Les Fines Gueules
43, rue Croix des Petits-Champs, in the 1st Arrondissement.
01 42 61 35 41. Lunch and dinner daily.
Mention Les Fines Gueules to someone who has been there, and the word “tartare” will come up almost immediately. So might the zinc bar and the pretty corner location in the 1st Arrondissement. But this is not an old-fashioned Paris bistro.
For one thing, that tartare is anything but traditional. I call it tartare for beginners, not because I don’t like it—I do, very much—but because it’s laced with basil pesto and sun-dried tomatoes, flavors with broad appeal that almost eclipse the taste of the meat. If you’ve ever wanted to try steak tartare but were nervous, this is a good point of entry.
The other night we started with the duo of burrata and mozzarella, a lactic standoff between buffalo and cow mediated by a drizzle of olive oil, a spill of toasted almonds and a few fantastic slices of prosciutto. This was, unsurprisingly, good. More unexpected was the success of a warm squid salad. Tender, well-seasoned rings topped an arugula salad, brought together with a ginger-laced aioli whose piquancy worked well with the peppery greens.
It’s a good idea to reserve, but one charm of Les Fines Gueules is that it’s often possible to walk in and be seated, particularly on the early or late end of service. Also, there is no pressure to order a full three-course meal as there is at most Paris bistros. I have made dinner out of a set of shared first courses here often enough.
But not this night. We had a thick morsel of veal, still pink, served simply with a spread of bright garden vegetables in a light butter sauce flecked with green peppercorns. A fillet of monkfish was perfectly cooked, served on a thick and silky mash of eggplant, glistening with olive oil.
The service can be a little harried but is generally friendly. The corner of the restaurant is triangular and can feel a little cramped, depending on where you’re seated. But what the space lacks in flow is made up for in the beauty of the zinc bar that dominates the front room, and in the natural light that streams in during the day and early evening. The room upstairs has a little less character but is pleasant enough. If it’s warm, you’ll want to sit outside anyway.
The wines are organic and natural. The list already features a few rosés, which this summery, Mediterranean-tinged food cries out for, if you ask me.
Desserts included strawberries with cream, a tarte tatin and the ubiquitous “café gourmand”—a coffee accompanied by an assortment of miniature sweets. But we went with the Paris-Brest, not house made, but better: it’s delivered from Jacques Genin.
In a nutshell: Les Fines Gueules is a lighter style of Paris bistro.
Price check: First courses, 8–14 euros; mains, 20–25 euros; desserts, 8–12 euros. Plenty of bottles around the 30 euro mark.
If Les Fines Gueules sounds good, you may also like Le Verre Volé. Read the review.
Le Verre Volé
67, rue de Lancry, in the 10th.
01 48 03 17 34. Lunch and dinner daily.
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