Dining Well for a
Manger’s talented pastry chef works in a glass cage.
In his book Au Revoir to All That, wine and food writer Michael Steinberger observed that instead of constantly complaining about the difficulty of getting good help, French chefs might look to the suburbs, where youth unemployment is chronically high, as a source of labor. Hiring from the banlieues would not only help integrate previously excluded young people into the French workforce, but would also add a little color to kitchens where the only nonwhite faces have traditionally belonged to the dishwashers. Jamie Oliver has been doing it in Britain for some time, and now Thierry Monnassier, a restaurant developer, has finally put the idea into practice in France in the new restaurant Manger, hiring and training young people referred by the unemployment office.
Paris has had “restaurants associatifs” before, but Manger raises the idea to a new level. Located near the Bastille, the spacious restaurant has a chic modern decor, all in glass, black metal and marble, its hard edges softened by patterned green cushions lining the banquette. The staff labors in the open kitchen behind the long bar, while the pastry chef creates his concoctions in a kind of glass fishbowl.
Chef William Pradeleix, formerly of the Connaught in London, has devised his own menu, but also invites famous chefs like Pierre Gagnaire and Yannick Alléno to create €55 tasting menus called “Dîner des Chefs” (10 percent of the proceeds of these menus are donated to Monnassier’s association Toques et Partage). Since all the big chefs were still on vacation when we ate there at the end of August, we couldn’t order this special menu and instead opted for dim sum and a dish of bonito tataki as starters. The dim sum were tasty, especially the ones stuffed with meat and
shrimp, but could have done with a more creative touch. The tataki with a sesame crust
was fresh and served in a generous helping, but was rather bland even with the green tomato condiment on top.
We did far better with the main courses. Although we were disappointed that the restaurant was out of one of the three meat offerings, canette laquée aux épices, we were especially pleased with the veal medallions
with a lemon condiment. It came with nicely cooked vegetables and tagliatelle with an unusual smoky flavor, which turned out to come from dashi, or fish stock, in the cooking water. The pièce de bœuf came with a strong peppery sauce that tasted like it contained
hoisin sauce and rather overpowered the beef. On the side was a dish described as mousseline de carottes à la main de Bouddha, and it was indeed heavenly: buttery, light, smooth and flavorful, probably the best dish we had that evening.
It had strong competition from the desserts, however. The cappuccino-style chocolate and
coffee dessert came in a big cup with a rich chocolate sauce under the creamy topping. The
Paris-Brest pastry was just as luscious. The meal was accompanied by a very likable and reasonably priced 2010 Côte de Rhône, Paul Jaboulet Ainé’s Parallèle 45.
While not everything was perfect at Manger food-wise, the meal got better and better with each course, and the overall experience was thoroughly enjoyable, thanks to the friendly and efficient service, handsome surroundings and mostly delightful food.
Two other big pluses: diners have a little space around them and are not jammed up against their neighbors, and the noise levels are perfectly tolerable, a pleasant surprise in such a large restaurant (seats 80). I would definitely go back, and not just because this is laudable social enterprise that has the blessing of the city of Paris.
Manger: 24 rue Keller, 75011 Paris. Tel.: 01 43 38 69 15. Open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. A la carte: around €45. Tasting menu: €55.
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