Les Bouquinistes

Let’s face it: the French definitely know how to cook. As Clarkson put it on Top Gear, “people say they’re going out for French food, not for German food”. Paris appreciates good food, and the best cooks in the city don’t go unnoticed. Guy Savoy is one of these cooks; his namesake restaurant reigns as one of the top tier restaurants in the city. However, it does come with a steep price; that’s why Les Bouquinistes, one of Savoy’s smaller bistros, offers some of his recipes at a better price. It’s still not cheap, but it’s still something that should be tried at least once.

(Whew!  Backlog cleared.  More on anime and other interesting things soon.  And maybe some more London restaurants..)

Les Bouquinistes sits in just down the river of Notre Dame, so it’s not hard to find with just a ten minute run. It’s a small but smart looking restaurant, with very modern interior decor. However, the crowd that frequents the bistro is rather upscale, so men should bring a jacket, even though it’s not required. Sitting in jeans and a t-shirt will probably make you feel uncomfortable given the setting. Nevertheless, the wait isn’t bad (we waited about 10 minutes with no reservation) and we eventually were seated. The tables are a bit…intimate, to say the least. Taller people can expect to be bumping knees with their buddy sitting next to them often, but I suppose it’s the only way to get enough tables into the restaurant to make waiting times bearable. It’s not much of an issue, but does take some getting used to.

The service at the bistro is something quite extraordinary, even for an intimate French restaurant. The servers are fluent in English, which really helps a lot. They are also willing to explain each item on the menu to great detail, and offer their opinions on what to get. To be honest, they almost dote on their customers, checking in every so often to see how things are going. It’s a nice change of pace from the brusque service at most bistros and cafes in Paris, and I certainly didn’t mind. The menu is short and sweet, so not a lot of choices to go around here. However, the dishes represents basic French cuisine with an innovative twist, so it’s good enough.

The aperitif changes daily depending on the chef’s whims, so don’t read into this too much. For our visit, we had a beet gazpacho with a dollop of Provencale herb paste. The herb paste was probably an afterthought to provide some color to the deep red of the beets. After all, I didn’t taste a lot of the herbs. However, the gazpacho was amazing, with a hint of olive oil to soften the sharp taste of the beets. The taste is strong, and enough to remove any lingering taste from whatever you had for lunch. Despite all of that, the taste itself does not linger for long, which is great considering what’s to come.

From the short selection of appetizers, we chose a gnocchi and soup dish and a smoked salmon plate. The gnocchi is one of a kind, combining the gnocchi with clams and a foam created from the cream soup base. its presentation is also unique, since it utilizes the foam to hide what lies underneath. What lies underneath, however, is an incredible blend of flavors. The sweetness of the clams and the soft texture of the cream soup base blend together exquisitely, and the foam almost teases the tongue. This is a unique appetizer that isn’t found in any other kitchen, and should be tasted to believe Savoy’s capability.

The other appetizer was a unique take on smoked salmon which utilizes a phyllo dough base, classic capers and onions, a tomato spread, and a garnish of salmon eggs, fresh dill, and a splash of olive oil. The real kicker to this dish, however, is the replacing of lemon juice with lemon sorbet. Who would’ve thought to get a dessert with an appetizer? The cool sweetness of the lemon accentuates the salmon much better than regular lemon juice. The dish is a combination of simple ingredients, but each brings out the flavor in the main one: the salmon. This is a very different appetizer than the gnocchi, but also quite a worthy appetizer. It’s a difficult choice to make, but it’s clear you can’t go wrong with any of them. If you think I’m glowing about the appetizers, though, the main dishes set the standard even higher.

The main courses are neatly split into the fish and meat dishes, and each are quite good. The first is a seabass, which to me is the weakest of the set but still worlds better than what you can get out of Red Lobster or similar restaurants. The fish itself is prepared simply, with only a cream sauce to dress it up with, but it’s the mushroom and potato mix that has the rich flavor. When mixed, the strong mushrooms gives a sense of balance to the taste of the seabass. This is a dish that harkens to northern France, and is done very well.

A more innovate dish is the tuna, which is served “tataki” style with risotto on the side. A tomato, sesame seed, and olive oil tapenade is served as well. The texture of this tuna is amazing, and isn’t prone to the slimy texture that can be present in poor-quality tuna. This is a decidedly Asian-styled dish that is tailored to French cuisine by adding the tapenade, grilled risotto, and a small salad. The infusion of Japanese and French cuisine isn’t done well very often, but this time, the flavors don’t contradict each other. This is the seafood recommendation by our waiter, and it was well worth it.

Like their counterparts, the meat dishes are rich and flavorful. The chicken has a unique approach – poached, then grilled. Accompanying it is the same foamy cream sauce found in the gnocchi appetizer. I’m usually not a huge fan of poaching, but the grilling helps by firming up the chicken skin a bit, but leaving the inside meat soft (but not chewy). The chicken is flavorful, but what takes the cake here is the mashed potatoes with black truffles, which matches the chicken in richness and flavor. It’s a heady combination of extremely rich flavors, but enjoyable all the same. Just take a little bit of extra time eating it; all of those flavors can be quite a rush.

The final main dish is one of the best steaks I have ever had, and is arguably the simplest of the main dishes. Unlike most preparations, which uses a small piece of butter on top of the steak to give it some extra flavor, this bistro went all out and put a piece of osso bucco (bone marrow) on top. It looks like fat, but its soft texture and rich flavor adds to one of the best cuts of meat you can find. It’s served with caramelized onions (a favorite at a lot of different restaurants), some beans, and not much else, to be honest. The au jus combined with red wine and reduced to accent the beef with a classic flavor. It’s rare to find such an expensive component put aside as garnish, but it’s what makes this so unique.

The dinner wouldn’t be the same without dessert, and there’s a bunch of them to choose from. Thankfully, there is a dessert platter for two that covers the whole gamut. Literally, the whole bloody thing. The ice cream is clearly homemade, and the vanilla bean ice cream is incredible. I also enjoyed the three-chocolate cake, which combined all three flavors into a single bite. I’m not sold on the raspberry with cottage cheese, as it was a little bit sour for me, but then again, to each their own. The mint cappucino is also an interesting dish, using a combination of yogurt and coffee as the basis. Still, this is the best deal you can get since it gives you a taste of everything, so why not go for it?

In all, this is a one of a kind experience that shouldn’t be missed. Sure you have to fork out the money to get it, but it beats the heck out of the 60+ Euros per dish at the full “Guy Savoy’s” restaurant. You get all the innovation at half the price. If you shelled out the money to get to Paris, might as well try it out. And when I say “might as well”, I mean do it. Really, really do it.

Pros:
**Amazing food
**Great atmosphere and service
**Really easy to find

Cons:
**Wallet significantly lighter after you’re done
**Really tiny tables can annoy really tall people, I guess

Important Information:
Les Bouquinistes
53 quai des Grands-Augistins
Paris, France 75006
Tel. 01 43 25 45 94
CLOSED: Saturday lunch, Sunday
http://www.lesbouquinistes.com

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