Sideways to the Messinas’
The name of this Sicilian restaurant – Les Amis des Messina – refers to the friends of the Messina family, and the slick PR on the restaurant’s Web site says that the first restaurant on the Rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine (see below) was launched in September 2000 as a place to entertain the Messina clan members. Since my informant had had a good time at the Faubourg Saint Antoine venue and loved the pasta there, I decided to take her to check out the one in Saint Germain des Prés, almost within sight of the gorgeous tower of the eponymous church.
The “sideways” in the title of this article refers, not to the wine-themed road movie of that name, but to the position customers have to adopt to enter the restaurant through the narrowest door I have ever seen and, once inside, to move about. The place seats around 24, about 10 too many. The most spacious area is the steep spiral staircase leading to the upstairs dining room and the toilets. Obviously, wheelchair access is out of the question.
We were initially seated next to the dumbwaiter downstairs, in a row of tables set so close together that, had they been occupied, would have made us into an intimate party of eight. We asked for seats upstairs and found a nice table for two near the window overlooking the street.
The decor is easy on the eye, with bare stonework, shiny surfaces and designer lighting fixtures. The restroom, however, is antique 1950s, with what looks like 50 years of dings and chipped, careworn paintwork. Odd that after spending so much on the decor, they didn’t touch the toilets. Perhaps it’s their own little time capsule, or perhaps it’s listed. It will certainly convince nonresidents that France is still half a century out of date when its comes to toilet technology.
But enough of the carping, because the food and drink were actually quite good. I chose to start with a pasta dish, strozzacavalli with porcini mushrooms and country ham, which was excellent (except that strozzacavalli, which means “horse stranglers,” are long: my dish came with tube-shaped pasta), following that up with the simplest of deep fried calamari rings: they were excellent, too, just the right consistency and freshness, with a very light batter.
My companion, who found the place rather less lively than its counterpart across the river, had a tortino of eggplant and zucchini with a fennel ricotta center, which was also pronounced first-rate: the eggplant had a lovely creaminess about it. The same creaminess was in evidence in the linguine alla pescatrice, which came to the table perfectly al dente, with black olives among the bits and pieces of monkfish adding a highly satisfying tang to the complex sauce’s creamy texture. Her pannacotta dessert with raspberry coulis and a touch of chocolate sauce on the side, was the opposite of cloying, while my generous glass of grappa was unexpectedly smooth and fragrant. A fine, reasonably priced (€24) bottle of 2005 Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo paired uncomplainingly with the lot.
The clientele in this Left Bank branch of this friendly family restaurant tends to be young and trendy and arrive late for dinner, while the original on the Rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine reportedly attracts a more mixed crowd, who happily gobble down generous plates of delicious Sicilian-style pasta amid an uproarious and just as crowded ambiance.
Editor’s note: The Left Bank location no longer exists, but the Right Bank one is still open (May 2013).
Les Amis des Messina: 204, rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine, 75012 Paris. Tel.: 01 43 67 96 01. Métro: Faidherbe-Chaligny. Open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. A la carte: around €35. www.lesamisdesmessina.com
© 2008 Paris Update
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