 10, Avenue d’Iéna, 75116.
A Melodic Parisian Institution
Naturally, cabaret life is an essential aspect of Parisian nightlife and perhaps nowhere is this truer than at Moulin Rouge in Paris’ Pigalle district. That it’s tourist friendly, detracts neither from the building’s fantastic architecture and it’s fin de siècle romance, nor the fantastic dinner show. From the “better late than never” chronicles, though I’d lived in Paris for many moons, this was my first visit to Moulin Rouge. It was such a great experience I’m thankful I didn’t wait another minute.
While Moulin Rouge is credited with the birth of the modern Can-Can dance, it also led to the genesis of cabarets through the continent, and through the years has been the epicenter of famous talented French artists as well as those from around the world.
When one of the original co-founders, Charles Zidler, passed in 1897, Belle Époque singer, dancer and Legion of Honor recipient Yvette Guilbert paid Zidler tribute saying, “You have the knack of creating popular pleasure, in the finest sense of the word, of entertaining crowds with subtlety, according to the status of those to be entertained.” Happily, Guilbert’s homage still rings true at Moulin Rouge today.
Did I mention that the dinner show is, in a word, marvelous? Seated at 7pm for the Soirée Toulouse-Lautrec in such beautiful surrounds with a bottle of chilled champagne – this could only end well – it felt as though the clock had turned back to an earlier time where entertainment was crucial to the social construct and culture unabashedly thrived. Chef Arnaud Demerville’s red tuna tataki with wasabi-spiked cream of broccoli was tangy and tender, and the croaker filet with chorizo emulsion satiated. The chocolate and caramel tart made me very happy as the lights dimmed for the show’s commencement.
The costumes are mind-boggling not only for their stunning beauty and detail, but the shocking speed with which the uniformly gorgeous dancers and singers changed into completely different, complicated ones, boasting some of the most remarkably intricate headsets. Many of the dances defied physics, especially the roller dancing duo who performed on a small, elevated ring within the main stage. The audience gasped, myself included, when one dancer jumped into an aquarium with enormous, live snakes and completed a lengthy aqua dance routine. The Can-Can dancers were fantastic, surpassed only by the park bench acrobatic artists and the mesmerizing male balance acrobats who received three standing ovations. 82 Bd. de Clichy, 75018.
Channeling Cool at Mimosa Restaurant
At the iconic Hôtel de la Marine, near Place de la Concorde, this fully restored 18th century palace once housed the naval ministry. At Mimosa, created into a restaurant space by architect/interior designer Dorothée Delaye, its high ceilings and warmth, instill a Bobo chic, yet inviting atmosphere allowing guests to fantasize about the south of France. Chef Jean-Francois Piège brings his southern sun sensibilities to his menu.
The grilled terrine of duck foie gras served with quince was delicious, and the endive salad with wood fired eel had me imagining the Cote d’Azur’s sunny skies to counter Paris’ chilly evenings. The flavorful prime Angus steak barely needed a knife. 2 rue Royale 75008.
If one had some time to spare, I suppose one could enroll in France’s renowned Ferrandi Cooking School near Montparnasse and perhaps learn how to make some of these marvelous dishes. However, knowing my strengths and my weaknesses, I will instead continue to enjoy the fruits of these chefs’ marvelously artistic and delicious endeavors.