Christophe

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Young leeks with bacon.

Christophe
8, rue Descartes, in the 5th Arrondissement.
01 43 26 72 49. Fri–Tues, lunch and dinner.

Tucked behind the Pantheon, Christophe is a culinary bright spot in a Paris neighborhood full of student bars, kebab shops, tourist traps and mediocre Italian places.

It’s not a new restaurant, but for some reason people have been talking about it recently. I read about it on one of my favorite French food blogs, Food Intelligence, and a day later heard about it from a couple who had eaten there not long before. He loved it, praising the simple preparations and pristine ingredients, but she said she would never go back. Why? “The room is hideous,” she said. “Hideous.”

After eating there I agree with both assessments, so the question to ask is: do looks matter?

“Not much” would be my own answer, particularly with food this good.

I started with a dish of young leeks, julienned and cooked until tender and piled almost like noodles on the plate, kissed with crème fraîche and topped with curly crisp ruffles of thinly sliced bacon. My friend had the boudin noir “nem,” or spring roll, the dark mass wrapped in rice paper and lightly fried, served with large leaf lettuce.

For mains we chose pork spare ribs, rich and tender, served with a slab of crisp polenta, and sweetbreads “meunière,” which came with an outrageously buttery pile of potatoes “pompadour”—a reference not to the preparation but to the particular cultivar that chef Christophe Philippe prefers.

He’s a stickler for ingredients, actually, and wants you to know it. The menu is filled with marquee monikers: Bordier butter, steaks aged by super-butcher Desnoyer, greens grown by Annie Bertin, Lozère lamb. The name dropping can seem tiresome, but I for one admire a chef’s commitment to good products, so long as he knows what to do with them.

The dessert menu is not friendly to insomniacs: chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, coffee ice cream. We went for the mousse. It was perfectly textured, not too sweet, and flecked with crunchy praline. I could have eaten another portion.

Next time, maybe.

In a nutshell: Christophe is a fantastic neighborhood bistro near the heart of the tourist zone.

Price check: First courses, 8–10 euros; mains, 24–28 euros; desserts, 8–12 euros.

If Christophe sounds good but you want a better-looking room, try Jeu de Quilles, run by another chef who is a stickler for good ingredients. Read the review.

Jeu de Quilles
45, rue Boulard, in the 14th. 01 53 90 76 22.
Wed–Sat, lunch and dinner.

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