La Bellevilloise

June 12, 2007By Richard HesseWhat's New Eat & Drink

Ceci N’est Pas un Restaurant

The terrace is a great spot – for a drink.

My dining companion was nearly beside herself when I suggested dining at a brasserie on a warm Sunday evening. She wanted al fresco dining and shortly thereafter bounced back with an address gleaned from the weekly Nouvel Obs.

La Bellevilloise is located in a part of the 20th arrondissement that offers a picturesque mix of 1930s social housing, paulownia- and wisteria-draped narrow cobbled streets lined with early-19th-century workers’ houses, and bleak-by-comparison 1960s residential blocks.

The venue itself was a flourishing workers’ cooperative early last century. Today’s incumbents still have a cooperative air about them, serving up food, drink and live music in what looks like a former garage masquerading as a cabaret. It has a very pleasant vibe when you walk in, although this was quickly damped when no trace of our reservation could be found, and the terrace was full.

A table soon came free, however, and was commandeered by the feisty maîtresse d’, so in no time at all my companion was cooing over the terrace’s Brazilian beach-bar atmosphere, a glass of forgettable chardonnay in hand, at least 50 yards from the nearest car.

But oh, the food!

We began with a green salad coupled with taboule and a goat-cheese-filled brik. For all their links with the Lebanon, the French still haven’t realized that taboule is 99-percent chopped parsley. This one was 90-percent couscous porridge. Presentation? Hello? There were shades of pre-Perestroika Russia in the way the food was thrown on the plate.

My companion’s entrecote, ordered rare, came bleu (just seared) and cold inside, with a nondescript gravy, some potatoes and a mix of carrot and cabbage that had certainly cooked longer than it had taken the vegetables to grow. The same mix was dumped unceremoniously on top of my Ricotta-filled ravioli, which was at least properly cooked. We didn’t dare try the desserts, and couldn’t linger anyway because of the understandable 10 p.m. curfew on outdoor dining.

My heart went out to the other diners. There were couples chatting at one table, their small offspring grouped at another, having a grand time and behaving impeccably, as most French children do at table. But they should not be subjected to such sloppily presented, uninspired food. Especially when it comes at prices that similar to those charged in far better places I have reviewed here.

Perhaps it’s a question of low expectations. We can hope that some of those children’s expectations will be raised a lot higher through events like the annual Semaine du Goût (Tasty Tasting Week?; it falls on October 16-22 this year), for which top chefs and foodsmiths get out into classrooms to teach children the lessons they no longer receive at home. As Tom Lehrer famously sang, “Today’s young innocent faces will be tomorrow’s clientele.” Catch them young and treat them right.

That said, I can hardly think of a better watering hole than La Bellevilloise after a stroll in the nearby Père Lachaise cemetery. And if the terrace is full, plan B should be Le Chien Stupide,a café just down the street with a 1930s decor and some quirky, more contemporary touches. Here we were treated to a right royal welcome after our meal, with a fine cognac and a creditable glass of red. If lively Parisian café atmosphere is what you crave, this is where it is, with no 10 p.m. curfew.

La Bellevilloise: 19-21 rue Boyer, 75020 Paris. Métro: Gambetta or Ménilmontant. Tel: 01 46 36 07 07. Terrace open Wednesday and Thursday, 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 3 p.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. A la carte: Around 30 euros for three courses.

Richard Hesse

© 2007 Paris Update

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