“A meal at a new restaurant cum wine shop, La Cave est Restaurant, in Montreuil Sur Bois will serve as a jumping off point for my discussion about finding good new places in Paris. For years, I’ve kept lists of places to go; largely new, usually reasonably-priced, almost exclusively French restaurants. Every few weeks, friends or friends of friends call or email me asking “Where should I go this visit?” I give them my take and ask for their feedback upon their return. Usually it’s positive. “Thanks so much, John, we loved x + y (which were 7 and 8 on the list) but we never made it to a or b (number 1 and 2) they just looked too far.”
Too far? In Paris, with the best public transportation system imaginable? These are people who would think nothing of taking the stinky, dirty, crowded New York subway system to the far reaches of Queens or driving an hour on clogged California freeways to get to good food. Too far?
Let me back up to La Cave est Restaurant. It’s on the Metro, a block or two from the Croix de Chavaux station (on the line that runs right near many hotels, including the Plaza Athenée) and is a mere 10 minute walk from the ring road around Paris. It’s charming, has a terrific old “feel” to it and has lots of very reasonably priced, decently-prepared dishes (starters running 8-12 €, mains = 14-20 €, etc.) and wines.
Another example is a place that Jean-Claude Ribaut of Le Monde wrote up earlier this year: l’Instant Gourmand, which is two blocks from a Metro station and on four, count them, four bus lines. But folks look at the map and say “no way.” So these restaurants will never go on my list, because I’ve learned the hard way that no one will go.
Which is a shame because some of the best-prepared and best-priced food can be found either outside the city limits or in the far reaches of the 11th, 19th, 20th, etc. Why is that? In a book published in February 2004 entitled “Food Business: La face cachée de la gastronomie française,” (translation: the hidden side of French cuisine) by the pseudonymous Olivier Morteau, the author(s) state that the new successful neo-bistrots follow a predictable, new set of rules: find a reasonably priced building in a gastronomically underserved area, be nice and friendly, and get a chef who is talented and can prepare dishes that are reasonably priced. While the author(s) single out Yves Camdebord (Le Regalade) and Christian Constant (Fables of Fontaine + Café Constant) as examples of successful followers of this formula, many places started by adherents of this strategy are even farther out.
My memory of history may be a bit rusty, but just taking the area in and around Paris, (we’ll leave Ducasse, Gagnaire and Loiseau for another time), one of the first and best examples of users of this formula was Eric Frechon, who toiled for years at a place called Le Restaurant and then Eric Frechon (Metro: Botzaris) in the 19th, charging 190 francs (30 Euros), which slowly inched up to 290 francs (43 Euros), for a three course meal. Then there were David Van Laer and Jean-Pierre Vigato at Manufacture in Issy les Moulineaux (Metro: Corentin Celton). And finally, there’s the talented Jean Chauvel, whose Les Magnolias is in Le Perreux sur Marne. Getting there is a bit tricky, even though it’s only one kilometer on a straight line east on the map from the Chateau of Vincennes (#1 Metro), but it’s actually easier by RER – “errrr-ouuu what,” my friends scream? And therein lies the problem. Metro stops such as the Croix de Chavaux, Botzaris, Anatole France and Corentin Celton are simply not within most American folks’ grasp - the RER, “Fagedaboudit!”
The fate of these talented chefs varies. Some toil for years and then move “downtown” for the jackpot; the best examples of this move are Eric Frechon’s coming to the Bristol, David Van Laer coming to Maxence, Jean-Pierre Vigato to Apicius and Stéfane Molé to Bellecour aka Les Ormes. But others, like Jean Chauvel, choose to remain in the hinterlands at Les Magnolias.
The moral here: A few extra minutes walking or riding the subway, bus or RER is a small price to pay for the superb experiences one can have faraway from the Champs-Elysees or the Left Bank.
As is my custom, I’ll only provide coordinates for my preferences:
La Cave est Restaurant
45, rue de Paris, Montreuil Sur Bois (Metro - Croix de Chavaux)
T : 01 42 87 09 48
Closed Saturday noon and Sundays
A la carte 35 €.
113, rue Louis Rouquier in Levallois Perret (Metro : Anatole France ; Buses # 53, 94, 165 & 174)
T : 01 47 37 13 43
Closed Saturday lunch and Sundays
A la carte 20-30 €.
48 Av de Bry, Le Perreux sur Marne (RER : Nogent Les Perreux)
T : 01 48 72 47 43
Closed Saturday lunch, Sundays and Mondays
Menus = 36, 48, 78 €.”
*Originally published in October 2005
Update March 21st, 2008: Rather than add some new places (l’Auberge des Saints Peres, l’Idee, etc) here, I’ll write a new essay in a while.