[During a visit in the spring to Paris, some foodie friends were excited to take me to KGB, which turned out to be an outstanding restaurant in the Latin Quarter. Here’s an account, along with notes a few other places I dropped in on during my stay. This article was first published on the Toronto Star’s Travel site.]
PARIS — One of the most innovative young chefs in Paris happens to be an Israeli man inspired by Asia’s cuisine and culinary philosophy.
Yariv Berreby’s food at Kitchen Galerie Bis (or KGB), a recently opened restaurant near the Left Bank’s Latin Quarter, isn’t fusion or microgastronomy, he says. It’s more about what’s been happening in Paris in the past two years, which is an attempt to change traditional French food as well as the French diet.
“We don’t want people to eat until they’re so full they’re bursting,” Berreby says in his kitchen. “We want to concentrate not so much on lots of butter and cream, but on using fresh ingredients and making the experience more satisfying, not uncomfortable.”
To retain the flavour without going to the tried-and-true richness of dairy products, Berreby uses lighter ingredients and modern culinary methods, such as foam that reduces the density of sauces without removing taste from a dish. With that approach, it’s not surprising the food at KGB, which is run by executive chef William Ledeuil, isn’t what most people expect from a Paris restaurant.
The tasting menu costs 60 euros, or you can dine a la carte. One of its winning features is its selection of hors d’oeuvres, which cost four euros apiece or up to six for 22 euros. They’re flavourful, canape-sized portions that punch with taste.
A tasting bowl of asparagus soup, served cold, comes alive with a sweet and sour spiciness. The seafood pasta entrée (24 euros) comes in a tangy sauce with foam adding a lightness, texture and flavour. For dessert, the Asian influence resonates in a coconut pana cotta (9 euros).
“We want to change French cuisine and change the way people eat with those big, huge meals. We want to do more of what Asian countries do, with ingredients that are healthier … and with more appropriate portions,” said Berreby. “In those countries, you don’t eat until you’re totally full. You learn to eat just enough.”
For those diners who are increasingly health conscious and not won over simply by combinations of butter and sugar, KGB’s approach is refreshing and its flavours complex. It also has an extensive wine list with selections at various price points and customer service that’s efficient, gracious and friendly.
If you’re looking for a fine-dining experience that’s not as expensive as Paris’s most notable restaurants, such as L’Atelier de Joel Rubichon and Alain Ducasse, then KGB should be on your list.
(Location: 25 Rue des Grands Augustins; Metro stop: Saint-Michel or Odeon; More info: the “Bis” in the name means a second instance, or encore, and is reference to Kitchen Galerie, Ledeuil’s nearby restaurant that’s more expensive and focused primarily on seafood.)
Four more spots to consider next time you’re in Paris. None of them will make the World’s 50 Best list, but they’re not going to bust your budget either:
Les Bacchantes — The cuisine at this bustling enterprise in the 9th Arrondisement is what you’d expect from a French bistro — lots of meat and fish choices, as well as terrific breads, cheese and wine, for reasonable prices. What it’s not is overly heavy fare. Vegetables are sautéed in butter and wine, of course, but the richness isn’t overdone. Try the haddock, if it’s on the menu, or the garden salad with warm goat cheese. Dinner for two with wine will come to around 45 euros. Reservations recommended; check the Les Bacchantes website for info. (Location: 21 Rue de Caumartin; Metro stop: Auber or Madeleine; More info: Read this article for more about Rue de Caumartin, home to the Hôtel Athénée and the fame L’Olympia concert hall.)
Chez Janou — “I’ve been there three times in the last week,” Torontonian Mel Dark says as she tells me of her new favourite spot in Paris, a bustling bistro near the Bastille called Chez Janou. With a gazillion places to eat in this city I’m curious why this is the one that draws acclaim from her and a couple of others I meet in Paris. When I arrive, I discover my acquaintances aren’t the only ones who love it. The house is packed on Saturday nights and an American in line says you’ll never get in on the weekends without a reservation. I’m back a week later with Mel, a copywriter and entrepreneur who owns Sugar Free Cards, and three others. The charm of Chez Janou, it turns out, isn’t in the food so much as the ambience. With a dozen other spots to eat within a short walk, this one tucked a few blocks in from the closest main street, Boulevard Machelmais, is a choice spot for the atmosphere. People spill out into the patio and onto the sidewalk, drinking wine and cocktails. The food is okay, but not great. The salmon was overdone and the Entrecôte Bistrot (steak) was average, although the potatoes it came with were ridiculously tasty. One staple is the chocolate mousse, which arrives in a giant bowl for you to spoon out as much as you’d like. There’s no limit and you’re even encouraged to dive in for plenty of it. It’s a place to go with friends to share a bottle of wine and a few bites. (2 Rue Roger Verlomme; Metro stop: Chemin Vert)
Le Bonaparte — Close to the market on Boulevard Saint-Germain on the Left Bank, you may be tempted by one of Paris’s most famous spots for a large lunch. But you should pass over Les Deux Magots — which made a reputation because Ernest Hemingway, Balzac and others frequented it during its better days — and try Le Bonaparte that’s a block away. Although pricey for a bistro, the food’s satisfying and the room is full of Parisians. The service is another issue; slow and confused — and not just because my French is woefully poor. Try the Plateau au Milles Vache, which is diced chicken served on toasted bread and covered with tomatoes and cheese (14 euros). (42 Rue Bonaparte; Metro stop: : Saint-Germain-des-Prés)
Le Bon Appetit — This little spot also in the 9th is one of those many places in Paris where you stop in for a take-out sandwich that will satiate your hunger at midday. Try the chicken curry and sliced apple sandwich on a baguette (4 euros). The curry sauce is light and the tartness of the apples are a fitting compliment. For Torontonians, it will remind you of the fresh bread and flavours you find at Brick Street Brewery in the Distillery District. (20 Rue des Capucines; Metro stop: Madeleine)