But aside from a few old bistro standbys like Le Quincy and À La Biche au Bois, these neighborhoods didn’t have many restaurants to boast about. That situation has changed dramatically.
Rodolphe Paquin was one of the first chefs to take advantage of this vacuum when he opened Le Repaire de Cartouche, not far from the Place de la Bastille, more than ten years ago. “It was obvious the neighborhood was getting younger and more affluent,” he says. “The rent was half of what I’d have paid in the seventh or the eighth.” Inventive dishes like his carpaccio of calf’s head with oyster vinaigrette and his côte de sanglier (wild boar) with pickled beets have been packing them in ever since.
Paquin was a pioneer, but today this patch of Paris teems with destination restaurants, including Le Chateaubriand, one of the city’s best contemporary bistros and certainly its most popular. The talented young chef Inaki Aizpitarte first attracted attention at La Famille, in Montmartre. And since he moved to the Oberkampf section of the 11th two years ago, his food has become even more intriguing. He does a single menu nightly, and it reflects both his background—he’s from the Basque Country and traveled in Latin America and Israel before moving to Paris—and his sometime fascination with Japan. “Everything I do is intended to tease as much of the natural taste out of my produce as possible,” he says, and dishes like mackerel ceviche with Tabasco and slow-cooked tuna belly with asparagus and chorizo deliciously prove his point. His grilled pork belly with a sauce of réglisse (licorice root) and a small salad of grated celery root offers a brilliant contrast of textures and flavors.
Oberkampf is also a great bet for wine lovers. Le Marsangy, a relaxed and friendly bistro with very good food, has an excellent wine list, as does the consistently good Le Villaret. And there are regular wine tastings at La Cave de l’Insolite, one of the city’s most interesting new wine shops. (Nearby, La Bague de Kenza, on the Rue Saint-Maur, sells the best Algerian pastries in Paris.)
In the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, the neighborhood that straddles the 11th and 12th arrondissements along the street of the same name, Le Bistrot Paul Bert has become so popular it can be tough to score a table. What drives this trio of cozy dining rooms decorated with flea-market bric-a-brac is some of the best traditional bistro cooking to be found in Paris today. The chalkboard menu changes often but runs to dishes like coddled eggs with cèpes, coucou de Rennes (a Breton breed of chicken prized for its delicate flesh) in a sauce of morels and vin jaune, and their much-loved signature dessert, a sublime Paris-Brest, the praline-buttercream-filled round choux pastry created to commemorate a bicycle race between the two cities from which it takes its name. L’Écailler du Bistrot, run by the same owners as Le Bistrot Paul Bert, is a terrific address for seafood lovers, and on the same street the hip La Cocotte, Argentinean-born Andrea Wainer’s wonderfully eclectic gastroshop, sells everything from cookbooks and table linens to kitchen equipment and the world’s best dulce de leche. Next door is Crus et Découvertes, a first-rate new wine shop.
Other excellent restaurants in the area include Au Vieux Chêne, serving up a delicious market-driven menu; Chez Ramulaud, a relaxed bistro with an inventive menu, a stylish crowd, and a great wine list; and La Gazzetta, where young Swedish chef Petter Nilsson has generated major word of mouth with dishes that are variously of Scandinavian, French, and Italian inspiration. With its loftlike décor, La Gazzetta has something of a New York City vibe, along with a menu that changes all the time. One night, roasted endive with dill, horseradish, lemon, and puréed almonds proved a parade of bitterness, acidity, sweetness, and heat; grilled cod with a side of Brussels-sprout purée, fresh tarragon, and capers had a quiet elegance; and ricotta ice cream with ewe’s-milk cheese, hazelnuts, and olives made for an unexpectedly sexy grand finale.