Seine-Side Haven for
Valentine’s Day Refugees
Wanderlust will be even more spacious when its terrace opens in the summertime.
I thought the recession had come to an end the other day when I called about 15 restaurants to reserve a table, and all of them were complet. Granted, I was calling for a reservation on the same day, but usually a table for two can be found somewhere. Then I realized – duh! – that it was Valentine’s Day, and all those restaurants would be full of couples staring into each other eyes and wondering what to say to each other.
I had invited Paris Update contributor Leaf Arbuthnot to dinner after an exhibition opening at the Docks-Cité de la Mode (the building on the Seine near the Gare d’Austerlitz that has a strange carbuncle-like green structure attached to its facade) and was at a loss as to where to go. While we were at the exhibition (look for her review of it in Paris Update next week) – duh again – I remembered that the building was also home to Wunderlust, a trendy hangout with a restaurant, club, a big terrace overlooking the Seine and a number of activities like children’s workshops, art exhibitions and free Saturday-afternoon yoga classes.
We popped into the restaurant and were cordially received by a sweet young man wearing a baseball cap backward, who offered us seats on the outdoor terrace, complete with blankets to keep us warm (the space was protected from the elements only by sheets of plastic). Rather than brave the cold and cigarette smoke, we opted instead for stools at the bar and took a look at the menu, ready to accept whatever they had to offer, so grateful were we to have been welcomed with open arms.
The menu seems designed especially for young people, a fitting description of most of the clientele (and, not surprisingly, Wanderlust’s Web site describes the chef, Benjamin Darnaud, a “Top Chef” TV cooking competition finalist, as “young and dynamic” and “new-generation”).
What was young about it? The snacky nature of many of the dishes, the random mixing of international influences – French neo-bistro trends, Asian, Spanish – and the offering of pizza as an option.
But they sounded intriguing, and indeed everything we had was very tasty. Leaf chose very well, starting with an egg cooked at 65 degrees (must be a trend: we had an egg
The bread came in a branded paper bag.cooked this way last week at Richer) with legumes oubliés (heirloom vegetables). While she described this dish as “confused,” containing as it did a wealth of seemingly unrelated ingredients – in addition to the egg and veg, it had cheese, lardons, vegetable chips and a lovely stock – she loved it. I had the “ravioli of grilled veal with homemade ginger-soy sauce,” which was very good but resembled classic gyoza and didn’t show off the chef’s creativity.
For her second course, Leaf chose well again, ordering the mi-cuit (half-cooked) salmon, simple but of good quality, with parsnip purée. From the choice of four side dishes (the other three were fried potatoes with rosemary, roasted vegetables and salad with balsamic vinaigrette), she picked the mushrooms with coriander and lemon. They were delicious, and I helped myself to many of them, especially since they so enhanced my pizza with fourme d’Ambert, mozzarella and lemon. The pizza was fine, but a bit cheese-heavy. I would have been better off ordering one of the more inventive small plates as a second course.
For dessert, we shared a piece of carrot cake. We were both disappointed when it arrived (thoughtfully cut in two) sans icing, everyone’s favorite part of carrot cake, but we quickly got over it, because it was rich, dense and delicious.
The service from the young, international staff – including a California surfer type – was delightful and attentive. I had a glass of a very nice 2010 Chinon (Les Gravières from Couly Duthell), rather overpriced at €10, considering that a bottle costs €29.
Decor? Spacious, industrial, big windows.
I hope it will be as easy to get a seat at Wanderlust in the summertime as it was on Valentine’s Day. Its big terrace offers space for plenty of diners, with the added bonus of coveted Seine views, which will make it well worth wandering down to the Quai d’Austerlitz in fine weather.
WE Restaurant at Wanderlust: 32 Quai d’Austerlitz, 75013 Paris. Métro: Gare d’Austerlitz. Open Thursday-Saturday, 8pm-midnight. No phone. Reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org A la carte: around €35. wanderlustparis.com
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