The environs of train stations are better known for their low-life lurkers and fast-food chains than for good restaurants, but that has been changing with the arrival of well-known chefs like Éric Frechon (Lazare in the Gare Saint-Lazare. And now we have an excellent bistro called Marrow just down the street from the Gare de l’Est.
Marrow is a cozy little place with massive wood beams, stone walls and a couple of ancestral portraits (seems to be a new trend in bistro decoration) on the walls. Customers can sit at the bar in the front or at another one in the back, looking into the open kitchen, or at ordinary tables. Two young, friendly, well-informed waiters take care of their needs. The only drawback we could find was that the place was too noisy, though not unbearably so.
No distinction is made between starters and main courses at Marrow, and the prices are reasonable for both. Two per person is plenty.
What I really like about Marrow is the original approach taken to various dishes. Butternut soup is on every bistro menu at the moment, but the butternut soup here was exceptional. Creamier than usual, it was beautifully embellished with roasted nuts and tarragon-flavored oil.
The risotto took a truly unusual form: it looked like a crepe, of all things. The wrap part was cheesy and crispy, with the creamy rice inside. It wasn’t as exciting as I expected it to be, but it was very satisfying and generous.
The scallops also took an unusual form, dolled up in crispy kadaif (angel-hair noodles, like those on Middle Eastern pastries), sitting on top of wasabi mayonnaise and accompanied by grilled clementines. One of my friends thought the wasabi and clementines were unnecessary, but I appreciated the thought.
The same friend complained about the super-tender and delicious beef cheeks, which came with a deeply flavorful gravy and mashed potatoes. She thought there was too much beef and not enough mashed potato on the plate. Oh well, you can’t please everyone all the time.
I had ordered the grilled pork belly, which I absolutely loved. Also tender and full of flavor, it was topped with a salad of red and green leaves, a nice contrast to the fatty (in a great way) meat. Bits of grapefruit gave the dish an acidic tang, but like the clementines mentioned above, were rather extraneous.
The desserts were wonderful. We all loved the brownie, which came with a large bowl of whipped cream. It had just exactly the right degree of gooeyness, intense chocolatey flavor and big chunks of walnut inside. One of my friends declared it the best she had ever had, high praise from an American for a brownie not made by an American.
Even better, to my taste, was the poached, spiced pear with tonka-bean-flavored yogurt, topped with a crispy shortbread cookie with caramelized meringue – a fabulous combination.
The third dessert was equally inventive: fresh goat’s cheese with olive oil and assorted nuts with a biscuit on top.
We didn’t try the marrow, the dish the restaurant is named for, but we saw a huge bone being served to someone else that looked as if it had had a very interesting treatment as well. I’m looking forward to gnawing on one the next time I go to Marrow.