Décontracté Dining

© W.A Dudley
Chic and Cool
by Julie Baker

One of the latest Paris resto trends is décontracté eating: places that manage to be both chic and casual, where diners can relax over well-priced, innovative cuisine in a low-key yet stylish ambiance.

XU 19 rue Bayard, 8e, M° Franklin D Roosevelt, tel: 01 47 20 82 24, closed Sun lunch. In one of the hottest parts of town, just off the avenue Montaigne and seconds away from the Champs-Elysées, Xu has a spacious yet intimate downstairs bar with DJs in the evening, a cozy mezzanine and an upstairs dining room with a large skylight that makes it feel like an artist’s atelier. Bold candy-colored chairs warm up the interior, as does a huge wrought-iron candelabra, topped with opaque Miróesque lamps, that clambers along the wall like a huge vine. Given its location, it attracts a fashionable lunchtime crowd that drops by for some of the well-priced and inventive tartines accompanied by Badoit or a modest glass of wine. The main menu offers more elaborate fare, such as Vietnamese nems, raw tuna with a sesame crust, a generous turbot served with fried artichoke on a bed of shredded endive and a sumptuous green curry of prawns with Thai aubergines that deployed a tantalizing combination of color, texture and taste.

Durand Dupont 14 pl du Marché, Neuilly, M° Sablons, tel: 01 41 92 93 00, open daily. Among the chicest spots in this part of town, this restaurant also produces one of the best known and — at 180F for adults and 120F for children — best-priced Sunday brunches in town, attracting a blend of well-heeled 30-somethings and a surprising number of kids and babies. The large, loft-like space boasts plenty of light thanks to huge windows and a remarkably leafy private courtyard at the back. Bronze and magenta-hued walls highlighted with gold and loud, warm canvases by Wattremez produce a sleek, sophisticated space where to indulge in a buffet that will keep you busy for most of the afternoon. Start with the viennoiseries, scrambled eggs and coffee, then move on to the buffalo wings, jumbo shrimp, a host of quiches, pies and samosas, and even a roast suckling pig. Save room for the large selection of desserts including crumbles, cheesecake, fruit salads and some fine brownies. During the week the restaurant is particularly popular at lunchtime when you can explore the plentiful à la carte menu.

Le Clou 132 rue Cardinet, 17e, M° Villiers, tel: 01 42 27 36 78, closed weekends. If your dream is to find a genuine neighborhood bistro without a tourist in sight, you can do no better than go to this warm, inviting and friendly establishment with a well-stocked front bar, large windows and mirrors and comfortable back banquette. The food focuses on the seasons and the terroirs of France, using imaginative and intriguing combinations such as the delectable cold melon soup with tomato and basil or the poached egg with meurette sauce and escargots. Main courses include a succulent shoulder of lamb braised for 5 hours with whole garlic, and fragrant slivers of sea bass with saffron and fennel. The soft chocolate cake is always a real temptation but on our last visit our dessert was simple and superb: fresh fraises des bois with blackcurrant sorbet. The well-priced wine card offers intriguing and wide selections from all over France.

Restaurant Sawadee, 53 av Emile Zola, 15e, M° Charles Michel, tel: 01 45 77 68 90, closed Sun. With its huge windows opening up on the corner of leafy avenues and its hushed scarlet, gold leaf interior with traditional Buddhist statues, this worthy Thai restaurant is something of a neighborhood institution. Order a Thai beer then puzzle over the vast array of different menu combinations, offering everything from the simple to the sumptuous, as well as a seemingly endless list of tempting specialties. Although the classic shrimp soup with lemon grass surprised by lacking both thrust and definition, the piquant cuttlefish salad more than made up for this. Our codfish wrapped in a banana leaf with a curry crust was excellent, while the yellow curry chicken was tender and pleasantly spicy. Despite the number of customers on the Saturday night we were there, service was friendly, efficient and calm.

Caves St Gilles, 4 rue St Gilles, 3e, M° Filles du Calvaire, tel: 01 48 87 22 62.. open daily, no credit cards. Tucked away in a lovely part of the Marais, this is just the place to linger over a long hearty meal with the family or a few drinks and tapas with friends, especially at night when its attractively lit interior attracts an international crowd. Stepping into this friendly corner establishment, which boasts a small but sunny sidewalk terrace, makes one feel as though you’ve crossed the border into Spain. Bright tiles, a tapas-loaded bar, tauromachia on the walls, Spanish staff, and a patron glancing through El Pais ... all set the mood for a casual and filling lunch in a friendly, bustling environment. Although the food is fresh and portions large, the cuisine is not always as authentically Spanish as the decor: witness the weekend paella. The generous serving of seafood didn’t make up for the fact that it wasn’t served in a paella dish. Still, prices are low, and classic standbys like tortilla and pata negra make the grade.

Le Clou
© W.A Dudley