At the risk of beating the same drum again: the best eating in Paris these days is rarely found in those quartiers—Saint Germain des Prés, the Latin Quarter, the Marais—most popular with visitors. Most young chefs can’t afford to set up shop in these pricey precincts, and so I often find myself traveling to Belleville, an old working-class district that straddles the 11th and 20th arrondissements. It’s an area I like very much for the guileless and sometimes gruff Parisian atmosphere that’s guttered out in more gentrified parts of town. Word of mouth brought me to Chatomat, a simple storefront place with stone walls and black factory-bench lamps, but after a long Métro ride, I found myself thinking it had better be worth it. Well, it was. The young team in the kitchen changes the menu daily, but the meal we enjoyed was sincere, original and delicious. We started with marinated mackerel with radishes and dill—good—and baked celery root in Parmesan cream—better—although both were a little too timidly seasoned. Next, a nicely cooked steak with baby potatoes and salad, and pan-roasted cod with grilled romaine, chopped dried black olives and quinoa (this high-protein Peruvian/Bolivian grain is very trendy these days,but almost no one knows how to cook it). Desserts were a bit of a let down, but I didn’t regret the rather long journey—the food is much better than most of what’s found at a similar price on the Left Bank, the service is charming and it’s delightful to be in a Paris neighborhood that’s so truly Parisian.

Chatomat 6 rue Victor Letalle, Paris 20th, €40 per person without wine

Originally published in the December 2011 issue of France Today

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