11 bis, rue Chomel, in the 7th Arrondissement.
01 45 49 04 54. Mon–Sat, noon–2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.–10:30 p.m.
Here’s a new-old address in the shadow of le Bon Marché. Formerly le Gorille Blanc, the restaurant there is now called les Botanistes, and it’s under new ownership. The restaurants in this area tend toward uninspired and overpriced, but when François Simon gave it a pas mal (not faint praise, considering the source), I decided I would give it a try.
We were warmly welcomed and asked if we’d like to sit inside or outside. Les Botanistes is on a quiet, low-traffic street, and the sun was shining, so the choice was not difficult.
Ordering, though, was not so easy, mainly because many of the dishes appealed to me. A sort of sunniness shone through even in reading the menu, where herbs and vegetables are more than just a garnish. It’s the kind of food I like to eat most this time of year. The pricing presented a less pleasant dilemma: the two-course, 17-euro lunch menu is a good deal, but your choices are limited to a few selected items. On this day they were gazpacho, green herb salad or salmon tartare for starters; and for mains, chicken with shitake jus or filet of limande (kind of like sole) with couscous. Stray from the formule, and you will spend twice as much, a reminder that this is the 7th Arrondissement, after all.
As is often the case, the à la carte offerings were a little more interesting, particularly a risotto of chipirons (Basque-style squid) with green asparagus, cod with marjoram vinaigrette and lamb with summery ratatouille. Among the first courses, a mushroom terrine piqued my interest, and I didn’t regret spending the extra euros. It was the best dish of the meal—savory and nutty, brightened with a splash of parsley coulis, intense mushrooms lightened up for summer. I loved it. The gazpacho was honest and refreshing, just as it should be.
The chicken was fine, though its accompanying shitake jus lacked the earthy depth one hopes for in mushroom sauces. The limande was cooked perfectly and placed on its fluffy semolina bed, napped with a red-pepper sauce whose flavor matched its color. I was happy.
We spoke with the owner, Jean-Baptiste Gay. He told us he likes to keep things simple, with no more than three or four elements to a dish. He uses the best ingredients he can find and treats them simply. He cooks the way he likes to eat, and it comes through on the plate.
In a nutshell: You could say that the food at les Botanistes is a little comme il faut. But if that means good ingredients treated well by a careful cook, then there is nothing wrong with that.
Price check: Two courses at lunch are 17.70 euros. A la carte, first courses are 8–16 euros, mains are 18–24 euros.
Feeling more rue Cambon than Bon Marché? Visit contemporary brasserie Flottes O.Trement for pre- or postshopping sustenance.
Flottes O. Trement
2, rue Cambon, in the 1st.
01 42 61 31 15. Tues–Sat, lunch and dinner.