If there is any question I am asked at least a handful of times per week it’s, “what are your absolute favorite restaurants in Paris”? which is somewhat akin to asking a parent which child they prefer. I don’t like to play favorites because at this point, there is so much good food in Paris that I feel like I would be doing myself and those asking a disservice by narrowing down my selection to only one or two.
BUT while I value what many chefs are creating in Paris right now, there are only a handful of places I return to time and again. The 5 restaurants below meet my personal requirements for a quality meal, from the atmosphere and service to what’s on the plate. Will these change with time? Possibly. And if they do, I will update this post accordingly. I hope these pique your interest ! Bon appétit !
PIERRE SANG ON OBERKAMPF / ATELIER PIERRE SANG ON GAMBEY
Since Pierre Sang, Top Chef finalist and former Christian Constant pupil, opened his first restaurant in 2012, I’ve observed his evolution with studied interest. His market-to-table ethos carries over to his new atelier Pierre Sang on Gambey, which opened in August, but he has greater confidence. Here, he plays up more of the Korean flavors that recall his origins in a space that feels like a cross between New York loft and wine bar. The five-course meal is carte blanche which some might consider a tired trend but here I think it works well as an introduction to Sang’s passionate cooking style.
About the chef’s talents, fellow food writer Wendy Lyn said “Pierre doesn’t just cook for you, he feeds you”. And therein lies the difference between him and many of the other young chefs that opened restaurants around the same time. He wants nothing more than to give you the best of what he’s got, introduce you to new flavors and share his unwavering passion for cooking with every single guest. There’s a little bit of showman in his sociability throughout the dining experience but it’s all done with heart.
Select tables available by online reservation, no telephone.
You’d think that having Meilleur Ouvrier de France (a prestigious craftsman title) Eric Trochon at the helm of a restaurant would imply steep prices but at Semilla, you’re in for one of the best meals and best deals. The international influence is strong here, where Ferrandi-trained chefs serve up modern interpretations of classic French dishes in a stunning open kitchen. The crowd is mixed, the service is smooth and attentive and the bread, an important element to any meal in France, is rustic and hearty – baked fresh in the adjacent sandwich shop run by the same owners. But the most unique aspect to the menu at Semilla is the option of half-portions on a selection of dishes. It’s tapas with a twist and suitable for all tastes – meat, fish or veggie.
Open 7 days a week. (Be sure to call ahead and don’t miss out on the shiitake mushrooms!)
Charles Compagnon is one of my favorite restaurateurs in Paris. As evidenced by the success of Le Richer and L’Office, his neo-brasserie and neo-bistrot hot spots within a few meters of one another in the 10th arrondissement, he has a firm grasp on what casual dining should be about: accessible prices, seasonal dishes free of pretension but high on technique and an environment that is welcoming at all hours of the day. That experience extended several blocks over when the 52 Faubourg Saint-Denis opened over a year ago. The menu has a similar spirit to Le Richer – fresh, flavorful, creative – but the dining room more spacious.
I like to go for breakfast — big, airy chouquettes, granola and coffee — but my weakness is lunch and dinner where I always find myself surprised and comforted.
Tannat is not only a grape variety produced in the French southwest but the name of the 11th arrondissement latest entry into the bistronomy movement. A block from Inaki Aziparte’s Le Chateaubriand, Tannat was opened by two best friends – Simon Auscher and Ariane Stern – who worked together at 52 Faubourg Saint-Denis (yes, the one above!) after stints at the Shangri-La. Now that the bistronomy movement is anchored into the food landscape, it requires extra care to carve a unique space for new eateries but they’ve done so with the location, the decor (sleek with superb natural light- designed by Ariane’s architect father André Stern who worked on the restaurant in the Waldorf Astoria) and the menu (produce-driven with young chef Olivier Le Corre who left the kitchens of high gastronomic tables like Le Bristol for the world of neo-bistrots, which inspired him more).
They sought to create their ideal restaurant and I believe they’ve succeeded. I celebrated my 30th birthday with close friends here and I return for lunch often. I always look forward to Chef Le Corre’s use of seasonal produce, line-caught fish and poultry and his unconventional desserts. Evidently still loyal to the Compagnon family, they serve the restaurateur’s coffee — Café Compagnon — on-site.
Hot news: this spot has just been awarded the title of Best Table of the Year by Le Fooding for their 2015 restaurant guide. Japanese chef Taku Sekine and megawatt mixologist Amaury Guyot (of the bar Sherry Butt) are behind this neo-bistro in the 12th arrondissement and since day one, I knew their concept of gastronomic-style tasting plates paired with creative craft cocktails was going to find a curious audience. Sekine’s cooking is nothing short of personal, inventive and bold– seeing him in the open kitchen is like a front-row seat to a musical performance where the artist is visibly transfixed by the emotion of the moment, giving off an energy and a sensation that can only be described as spectacular. In opening Dersou, Sekine brought with him high-caliber technique (Ducasse Tokyo, Saturne and Clown Bar) and an insatiable desire to express himself creatively. When I interviewed him for my book, he reiterated what many Japanese chefs have told me: it takes a concerted effort to break free from the rote cooking they are trained to do. They can reproduce recipes – any recipe, almost – to perfection, day in and day out. But they struggle with deviating from the ‘rules’. Here, and in tandem with Guyot who improvises his cocktails throughout the meal based on what Sekine has prepared, his creativity soars.
Dinner is either à la carte (and sans reservation) or the full tasting menu: 5 dishes + 5 cocktails or 7 dishes + 7 cocktails, a bold move in a city that has only warmed up to cocktails paired with food in recent years. The secret, though, is Sekine has the most fun at lunch on Saturday when he tests recipes and incorporates street food influences into the menu. And because the duo has thought the experience through, they also offer one of the city’s best Sunday brunch menus. A la carte dishes vary from avocado toast with feta and fresh vegetables on freshly toasted bread from nearby bakery Boulangerie Bo (one of my favorites) to pancakes with fruit and honey and Taipei style Bo yu.