The next time someone asks me to recommend a restaurant for a special occasion, I will have one on the tip of my tongue: Les Climats. This beautiful space with a handsome Art Nouveau decor – complete with high arched ceilings, stained glass, palm trees, a winter garden and even that rarity in Paris, a real garden, where lunch is served when the climate allows – used to be the canteen for La Maison des Dames des Postes, Télégraphes et Téléphones, built in 1905, where over a hundred single ladies who worked for the PTT were housed in – a luxury! – heated rooms. It’s impossible to imagine such deluxe accommodations being built for government employees anywhere today, so let’s be thankful that this one was preserved.
We were seated in the winter garden and given extra-special attention by the sommelière and the various waiters and busboys. They started us off with two amuse-bouches: crispy tubes filled with Comté-flavored cheese and cauliflower-cream dumplings topped with salmon roe, accompanied by light and fluffy little focaccias with an olive-oil-soaked basil leaf on top.
My lunch companion and I had come to try out the restaurant’s new chef: Emmanuel Kouri, who has worked with some of France’s leading chefs. We both know what we like, and we ordered the same thing from the two choices on the lunch menu (€45), passing over the first course of scallops with blonde lentils and the main of cod with smashed potatoes.
So, the first course for both of us was a free-range egg in a delicate cep-infused bouillon enriched with lardo di colonnata, with tiny mushroom sticks floating in it. Lovely.
The next course was as hearty and generous as the first one was subtle and minimalist: venison in Grand Veneur sauce. The meat was delicious but not as gamy as I would have liked, the sauce luscious. It was served with the most wonderful parsnips two ways: roasted crispy/tender and puréed.
We shared the fine cheese plate with quince paste and the dessert of the day: roasted winter squash paired with fresh mandarin oranges on a cake-like base with caramelized hazelnuts. The weird-ingredients-in-dessert trend, which I had thought was over, is still with us but seems to be handled better now (several years ago, I was actually served a chocolate dessert with anchovies in it). The squash was sweet enough to blend in well, but I’m still not in favor of the practice.
We got all the sweetness we wanted from the post-dessert desserts: a citrus-flavored marshmallow and a little puff pastry with tonka-bean-flavored filling.
Les Climats no longer has any connection with the French postal service, but it still has a picture-postcard interior and food worth writing home about. And wouldn’t it be interesting to know what those postal ladies were served for dinner in 1905?