11, rue d’Armaillé, in the 17th Arrondissement.
01 44 09 05 10. Reservations recommended.
Lunch and dinner, Tues–Sat.
Zinc Caïus is the younger, smaller, less expensive offshoot of Caïus, the restaurant across the street where chef Jean-Marc Notelet dazzles diners with his use of exotic spices (for France, anyway) and unexpected combinations and techniques. At Zinc Caïus the fare is more straightforward, a pared-down bistro menu for neighborhood locals more than visiting foodies. Yet a meal here is just as memorable as one served by its sophisticated sibling, not because it’s complicated or ambitious, but because it’s so very good.
Everyone mentions the lentil salad with lardo di Colonnata (8 euros), and for good reason. Translucent white ribbons of cured pork fat are laid atop a bed of warm lentils with walnut dressing, where they just barely start to melt. The rest (of the melting, that is) happens in your mouth. It’s heavenly.
The house-made terrine of foie gras (12 euros) is a strong contender too, silky and unctuous with a sweet, hot, very pretty piment d’Espelette jam and a delicate pile of greens. The velouté du jour (8 euros) should not be easily dismissed; on my last visit it was the humble parsnip that played a starring role, crowned with a not-so-humble and very fragrant truffle emulsion.
Main courses (14–20 euros) are a similar mix of tradition (a fine tartare, a well-seared entrecôte with potato purée) with more innovative elements. Alongside my crisp-skinned filet de bar (sea bass) were diced turnips—perhaps my least favorite vegetable—so deeply caramelized that at first I thought they were sweet potatoes. An odd timbale of yellow peppers and wild mushrooms accompanied my friend’s lamb chops, and it worked. The chops themselves had a fantastic crusty exterior encasing tender, moist meat.
The wine list is not huge, but the selections are thoughtful and fairly priced. With four or five whites and reds by the glass for 3.50–4.50 euros, there’s no incentive to commit to a bottle. Let the friendly waiter help you choose a glass for each dish.
For dessert, a coffee crème brûlée won out over the pain perdu with caramelized apples, but I wish I’d had room for both. There is usually one cheese offered (Morbier on one recent evening) if you don’t have a sweet tooth.
It’s a tiny room, with seating for 20 at raised tables with high but comfortable chairs. All gray and black, the modern decor is not what comes to mind when one hears the word “zinc,” and a few odd flea market finds (is that a tractor seat?) scattered around the room only add to the confusion. It’s not much to see, honestly, but like all restaurants it looks better full, and it often is.
The atmosphere is warm and convivial. Is it because the high tables create the feeling of sitting at a bar? Or because most of the customers seem to be regulars? I suspect it’s more the latter, and it’s easy to see why. Lucky are the residents of the 17th who can call this place their canteen. I would make it my own if it weren’t a dozen metro stops away.
Price check: First courses are in the 8–12 euro range. Mains run from 14 to 20 euros.
In a nutshell: A casual neighborhood watering hole with food of a high standard that merits a crosstown trip.
If faux-counter seating is not your thing and you want to see the full range of what this chef can do, book across the street at the chic Caïus:
6, rue d’Armaillé, in the 17th.
01 42 27 19 20.