Desertion of one’s post is a serious offense, but in the case of Les Déserteurs, no court martial will be required. In fact, I think a medal of valor is in order for Daniel Baratier and Alexandre Céret, who left their jobs as chef and sommelier, respectively, at Le Sergent Recruteur (hence the name of the new place) to open this little restaurant in the space that used to house the fine Italian bistro Rino (not to worry, fans of Rino; chef/owner Giovanni Passerini is apparently looking for a space in which to eventually open another).
My friend Connie and I were somewhat flummoxed at first glance by the day’s menu, which states that four dishes can be had for €45 and six for €60. Two of the six dishes (which included two desserts) listed on the menu were in italics for no apparent reason. When the charming Céret, who takes care of the service alone, finally got around to coming to our table, he explained that if you choose four dishes, you don’t get the ones in italics. Since Connie doesn’t care for squab, which would have been would one of the four dishes if we chose the €45 menu, we felt a bit like we were being pushed to order the more expensive one, which we didn’t really want. Céret kindly agreed to substitute the tuna, however, for the pigeon. Problem solved.
It was the only one we had. After that the dishes flowed from the open kitchen (on the right as you enter the restaurant) in good time, each one original, delicious and a delight to explore, flavor by flavor.
The first was a perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg accompanied by a wonderfully mild onion
from Trébons in southwest France (so famous for its onions that the residents are known as “onion-eaters”), shitake mushrooms and a bacony crumble, over which Céret poured cold carrot-top soup with tiny pools of fragrant olive oil floating on top of it.
Next came a dish of zucchini, normally a personality-challenged vegetable, given plenty of added character in this version by its accompaniments: an emulsion of olives, an
anchovy-flavored mayonnaise, fresh mint and purple basil leaves, and a scattering of flavorful Kalamata-olive powder. The zucchini itself was cooked in such a way that it was positively succulent.
“Succulent” was also the word for my squab, from Mesquer, France, where the pigeons are raised humanely and fed healthily. It was simply prepared with a crispy skin and served
in its pan juices with a crunchy piece of raw turnip and a creamy roux. When she tasted its rich flavors, Connie decided to rethink her aversion to the much-maligned bird.
Her super-fresh albacore, cooked the way it should be – barely at all – came with a caper
vinaigrette, anchoïade and baby leeks.
We skipped the cheese course (€5 extra), and missed out on the italicized strawberries with a muscovado-sugar tuile and elderberry (which seems to be popping up on menus all over Paris these days) ice cream. Our dessert consisted of salted-caramel ice cream with
wafer-thin chocolate cookies and a sort of sesame powder.
With it all, we had a fine bottle of Daniel Bouland’s 2012 Morgon Corcelette.
The decor at Les Déserteurs remains much the same as it was at Rino, simple, with high tables in the front and normal ones in the back, a bit of brick wall, a wall of bottles, nice hanging light fixtures and not much else. That’s fine. The complexity is in the plate. As long as the chef doesn’t go AWOL, Les Déserteurs should go marching on for a long time to come.Favorite