During his stint as chef of Les Ambassadeurs at the Hôtel de Crillon, Jean-François Piège did a dish I will never forget, a sort of deconstructed version of spaghetti carbonara: two thick chunks of grilled pork belly topped with crackling and two bars of Parmesan flan intricately wrapped with strands of spaghetti and drizzled with egg yolk. It was bizarre, but brilliant and notably bold, an audacious departure from the classical French cooking to be expected at one of the most opulent dining rooms in Paris. Too audacious to indicate a good fit with the hotel, in fact. So I wasn’t surprised when Piège left in 2008 to join Thierry Costes, of the ubiquitous Costes family of restaurateurs, in rebooting the old brasserie Thoumieux, turning it into a glamorous contemporary restaurant.
Some of the dishes at Thoumieux were amusing, but it seemed to me that the talented Piège was under-shooting his mark. Now he has opened a second restaurant, upstairs at Thoumieux, where he’s offering a very personal take on 21st-century French gastronomy. The new dining room, designed by India Mahdavi, has a retro 1950s–1960s country-club look—cushy sofas and chairs, low lighting, thick carpeting, cream walls with a diamond-pattern grid—and, with a small open kitchen and seating for only 20, it feels very much like a private club.
The short menu proposes five basic ingredients—on a recent night the choices were langoustines, scallops, turbot, farm-raised chicken and beef—and explains that you can order one, two, three or five of them as part of a fixed-price meal that also includes hors d’oeuvres, a cheese course and dessert. My friend and I chose two apiece—which proved to be too much. To start, we were offered an assortment of amusing nibbles that included Piège’s miniature versions of two classic corner-café snacks: baguette-jambon-beurre—a chunk of ham encased in lacy toast with a slice of pickle—and moules frites—a plump mussel topped with a little nest of deep-fried potato straws. These clever treats were absolutely delicious, proving the chef had wind in his sails again. Next, Piège’s riff on paella, with squid and shellfish in a saffron broth, was garnished with a lacy rice wafer; the scallops were very lightly browned and dropped into a Parmesan-spiked watercress velouté. Both were superb. My beef was prepared two ways—a salad of raw beef with a ginger vinaigrette, and a perfectly cooked sirloin of Chilean wagyu (Japanese-style Kobe beef), served with a fat-free, egg-yolk-based béarnaise sauce. My friend’s thick slice of turbot was topped with Swiss chard ribs in a sauce sharpened by chopped pomegranate seeds and shredded pomelo. Portions were so large that we couldn’t do justice to the excellent cheeses from Xavier, an affineur in Toulouse, nor did we make much headway with the little array of desserts, including a wonderful apple tart, that concluded this excellent and dazzlingly creative meal.
Le Restaurant de Jean-François Piège (upstairs at Thoumieux), 79 rue Saint Dominique, 7th, 01.47.05.79.79. website
Fixed-price menus €70, €90, €115. Prices are per person without wine.
Originally published in the January 2011 issue of France Today; updated in August 2011
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