Postcard from Tom: Paris

Sunday, October 26, 2008

One of the best ways to economize in Paris these days is to take advantage of the city's public bicycle renting program, which has grown to 20,000 bicycles and 1,450 stations since its inception a year ago. For a modest fee (about $7 for a weekly pass), riders can pick up a bike in one place and leave it at another. The bonus for serious eaters is a chance to work off some of the damage done in restaurants such as these:

LES FINES GUEULES (43 Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs, 1st; 011-33-01-42-61-35-41): Wine bars are riding a fresh wave of popularity right now, epitomized by venues such as this one, near the Place des Victoires, a fashionable shopping district. Don't expect a lot of elbow room. Fines Gueules unfolds in a series of tiny rooms on three levels of a 17th-century building with a rustic look. Chef Arnaud Bradol shops for what's freshest, then turns what he finds into meals of subtle good taste; with luck, you'll find, as I did, roseate veal carpaccio drizzled with olive oil and shaved Parmesan, and a fish terrine flecked with chives and set off with sun-dried tomatoes. Entrees $22-$29.

LES OMBRES (27 Quai Branly, 7th; 011-33-01-47-53-68-00): There are no bad tables at this neighbor to the Quai Branly Museum. How could there be, when the Eiffel Tower and some of the city's most recognizable rooftops loom in the background? Imitating a spider web, slender steel beams spread across a ceiling of glass in the restaurant; together with the two-tone wood floor and even the black and white porcelain plates, the design acknowledges the name of the dining destination, which translates as "the shadows." From the kitchen come elegant sheep's-milk cheese ravioli served atop a sauce reminiscent of gazpacho; pigeon staged several succulent ways with sauteed peas; and delicate sole fillet draped in a frothy wine-and-cream sauce. The tab reflects the fact you're paying for postcard views: Coffee costs 5 euros (about $7), but it includes a little tray of sweet temptations to soften the deal. Entrees $42-$59.

LE PAMPHLET (38 Rue Debelleyme, 3rd; 011-33-01-42-72-39-24): We arrived tired and rain-soaked, and immediately felt we had come to the right place. Even before we saw wine, we got a welcome from the kitchen: a dip of tuna, capers and Espelette pepper that we spread on toasted bread. Then came a formal amuse-bouche: a bite of herring and potato decorated with minced vegetables. Such a generous bistro! Chef Alain Carrere trained under the celebrated Christian Constant at the Hotel de Crillon, tutelage that reveals itself here in every lovely dish. Among the stars I counted at a recent dinner: red mullet poised on a wisp of pastry and served with frisee, roast duck paired with crisp polenta sticks, veal bedded on pillowy gnocchi, and chocolate mousse, its richness balanced with salty caramel ice cream. Tucked away in the Marais, the intimate space isn't expensive, it just looks that way, dressed as it is with cushy lipstick-red chairs, exposed stone walls and well-spaced tables set with small glass globes containing white roses. I'll be back. Three-course dinner $48.

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