Le Dôme

Contemporary Blast from the Pas

November 4, 2008By Richard HesseArchive

If you were to pay a flying visit to Paris, eat at Le Dôme and then jet off to your next destination, you might start to harbor doubts about the global reputation for surly behavior that attaches to French restaurant staff. At Le Dôme, the servers come close to achieving that golden-age perfection that many seek in today’s Paris but that few find.

Although this was a return visit (after many years), we were most comfortably surprised by the genuine warmth of the welcome. The splendidly cozy Art Deco interior – with its plush furnishings, wood paneling, quirky layout and happy buzz – was also a surprise. The noise-absorbent surfaces and the layout guarantee that you won’t have to shout to your dinner companions – I even managed a few sweet nothings for my girlfriend Katherine, one of whose birthday treats this was.

The clientele is very mixed, although on this particular evening there were a lot of overfed businessmen (yes, men) in evidence, and I could hear quite a bit of English being spoken.

You go to Le Dôme to eat fish. There is one meat dish on the menu, but as Le Dôme is connected to one of the most outstanding fresh fish shops in Paris (it’s just round the corner, on Rue Delambre – take a peek at the gorgeous fishy ceramics during opening hours), it would be criminal neglect of your taste buds not to eat fish. Pricey, admittedly, but not a rip-off.

Katherine started with encornets farcis, plump, stuffed squid, which were as tender as could be and filled with a mixture resembling ratatouille, cooked in a stunning olive oil that sang a perfect major chord with the nutty squid. My tapas de sardines were half a dozen fat, marinated raw fillets separated on the plate by strips of roasted green and red peppers. Fresh perfection.

For her main course, the good Doctor Katherine chose a risotto of scallops. I don’t do a bad risotto myself, but I was seriously outclassed here. Not only were the scallops a joy, but the porcini mushroom flavor of the risotto was a near-miracle of intensity. I still can’t figure out how they did it. I had rougets en crapaudine – butterflied baby red mullet in a coriander and lime sauce, served with a purée of carrots that was more butter than carrot. The mullet had been flash-grilled, and the sauce had tiny julienne strips of fresh lime peel that amplified the earthy taste of the fish. Bravissimo!

We followed up with a nougat ice cream bursting with pistachios, and Katherine’s favorite, a Colonel – a lime sorbet awash in ice-cold vodka. The wine list is inviting and extensive, and our low-end Quincy was steely fruit, through and through, an excellent example of what the appellation can achieve.

Le Dôme is something of a blast from the past, one of the famous quartet of 1920s “American Bars” at the Vavin intersection that attracted the artistic set of the time. You might expect it to be sitting on its laurels, like the nearby Select and Coupole, but it’s quite the reverse, as you will see. They’re aware of their heritage and justly proud of it, but even so, this is as engaging and contemporary a Paris brasserie experience as you’re likely to get, with excellent food thrown in.

A cheaper option just round the corner in Rue Delambre is the Bistrot du Dôme (1 rue Delambre, 01 43 35 32 00), which also has excellent service and a great vibe, and the same fish supplier as Le Dôme.


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