Hidden Kitchen

Corn soup with black bean salsa

Late last summer, a young chef from Seattle wrote to tell me about his underground restaurant project: Hidden Kitchen was to be set in an apartment somewhere in Paris, where he and his girlfriend would serve a tasting menu with matching wines to twelve diners each week. The price would be reasonable and chef friends visiting from out of town would be invited to cook there on occasion, too.

He had the vision, the name, the funding, the location, and the nifty cut-out cards, but he wanted to reach out and ask for a local’s thoughts.

And this local’s predominant thought was: yay! (I may have offered a bit more insight — I forget.)

The concept of an underground restaurant is common enough in some countries to be documented on Wikipedia and to have been written up in the press, but I have heard or read very little about similar initiatives in Paris — of course, they may be so underground as to fly below my radar –, so I was excited to learn about this one, and to be in the front row as it made its debut.

It took the team a few months to pull things together, renovate the apartment, set up the kitchen, and decorate the dining room, but the chef wrote again in the spring to announce that things were just about ready: the first official dinner would be held on June 24, but would Maxence and I like to come and lend our taste buds for a proof of concept dinner a couple of weeks before that?

My reply was: see above.

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Saigon Sandwich: Best Banh Mi in Paris

Looking for the best banh mi in Paris? Look no further!

True dining bargains are so few and so far between in Paris that by the time you discover a new one, the previous find has usually turned into an old legend that The Elders like to recount around the fire while the young sit there and wonder if it would be okay to take out their phones.

But when it comes to lunch and fuss-free food, Paris has no shortage of hole-in-the-wall gems; you just need to know where to look. And today, we shall look in the general direction of Belleville and, more precisely, a little street off the general hullabaloo of the boulevard.

There hides a Vietnamese sandwich joint called Saigon Sandwich. Barely larger than my kitchen, it is the workshop of one sandwich-making artist, a middle-aged man who takes immense pride in the quality and freshness of his subs, assembled to order throughout the day.

To those unfamiliar with the Vietnamese sandwich, let me introduce the bánh mì, a deceptively simple combination of meat, crudités (cucumbers, carrots, daikon, onions, cilantro, chili), and some sort of dressing (most often mayonnaise, garlic chili sauce, Maggi sauce, or a combination thereof) on a piece of light-textured baguette — a little souvenir of the friendly presence (ahem) of the French in Vietnam in the 19th and 20th century.

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Dry-Cured Duck Sausage

Saucisson de Canard

[Dry-Cured Duck Sausage]

We had long wanted to try Le Petit Canard, a small restaurant tucked away in a side street of the 9th arrondissement, just a few blocks from us. I had often walked past it on my way up and down the hill, and it looked cosy and warm, with just a handful of candle-lit tables. As the name implies, the menu focuses on all things duck, and I have a weakness for monomaniac restaurants.

We finally made it there last week with our neighbors and my two oldest girlfriends. For starters, we decided to share a selection of duck charcuterie: smoked magret, duck rillettes (a pâté of shredded meat), two kinds of duck terrines (one with port and green peppercorns, one with chesnuts), and slices of duck saucisson, a dry-cured sausage that’s classically made with just pork meat.

All the products served at this restaurant come from a small farm in Haute-Savoie, a region in the French Alps. This came as something of a quirky suprise, because Haute-Savoie isn’t typically renowned for its duck breeding — the bulk of French duck products comes from the South-West. The owner confirmed that this farm, operated by his brother-in-law in a village called Balaison, is the only such farm in the area, but that the ducks fare very well in the cool mountain air. They enjoy the ski slopes, too.

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Christmas in Paris: Food

Holiday Food

No one needs to be reminded that food is an essential part of the holiday celebrations, and for this second part of our tri-city series, let me recommend a few places to eat some of the delicacies that epitomize Christmas in Paris.

[New York Food] [London Food]


A traditional treat to open a holiday feast is the platter of oysters, freshly delivered from the ocean and freshly opened by whoever is brave enough to risk slashing his left palm open. Oysters are most often served in the shell on a bed of crushed ice — although some purists argue that this dulls their flavor — with thin slices of rye bread, salted butter, and lemon juice. Besides the many classic Parisian brasseries which proudly display their selection on sidewalk stands, a good place to eat oysters is L’Ecaille de la Fontaine in the 2nd. It is owned by the über-famous actor Depardieu, who also operates La Fontaine Gaillon, just a few steps away. L’Ecaille is the marine annex to this pricier venue, and offers a daily selection of ultrafresh shellfish and related dishes. Their oysters can be tasted in the 19€ formula (9 oysters, a dessert and a glass of wine) or in the larger variety platter (62€ for 2). The restaurant is closed on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25, but they will be open for New Year’s Eve with an 80€ menu (make your reservation asap).

L’Ecaille de la Fontaine
15 rue Gaillon, 75002 Paris
01 47 42 02 99
Closed on Sat-Sun.


The hunting season officially opens in early September and closes in late February. Regardless of how you feel about hunting — a higly controversial topic, I know — the discerning palate will appreciate the unique flavors that game provides, whether it’s deer (daim or biche), boar (sanglier or marcassin), wild ducks (col-vert or sauvageon) or other birds (palombes or cailles). Two excellent restaurants feature those animals prominently on their seasonal menus: Chez Michel in the 10th, which mainly focuses on Brittany-inspired cuisine, and L’Ami Jean in the 7th, a South-West gastro-bistro.

Chez Michel
10 rue de Belzunce, 75010 Paris
01 44 53 06 20
Closed on Sat-Sun and Mon. for lunch.
L’Ami Jean
27 rue Malar, 75007 Paris
01 47 05 86 89
Closed between Dec. 24 to Jan. 3.

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Couscous at Le Dattier (IMBB6)

Couscous at Le Dattier

My cooking resume, if I had one, would have to say “Grilling experience : little to none”.

Growing up in the city, in a non-grilling family at that, BBQ has never been part of my gastronomical landscape. In fact, I attended my first barbecue in the US, at the ripe old age of 21. I do love it though — the smell and taste of grilled food, but also the atmosphere, the joy of cooking outdoors and the fascination of working so close with fire, king of all elements.

I have no grilling gear, indoor or outdoors, and my recent schedule didn’t allow me to properly prepare anything for the 6th edition of Is My Blog Burning?, the collaborative food blogging event, hosted this time around by Too Many Chefs on a grilling theme. But of course, not participating at all wasn’t an option, so I chose instead to go out for a grilled dinner with Maxence, and share it with you.

In Paris, one of your best bets if you feel like a little grilled meat (grillades in French), is a couscous at a Moroccan restaurant. As it happens, there is a very good one called Le Dattier (“the date tree”) just around the corner from my parents’ apartment, where they’ve lived for the past seventeen years. It’s been owned by the same family for as long as we can remember, and it was a regular destination for us when we felt like eating out, and a very convenient and stress-free way to entertain guests : pre-dinner drinks would be had at home, and then everyone would head out animatedly, walk twenty meters up the street, and take a seat at the pleasant terrace.

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