You never know anymore who might be toiling away behind the stove in an anonymous little neighborhood restaurant far from the center of Paris (a shining example is Jin Xin Lou, where a gourmet meal can be had for €20). At the nondescript Le Sot-l’y-Laisse on the outer limits of the 11th arrondissement, it’s Eiji Doihara, the former chef of Paul Bocuse’s brasserie in Tokyo, another one of the many Japanese chefs in Paris who are helping to revive the reputation of French cuisine.
Alerted by my friend Jean-Michel, who had tried and loved it several times, I trekked over there for lunch with him, another friend, Kate, and her puppy, Marvin, who was welcomed with open arms by the friendly waitress and given a bowl of water (there is no French law banning dogs from restaurants, as long as they don’t go into the kitchen, although restaurants have the right to refuse them if they wish).
There is basically no decor at Le Sot-l’y-Laisse, just mismatched tables and chairs, white-painted walls, a mirror and some bottle-laden shelves. The restaurant’s name, by the way, refers to those two tender bits of meat called “oysters” on the back of a chicken; the French phrase literally means “only an idiot would leave them behind.”
While we waited for our first courses, Jean-Michel made up a little poem: “Si ta pensée est confuse, Fait que dans le vin elle infuse” (“If your thoughts are confused, Let them in wine be infused”). We did just that by ordering a fine bottle of Burgundy: a 2012 Mercurey Vieilles Vignes from François Raquillet (€39).
Kate and I opted for the €25 lunch prix fixe. She started with the light and refreshing sashimi-style albacore belly served with Japanese mixed leaves and a citrusy dressing, enlivened by pink peppercorns.
I had the asparagus with a soft-boiled egg and mousseline, which tasted like a wonderfully airy hollandaise sauce.
Both were excellent, but the undisputed winner was Jean-Michel’s à la carte dish of amazingly tender razor clams marinated in citrus and served with white truffles and chanterelles.
Kate’s main course took top honors among the three: a Provencal dish, artichokes à la barigoule, here served with a fillet of cod. What made this version outstanding was the complex, herb-infused broth. When Kate had had her fill, I couldn’t help finishing it.
I had a simple dish of chicken on a bed of mashed potatoes. Both were fine, especially the chicken, which was richly flavored and tender, with slightly crispy skin.
Jean-Michel’s bass was beautifully presented with wild asparagus, flowers of coriander and thyme, and an oyster leaf. While it was very good, he didn’t seem to be dazzled by it.
Desserts were a lovely vanilla crème brulée for Kate and, for Jean-Michel, a delicious version of an old favorite rarely seen on Parisian menus these days: tarte tatin.
I got the best deal this time; because they were out of the salad of oranges with Campari jelly and vanilla ice cream listed on the prix fixe menu, I got the replacement dish, a fabulous combination of mascarpone, preserved cherries and white-port aspic.
The waitress seemed a bit overwhelmed by her job. We had a very long wait after finishing our main courses, and when I pointed to my watch to indicate that we were in a hurry after she had spent a good 10 minutes chatting about wine with an American couple, she took offense and complained to me that she was all alone in the dining room. True, but it is a small dining room and nearly everyone had left by then. Few working people have well over two hours to spend on lunch these days, even in France. Apart from that little incident, however, she was lovely.
Poor Marvin didn’t get anything to eat – we ordered no cheese, his favorite dish – but we didn’t hear one word of complaint from him. Une vie de chien!Favorite