Saturday afternoon, the 15th consecutive day of rain and unseasonal cold, I huddled into Jeanne A to catch up with a friend. The previous evening, she and her husband had their first experience at Frenchie - the ne plus ultra of Paris néo-bistrots and one of the hardest spots in the city to score a reservation. While they couldn't deny the exceptional value for such beautifully fresh, imaginative plates, they were put-off by the entirely English-speaking crowd - a ubiquitous reality for today's top tables once they've made the rounds in international press.
So when my friend Sasha (Savoir Faire) booked us a table at the freshly-opened new venture from Saint-Germain stalwarts Juan Sanchez and Drew Harré (the duo behind Cosi, La Dernière Goutte and Fish), I feared we were in for a similar fate. Semilla sits right across the street from Fish, the popular restaurant and petri dish for expats, where english voices bellow from rustic, communal tables. I had only read a few tidbits about this new place prior to going (all promising) but I wasn't expecting to find myself among a mixed crowd.
Semilla proved me wrong (hooray!). The stone-walled dining room welcomed a predominantly French group with only small pockets of native English speakers. We were book-ended by enthusiastic diners of all ages, most of whom could be heard raving about the wine list and eagerly examining and discussing the market-fresh menu within moments of settling into their tables. Three or four obliging servers (also of various nationalities) weaved around the tables hurriedly and were more than happy to provide their personal recommendations. It was the cheeriest contemporary bistro I've been to in ages.
In the gorgeous, open kitchen, Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF) Eric Trochon led a small army of Ferrandi chefs who churned out a mix of original dishes and modern interpretations of French classics. But the real selling point here is that a number of the entrées and plats are available in half portions for tapas-style dining and there is enough choice to satisfy everyone's food proclivities.
We, along with almost every table around us, shared the must-have seared shitake mushrooms before digging into our main courses - a perfect cabillaud with celery purée and a side of garlic-braised ratte potatoes for me and the rich, squid risotto for Sasha (very filling - get the half portion if you plan on sharing other dishes). Generous slices of the crunchy, rustic bread from Cosi, next door, are piled into baskets on every table, impossible to ignore. Together, it was the perfect meal. I nodded my head with each bite, confirming that Semilla had nailed all the elements of the dining experience.
Snagging a reservation isn't a problem (for the moment; call several days in advance to be sure), the greeting is genuinely warm-hearted, the food is fantastic, devoid of frippery, and the turnout is, thankfully, varied. And the price? The kind of affordable that will turn this young working professional (and right-banker) into a regular.
54 rue de Seine, 75006
Métro: Odéon, Mabillon
Open daily; lunch (fixed menu), snack, dinner