Postcard From Tom: Paris

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

It's a heady time to visit Paris, where important chefs are taking over famous locations and previously unsung heroes are gaining attention for their menus. Don't miss:

BENOIT (20 Rue St. Martin, 4th arrondissement, 011-33-1- 42-72-25-76)

Alain Ducasse, the superstar chef, did something wise last summer when he bought this 1912 bistro: He didn't change a thing. So there's still red velvet on the banquettes and lace in the windows, along with a menu that revels in the season and in tradition. Try not to fill up on the gratis cheese puffs that precede a meal. Otherwise, you'll regret not having room to finish the terrine of veal tongue alternating with foie gras; fresh morels in a warm bath of cream; or the most decadent chocolate mousse in the city. Entrees $29-$45.

DROUANT (18 Rue Gaillon, 2nd arr., 011-33-1-42-65-15-16)

If you have time for only one meal, book it at this historic address, the longtime host of France's prestigious annual literary awards ( Prix Goncourt ). The esteemed chef, Antoine Westermann, is responsible for breathing new life into the kitchen, which delivers exquisite mini-tastes from themed categories: "fish," "classics," "vegetables," etc. Enhancing the pleasure of these French tapas is a sleek room. What looks like gold leaf glistens from the walls, and the music is personally selected by a popular composer. Dinner for two about $175.

LE TIMBRE (3 Rue St. Beuve, 6th arr., 011-33-1-45-49-10-40)

With only 24 seats, a visitor can understand why the 33-year-old owner, Christopher Wright, christened his Left Bank spot "the postage stamp." From his closet-size open kitchen (and with the help of just one server) the British-born chef turns tomatoes, pork and fowl into the likes of a chunky gazpacho, a pastry-wrapped terrine and duck confit -- happy memories all. Entrees $20.

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