52, rue Blanche, in the 9th Arrondissement.
01 42 81 34 07. Mon–Fri, lunch and dinner.
Sat: dinner only.
Each of us looks for something different in a restaurant experience. Some people want a great room; some want to witness the latest culinary trends; some like a particular kind of crowd in a cool neighborhood; some just want to go wherever the buzz is; and some will eat anywhere as long as the food is good.
A restaurant that’s been getting a bit of buzz lately is the decidedly unchic, definitely not trendy, and somewhat-located-in-no-man’s-land Chez Grenouille.
My first visit for dinner was, for the most part, satisfying. Scrambled eggs with morels, a house-made terrine with morels, suckling pig with foie gras, a parmentier (shepherd’s pie) of duck with a bright carrot top: it was rich, earthy auberge food served by a waiter whose demeanor was so gentle and sweet that I could not really get too peeved at him for forgetting our bread, and then our wine. On the other hand, this is France. Bread and wine are fundamentals of service.
The chef-owner of Chez Grenouille, Alexis Blanchard, has won prizes for his terrines and other charcuterie, and on his menu he sticks to what he knows best. In other words, vegetarians and those with cholesterol problems should go elsewhere. For carnivores, though, there is plenty that will please. The suckling pig I mentioned was a gorgeous, melt-in-your-mouth morsel of meat surrounded by crisp skin, and it would have been fine without the little piece of seared foie gras on top. The parmentier looked a bit skimpy when it arrived, but underneath the sweet carrot lid was a deeply seasoned stew of duck that turned out to be more than enough. The wine list is on the short side, but a juicy red Burgundy did just fine. After sharing the giant baba au rhum for two, we walked away content.
Lunch was a bit different and a bit disappointing. Again there was a fantastic terrine (the cornichons, however, were notably absent) and a superb saucisse lyonnaise with a flaky puff-pastry crust. But a pavé de romsteck (that’s the rump), though perfectly cooked, seemed lonely. The little potatoes served for the table, skins coated with coarse salt, were certainly tasty; but, as my friend pointed out, a golden gratin would have been fantastic instead of just passable. The potatoes were better with the roast cod, topped with grapefruit and zippy herbs. Too bad the cod itself was almost cold when it got to the table.
Our lunch reservation was for one o’clock, and so was everyone else’s, it seemed. That—as well as our being seated in the room downstairs, a steep flight of stairs away from the kitchen—is perhaps why the service was slow and the plates not promptly delivered.
I should say more about the rooms, both upstairs and downstairs, because here’s the thing: they are rather sad. The lighting is dim and yellowish. Exposed beams and stone walls, normally charming in old spaces, do nothing here; maybe that’s because the uncamouflaged exposed pipes, plastic ivy and unfinished curtains barely hiding holes in the wall are so distracting. Or maybe because on the lower level, the whole mess of a room is reflected by a floor-to-ceiling mirror.
In a nutshell: The service is a bit haphazard but incredibly friendly. The room is ugly, but the food is generally good and fairly priced. There is definitely much to like about Chez Grenouille, but that means liking it warts and all.
Price check: Lunch menus at 15 euros (plat only), 20 euros (entrée, plat) or 25 euros (entrée, plat, dessert). À la carte, entrées are 7–12 euros, plats are 20–32 euros, desserts 5–7 euros. Affordable wines.
If you like the sound of Chez Grenouille but want an address that will satisfy your carnivorous craving with more charm and panache:
Bistrot Paul Bert
18, rue Paul Bert, in the 11th.
01 43 72 24 01. Closed Sun and Mon.