Arabian Weaves a Simple Spell
|From Michelin stars to simple corner bistro.|
|And another erstwhile Michelin-starred chef opens up a no-frills bistro-style eatery. This time it’s Ghislaine Arabian, who, after a rapid exit from Ledoyen a decade ago, opened up her own place, left it, and then traveled the world for a few years before coming to perch at the intimate (about 30 covers) Les Petites Sorcières about six months ago.
It took a while to get a reservation – you need to book a week in advance at least. When I was seated, I immediately got the impression that there was one table too many in the room – mine. The same must have been true for the people at the three or four tables around me, as their chairs must have been bumped into by the ice-maiden waitress and clueless waiter as often as I was (14 times before any food was set on the table; after that, I stopped counting).
Madame Arabian herself took orders from all the tables and then disappeared, perhaps into the kitchen. Certainly, what comes out of the kitchen ain’t bad at all. My razor clams with vodka and seaweed, a first for me (the clams, not the vodka), were very enjoyable, except for the gritty bits (razor clams must be difficult to wash and open cleanly).
My dining companion was expecting, if not fireworks, then at least an inventive take on the classic Flanders snack, croquettes de crevettes grises et persil frit, croquettes made with tiny shrimp accompanied by crisp, deep-fried parsley. Disappointed, she pronounced them to be a fairly damp squib; perfectly fine, but nothing more.
Next came a large chunk of roast cod, with a topping of deep fried onions, fresh spinach and a beurre blanc made with a Belgian abbey beer. It was perfectly cooked, and the onions added just the right jazzy touch to the cod. We wondered idly whether it had been sustainably fished. Madame Arabian names all her suppliers at the end of the menu – cheese, pastries, fruit and vegetables, meat, bread, etc. – but doesn’t mention a source for the fish, which figures prominently on her menu. Again, we wondered idly why. I know that it’s not very logical to complain about seeing endangered species on the menu and then go ahead and eat them, but many French restaurants seem to be unaware that certain species of fish have almost been fished out. We just got carried along with the current, I suppose.
I myself went for an excellent chunk of hanger steak from a named breed (Rouge des Près – a beautiful russet beast, mainly reared in the Maine-Anjou region of the western Loire) in a pepper sauce, with some excellent fries on the side. Other hearty choices that day included veal kidneys cooked with juniper, saddle of Lozère lamb with rosemary and pommes boulangères, goatfish fillets with caponata, and supreme of duckling with creamed mushroom sauce. I mention these to give you a sense of the four-square bistro-style fare.
In truth, I wasn’t expecting something quite so down-to-earth, which is not to detract from the quality of the food at all. Arabian’s reputation as a starred chef had preceded her, and I, like my companion, was expecting more culinary excitement. Not so, I think, the other patrons, many of whom were locals and who tucked in joyfully, happy to have someone famous on their doorstep who serves generous platefuls of food you need a knife and fork to eat.
My dessert of strawberries, with its basil sauce and speculoos (a sort of Belgian ginger cookie) ice cream, helped me to round off the meal contentedly.
Madame Arabian seems to have turned her back on the pursuit of three-star brilliance, but is working some very creditable, un-showy magic at Les Petites Sorcières, providing hunger-satisfying, thoughtfully sourced food for her happy customers.
* three courses, not including wine
© 2008 Paris Update
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