You won’t find nouvelle cuisine at Chez Grenouille.
Pros: solid winter fare, excellent products, the restaurateur’s justified pride in his work.
Cons: colorless decor
The walk from my second arrondissement office up to Chez Grenouille in the ninth was longer than expected, but it worked up the kind of appetite one needs to get to grips with what Chez Grenouille has to offer: very good animal protein by the bucketload. Its business card proclaims in fitting Gothic script that this is a “restaurant traditionnel,” and in many ways you can’t fault them there: the decor looks like a throwback to the 1970s or beyond, and the menu reads like a 1950s communion feast in a village not far from Lyon, France’s capital of traditional gastronomy.
Chef Alexis Blanchard reigns in a tiny kitchen and a motherly person reigns without, looking after her boys (most of the lunchers when I was there were men) and making sure that they don’t go hungry. We certainly didn’t: after our starters and main dishes, we could only manage about two-thirds of the solid rum baba with a 6-inch-diameter, which was served with real Chantilly cream and its own bottle of exquisite, orange-flavored rum. It’s a good job that it was downhill all the way back to the office after that.
Blanchard is looking in a direction opposite to that of nouvelle cuisine and is not even recognizably on the bistronomy wavelength. He has learned his basics and is attuned to the kind of cuisine whose passing many have lamented. He’s picked up awards for his charcuterie and boudin blanc (white sausage), and would make a great addition to any neighborhood that needs a pork butcher.
My lunch companion chose the onion soup – something I would never do because I find I always have to wrestle with those unruly cheese filaments. But it was a great choice: this was nothing like that insipid decoction dished up to tourists: it was made with a fabulous, meaty stock and packed with extraordinary flavor. Even the cheese behaved itself – no small benefit, in view of my companion’s beard. My own option was a safer brouillade aux morilles (scrambled eggs – at least three by my reckoning – with morel mushrooms). It was light and tasty, and a sensible person would have stopped right there.
But no, we went on to try the ris de veau (sweatbreads) in a cream sauce with more morels, and a tourte au boeuf – a steak pie, the meat nestling in a blanket of luscious, beautifully browned puff pastry, served with a more than generous helping of roast potatoes. To accompany it, we drank a Côtes du Rhône Villages Château Terre Forte 2003 at about €30 that was as meaty and tasty as the rest of the meal. Pierre Jauffret, the grower, is an epicurean to watch out for.
“Good, honest, generous, kind,” were the words I was thinking as I walked back down the hill. Blanchard and his first mate make the world a better place.
Chez Grenouille: 52, rue Blanche, 75009 Paris. Tel: 01 42 81 34 07. Métro: Liège. Nearest Vélib stations: 4, rue Moncey; 28, rue J.B. Pigalle. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Fixed-price lunch menu: €25. A la carte: around €40. www.restaurant-chezgrenouille-paris.com
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