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BOOK REVIEW: ALAIN DUCASSE'S 
CULINARY GUIDE TO PARIS

 

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 14 DECEMBER 2011 — If Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris, was a love letter to the City of Light, then Alain Ducasse’s book with its unequivocal title is the consummation of a lifetime’s love affair with the city considered to be the most beautiful in the world.

With his attractive book, J’aime Paris, published by Alain Ducasse edition, Ducasse shares some two hundred of his favourite addresses in the French capital, addresses which include grocery stores, butcher’s shops, fishmongers, cheese specialists, wine bars, tea rooms (Mariage Frères, of course), as well as those traditional French "brasseries" full of charm which date back to the mid 19thcentury. He describes his favourite ice cream parlours, unsurprisingly, ‘Berthillon’s’, and snack bars and restaurants where the three course lunchtime menu costs an accessible 13.50€ as it does at "Le Pré Vert", in such a way as to make us all go running there. Close by, the small restaurant, ‘Les Papilles’, which offers a unique menu but a seemingly unlimited supply of excellent wines is also on his agenda.

The colourful Bistrot Paul Bert, within walking distance of the Opéra Bastille, which serves some of the best bistrot food in Paris up to 11 at night and beyond if the kitchen is still open, is well in evidence.  It’s been owned by the jovial Bertrand Auboyneau for the past twelve to thirteen years, during which time he has located excellent suppliers of meat, evident in his irresistible tartar de boeuf with real fat chips, the meltingly juicy "pied de cochon", (as far removed from the common or garden pork chop as can be), or the tasty "joue de boeuf à la vinaigrette d’estragon" served with a hearty helping of vegetables, delivered each day and prepared minutes before.

His chef, Thierry Laurent, has resurrected a selection of traditional and well-loved French desserts, from an "ile flottante aux pralines roses" to a luscious creamy riz au lait "Grand-mere", but the menu changes with the seasons and depends also on the surprise arrival on his doorstep of, for example, a half dozen plump guinea fowl. Fortunate indeed were the early diners.

The young chef, David Lanher at "Racines", situated in the passage des Panoramas, the oldest and most attractive covered passage of the Grands Boulevards, serves not only one of the most discerning selection of wines in Paris, given the minute dimensions of his restaurant, but also offers some of the freshest and most delicious dishes. Together with his chef, the talented Nicolas Gauduin, they have located some of the finest ducks and chickens available and their menu is short, simple, but eloquent. A meat dish, a fish dish, and a vegetarian dish, accompanied by some of the most savoury root veggies, as the name of the restaurant might suggest found in the French capital can be had here. But beware. The restaurant is small, with scarcely more than 9 or 10 tables, and service stops abruptly at 10 p.m. Food here is a serious business and those who want to eat must arrive on time.

Evidently, Ducasse’s own three restaurants, including his glamorous "Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée", are well in evidence with their sumptuous colour photographs, the closest most of us will ever get to this luxurious establishment where one can add an extra 0 to the 30€ bill charged elsewhere. It all depends on whether one wants to eat the cut glass chandeliers or elegant silver place settings. The devise of its creator is to "dare to create something fancy with something simple". Simplicity is his goal, but at 300 euros a head? However, with his Relais Plaza, a short trot down a carpeted hallway, you are talking business. Here it’s like eating at home, if one has taken the time and the trouble, only better. There’s a steak tartare as well as an excellent escalope Viennoise, which when eaten in a splendid art deco dining room, more than deserves its place in the book, as does his spectacular open-air restaurant and tea room, Cour et Jardin. But for the latter, beware that the resident blackbirds haven’t had a peck at your fruit before it enters the blender.

All in all, the publication abounds with references to establishments meriting their inclusion not only because of the quality of the food, but because of the particular atmosphere or setting, and mention is made of such historical monuments such as Café de Flore and the Brasserie Lipp, where neither décor nor menu has changed in nearly a century. The book, distilling as it does its aromas of crusty bread and buttery croissants, is not a traveller’s guide of three-star restaurants nor places to eat for 15 euros, but a fascinating compilation of places to visit in Paris. The pages are covered with superb photographs, some in black and white others in colour, which illustrate, not recipes, but unusual images of the French capital, showing the interiors of countless small "brasseries" with their hand-written menus and shots of kitchens, of counters and encounters. It is a book bursting with life, colours and charm.

J'aime Paris : Mon Paris du goût en 200 adresses, published by Alain Ducasse editions, is now available in English for 35,00€ 

Patricia Boccadoro is a senior editor and member of the editorial board of Culturekiosque.

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