When I arrived at the restaurant a friend had chosen for our lunch date in the 13th arrondissement the other day, I realized that I had already been there, way back in 2014. Simone was wonderful then, but things can change, so it was time for another review.
The small restaurant was not much different, but there was a new chef(fe) in the kitchen, which is really part of the dining room, barely separated by the bar. I admired the great concentration of Joanna De Noblet (formerly of Daniel Boulud Brasserie in Dubai) as she worked away with her assistants, undistracted by the diners so close by.
Simone, which also has a wine bar around the corner (48, rue Pascal), specializes in natural wines. Last time I was there, we had had a couple of glasses that we enjoyed and then a couple that we found unpleasant. This time, between the two of us, we sampled four different wines and found them all to be delightful. Is that a sign that natural wines are finally coming into their own as winemakers learn to improve them? I hope so. One of my favorites was the 2011 Lunatico Aubaï Mema, a Vin de France from Languedoc-Roussillon made with grenache grapes. We were happy to take the recommendations of our likable and knowledgeable server, who never steered us wrong.
The fixed-price lunch menu costs €28 for three courses and €22 for two, but only one of the two choices on offer for each course is available for the set menu. I started with the parsnip soup with coffee-flavored cream, an original combination, which I hoped would tone down the sometimes overwhelming flavor of parsnips. It did, but I did not pick up much coffee flavor. Still, it was a lovely start to the meal.
On the other side of the table, my lunch companion was enjoying the roasted-beet salad with pickled shallots – the latter made a nice contrast to the mild flavor of the beets and the stracciatella (an Italian soft cheese made with buffalo milk) mousse on top. The parmesan crumble added a tasty crunch.
For his main course, my friend chose another creative vegetarian option: cauliflower steak roasted with saté sauce and served with a variety of colorful dipping sauces, which he especially appreciated: black garlic, red curry, watercress mayonnaise, and cranberry/peanut butter.
I thought the à la carte prices for the two vegetarian dishes were rather steep at €16 for the beet salad and €24 for the cauliflower, but I guess a lot of work went into both of them. Still…
The free-range pintade (guinea fowl), which was on the set menu, was not only a better deal but was also supremely good. The meat was tender and moist, always a challenge with pintade, and it came with a lovely ginger-flavored carrot purée; roasted carrots, garlic and onions; and a wonderful garlic-infused chermoula sauce.
The set-menu dessert was rice pudding whipped in a siphon and flavored with lime zest. It was light and very pleasant, but I think I would have preferred the richer, creamier traditional version.
The other dessert was pain perdu (French toast), one of my all-time favorites for its comfort-food qualities, which were slightly lacking in this healthier, not-too-sweet version. It was still delicious, however, with caramelized quince and confit citrus fruits. The promised anise flavoring in the whipped cream did not really come through.
All in all, I would say that I enjoyed the wine more and the food slightly less than on my last visit. Simone is still a sure thing for a good meal in the 13th arrondissement, but I recommend that you go at lunchtime to avoid the high prices in the evening, which I don’t feel are fully justified – many other restaurants in Paris offer cuisine of comparable quality for more reasonable prices. The wonderful guinea fowl I had at lunchtime as part of the set menu, for example, costs €30 in the evening, more than the entire three-course lunch menu, while the first courses on the current dinner menu range from €16 to €22, while many quality bistros keep them around €10 and sometimes less.Favorite