The aptly named Café Les Deux Gares is located smack between the Gare du Nord and the Gare de l’Est (within walking distance of each other) at the top of a handsome double staircase. This used to be an ordinary café with wonderful vintage train seats on its terrace from which you could sit comfortably looking out at the big, empty sky – a rare commodity in Paris – over the train tracks of the Gare de l’Est.
The train seats are gone, and the restaurant’s decor has been spiffed up, but the experience of sitting on the terrace and contemplating the big sky is even better now that the city has pedestrianized the Rue d’Alsace (and created a new park with a view, the Jardin Marielle Franco, across the street). And the once-ordinary café is now a restaurant with a chef, Jonathan Schweizer, who has been termed “brilliant” by at least one reviewer.
After dining there the other evening, I would agree with that assessment: the meal truly started off brilliantly. Since there were several interesting-looking starters and only three main courses, we decided to order three of the former and share one of the latter. This turned out to be a great decision, especially when it came to the merlu (hake) with a polenta crust and cocos de Paimpol (tender French white beans that are currently in season). The fish, decorated with a coquettish nasturtium flower, was a dream with its crunchy coating, as were the beans, which swam in a lovely creamy/lemony sauce.
Right behind it in fabulousness was a dish of lamb sweetbreads, which also had crunchy breading covering the succulent sweetbreads. They came with a delicious salad of finely sliced raw fennel and basil.
The third starter was a bright, fresh dish of raw line-caught white tuna with tomatillos (Mexican husk tomatoes) and sweet white onion, accompanied by whole and puréed figs.
From the three main courses (the other two were cuttlefish and veal sweetbreads), we chose the pork shoulder, which came with probably the most wonderfully flavorful carrots I have ever tasted, garlic cream and pear condiment, with some fresh tarragon leaves sprinkled on top.
Altogether, it amounted to just the right amount of food for two people and left enough room for dessert. Of the two on the menu, the amazingly creamy crème brûlée with hazelnuts was our favorite, but the verbena ice cream with Espelette-chili-flavored cream and toasted buckwheat came in a close second. The heat of the mild peppers was not evident at first, but soon made itself felt in a pleasant way.
I recognized a couple of Schweizer’s trademark moves from a meal I had had a few years ago when he was the chef at Sauvage (a return visit there is in order now that it has a new chef): raw fish paired with fresh seasonal fruit and Espelette chili pepper in desserts. One of his quirks that wasn’t on display here was his tendency to make sauces with unusual ingredients like brioche and zucchini, which I wasn’t thrilled with at the time, so it’s just as well.
If you are riding the rails east or north of Paris and need a good meal, this is the place to go, but even if you are just coming from across town, go anyway – you’ll definitely be on the right track.Favorite