Pros: Jovial chef, romantic atmosphere, inventive dishes
Cons: No set-price menu
Expect a warm welcome from the jolly white-hatted chef and proprietor of this quaint restaurant near the Marché d’Aligre. Shaking hands, Guillaume informs us that business is booming, seemingly unfazed that, on this Saturday evening, the café-au-lait leather chairs and slate-colored banquettes are only half-full. Much to our surprise – for two reasons. When we rang to book we were told that 9 p.m. was the only possibility, but after some hesitation, 8 p.m. was, okay, doable. On our previous, premier visit, the 22-seater buzzed with locals and others “in the know.” Maybe it was an off day, and inevitable, for a relative newcomer that sits just across from the sprawling, widely acclaimed La Gazzetta.
The minimalist interior is both charming and chic: dimmed lighting and walls shrewdly peppered with arty black-and-white shots from various angles of the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand in the rain. Taupe runners drape over polished, umber wood tables flickering with tea-candles in photophores with leopard-skin designs. A tiny bar fig-leafs the equally tiny kitchen behind, where bottles of liquor stand to attention alongside decanters of Guillaume’s prime, prized rums, which we were blessed to sample with desserts (though not our “just deserts”).
But it all started with Macon-Chardonnay, a bold, round Burgundy we chose because the name stood out – Domaine de la Main d’Or – the name of a street near our flat where the vigneron, Gérard Doussau, keeps his Paris office. As an accompaniment, the extremely accommodating, enthusiastic waiter in Ray Ban specs proffered a savory amuse-gueule of toasted blini topped with tomato tapenade.
While Miel et Paprika bills itself as a champion of traditional cuisine, the choice tends more to the nouvelle and is served-up on modish trapezoidal white plates, drizzled with tasty coulis. The restaurant’s name couldn’t be more appropriate when it comes to the fare, which consistently pairs the sweet and savory, attempting to strike a balance and pulling it off most of the time.
The offerings proved reasonable, but there was no fixed-price menu. Entrées ranged from €6 to €9. On the low end: egg en cocotte with Serrano ham and sun-dried tomatoes; on the high: croustillant de foie gras de canard au Sud-Ouest with tangy baked rhubarb. My companion liked the unfancy sound of the latter, though it turned out to be less tangy than sweet. In fact, the honeyed, somewhat pasty pastry overpowered what might’ve been a heart-rending fatted duck liver. I, on the other hand, couldn’t resist the lengthier (and heavily accented!) tartare de thon à la coriandre fraîche et au citron vert, légerèment epicé, pané aux graines de sèsame torréfiées “facon Tataki,” coulis de goyave au thé vert. Unfortunately, the magnificent juxtaposition of flavors and flairs fell flat on what I suspect was a day-old fish (fridgy cold and a tad unpink) – a shame, considering the five outstanding fishmongers a stone’s throw away.
Pass on. The main courses were a zing: succulent fillets of quail buddied with morilles mushrooms, basking in a rich wine sauce; seared rounds of St. Jacques cuddled in pancetta, spanned by baby carrots and dashed with raspberry balsamic. Then came our “just” and “unjust” desserts. A chocolate craving nudged out indulgences such as apple crumble with cinnamon-and-raisin, tiramisu à la mascarpone mousse, and fresh mango soup accented by Madagascan vanilla. So there it was – a luscious trio of coeur coulant oozing with intense dark Haitian chocolate, a mochachino frappé in a shot glass and a dumpling of icy vanilla yoghurt.
After the other customers departed, Guillaume graciously presented an ample sampling of his self-concocted rums, which ranged from coffee to vanilla, pepper to ginger and, of course, honey. While we enjoyed his company and friendly banter during the proceedings – as he flitted from table to table – we also couldn’t help thinking his real place was in the kitchen: he is clearly a chef who takes his food very seriously. He even gave me his paper hat.
Miel et Paprika: 24, rue de Cotte, 75012. Tel.: 01 53 33 02 67. Open Tuesday-Saturday for dinner. A la carte: €25-€30. www.miel-et-paprika.fr
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