2008/04/09

Alexander Lobrano: Hungry for Paris

By JULIETTE ROSSANT

Hungry for Paris, by Alexander Lobrano Alexander Lobrano is Gourmet's European Correspondent. He eats to work and has been doing that since he moved to Paris in 1986. His passion for Parisian restaurants resonates throughout his personal guidebook, Hungry for Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City's 102 Best Restaurants (Random House 2009). If you intend to eat in Paris, he is a masterful guide, an insider who will show you not only where to eat but how to approach your meal.

If you are intimidated by ordering in a French restaurant, especially one in Paris, read The Happy Eater's Almanac: How to Have a Perfect Meal in Paris (p. 5), which goes through how to deal with your waiter/waitress, the different courses, manners and noise:
Many Anglophones are uncomfortable making complaints in restaurants. Parisians don't suffer from the same inhibition – if their meat is over- or undercooked, they won't hesitate to send it back and neither should you. (p. 10)
Good advice - along with a passage on Special Requests (p. 20) warning against excessive requests to omit ingredients.

Alexander takes the reader behind the scenes at the restaurants he writes about. Take Aux Lyonnais, where he dined, he says, twenty years ago on " Lyonnais specialties what the French would describe as "correct" or decent if unremarkable." (p. 47) This time, in 2002, he returns to an ambitious Alain Ducasse run establishment:
In a word: Alain Ducasse's neo-Lyonnais bouchon cleverly updates the gastronomic idiom of the famously gastronomic city at the confluence of the Rhone and the Saone rivers for the twenty-first century. The satisfying richness of such hearty dishes as sabodet (sausage made from pig's head and skin) is retained, but the kitchen's subtle sleight of hand renders them lighter and more refined. (pp. 48-9)
Then there is the restaurant, L'AOC run by Chef Jean-Philippe Lattron and his wife. Like the restaurant of the same name in Los Angeles, Suzanne Goin's AOC, the restaurant focuses on ingredients that merit the Appellation d'Origine Controlee. Here is Alexander at the end of the meal eavesdropping on a group of politicians:
In almost any other setting these snatches of overheard conversation would have rankled, but so lavishly served and so well fed on such an inhospitable night, I actually felt forgiving and even a little humbled by good fortune in living in a city where a young couple so passionate about the quality of the food they serve would find such an enthusiastic following. (p. 112)
These are an insider's thoughts as much as a description of a meal and a reason to choose one restaurant over another. Scattered in the book are more personal essays exploring food in France, including one fun one entitled "Eating the Unspeakable" (p. 253) that includes a discussion of lobster, birds, and oysters, along with sex.

Guidebooks are problematic. After all, how long are they good for? Will the restaurants be there when you arrive next year or the year after? (Will an update be online ? On your hand-held device?) Perhaps, with Alexander, it doesn't matter. Enjoy the tales in Hungry for Paris, dream with him about the meals, and call weeks or months ahead for a reservation.

Previous articles:
Ethnic Paris Cookbook
Valentine's Day Book - Paris: The Secret History
[Cookbook Review - complete]

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