As my friend Bonnie, who lives in Montmartre, will tell you, precious few of the many, many restaurants on the butte are praiseworthy, so I was delighted to discover that a new bistro called Antoine de Montmartre had opened in the neighborhood a couple of months ago.
I met Bonnie and her almost-15-year-old daughter, Oona, my adorable goddaughter, last week. We immediately liked the fresh, bright decor, with brick walls, a molded aluminum bar, colorful stools and high tables – seemingly unavoidable in new Paris restaurants these days, as is the chef cooking in plain sight behind the bar.
We also liked the offer of “mini” portions on the menu, which meant we could order lots of different dishes and share them like tapas. Oona chose the chicken wings, which were tasty but not revolutionary, and the filet de bœuf with Madagascar pepper. The super-tender beef, cut into chunks for easy sharing, was so delicious that she asked for, and got, a second order. This vegetable-loving teenager also wanted a second helping of the al dente green beans, which came with some snow peas thrown in for good measure.
Meanwhile, Bonnie and I were loving the perfectly cooked, grease-free deep-fried calamari with an exquisite tartar sauce. We also tried the rich, strongly flavored tuna cheeks, which came with a stunning ratatouille with a smoky flavor the waiter said came from the wood-burning oven. The only slight disappointment was the French fries, which were flavorful but not crispy enough.
Another highlight was the lemon tart, topped with small cubes of ripe mango, we ordered for dessert. I’ve had a few sublime lemon tarts in my life, and this was right up there with the best of them. Bonnie and I couldn’t stop marveling over it. Oona was less taken with the chocolate croquettes she had chosen, but I appreciated the quality of the runny chocolate in the center of the balls while doubting the wisdom of deep-frying chocolate. (By the way, croquettes feature in a number of fishy forms on the menu.)
We had plenty of kind attention from the waiter, but we wondered why some of our dishes took so long to arrive considering that the restaurant was nearly empty on a Monday evening during the school holidays (vacation time for many French people). I’m guessing there was a glitch in the kitchen.
The Antoine the restaurant is named after is chef Antoine de Heerah, who is becoming something of a restaurant kingpin in Montmartre. He owns three legendary spots in the neighborhood: Le Moulin de la Galette, with its trademark windmill (which was long owned by the brother of chanteuse Dalida); the gourmet Chamarré Montmartre (formerly the three-star institution Beauvilliers); and Au Clocher de Montmartre, once a favorite of theater people because of its late hours (now no longer true, unfortunately).
While I haven’t yet tried those three under his stewardship, judging by Antoine de Montmartre, his efforts can only be improving the hill’s culinary standards.