Le Petit Curieux is a neighborhood restaurant with good products to eat in or take out.
A curious thing has happened each of the three times I have eaten at the restaurant Le Petit Curieux: one dish is so delightful that it raises high expectations for the next, which turns out to be slightly – but only slightly – disappointing.
Yesterday, for example, I absolutely loved my main course of pot au feu made with tender beef cheeks adorned with an extremely flavorful, non-greasy fringe of fat and served with tasty horseradish cream instead of the traditional mustard, cornichons and gros sel. It came steaming hot in its own casserole and was filled with perfectly al dente winter vegetables: carrots, parsnips and turnips. Cold-weather comfort food par excellence, perfectly prepared with excellent ingredients.
Dessert was another story. I ordered the apple-pineapple crumble, which, although fresh and flavorful, was unevenly reheated – hot on top and cold on the bottom – and too sweet for my taste. The crumble on top was delicious but rather soggy. My dining companion, a cookbook writer who knows her crumble, having written an entire book on them, pointed out that crumble, currently highly popular in French restaurants and homes, is not a great dessert choice in a restaurant, since the topping will never stay crispy when reheated.
She had ordered the ravioles de Royans with saffron cream for a starter, which was, unusually, baked in a terracotta casserole dish. While it was tasty and cheesy, the delicate little ravioli didn’t take to being baked and were overcooked. Her dessert of crème brûlée was also a bit overcooked on the edges, but creamy in the middle.
For her main course, she had ordered the pastilla, which, according to the blackboard menu, was made with confit de canard, dates, pistachios, honey, cumin, cinnamon, potatoes and mesclun. It sounded like a wonderful interpretation of the Middle Eastern filo-pastry-wrapped dish traditionally made with squab. While it had a nice, crispy crust and a wonderful balance of flavors and spices, it was filled mostly with potatoes, with just a bit of shredded duck and not much evidence of dates and pistachios. The lobster bisque I had for my first course showed a similar lack of the expected main ingredient; it was a lovely fishy, tomatoey broth with a swirl of cream on top, but contained no chunks of lobster.
I got the impression that owner/chef Marc Ranger scrimps a bit on the more expensive ingredients for a laudable reason: to keep prices down. His dinner menu costs only €25 for three courses (€20 for two). The same dishes can be had at lunchtime for €19 for three courses or €15 for two.
Ranger, who learned to cook in Brazil and then worked in Alsace and elsewhere, offers his dishes to go, as well as another innovative service. He has a home in Burgundy and has scouted out the best suppliers in the area. Every week his customers can order a basket of fruits or vegetables, or other fresh products delivered direct from the farm, ranging from guinea fowls to the delicious, odiferous Epoisse cheese from the famed Fromagerie Berthaut. This is a valuable service for those who live or work in the area and appreciate the high-quality seasonal products used in his cooking.
The wine selection, cleverly displayed as a wall of bottles with their prices clearly marked on them, is small but well chosen and reasonably priced. We had a very likable 2008 Terre d’Aigues Côtes du Rhone from the always-reliable Domaine Marcel Richaud.
Located near the Boulevard Beaumarchais and the Cirque d’Hiver, Le Petit Curieux is on the Rue des Filles du Calvaire, which gets little foot traffic, but Ranger nonetheless seems to be filling the tiny place, which has a warm, friendly feel and is simply but pleasingly decorated with a mirrored wall, an exposed-stone wall and a few framed drawings.
The verdict: The ingredients and talent are there; all that is needed is a bit more attention to preparation. I am still curious enough to go back, since Ranger always comes up with something that surprises and delights.
Le Petit Curieux: 16, rue des Filles du Calvaire, 75003 Paris. Métro: Filles du Calvaire. Tel.: 01 42 74 65 79. Open Monday-Friday for lunch and dinner. Fixed-price dinner menu: €25 (€20 for two courses). Fixed-price lunch menu: €19 (€15 for two courses).
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