July 8, 2008By Richard HesseArchive

Going My Way?

When have sardine rillettes ever looked so lovely?

A new restaurant has opened in my old stomping grounds, the quartier Maubert in Paris’s fifth arrondissement, and is already attracting quite a bit of notice. My own interest was piqued on seeing in a French trade rag that the chef of Itinéraires had received an award as a rising star, the Trophée Jacquart de l’Étoile Montante de la Gastronomie. Serendipitously, two readers flagged it as a must-try place at the same time.

Years ago, the restaurant here was run by Toutoune, who had a TV cooking program and whose signature move, in the days before everyday eateries began serving amuses-bouche was to serve everyone soup from a tureen almost the moment they sat down.

Chef Sylvain Sendra, who took over the venue in April, looks fresh out of school but already packs solid experience after running the much smaller Le Temps au Temps over in the 11th arrondissement. His wife handles the front of house with a big smile and plenty of skill, assisted by a brace of waitresses as efficient as they are original. Although our dining companions (the two food-loving readers mentioned above), had been habitués of Le Temps au Temps and were on quite friendly terms with the staff, I could see that other diners were getting the same kind of warm, attentive service as we were.

The restaurant, located on a corner, is very well lit, with soothing café-au-lait-colored walls, some bare stonework and plenty of space between tables. Very pleasant at lunch-time, I’m told, with light flooding in. The day’s menu is written up on strategically placed chalkboards, visible from any table. And chef Sendra can be seen all evening through the kitchen window, keeping his eye on everything sent out of his domain.

He knows his classics but plows his own furrow, with a patent liking for mixing and matching ingredients and pairing them with wines. Many of those on his reasonably priced list are off-piste organic or biodynamic. We began with a Crozes Hermitage Domaine Combier 2007 that nobody really took to, since it was so unlike any other Rhône red we had tried, and then moved on, with the main dishes, to a Cahors red that had pleasing depth and length, but none of the treacly, inky body that wines from that part of France sometimes have.

All the plates got passed round and round (we should have had a lazy Susan), and we all loved what the others had. My gazpacho made with heritage tomatoes was original in color and high in fresh taste. The sardine rillettes were elegantly turned out in a champagne glass. A salad of stupendous veal tongue, crispy on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside, pleased even those who normally avoid tongue.

The daily special was roast quail. I mulled over ordering it, but quailed (sorry) at the thought of trying to politely take apart one of those diminutive, wiry carcasses with knife and fork. I shouldn’t have been so finicky! The bite that came my way was every bit as plump, tender and flavorsome as bigger and usually more amenable fowl.

Besotted as I am with risotto, I loved the chef’s light, fluffy green asparagus offering, while a delightful side dish of mashed potatoes topped with an emulsion of the same, which came with the rich beef cheeks, was squabbled over. Grande dame, the waitress generously brought us a second bowl.

The desserts were another delight. The one that had us all cooing turned up at the table unbidden: a new-season peach poached in a knockout verbena syrup. A deconstructed lemon tart had the mouth puckering pleasantly, while the chocolate ganache dessert was darkly delicious.

Another distraction of the evening was our waitress, Ingrid, who, sadly for her fans, is heading for new pastures in Lyon. Her take on the perky Paris waitress has to be seen to be believed: a born actress, she was enjoying herself hugely.

At €34 for three courses and wines that start around the €20 mark, Itinéraires offers more than good value for money: it’s a real privilege to enter Sylvain Sendra’s very personal garden of delights.

Richard Hesse

Itinéraires: 5, rue de Pontoise, 75005 Paris. Tel: 01 46 33 60 11. Métro: Maubert-Mutualité. Nearest Vélib’ stations: 1, rue de Pontoise; 8-10 rue de Poissy. Fixed-price lunch menus: €29, €35. Fixed-price dinner menus: €49, €59, €79.

© 2008 Paris Update

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