Les Grandes Bouches

October 27, 2009By Richard HesseArchive
les grandes bouches, restaurant, paris

The menu and decor are on the quirky side at this young-mom-and-pop bistro.

Pros: Friendly service, friendly wine list, pleasant surroundings

Cons: Rather noisy

A mom-and-pop restaurant these days is likely to be run by a couple in their late 20s or early 30s, who may have met at a hotel/cooking school and thrown in their lot together because they want to avoid the stress of a big kitchen. There’s now a plethora of these places in Paris, and they are creating a friendly new vibe that’s giving French cooking a better name than it had only a few years back among people who don’t always eat in restaurants of the starred variety.

Their heroes from the previous generation are Yves Camdeborde and Christian Constant, who have trained a whole generation of good cooks who don’t necessarily want the hassle of getting and keeping a star. Among the younger generation of role models, they might look to the likes of William Ledeuil or Gilles Choukroun, who have a quirky take on both the food they concoct and the decor they provide to eat it in.

Les Grandes Bouches seems to be inspired by the latter, at least on the decor side, with banquettes and gaily colored cushions, not-so-standard bistro tables and a peek into the kitchen (in this case, the kitchen sink). Like Ledeuil (or did Ledeuil get it from Caroline and Gauthier, the owners of Les Grandes Bouches?), they use the trick of proposing a set of menu combinations with weird names, while telling you that you can eat anything from any of them, which only spins out the time you spend puzzling out the menu before ordering. Les Grandes Bouches also has a number of daily specials on the chalkboard and a “sausissothèque” – a sausage library – offering a feast based on one particular variation of cured pork.

We used the menu judiciously, choosing a confit goose, almond and mint pastilla – a zingy, meaty wrap of very fine filo-style pastry – and cream of lettuce soup with bacon and a half-dozen fat, seared Erquy scallops sitting in the middle. The pastilla was fine, very hot and tasty. The scallops were fine too, but the soup was only lukewarm, which was a pity.

We followed up with a smoked haddock risotto, which smoked out the restaurant (I love that particular smell) and one of the daily specials, a thick slice of roast pork. We are getting spoiled in good Paris restaurants, since a lot of chefs are now sourcing their meat from good butchers (but we still don’t know where the beasts are raised and butchered, or their names). Here, this didn’t seem to be the case, and I was a bit disappointed by the meat. The risotto was good, but would have better been served as a starter.

An excellent plate of cheese, well sourced and ripened, followed. A rather uninspired dessert was made with quince, in season but not very flavorful.

The high point of the meal – for me, since my companion didn’t partake – was the discovery of a 1927 Pedro Ximenez lurking among the names on the wine list. That’s right: 1927. It came out of the bottle (at €11 for a good-sized glass) looking like Worcestershire sauce and tasting of golden grapes roasted in the sun more than three-quarters of a century ago. I’m nearly swooning from the memory as I write.

So, although I might not in normal circumstances rush back to the Rue de Levis, the chance to sip that wonderful brew again holds a very powerful attraction.

Richard Hesse

Les Grandes Bouches: 78, rue de Levis, 75017 Paris. Tel.: 01 43 80 40 36. Métro: Malesherbes or Rome (quite a trek from both). Nearest Vélib stations: 64, rue de Tocqueville; 19bis/21 Rue Legendre. Open Monday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. A la carte: around €35.

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