The overarching honesty and generosity of La Vierge’s concept places the restaurant alongside overachieving peers like Belleville’s Le Cadoret at the vanguard of a new generation of Paris bistrot that recognizes the value of virtue.
The best way to understand the underground appeal of Empire Celeste is by comparing it to another well-known Parisian Chinese restaurant, Davé. Offering run-of-the-mill Chinese cuisine in a cramped, kitchy red interior, Davé is notoriously popular with the fashion set. Its walls are festooned with images of the proprietor arm-in-arm with Yves Saint-Laurent, Mick Jagger, and Kim Kardashian. Empire Celeste, run by three generations of the Wang family since the restaurant’s founding in 1953, is the Davé of another peculiar subculture: the natural wine crowd.
Nestled on a drab Belleville backstreet beneath the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Le Cadoret’s blue awning shines out like a beacon. So does chef Léa Fleuriot’s delicate, thoughtful approach to country-bistrot classics. A sleeper hit since Fleuriot and her brother Louis opened it in 2017, Le Cadoret is a bistrot and café where an ostensibly straightforward offering - traditional recipes, inexpensive natural wines, craft beers - achieves the sublime thanks to rare combination of sincere and efficient service, serious value, and an ironclad commitment to ingredient quality.
Disregard what is written on the window of Cheval d’Or’s elegantly-preserved red façade, for what restaurateur Florent Ciccoli (of Jones and Café du Coin, among other endeavors) and chef Taku Sekine (of Dersou) have created on a quiet side street near the Parc des Buttes Chaumont is not a Chinese restaurant. Cheval d’Or is, rather, a tasteful and welcoming luxury small-plates restaurant offering a delicate synthesis of pan-Asian and Parisian cuisines, more middle ground than Middle Kingdom.
La Poule au Pot is a looker. It's wonderful to walk in and witness the vintage wallpaper, the globe lighting, and the silver-plated serving chariot wheeling between Pepto-Bismol colored tables. It is at once a little elegant and also a touch cheesy. One can almost picture the 80s pop stars who used to slouch into these red banquettes, the mirrored pillars reflecting their manliner and sprayed hair. Today's Poule au Pot, having been recently rebooted by star chef Jean-François Piège, reflects something different - a desire for traditional cuisine bourgeouise and also the willingness (by some) to pay for it.
French food magazine Fulgurances opened L’Adresse in 2015 as a culinary incubator featuring a rotating cast of guest chefs. In 2016, we were blown away by the food of Israeli chef Tamir Nahmias. More recently, we returned for Mariana Villegas, a young Mexican chef who previously passed through Cosme and Union Square Café in New York. Her cooking is bright and inventive. Here's an update on what's happening at Fulgurances.
Fresh off Paris’ greatest resto reboot of recent years - transforming the defunct destination Restaurant Bones into the beloved seven-day mainstay Restaurant Jones - chef-restaurateur Florent Ciccoli doubled down on the Voltaire neighborhood in late 2017, opening Café du Coin with the aid of frequent collaborator Greg Back (L’Orillon, Les Pères Populaires).
Le Rigmarole opened in October 2017 and delighted me more than any other restaurant that year. A recent return visit confirmed my feeling that Le Rigmarole is honest, inexpensive and delicious. It's casual and a bit chaotic, and it deserves to be packed every night.