When La Nouvelle Cuisine hit France four years ago, its impact was felt far less in Paris than in the provinces. with one or two exceptions, the slightly staid great restaurants of the capital continued in homage to the haute cuisine.
But in the last year, several bright new restaruants have appeared, some with very young chefs. They will surely be the future greats and will provide exciting dining for adventurous tourists in Europe this season.
Jacques Maniere, the thinking man's chef and nonconformist of nearly eccentric proportions, sold his well-established Le Pactole and moved a few blocks further into the Latin Quarter to a new restaurant, the Dodin Bouffant (25 Rue Frederic Sauton). While not as young as the other chefs mentioned here, he is certainly experimental and offbeat in his ideas. And his new setup is the envy of his colleagues.
In Maniere's basement are seven tanks containing 20,000 gallons of salt water and 2,500 pounds of fresh seafood, including 13 varieties and sizes of oysters, clams, mussels, sea urchins, shrimp, crab and lobster. It is an utter folly. His son, a dentist, checks on things when Maniere goes on vacation. The system needs constant care.
"I wanted the adventure of the sea - not fishing in it, but all that's created in it," he explained.
The move stimulated Maniere to create several new dishes for the Dodin Bouffant. "Afer all, I couldn't bring any luggage from the Pactole," he said. The hure d'huitres et caviar - an aspic of oysters with plump gray grains of Beluga embedded in the jelly - epitomizes his philosophy. No expense is spared.Maniere buys beure d'Echire, France's finest and costliest butter, from a farmer who sells him his entire production.
The Dodin Bouffant is not in the Michelin guide. When an inspector wanted to see Maniere's toilets some years back, he refused on the grounds that he didn't cook there and thus eliminated himself permanently from Michelin stardom. Dinner is about $30 a person without wine.
Gerard Pangaud (154 Rue Montmartre) is a pupil of the brothers Troisgros who, with Maniere and others, began La Nouvelle Cuisine. Pangaud, a 25-year-old, pink-cheeked Parisian, has opened a luxurious restaurant in a working-class neighborhood near the Bourse (Stock Exchange).
He is an imaginative cook. A recent menu had snails with bacon, lobster stew with vegetables, sweetbreads with shrimp and a minty frozen charlotte made with green Chartreuse and coated with thick bitter chocolate.
Special care is taken with wine and all Bordeaux of worth are decanted without asking. Prices are about the same as Maniere's.
One of the year's liveliest discoveries is the Trou Gascon (40 Rue Taine) buried in the slightly out-of-the-way 12th arrondissement but really only a short taxi ride from the center of town. Its young owner-chef, Alain Dutournier, is a lavishly mustachioed enthusiast who takes the orders himself and tries to convince customers not to drink red wine with foie gras (he prefers sauternes).
In the foie gras department M. Dutournier knows his stuff. He has the best in town, made from small livers sent from his native Landes and served with thin slices of nut-and-raisin rye bread. He also has an unusual menu that changes with the seasons, a superb chocolate cake and a fine selection of grower armagnacs, which he chooses himself.
Dutournier is as at home with wine as he is with food and his wine list has several well-chosen bargains. Dinner for one without wine - about $23.
Another young chef is the 24-year-old Dominique Nahmias, a determined and creative woman who does everything herself in the tiny Montparnasse kitchen of L'Olympe (24 Rue Montparnasse). The restaurant is cozy and romantic and Mme. Nahmias makes light and seductive food, with few sauces or frills. Her combinations can be most unusual - a recent meal included a salad of warm artichokes and shrimp bathed in olive oil.
She serves an assortment of desserts so one can taste several homemade ice creams and sherbets served in tiny, heart-shaped dishes. L'Olympe is open late, a rarity in Paris. It costs about $23 for one without wine.
Pierre Vedel, whose new restaurant bearing his name (50 Rue des Morillons) is also slightly out-of-the-way, is the former chef of the Ristrot de Paris and has brought many of his specialties with him, including several unusual fish dishes. Special attention to details, pretty flowers and china, and attractively presented food at moderate-for-Paris prices are what make this restaurant worth noting. Lovely fresh salads, sophisticated sauces and far-out fish concoctions for about $13 for one without wine.
London, on the other hand, has never paid attention to food fads. But recently one detects a more respectful attitude toward the country's very good homegrown products.
The best example of this is Walton's (121 Walton St.), the nicest place in town from nearly every angle - elegant gray flannel and yellow print decor, artistic presentation of food, the hospitality of its owner and the care lavished on small things like vegetables, the orphans of English cookery.
Native fresh fish, Welsh lamb and Aberdeen beef are lovingly prepared and lavishly served at Walton's. There is a three-course lunch (for about $15 a person without wine, a four-course dinner (for about $19) or a late supper - a main dish with vegetables, coffee and petits fours (for about $9.)
For admirers of no-frills food mixed with genuine English quirkiness Sweeting's (39 Queen Victoria St.) has both. There are no tables here. Customers sit scrunched together at counters and, if you're lucky enough to get the first counter on the left of the entrance, the boss himself waits on you.
Sweeting's has nothing but fish, none of it fried. Customers waiting for seats ward off starvation with thick slices of smoked salmon in brown bread. The grilled Dover sole is sublime. Mr. Sweeting serves an excellent Italian blue cheese that he calls "dolcelatte," a runny version of Gorgammia. He also has excellent muscadet tre sur lie and vintage port, both sold by the glass. Open for lunch only, about $6 a person including plenty of wine.
The current chic French restaurant is Ma Cuisine (113 Walton St.). It is tiny and so popular that one must book two weeks in advance for dinner. But lunch is quiet and very pleasant. While Ma Cuisine would be a perfectly ordinary eatery in, say, Paris or New York, it is very good for London. About $12 for one without wine.
While Ma Cuisine is chic, Langan's Brasserie (Stratton Street off Piccadilly) is in. Owned partly by Michael Caine, who is frequently onstage along with other familiar-looking film stars, Langan's is an attractive, slightly campy barn with decent food if you stick to the uncomplicated dishes. After all, the main attraction here is people. About $16 a person including wine.
Reservations are essential at all restaurants. In Paris, many have taken to closing on weekends and, since most of the places listed here are not in the Michelin guide, a phone call would be prudent. Many do not accept credit cards.