You won’t see any surfers on Paris’s Canal Saint Martin but you can still get a little taste of Biarritz by the canal at a new restaurant called Maria Belza in honor of two famous seaside sites in Biarritz: the Virgin Mary on the Rock (the Maria in question, whose statue looms large in the restaurant) and an eccentric 19th-century mansion, the Villa Belza.
Right off the bat, the colorful, plush decor distinguishes the restaurant from other Paris bistros, with its inviting sofas and armchairs in shades of blue and dusty pink, mirrors, printed fabrics, antiques, shelves of knickknacks and fringed lampshades.
The other standout here is the gentle friendliness of the servers. And the Basque-influenced food is comforting, generous and well-prepared.
Among the starters, we tried a favorite Spanish dish, pimientos del padrón, those little green peppers that are so tasty when fried until the skin blisters and served piping hot with coarse salt.
It was a winner, as was the burrata with a sauce of piquillos (red chili pepper) and, from Japan, tobiko (flying-fish roe), decorated with sliced almonds, pomegranate seeds and zucchini spaghetti.
Many French restaurants today are making an effort to be more generous with vegetables, which were often sorely lacking in the past. At Maria Belza, the fresh bass came with a generous heap of seasonal veg, including Jerusalem artichokes, and avoided blandness with a chimichurri sauce.
The beef steak with black-garlic sauce, grilled polenta and chanterelles is a treat for anyone in the mood for meat therapy and especially for a lover of garlic and polenta like me.
I was less taken with the “tigre basque,” which consisted of a piece of pork known as the secreto ibérico (a well-marbled part of an Iberian pig found between the loin and the shoulder) served with a tamarind, coriander and Espelette pepper sauce and puréed green vegetables. While there was nothing wrong with it, I didn’t find it inspiring. In spite of the sauce and garnishes on top, it just seemed like a big hunk of meat on top of a pile of mash. An imaginative touch that would link the different elements was missing.
The list of desserts didn’t inspire us either. Rather than gateau Basque, chocolate cheesecake, Irish coffee or apple tart, we chose to share the most unusual offering, the soft-centered chocolate cake with caramelized Taggiasca olives, which were tucked inside the runny center of the delicious cake and were surprisingly complementary.
I don’t see Maria Belza as a destination restaurant, but if you are in the Canal Saint Martin area, it’s a good bet for a tasty, solid meal in a comfortable and attractive setting. Leave your surfboard at home but bring a big appetite.
See our Favorite Restaurants by Arrondissement page to find a good restaurant in the neighborhood where you want to eat.Favorite