6.4 Au Passage, 1 bis Passage St-Sebastien in the 11th, 01.43.55.07.52, closed Sundays (Metro: St-Sebastien-Froissart) just goes to show that the old "Olivier Morteau" (“Food Business: La face cachée de la gastronomie française” Éditions Générales First, February 2004) formula is alive and well, that is, “go to a culinary wasteland, cook inventively and charge more reasonable prices”.
First off, it's not really a culinary wasteland, with the Repaire de Cartouche just down the block, but the Passage St-Sebastien ain't exactly tourist central either, in fact, walking down it, you think, "is this industrial or gang territory?" And indeed, the place was a run down bistro du quartier before being spotted by several geniuses who saw its potential, among them, Audrey (described in a Spring web-announcement as "notre sommelière Champenoise) and the father of the baby girl she's about to have any day now - the group of whom hired a bunch of friendly bilingual dudes and just to get it started - James Henry, from Spring's team, about to depart for Australia, who's still there many weeks later. The old bistro is kind of louche, if you know what I mean, Jean Gabin like, with uneven flooring, couches and lounge chairs, a 1930 frigo in the area and boxes of veggies stacked in the windows. Most cool.
But back to "Olivier Morteau" - the daily lunch "menu" is startlingly reasonable and shockingly good: today the plats du jour were a merlu with onions and mussels or lamb two ways with beans for 9.50 E: add an appetizer of bonito tuna with artichoke heart bits and it's 13 E; add on 1/2 a St-Marcellin and it's 16.50 and wait, wait, don't tell me, add on the dessert of pannacotta and the 4 dishes come to all of 19 E. Wow, no wonder it's packed wall to wall with locals.
OK; the food. My companion, a trader in exotic French culinary objects, and I both seized on the "menu" - mind you, the carte with small plates available noon and night for 4-9 E (that I told the gang they should advertise in the window as "tapas" that, with their great wine selection, from 5-7 PM, could really up the bottomline) was very interesting with everything from an escabeche of fish and mussels was it? to a big piece of lamb. But we went the straight way so to speak.
But, first, an amuse bouche, I think sent by M. Henry to amuse us: seche bits in their ink which were intense, dense and made a lovely, 20-minutes of scrubbing to get off my Tom Wolfe/Tennessee Williams/Great Gatsby white suit. Then the tuna with teeny-tiny artichoke heart eighths and some wild in both senses of the word, herbies.
Then the lamb - now DISCLOSURE - I love young lamb - I detest mutton or any hint of old lamb - so before Madame showed up (she was retarded [ah that didn't come out quite right] by a suicide on the RER tracks, a replacement navette conductor who swept the parking lot searching for lost souls and a clueless taxidriver), I went over to talk to chef Henry and told him of my issue - he said "it's muttony but not heavily muttony" - and gives me a chunk to eat - wonderful. So the full portion with beans went down very easily.
Then for a finish we split the runny St Marcellin and pannacotta with berries. My oh my.
The bill, here my friends we have the PRIX/QUALITE prize of the century - with a glass of Riesling (4.50 E but they comp'd me) while waiting for Madame, a bottle of a fine Rhone, superb bread from Thierry Breton (Chez Michel/Casimir), OK coffee and just very fine chow, it was 55 E for two.
Go? Here's another place the New York Times will ruin once the word gets out. So go fast, go at lunch, and trust your instincts.
Coda: Before going home, I drifted over to a restaurant where a sous-chef dished up one hell-of-an oyster to me and my co-conspirator; he pledged me to secrecy but it was heavenly. What's the message here? Go for it, whatever it is.