Returning to Paris from a relaxing vacation in the South of France some years ago, a friend and I walked out of the Gare de Lyon and looked at each other balefully. We were not yet ready to return to our respective apartments and re-enter real life. As we left the station, the bright lights of the row of brasseries and cafés across the street called to us. Since we are both food snobs, train-station brasseries are not the kind of restaurants we would normally frequent, but the desire to prolong the holiday spirit overtook us, and we went to one of them and ordered steaks and fries. It turned out to be just the right way to ease back into life in Paris.
Today, a newly arrived traveler from the South has another, more refined option: Aux 2 Saveurs, a new restaurant just around the corner from the station, on the rather seedy Rue Émile Gilbert. Officiating in the kitchen is Shin Maeda, the umpteenth Japanese chef in Paris specializing not in the cuisine of his own country but in French fare.
The interior of Aux Deux Saveurs looks modern and minimalist at first glance, but a few decorations, including a display of copper pots, and pleasant lighting – not too bright, not too dark – give it a warm, inviting ambiance. Best of all, the ceiling’s excellent soundproofing – given the seal of approval by one of my companions, a movie sound engineer – meant that we could hear each other even when practically whispering. What a rare pleasure!
The meal began with a pleasant little amuse-bouche of parsnip mousse, with a couple of curry-flavored parsnip chips on top.
I followed that with tempura of merlu (hake), one of the few Japanese-influenced dishes on the menu, tasty but not especially exciting. I found the wonderful watercress salad with grapes, cauliflower, cucumber and pickled seaweed that accompanied it even more enjoyable.
Of the three starters, the best was the generous serving of melt-in-the-mouth salmon gravlax, served with dill-flavored cream, bits of grapefruit and homemade mini-blinis.
The poultry pâté en croûte with foie gras and hazelnuts – meaty, rich and super-fresh –came in a close second.
Having greatly enjoyed the starters, we were a bit disappointed by the main courses. Two of us had the joue de bœuf (beef cheeks), usually a tender and flavorful choice, but we found the meat to be a bit dry. The dish was well-accompanied by baby carrots cooked two ways: sautéed and puréed.
The other main dish we tried was suckling pig with eggplant “caviar” and Swiss chard. Like the beef, some pieces were dry, but others were more succulent. The friend who ordered this dish found the accompaniments to be rather bland and not well matched with the pork.
The desserts couldn’t have been more classic, so classic that they have long been neglected by most avant-garde restaurants. I had a fine, absolutely comme il faut Paris-Brest (doughnut-shaped chou pastry filled with praline cream).
One of my friends indulged in the excellent poire belle Hélène (poached pear with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream, invented by Escoffier in honor of Offenbach’s operetta La Belle Hélène), served here with a madeleine.
The third dessert was a perfect baba au rhum with whipped cream. After pouring rum over the airy-light cake, the server left the bottle on the table for further dousing, as is the custom (although it is not always followed).
Everything was unfailingly fresh and carefully prepared, but perhaps a smidgen too classic: a little more daring would have been welcome. As is often the case, we were far more impressed with the starters and desserts than the main courses. Still, Aux 2 Saveurs is definitely worth a visit and even a return visit. Remember it the next time you get off the train and don’t want to go home.Favorite