Last week, I felt that I needed an antidote to bobo bistros, so I went to a stuck-in-the-past brasserie. This week, I felt I needed an antidote to the antidote, and I found the perfect place, the restaurant Simone, thanks to my friend Susan, who lives nearby in the 13th arrondissement.
She had never been there before, but since it opened a year ago, she has been sampling and enjoying the natural wines the owners sell in their cave à vins around the corner.
The restaurant is a pretty little place, dominated by the bar, behind which the chef and his assistants labor away. The walls are decorated with album covers by the likes of Bobby Womack and Gil Scott Heron, and with black-and-white photos that seem to have been taken in New York City. Outside, red and orange tables under a double row of chestnut trees make an attractive terrace in good weather (which we didn’t have that evening).
Susan was drinking a glass of Chardonnay when I arrived, which she kindly let me taste. I loved its bright, clean, fruity flavors and almost oily texture. Throughout the meal we stuck to glasses so we could try different wines. The one I chose to go with my starter, Chez Charles, a 2012 Languedoc made by Noella Morantin, was something of a shock after the Chardonnay. It tasted sour and astringent and just weird, but after it had aired for a while, I grew to like it better. Susan was also having a hard time with her glass of La Mentule Matagrabolisé, a 2011 Loire white from Hervé Souhaut. These are the risks you take when you drink natural wine….
The thrill at Simone was in the food. I started with a risotto of fregola (a bead-shaped Sardinian pasta) with marjoram and cauliflower. The latter was so finely grated that it resembled Parmesan. There were also tiny raw bits of cauliflower in the risotto, which was delicate, subtly flavored, perfectly seasoned and truly unusual. We both reveled in it.
Susan’s starter was the opposite of delicate but also divinely delicious: presa ibérica (boneless pork shoulder) with salicornia. The reduced pan juices were just begging to be sopped up with the country-style baguette, and they soon were.
I had asked for two starters instead of a starter and a main course and was glad that I hadn’t ordered more, since the boudin I had as my second dish was such a generous portion. Rich and flavorful, it contained, Basque-style, bits of shredded pork. Fantastic! I would have liked to have more than one slice of apple with it, however, to cut the richness of the black pudding. When paired with a glass of surprisingly spicy and complex Touraine red, Les Têtes Noires from Gregory Leclerc at Domaine Chahut et Prodiges, it made a heavenly marriage.
Susan’s main course, picaña (a rump cut with a thick layer of fat on it) of Galician beef, was tender, generous and equally delicious. It came with a blob of intense, garlicky eggplant purée and lightly grilled zucchini.
The desserts were fine but not as exciting as what went before: a strawberry tart with a puff-pastry crust and a very runny soft-centered chocolate cake topped with quality whipped cream (supposedly with Calvados in it, which I didn’t taste).
We were spoiled by wine expert Alain, one of three partners who own the restaurant (another, Mike, does the cooking), with a complimentary glass of Banyuls to go with the dessert.
Apart from the desserts, Simone avoided the clichés of the bistronomic movement while providing original dishes that didn’t stray too far from the best bistro traditions while using great ingredients. I truly wish that Simone were located in my neighborhood rather than Susan’s. I guess I’ll just have to visit her more often.