|The smiling chefs keep an eye on the clientele and vice versa. Photo © Paris Update|
“It is an adult’s duty to remember,” opines the central character in Anita Brookner’s Brief Lives, mourning the loss of “primal spontaneity” when children learn manners and how to manage sorrow and anger.
I love her books, in which small, tinkling voices awaken the basso profundo of life’s Big Questions, just as the deeper harmonics resonate inside you when you play a chord on the upper registers of a piano.
What has all this got to do with Le Cristal de Sel, you might ask? Not a lot, actually, except the exercise in memory that writing about a restaurant meal you had several days before entails. As your guide, it most definitely is my duty to remember where, what and how. Happily, in the case of this week’s restaurant, the memories are excellent.
As we walked into this blessedly smoke-free zone, we were greeted with smiles almost as wide as the hat of the immaculately kitted chef was tall. Le Cristal has been, our waiter told us, open just a month, which was something of a surprise, given that it was soon full, and people were being turned away (take heed and reserve). The grapevine must work pretty efficiently in this quiet but relatively affluent corner of Paris, only a stone’s throw from Stéphane Martin, reviewed here recently. The nearly all-white decor is a bit cold, but the view into the tiny kitchen enlivens the atmosphere and the diners add warmth, while the noise levels that might be expected in a room with so many hard surfaces subside when people begin tucking into Karil Lopez’s food.
Lopez has struck out on his own after five years working under two-starred Eric Fréchon at Le Bristol, and we should all be thankful for it. The day’s dishes are informally announced on chalkboards, which also list wines to pair them with. We started with a tin of tiny sardines from the house of Ramon Peña, billed on one Web site as “the most sought-after sardines in Spain.” As a lover of canned sardines, I shall certainly seek them out. They were served with butter made by a certain Monsieur Bordier, whose shop is in Saint Malo and is rightly famed. It had been mixed with something shrimpy and complemented the nutty sardines amazingly well. My freshly sautéed asparagus and chanterelle mushrooms in a jus de poulet (more poetic than “chicken juices”) was deeply satisfying, although the presentation in a cooking pot (cocotte) too large for the portion could be improved.
Next came a filet de canette aux épices, navets caramélisées, a plump breast of duckling with a peppery-citrusy sauce that set the taste buds jiving, alongside a fan of turnips which, while good, were upstaged by the spices and could have been better caramelized. I went for the poitrine de cochon à la plancha served with more tiny mushrooms and equally diminutive grenaille potatoes. The generous serving of belly pork had been cooked to a melting turn, real food for the soul on a chilly, rainy July evening.
We did not regret our choice of honeyed Mâcon Villages Thévenet 2001. Nor that of a glass of sweet Côtes de Gascogne, redolent of apricots, with the desserts: an old-fashioned raspberry financier, a pound-cake-like delight made with ground almonds and egg whites, served with vanilla ice cream; and roast apricots with almond cream, also with vanilla ice cream.
These two desserts epitomize the traditional cast to Lopez’s cuisine, which brilliantly soups up favorites from the cuisine bourgeoise cookbook. His evident pleasure at seeing his new venture running as sweetly as a fine-tuned engine was a picture I will happily return to see.
Le Cristal de Sel: 13, rue Mademoiselle, 75015 Paris. Métro: Commerce. Tel.: 01 42 50 35 29. A la carte: around €45. Open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner.
Update July 1, 2009: As of today, in response to the drop in French value-added tax, Cristal de Sel is lowering the price of its fixed-price lunch menu (two courses) from €20 to €18. Individual dishes will go down in price by €1 or €2.
© 2007 Paris Update
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