A highlight in the City of Lights
Michelin- starred eating in Paris is not a sport for bargain hunters
Ispent a summer in Paris as a student in the 1990s. Much of my time in the City of Lights was spent in the darkroom of the Centre de Formation et de Perfectionnement des Journalistes ( CFPJ). Instead of restaurants, I hung out with the vinegar tang of fixer, spending a large chunk of grant money on photographic chemicals and ruinously expensive but beautiful paper in the Fnac department store. Formed but far from perfected ( I still marvel at how the average Parisian knots a scarf), it feels like an enormous chunk of luck to have had that time in that city making images swim into view before the digital age swept the whole shebang into history.
In a small- world coincidence, the CFPJ is now on the Rue du Louvre close to where we’re headed for lunch. La Dame de Pic is the Michelin- starred restaurant of French chef Anne- Sophie Pic. The chef is in that small club of women chefs who hold three stars. Hers reside at her family restaurant, Maison Pic in Valence in the south- east of France. She opened La Dame de Pic here in Paris six years ago and it garnered a star. It seems like a good spot for a mother- and- daughter lunch. There’s another similar combination at the next table, a young couple on the other side of us and a table of dark- suited businessmen, all on the sparkling water, nearby.
The restaurant is a muted swirl of browns and cream, the carpet like a huge cowhide with a rivulet of thick cream running down through it. The walls are decorated with panels of creamy leather with 3- D branches of blossomed tree in the same material. A linen runner crisp enough to slice cheese runs down the middle of our simple wooden table. The cutlery is the most elegant I have ever used, knives and forks like heavy long- handled silver wands.
La Dame de Pic feels like a meeting of old and new worlds. Chefs wear the high toques that will always summon Pixar’s Ratatouille to mind. But two snacks arrive on a flat stone, Nordic
style. They’re a tiny pillow of beet in crisp pastry and a cube of bean curd dusted in curried peanut powder that’s so trashily tasty it’s almost like a cheesy thumbs- up from the kitchen. Yes, we take ourselves seriously here, the mouthful says, but there’s food fun to be had.
The menu does the best thing that menus can do: underplaying the dishes with few words and minimum floweriness. So “seasonal mushrooms” is a
bowl of fluffy but delightful fondue made with aged Comté. In the middle, there’s a confit- ed egg yolk surrounded by a lifebuoy of crisp egg, like the glassy bits on the edge of a fried egg. On top, there are blobs of confited yolk and cubes of white. It’s a dish that combines “look at me” cheffing with the comfort hug of a panda in a onesie.
My opener is the best oyster I’ve ever tasted. It’s a Tarbouriech, so meaty it looks like a chunk of chicken fillet, pre-