French Restaurant Review: Golden Poppy, Paris

French Restaurant Review: Golden Poppy, Paris

French and Californian cuisine meet for an intriguing culinary experience at Golden Poppy, Paris, headed by chef Dominique Crenn.

Among the stereotypes the French cling to with the greatest pleasure and tenacity, few are more enduring than the trope that America is le pays de la malbouffe, a culinary wasteland. In many Gallic minds, gastronomically ignorant Americans subsist on a horrendous diet of hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, fried chicken, spongy white bread, sugary fizzy drinks and fast food. If the food seen in Hollywood films and TV shows was initially responsible for this reputation, the arrival of American fast-food chains sealed the deal, beginning with the opening of the first McDonald’s in France in Créteil in 1972 (France counts 1,515 branches today).

Ironically enough, however, Paris is today dense with restaurants peddling not only such Yankee staples as cheeseburgers, but also lobster rolls, hot dogs, mac ‘n’ cheese, fried chicken, barbecue and other characteristically American comfort foods, because, well, the French actually like them. The excellence of the contemporary American bistro cooking found in such sophisticated, food-loving cities as San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia never got a look-in in Paris (unlike London), however, until the recent opening of Golden Poppy, a contemporary Californian restaurant named after the state’s official flower, at the new hotel, La Fantaisie, in the 9th arrondissement.

Dominique Crenn © Laurent Dupont

The plot thickens, though, because this restaurant is the homecoming creation of French-born chef Dominique Crenn, who moved to San Francisco in 1988 and trained with Jeremiah Tower, one of the founding chefs of Californian cuisine. Today Crenn is the only female chef in the US to hold three Michelin stars for L’Atelier Crenn, in San Francisco, where she also has two other casual tables. “I’ve wanted to open a restaurant in Paris for a long time, because if my cooking style is Californian, my heart will always be French,” she explains. Crenn, who was adopted from a Breton orphanage by an affluent couple from Versailles, first became interested in gastronomy as a young girl. Her father, a politician, often brought her along when he dined at Michelin-starred restaurants with a friend who was the food critic for the Breton newspaper, Le Télégramme; and her mother groomed her palate by cooking dishes from many different kitchens as well as taking her to Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Vietnamese restaurants in Paris. Crenn also learned a lot about produce during summers spent on her family’s farm in Brittany. “I loved the theatre of restaurants,” she writes in her memoir, Rebel Chef: In Search of What Matters (Penguin Press, 2020).

California cooking was based on the freshest local produce preferably organic, it avoided dairy goods and it was richly inspired by the kitchens of the immigrant neighbourhoods that make San Francisco one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. After cooking around town and training with Jeremiah Tower, Crenn made these concepts the wick of her own subtly elegant cooking style, a sort of free-style California cuisine espaliered to the traditions of French gastronomic logic and technical rigour. Crenn describes her cooking as “poetic culinaria”, or the poetry of cooking.

Mushroom and cabbage dumpling ©Maki Manoukian

Heading to Golden Poppy for dinner with a friend, I was hugely curious, because I’d never been to any of Crenn’s vaunted tables, but had read many encomiums to the luminous beauty and confident sensuality of her cooking. The restaurant, in the just-opened 73-room hotel La Fantaisie in the 9th arrondissement, has a sort of opium dream, through-the-looking-glass décor that’s a trippy mash-up of Victorian conservatories and the visual tropes of Northern California, including a wilting number of fake plants, notably a large artificial olive tree. It’s signed by the trendy London-based interior designer Martin Brudnizki, and with a pleasant view over the hotel’s interior garden, its best features are framed botanical prints, banquettes with floral upholstery and modern rattan chairs with floral upholstery medallions.

The French friend with whom I was dining was immediately flummoxed by Crenn’s short menu, which is arranged in categories that are more familiar to San Franciscans than Parisians – Raw and Cured, California Soul, Taste of the Sea and Sweet Treats. The idea is to graze, as the unfortunate expression goes, on a series of small-plates dishes (another unfortunate expression) according to whim, hunger and what strikes your fancy. The first thing I noticed was that there was no meat on the menu because Crenn swore it off several years ago. Setting ourselves up with a mineral-rich Alsatian Riesling, which seemed the best wine choice for a mostly seafood menu, we began with an order of the brilliant tartare of aged red tuna, served wrapped in shiso and with several sauces. We also very much enjoyed the ceviche of sea bass with baby peas in leche de tigre (a Peruvian marinade made with coconut milk, lime juice, garlic, onions, coriander and other ingredients), along with the fluffy, warm-from-the-oven Parker House rolls, an old-fashioned American comfort food, where the usual accompaniment of salted butter was swapped out for three intriguing condiments – shiso-miso sauce, egg-yolk jam and rice cream.

Observing the dining room, it appeared that most of my fellow diners were also puzzled by the menu, since it varied so much from the traditional gastronomic architecture of a French meal: starter, main, cheese (perhaps), dessert. “It’s a rather confusing experience, because I don’t know what goes with what,” I overheard a woman telling the waitress, “but Madame Crenn’s cooking is sublime.”

Potatoes with plankton and pickled celery seed sounded peculiar, but translated to an intriguing dish as the gentle brininess of the plankton flattered the earthy primal flavours of sweet potato, with the pickled seeds adding lively notes of acidity. Corn flour tacos stuffed with grilled abalone (a popular shellfish in Northern California) were succulent, chewy and intriguingly bright with different flavours.


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Though it may sound odd, since most of us have been taught that freshness is the ultimate measure of good seafood, ageing fish like they do in Japan has become popular among California chefs. The idea is that fish, like meat, develops fuller and more complex flavours when aged in a chilled rock-salt-lined locker with carefully controlled humidity. This explains the two main courses on the menu – grilled yellow pollack and a stunningly succulent aged sea bream for two with gem lettuce leaves, mint and coriander with which to wrap pieces of the fish and Korean style condiments. Coconut beignets with pineapple and Japanese-style orange ice cream were a charming conclusion to this intriguing meal at an address which offers a unique new culinary experience in Paris.

Golden Poppy in the Hotel La Fantaisie, 24 rue Cadet, 9th arrondissement, Paris, Tel. +33 01 55 07 85 07,

Average à la carte dinner €130.

From France Today Magazine


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Lead photo credit : Flowery upholstery and plenty of plants make up the interior of Golden Poppy ©Jérome Galland

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Alexander Lobrano grew up in Connecticut, and lived in Boston, New York and London before moving to Paris, his home today, in 1986. He was European Correspondent for Gourmet magazine from 1999 until its closing, and has written about food and travel for Saveur, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Travel & Leisure, Departures, Conde Nast Traveler, and many other publications in the United States and the United Kingdom. He is the author of HUNGRY FOR PARIS, 2nd Edition (Random House, 4/2014), HUNGRY FOR FRANCE (Rizzoli, 4/2014), and MY PLACE AT THE TABLE, newly published in June 2021.

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