The Hairdresser and the
A gramophone provides one large piece of the decor at Le Déci.
You have to be careful with restaurants in Paris: they sometimes change owners without changing their names. Twice I have gone to a former favorite in Paris only to find it suddenly staffed by complete strangers, with inferior food on the plate. But occasionally the changeover happens without deleterious effects.
The other night John and Mary (yes, their real names) and I went to Le Déci in the utterly charming Butte aux Cailles area, with its low-rise buildings, teeming bistros and bars, and village-like air. Mary lives nearby, and her hairdresser had told her that after testing all the restaurants in the neighborhood, he had determined that Le Déci was the best.
It turned out, however, that since he had done his thorough testing, the restaurant had been sold. Knowing nothing about this, we settled in, blissfully ignorant or vice versa, and had a coupe de champagne to celebrate good tax news (which means bad income news).
We remained blissful, though not totally ignorant, throughout the meal. The two waiters were genuinely friendly and nice, and one of them took a special shine to us. Apparently the new owners are of the absent variety, which would normally worry me, but they had redecorated the restaurant in a simple but pleasing and colorful style, and had hired staff who really seemed to care about their work and a chef who managed to keep all three of us highly critical Parisian-Americans happy throughout a three-course meal. That’s more than many owner-operated restaurants manage to do.
A quick rundown of our meals. I started with a
fresh, attractive and tasty vegetable tart: tender pastry piled high with finely sliced fresh vegetables (zucchini, radishes, green onions, pickled onions, etc.) and flower blossoms and drizzled with fragrant sesame oil, cream of citron confit and marjoram pesto. Mary had the perfectly fresh beef carpaccio with arugula, crunchy Parmesan gallettes and pesto, while John went for the scallop tartare with cucumber and apple, wasabi ice cream and
roasted hazelnuts, and downed it so fast that we never got a taste.
We were all just as pleased with the main courses. John ordered my usual favorite, the pigeon, which was as red, juicy and flavorful as
it should be and served with bites of foie gras of a high order. I scarfed down my lotte (monkfish) in a robe noire—I never did figure
out what that black “dress” was exactly, but the granular topping was peculiarly delicious on the firm fish. We all shared my tasty smashed new potatoes. Mary loved her lightly friend lieu (pollock) with crispy skin and a buttery sauce. All three main courses were served
with baby vegetables cooked just right.
Desserts were a hit, too, especially my pain perdu with seasonal fruits, nuts and fresh-milk
ice cream, while the moeulleux au chocolat and
strawberry salad with Szechuan pepper and violet ice cream brought no objections.
My one complaint about Le Déci was that the supposed €34 fixed menu really only exists if you order the pollock. All the other main courses had supplements, which makes the set menu meaningless.
And my one worry about this all-round very pleasing restaurant—perhaps still the best in the neighborhood (we’ll have to ask the hairdresser)—is that one day the nice waiters and the good chef will leave and be replaced with inferior versions by those absentee owners. But unless the owner is the chef, I guess that can happen anywhere, so let’s just enjoy Le Déci while we can.
And when in doubt about where to go in an unfamiliar neighborhood, ask the hairdresser.
Restaurant Le Déci: 51, rue des Cinq Diamants, 75013 Paris. Tel.: 01 45 80 61 38. Open Monday-Wednesday and Saturday for lunch & dinner, Thursday & Friday for dinner only. Set menu: €34 (dinner + supplements), €16 (lunch).
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