If there were any doubt about Paris Update’s former restaurant reviewer Richard Hesse’s ability to sniff out a good restaurant, it can now be put to rest. On a visit to Paris recently from his new home across the Channel, he was walking down Rue René Boulanger on his way to join me for a drink followed by dinner at Thai restaurant Madame Shawn when he spotted an interesting-looking new Italian restaurant called Ciacco. Since we were both more in the mood for Italian than Thai, we cancelled the reservation at Madame Shawn and headed over there.
Although it’s only a couple of blocks from chez moi, I hadn’t noticed that the street, which has been “civilized” (cars are discouraged) by City Hall, has a whole new population of restaurants in addition to Ciacco: an American restaurant, a French restaurant and Inaro, a chic deli with a few high tables for in-house eating. One advantage of the street’s near-pedestrian status for restaurants is that the widened sidewalks offer plenty of space for outdoor tables.
We were slightly put off when we entered Ciacco by the acrid smell of burning cheese that filled the restaurant, but we took a seat by the open door (the evening was warm enough to eat outside on the terrace).
The French waitress was pleasant, but it was the young yet motherly blond owner, an Italian from Puglia, who won our hearts as she discreetly busied herself taking care of her customers’ needs. Spill something on your clothes as one of the Italian ladies next to us did? She’ll arrive right away with a bottle of sparkling water and a napkin to help you rub out the damn spot. Your carafe d’eau getting low? She’ll replace it immediately without being asked. You get the picture.
To start we shared a plate of fine charcuterie, which came with a thin, pizza-sized foccacia sprinkled with fresh rosemary and a few cherry tomato halves. Crispy perfection.
Then the pasta. I had homemade paccheri (fat tubes that were supposedly used in the 17th century to smuggle garlic from Italy into what was then Prussia, where its import had been banned). It came with an unusual sauce that included bits of pepperoni, olives and bottarga (dried mullet roe). Ottimo! I loved it. So comforting and flavorful. Richard’s cep-filled ravioli, also homemade, with a Parmesan-cream sauce, was even more comforting and just as delicious. As soon as the pasta arrived, the owner was there with a hunk of fresh Parmesan and a grater.
For dessert, we shared a light, creamy, classic panna cotta with a raspberry sauce (none of that messing around putting chocolate and other non-traditional ingredients in it). Our wine was a fresh and fruity rosso di Montefalco, an Umbrian wine made with a high proportion of the same grapes – Sangiovese – used for Chianti (thanks to Richard for that bit of research).
Throughout the evening, we had been practicing our rudimentary Italian on the owner, which may explain why she seemed to take a special liking to us. When we asked for the check, she exclaimed, “What? You’re not leaving already, are you?” She came back with bottles of grappa and limoncello to offer us free drinks and keep us happy until the check was ready. When it came, the bottle of grappa came back again, and she brought a glass for herself so we could share a toast.
With a hostess like that, who wants to leave? We sat happily chatting for some time, and when we finally left, there were handshakes and smiles and promises to come back. What a difference from Madame Shawn, where we had been told when we reserved that we would have to vacate our table by 10pm.
I feel very lucky to now have two good, friendly and authentic Italian restaurants – the other is Procopio Angelo – within walking distance of my apartment.
Note: I stopped in another day for a pizza — thin, crispy crust and spicy salami — which is also to be recommended.Favorite