L’Olivier avoids all the clichés of Greek food.
No matter how much you think you know about Paris, you never know everything. One example: just a few blocks from where I live are two little gems – a Greek restaurant/deli called L’Olivier and a French restaurant/deli called Cuissons – both of which have been around for quite some time, unbeknownst to me. They are located a few doors from each other on the Boulevard du Temple in the third arrondissement, an area that was totally devoid of gastronomic interest until the concept store Merci opened and gentrification started creeping in from the chicer side of the Marais.
I went to L’Olivier at lunchtime, when it offers a set menu, no choices, for €17. This tiny place has been there for eight years, but has recently been redecorated, with the deli counter and open kitchen on one side and white-cloth-covered tables on the other. It is pretty in a simple way, with exposed stone walls and big mirrors.
We started with a pea soup that would have been fine, except that the delicate flavor of
the soup was rather overwhelmed by a generous splash of strong olive oil. That fault was more than redeemed by the main course: flavorful, succulent grilled chicken with creamy polenta, sprinkled with ground pistachios. Dessert was yogurt with stewed fruit as only the Greeks can do it: luscious. Everything is freshly made in front of your eyes, leaving all those clichés of Greek cooking behind.
It’s hard to leave without being tempted by the deli case, which contains such delicacies
as veal chops aged for six months, poutargue (dried fish roe), sheep’s milk feta, yogurt and more, all from Greece, of course. The chef, too, is from Greece.
I was impressed and wanted to go back to taste the more extensive dinner menu, but when I arrived early on a Friday evening, I discovered the place closed for the long holiday weekend. Luckily, I found Cuissons nearby. This is another small, clean place with an attractive
interior: pink-painted counter, exposed-stone walls, wooden beams and white hanging lamps, plus a couple of dramatic orange star-shaped lamps in the window. Magazines and newspapers are available for customers to read in this cozy, friendly place that is open all day.
The charming and solicitous owner/chef came over to discuss what I would like to eat. There are only a few choices of cooked dishes, the other options being soups, sandwiches, salads, tarts, etc. Everything is made with fresh, seasonal products and can be ordered to go or for bicycle delivery in the surrounding area.
I started with mushroom soup, light yet satisfying and not too creamy, topped with a little olive oil and fresh coriander. The pièce de résistance was a generous helping of dorade
(sea bream), perfectly cooked, with a pleasingly sharp lemon and herb sauce in which the high-quality olive oil shone through. Accompanying it was an unusual and surprisingly delicious tian, a layered dish from Provence, in this case consisting of sweet potatoes, eggplant and zucchini. I loved it. For dessert, I had a chocolate-chip “cookie” with fleur de sel that was as big as a brownie.
You know that Cuissons is a place that cares from such little touches as a big bowl of fresh fruit on one table, good sourdough bread, and fresh mint in the carafe of water (brought to your table unasked). And the prices are reasonable. I had a glass of a wonderfully fragrant Vouvray recommended by the owner: a 2012 Domaine Huet.
Now that I know they are there, you can bet I will be returning to both of these simple but out-of-the ordinary little restaurants.
Cuissons: 65, rue de Saintonge, 75003 Paris. Métro: Filles de Calvaire. Tel.: 01 44 78 96 92. Open Monday-Saturday, noon-10:30pm. A la carte: around €20.