Les Pâtes Vivantes
46, rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, in the 9th Arrondissement.
01 45 23 10 21.
22, blvd St.-Germain, in the 5th.
01 40 46 84 33. Lunch and dinner, Mon–Sat.
“You saved our lives,” said a friend in New York, just back from a trip to Paris. “We got sick,” she continued, “and that noodle place was exactly what we needed.”
The noodle place in question? The 9th Arrondissement’s Les Pâtes Vivantes.
I had given her some addresses—she and her boyfriend work in restaurants—where I knew they could eat well, but when they got to Paris they found themselves severely under the weather. In case you didn’t know this, a bowl of brothy noodles cures everything.
I first read about Les Pâtes Vivantes on David Lebovitz’s blog (I imagine many people did!) and was excited at the thought of a new noodle joint to replace the less-than-stellar place I frequented on rue Ste. Anne in the 2nd.
Most of the restaurants on that street are, of course, Japanese. Over in the 9th, Les Pâtes Vivantes—though far from the established Chinatowns in the 13th and Belleville—is Chinese, and their specialty is hand-pulled noodles. It’s worth a visit just to watch the noodle cook toss, roll and stretch a piece of dough, transforming it from a shapeless ball into yards of thick cream-colored string.
The noodles (9–12 euros) are served sautéed or in soups, with vegetables, shrimp, chicken or pork. My favorite is the spicy Szechuan beef, with thin pieces of meat floating among the slippery noodles in a slightly piquant broth, garnished with fresh cilantro and scallions. I say “slightly” because this is Paris, after all, and the Parisian palate is not so tolerant of heat. I also like the nouilles à la sauce chajiang—tender pork, bean paste and soybeans in a barbecue-like brown sauce, garnished with celery leaves, carrot and more cilantro.
At lunch there are formules available at 11 or 12 euros, which include an unremarkable little salad and a choice of appetizer: tempura or jiaozi, a.k.a. “ravioles grillés,” a.k.a. pot stickers. It’s worth it only if you are exceptionally hungry.
A few rice dishes are offered, but after seeing the noodles made right before your eyes, you’d be remiss not to order them, don’t you think?
The two-story space is perpetually crowded with locals on their lunch break and youngsters on a budget. Though minimal, the room (like the food) is a few notches above most noodle shops. The service is quick and friendly enough, and if you find yourself waiting a long time for the check, it’s because the check is actually waiting for you at the cashier’s counter. It’s likely that someone is waiting for your table, too, so be considerate and clear out.
One more thing—the exquisite table skills shown by the French don’t go very far with chopsticks. The way to eat Chinese noodle soup is with two hands: hold the chopsticks in your dominant hand and the spoon in your other. Pick up the noodles with the chopsticks and support the load with the spoon. Lean your head over your bowl to minimize the risk of dropping everything in your lap or splattering, and slurp away. It’s bad luck to break the noodles.
The last thing you want is to have bad luck in Paris.
Price check: If you spend more than 20 euros here, you are doing something wrong.
In a nutshell: This is Chinese food that is a cut above, a perfect spot when you realize that man (er, girl) cannot live on foie gras, butter and cheese alone. Your body and wallet will thank you.
If you like the sound of Les Pâtes Vivantes but want to spend even less:
95, rue Beaubourg, in the 3rd.
01 44 59 31 22.