|For sheer kitsch, the interior can’t be beat, but the food is freshness itself.|
The large vases of cut flowers are the first thing you notice when you walk into La Grille, followed by the tiny size of the paneled dining room – just nine tables. Then you see the headgear piled high on the shelves, donated, says Monsieur Cullerre, the chef, by grateful customers indulging the patronne, who also likes to show off a few lacy baptism dresses. Among these treasures are a sombrero (of course) and a top hat, as well as a fighter pilot’s helmet, complete with oxygen tube, and a shiny modern fireman’s hat.
The real treasures are Monsieur and Madame Cullere, who are still going strong after many years in the business. They have even received a gold award for their services to tourism in Paris. Monsieur Cullere, in the kitchen, could have sat for Tenniel’s Walrus in the Lewis Carroll poem The Walrus and the Carpenter. Madame beams and calls her customers by pet names as she takes their orders and enquires after their needs.
That freshness and tradition reign here was immediately obvious in the starters. The seafood terrine was a large thick slice fishy bits punctuated by pistachio nuts. You and I both know that a seafood terrine is usually made with leftovers and should be ignored. That would be a mistake here, as it is honestly and perfectly made and served with a tarragon mayonnaise that could only have been made that very minute. It was wicked, and my companion allowed me to scarf down spoonfuls of it in between lapping up my oeufs cocotte à la crème – eggs baked in a cream sauce and served in little jars, a dish that tipped the clogged arteries’ scale.
The main course was a whole turbot for two, cooked as simply as could be on the griddle and served with another of Monsieur Cullerre’s killer sauces, a beurre blanc. The whole fish, neatly seared in the time-honored crisscross fashion, was presented proudly at the table before being whisked off and deboned. It came back with steamed potatoes and a tightly packed gratin of more potatoes. Freshness again was all, and the pleasure was such that words failed my normally articulate companion, who was raised within spitting distance of the teeming Gulf of Mexico and had never eaten fish that was not fresh-caught before she beached in Europe.
The dessert of the day was a “dome,” a light sponge-cake surprise filled with more cream and fresh raspberries. I had a coupe dijonnaise – vanilla ice-cream soused with blackcurrant liqueur – simple and delicious.
The restaurant is named after the 200-year-old listed wrought iron grill on the outside of the building, said to be among the finest in Paris. In their own way, the Culleres are a monument too, sadly destined to become culinary history themselves at some point (in what I hope is a very distant future). Despite a steepish price tag, I’m very happy to have sat at their table before they bow out.
Restaurant de la Grille: 80, rue du Faubourg Poissonière, 75010 Paris. Métro: Poissonière. Tel.: 01 47 7 0 89 73. Open Monday-Friday for lunch and dinner. A la carte: around €50, not including wine. Reservations essential.
© 2007 Paris Update
Reader Kathy Strawn writes: “Your article is a perfect description of the restaurant, the food and the hosts. We had a wonderful evening on April 11th, 2008. We met up with a friend who lives in Paris, we had not seen her in over a decade. The Madame was quick to warm up to us as our friend was born on the coast of France and speaks French as her native language. Our friend quickly started calling the Madame “momminette” (this is a phonetic spelling). Madame prepared a special plate of delicious appetizers for us. You are right about the sauces – everything you expect in a French restaurant and more. Two in our party shared the turbot, and it was wonderful. There was a meringue-like dessert with fresh berries, I have had nothing like it before; it haunts me.” April 29, 2008
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