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.
Le Villaret is one of our favorite Classic Bistros in Paris. Sometimes in life we chase after the ones who play hard-to-get and we ignore the nice, stable options who just want to treat us right. Le Villaret is the homely neighborhood bistro that I never appreciated until I stopped looking for love at Le Baratin and Le Repaire de Cartouche. Le Villaret boasts a wine list every bit as interesting, especially if you’re looking for a balanced mix of natural and conventional wines, and bottles are served without the side dish or distain that you’re likely to receive from those popular boys. Wine is definitely the attraction here, so decide first what you want to drink and then find something on the lengthy food menu to pair with your choice. On a recent visit, I pounced on a 2011 Chablis 1er Cru from Raveneau (80€) and enjoyed some lovely if not life-changing monkfish medallions in lobster sauce (30€). There’s also a three-course menu for only 35€, and plenty of moderately priced wines. For people who love wine and want to enjoy a special bottle (or four) and some classic bistro food, Le Villaret is currently one of most reliable options in town.
This simple bistro has for years been a favorite among wine lovers, who arrive hoping to plumb the depths of Rodolphe Paquin’s cellar. Whether you taste something from the carte, or persuade Paquin to share an off-list treasure from his cave, wine is undoubtedly the highlight of any experience here. Paquin’s terrines are also extraordinary. He’s written a book about the subject and sells them whole in ceramic crocks to go. In autumn and winter, this is the place to go for wild game. Everything else here is pretty average, except for the service, which is atrocious. Two different tables stormed out during my most recent visit. What saves the experience for some is the joyful welcome from Paquin, the affable host (some ladies might say too affable) who greats regulars like long lost friends. Since I’ve been coming for years, I get a squeeze and a smile but still suffer through the terrible service… no one is safe. Visitors to Paris who can’t cite a winemaker connection or who haven’t yet been introduced will most likely be ignored and wondering why we’ve included this on our site. We’ve included it to reclassify Le Repaire de Cartouche as a great place to sit at the bar without reservations, order wine with a slab of terrine, and wait for your table to open up at Au Passage. It’s still great fun as a wine bar, even if it can no longer deliver as a restaurant.
Pretend the financial crisis never happened, and book Les Ambassadeurs, where the very young chef Christophe Hache is making a name for himself.