Last night, my friend Rachel and I were excited about the prospect of eating at Paris’s newest and biggest restaurant: the 1,000-seat La Felicità (located in the gigantic startup incubator Station F), the latest in the stable of the immensely popular Big Mamma group. The cafeteria is supposed to be open 24/7, but, alas, it was closed, with no explanation – probably last-minute fixes after the soft opening last week.
Sorely disappointed, we consulted my trusty list of restaurants and called Shan Goût, which had just been recommended to me by another friend. Shan Goût is by no means new – Paris Update‘s former reviewer Marie Tatin wrote about it here in 2010 – but it has apparently been through some changes: after having moved to another location, it is now back in its original space.
Quirky and slightly dilapidated, it is decorated with a bit of Chinese kitsch here, a collection of teapots there, and, of all things, a bar covered with wine-bottle corks. A row of wine bottles on top of it gave a clue to the approach of chef/owner Shan Yi, who has absorbed French influences into his cuisine, which nonetheless remains distinctly Chinese.
The man himself, who makes his own noodles and dumplings, cooks everything up fresh and does not use MSG, was alone behind the bar (a woman, presumably his wife, showed up later to wait on tables), with the only other diners a couple of lone men, apparently regulars. He gave us the handwritten menu, with three choices of starter and main course, plus a daily special for each.
On the back is the restaurant’s philosophy, typed with lots of random accents and missing letters, but comprehensible once you get the hang of it. Basically, it explains that the chef comes from a long line of cooks and that his cuisine combines modern and classic Chinese styles with touches of French and other culinary traditions. The exploration of wine pairings is also mentioned, with the goal of creating an “Asian world village.”
We ordered three starters and loved them all: homemade noodles with nicely contrasting rich and tart flavors of sesame sauce and pickled cabbage; tender steamed baby eggplant with soy sauce and chili oil; and wonderful homemade dumplings with pork and chives – much more delicate than the frozen version offered by many Chinese restaurants.
The main courses were delicious but somewhat less interesting. I had the joue de bœuf (beef cheek) with caramel-and-bean-paste sauce and Sichuan pepper. The meat melted in the mouth and the sauce was perfectly balanced. Rachel enjoyed her sautéed shrimp with chili-and-chive sauce. Both dishes were served with organic rice.
For dessert, we had glutinous rice balls, usually not my favorite thing, but I really appreciated Shan’s deep-fried version coated with sesame and rolled in sugar, adding flavor and sweetness.
I don’t know what happened at Shan’s other location, but I like this unpretentious, slightly shabby little place with its homey atmosphere, low prices and personal attention and fresh cooking from the chef. I’ll go back.
And I still want to go to La Felicità!