Il Palazzo at the Normandy Hotel
© W.A Dudley
Classy cuisine…Paris' top tables
by Julie Baker

Following in the footsteps of Spoon and the Costes empire, more and more restaurants are opting for stylish, even dazzling interiors, smooth service and innovative cooking. Below is a selection of some of the new establishments expected to shine during this season’s fashion shows.

Restaurant L’Orangeraie Villa Beaumarchais, 5 rue Arquebusiers, 3e, M° St-Sébastien Froissart, tel: 01 40 29 14 07, closed Sat lunch, Sun & Mon. Located close to the Picasso museum, the interior of the restaurant is a real surprise, with a large glass atrium overlooking a central garden of lush palms and ferns and a fountain set amidst a spray of rust-colored sand. The décor suggests a Med flavor, with tiled floors and burnt sienna-walls contrasted with swaths of saffron yellow. The cuisine also looks to the Mediterranean, with the filet of marinated St-Pierre, cut paper thin and layered between wafer fine slices of toast accompanied by couscous and topped by a bright garnish of tarragon, dill, coriander and chives with a scatter of sesame seeds, or the succulent filet of bar, roasted in its skin and served with just-extinguished springs of still-glowing rosemary that filled our table with a delicious aroma. Both dishes were worth the splurge on a superb white Domaine de Sénechaux Chateauneuf du Pape. Dessert was a real treat, beautiful swirls of banana ice cream with sautéed banana, candied beetroot and mint. $$$

Il Palazzo Normandy Hotel, 7 rue de l’Echelle, 1er, M° Pyramide, tel: 01 42 60 91 20, open daily. Nestled between the Louvre and Opéra, this visually stunning new Italian restaurant boasts a décor that manages to be both imposing and playful. World and techno music play against the blush, glow and retreat of subtle sequenced lighting, veined marble pillars soar to a painted ceiling that supports a sequence of huge Miróesque silver domes, and vast curtains hang between tables, bestowing both intimacy and grandeur, candlelight casting shadows on their diaphanous surfaces. Among the pasta dishes the crab cannelloni with a frothy seafood sauce was wonderful and the open lasagne with vegetables that were beautifully fresh though rather bland. Although tempted by the grilled calamari with sun-dried tomatoes, olives and pistou sauce, we chose the generous lamb filet with stuffed potato, eggplant caviar and confit tomatoes, an outstanding success. For dessert, the three little tiramisu of coffee, pistachio and amaretto were charming. The selection of wines from different parts of Italy is intruiging and we were delighted with our 1996 Sicilian Casale Dei Biscari.$$$

La Table du Baltimore Sofitel Demeure Hotel, 88bis avenue Kléber, 16e, M° Kléber, tel: 01 44 34 54 34, open daily. A stylish addition to one of the hippest strips in Paris, running between Trocadéro and Etoile, La Table du Baltimore attracts a modish crowd of fashion people, journalists and well-heeled artists. The restaurant’s decor manages to be both discreet and sleek and its cuisine refined yet adventurous. Chocolate-colored banquettes, honey-hued wood and the blush of purple give it a post-modern intimacy, accentuated by the quietly considerate service and subdued lighting. Our entrée of tartare of crab with gaspacho served on the side was perfect for the summery weather, and we also appreciated the lightness of the simple but effective carrot terrine. The generous and perfectly cooked turbot was outstanding and we enjoyed the equally copious serving of baby rouget wrapped in a thin layer of poitrine fumée, although we thought the flavor of the bacon was a shade too strong for the fish. Desserts are structured around a principle ingredient, such as apple or pineapple, and we enjoyed the chocolate-one built, a classic tarte fine with confite orange. $$$

Le Restaurant Meurice, Hôtel Meurice 228 rue de Rivoli, 1er, M° Tuileries, tel: 01 44 58 10 10, open daily. One of Paris’ great palace hotels, the Meurice recently reopened after extensive renovations, and now attracts an impressive mix of heads of state, film stars and plain old millionaires. The sumptuous 19th Century dining room with its ornate ceilings, gilded mirrors and marble columns offers an exquisite setting for a meal. The spacing of the tables is particularly generous and creates an unexpected feeling of intimacy. The cuisine presents classics with great definition and style with a hint of the exotic. Entrées favor fresh seafood delicacies such as crab or lobster that are beautifully presented and highlighted by nuances of anis or a creamy sauce of fava beans with a hint of spice. Our main courses — noisettes of tender baby lamb caressed by the added perfume of an almond sauce poured at the table, and a superb Limousin filet of beef, a masterpiece of flavors combining truffles, sherry and capers — were exquisitely executed. The desserts are contemporary renditions of classics such as the chocolate biscuit with basil and a nougat soufflé enhanced by the slight bitterness of rosemary. $$$

L’Orénoc 81 bd Gouvion Saint-Cyr, 17e, M° Porte Maillot, tel: 01 40 68 30 40, open daily. The dramatic interior, with its wide sight lines, dark tones of chocolate, café, hazel and burgundy, and the juxtaposition of continental icons — an African mask here, a Chinese armoire there — makes for an enticing and exciting new venue, with luxuriously spaced table settings. If only the decorous but ever-hovering service could take a leaf out of the lighting and be a little more discreet. The name of the restaurant refers to a South American river and the theme of the cuisine is built around the tropics by way of Rungis. For entrées the copious tarte fine with marinated slivers of tuna and shaved fennel was excellent as well as the signature croustillant of crab delicately perfumed with Thai spices. As a main course the swordfish pan-fried with Cajun spicing garnished with sweet potato and banana was superb; the sea bream with a soft sweet pepper crust was an original concept but the final result was a little heavy. Our white Château Simon Côtes de Provence proved to be a perfect accompaniment to the spices in the meal. $$$

Price Key: $=up to 140F. $$=up to 210F. $$$=more than 210F. Prices are for the average cost of an entrée, main course and dessert from the à la carte menu and exclude wine. While all care has been taken to verify estimates, we cannot be held responsible for any changes or fluctuations.

La Table du Baltimore at the Sofitel Demeure Hotel
© W.A Dudley