Pros: Creative food, caring service
Cons: Can be noisy
The culinary opportunities in the 11th arrondissement around the Rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine have been improving of late. The Square Trousseau has long been a mainstay of the area, and the fairly recent addition of the tiny Caffè dei Cioppi was most welcome. Now Rino, another pocket-sized restaurant with an Italian accent, has been spawned by the nearby La Gazzeta: Giovanni Passerini, former sous-chef of La Gazzeta’s talented Swedish chef, Petter Nilsson, has opened his own place.
Openness seems to be the byword of Italian chefs in Paris. At Rino, as at the Caffè dei Cioppi and Procopio Angelo, both great little Italian places, the chef has nothing to hide. As soon as you enter, you see Passerini and his battalion working away in full view behind what must have once been a bar. A few high tables fill this room, behind which is another small dining room with ordinary tables, thankfully spaced out a little so you are not eating on top of your neighbors.
The decor is simplicity itself: white walls, red banquette, a little exposed brick and orange-glass-shaded hanging lamps. Oh yes, there is one small print on the wall, which adds a splash of red. You get the definite impression that Passerini is far more interested in what he’s cooking than in the decor, and his passion is clear right from the start: on the menu and in the dishes he serves and the delight he expresses when he receives a compliment or is asked about ingredients.
The blackboard menu has nothing particularly Italian about it, even though Passerini is from Rome. Diners can choose to pay €38 for four courses – starter, fish, meat and dessert – €55 for six courses. The menus change daily, but you have to take what is offered – another Paris restaurant trend and, to my mind, an intelligent one, since it keeps costs down and ensures that the food is fresh. We opted for the four-course menu, thinking six would be too much, but each one turned out to be light enough to make six seem feasible.
Another nice touch was the offer of a different glass of wine, selected by the house, for each course. This has the potential to inflate the bill, but in the end it cost a reasonable €36 for eight glasses of wine. We enjoyed the sweetish but fresh and light German Riesling (the only non-Italian offering) served with the first course, but weren’t convinced by its pairing with escargot-filled ravioli; loved the fruity yet flinty white Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico from Terre Silvate with the fish course; were unimpressed by the rather ordinary red that came with the meat course; and appreciated the fizzy Moscato d’Asti dessert wine.
The food, you ask? Each course is full of little thrills for the taste buds. The escargot ravioli was served in a surprising parsnip consommé with a spicy kick to it, though the waiter swore that nothing had been added to it. The succulent lotte (monkfish) came with al dente chunks of topinambour (Jerusalem artichoke) in an emulsion of smoked herring, a nice combination. The dish that provoked near ecstasy was the rich, tender, rosy-pink pigeon with crispy, nutty skin. It came with baby leeks and broccoli in what seemed to be a soy-based sauce with preserved lemons, but which the chef later told us was made with olives, sugar and meat juices. At least we were right about the bits of preserved lemon. Dessert was a lovely flan served with bits of grapefruit and dates.
The only waiter is a nice young Italian from Puglia who keeps a sharp, caring eye on his customers and is generally quick to respond (although a few dishes arrived on the tepid side). The room got a little noisy at the peak of the evening, but it was the pleasant kind of noise made by people enjoying themselves, as we were.
No doubt about it: we will return soon to see what new dishes Chef Passerini has been concocting.
Rino: 46, rue Trousseau, 75011 Paris. Tel.: 01 48 06 95 85. Métro: Ledru-Rollin. Open for lunch and dinner Wednesday-Saturday, for dinner only on Tuesday. Fixed-price menus: €38 (four courses) and €55 (six courses). www.rino-restaurant.com
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