Was it the candlelight or the strong wine that made Chatomat seem so magical?
THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.
Pros: cozy atmosphere, off-the-beaten-track location, delightful service, good gourmet sense, heady wine
Cons: can’t think of a single one
Parisian foodies’ favorite restaurant of the moment promises to open for lunch soon, but for now, the joys of Chatomat are available only when night falls, in the intimacy of the simple, cozy little dining room, where cool jazz plays at a homeopathic volume. If we could have, all 20 diners would have been purring with contentment, so pleased were we with being among those in the know, foresighted enough to have booked (a week in advance in our case; we got the last two tables) just before Chatomat was named 2012 Best Restaurant by Le Fooding.
With its warm atmosphere, not-too-fancy food with well-balanced flavors, and heady wines, this was just the place we needed after a hectic weekend. There is something magical about this place that lends itself beautifully to a tête-à-tête: go there with a good friend or a sweetheart (the kitchen, by the way, is also run by a couple of sweethearts: Alice Di Cagno and Victor Gaillard).
We started with a glass of limpid, fruity white Orbois from Touraine, an indicator of the house style: subtly balanced, with no showing off, but full of surprises, just like the complimentary
appetizers – oysters with citrus juices and bites of toast with blue cheese.
The delightful meal that followed was characterized by good sense and attentive service. The good sense was evident in the understated reinterpretation of down-home dishes. I started with delicately shredded
oxtail in ravioli accompanied by chopped cabbage and puréed Brussels sprouts, while my friend had the roasted sweet Cevennes onion served with a light potato purée flavored with humble Cancoillotte cheese and livened up
with a dash of white wine. I thought the flavor of the cheese could have been stronger, but that’s a mere quibble. As for the attentive service, it never failed, and the sweet waitress was always willing to ask the chefs for details on the dishes when we asked.
The dinner moved to a different level with an aptly named bottle of Vavavoum, a Corbières with a 14 percent alcohol content and a powerful bouquet, the kind of wine that gets you talking with your hands and knocking glasses over. Oops!
To go with the wine, we sampled veal brisket dusted with chopped pistachioes and served
with Jerusalem artichokes and endives, and an amazing mallard duck in a sort of mole (a complex Mexican sauce sometimes made with chocolate) made with acai berries, served with
baby mustard greens and a little cinnamon-flavored spring roll.
While the chefs seek inspiration in faraway places, they keep their feet on the ground – they scored again with the Comté cheese served with good quince paste.. Then they won us over entirely with a homey dessert transformed into sophisticated fireworks. For my friend, who grew up in the United States, French toast is a childhood comfort food, and her eyes lit up with the first bite of this golden version spiced up with cardamom, topped with persimmons and served with honey-camomile ice cream – a perfect gem.
Chatomat’s unusual name, by the way, is said to be a punning response to Chateaubriand (read “briand” as “brillant”), supposedly the 11th best restaurant in the world, according to Restaurant magazine.
We left this enchanting place, full of positive vibes, in a dreamy, euphoric state, hopped on Vélibs and rolled downhill into the beautiful autumn night.
I’m going to try reserve for next Saturday night, so I can continue my purring at La Féline, a hot nightspot a few doors away.
Chatomat: 6, rue Victor Letalle, 75020 Paris. Métro: Ménilmontant. Tel.: 01 47 97 25 77. Open Wednesday-Sunday for dinner only. A la carte: around €40.
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