25, rue Bayen, in the 17th Arrondissement.
Lunch and dinner, Tues–Sat.
01 45 74 74 74.
Walking into Frédéric Simonin, open less than a month, is a little like getting into a luxury sedan, all black and gray with polished chrome trim, where nothing rattles and the noise of the world is kept out.
The dining room may be black and white, but the food is in Technicolor. Simonin’s trademark starter, called simply Les Legumes, is a stunning assemblage of vegetables, some gently cooked and some raw, lightly dressed and artfully arranged on a thin pastry wafer, aromatic with oregano. It looks more like the work of a florist than a cook. A delicate, brightly seasoned salad of crabmeat and avocado was served in an egg-shaped vessel that opened along a Humpty Dumpty crack. The least successful offering, bright green asparagus and morels spread out on a plate among clouds of pearly foam and thin shavings of Parmesan, was short on salt if not beauty.
On the main side I chose the squid, described simply as “aux saveurs de la Riviera et basilic.” It was glowingly recommended by our waiter, and for good reason. Curled pieces of calamari swam among delicate zucchini, baby artichokes, white asparagus and black olives in a warm and piquant tomato bath. The only thing missing was an outdoor table with a view of the sea.
My friend was happy with the sweetbreads, with which morels made another appearance, but the quail won raves. With a light soy glaze, morsels of foie gras and julienne of white summer truffle, this little bird managed to be delicate in spite of itself. Unfortunately for my friend, who wanted to clean every bit of meat from the tiny bones, it is not acceptable to eat with one’s fingers at Frédéric Simonin.
Though it was hardly necessary, we ordered a side of Purée de Façon Joël Robuchon, a nod to Simonin’s old boss; I don’t know if it’s more accurate to describe it as potatoes enriched with butter or butter enriched with potatoes. Friends who have eaten at Robuchon’s restaurants many more times than I tell me that his influence can be seen all over Simonin’s menu. Whether you think this is a good or bad thing depends on your opinion of Robuchon, and how much you value originality in a chef.
Desserts were playful, which is just how I like them. La Fraise arrived in a glass bowl with a domed lid that opened to reveal macerated strawberries surrounded by a sweet herb sorbet and topped with a dollop of chartreuse sabayon. A tall and traditional-looking soufflé was untraditionally flavored with yuzu—a Japanese citrus. And the chocolate dessert, Le Payachoco, included biscuits “Oréo,” which I have never before seen spelled with an accent.
All of this, of course, comes at a price. Entrées range from 18 to 38 euros, main courses from 29 to 59 euros and desserts from 10 to 13 euros. But if I go back to Frédéric Simonin (and I hope to), I will order the three-course, 38 euro lunch menu. The choices are limited and perhaps slightly less spectacular, but it seems like a great deal to me. I only wonder if it will last, after the hype—and maybe the recession—has died.
Price check: The 38 euro lunch menu is a bargain, but plan on spending 75–100 euros if you order à la carte. The excellent wine list is similarly expensive, though there are decent options on the low end.
In a nutshell: Frédéric Simonin is the posh table of the moment.
If you like the sound of Frédéric Simonin but want to see where he gets it from:
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
5, rue de Montalembert, in the 7th.
01 42 22 56 56.