PARIS — Food writer Alexander Lobrano has little stomach for overpriced tourist traps, steep markups on wines and “fashion restaurants.”
Still, Gourmet magazine’s European correspondent remains very “Hungry for Paris,” the title of his dining guide, out today from Random House. The 440-page tome is a treasure trove of 102 mostly undiscovered addresses, some revealed reluctantly, like the “excellent” bistro Le Farrandaise that Lobrano frequents in a district he describes as a culinary desert: Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
“I care most about what’s on the plate,” said Lobrano as he tucked into sea bass with baby leeks and fava beans in a lemongrass-spiked vinaigrette at Le Maxan, a power-lunch spot only steps away from the Elysée Palace. “I don’t have any sacred cows. I want people to eat well.”
Indeed, Lobrano skewers some very famous restaurants with sharp words. L’Ami Louis? “An egregious example of conspicuous consumption…especially when you can find better roast chicken and foie gras elsewhere,” he writes. L’Ambroisie? “Joyless atmosphere and sanctimonious service.” Maxim’s? “Just say no.”
Lobrano is also critical of the Costes brothers, who run scores of thriving fashion canteens (Café Marly, l’Avenue and Georges among them), serving up enough arugula each week “to thatch every roof in Paris.” His beef with the Costes duo: Food plays a supporting role to decor and atmosphere.
Those laments tidily dispensed with, Lobrano unfurls witty insider descriptions of Paris’ culinary gems, from the grandeur of Le Meurice to the modest new Marais creperie Breizh Café. Small and innovative bistros get the lion’s share of Lobrano’s ink, interspersed with chapters that are autobiographical, informative and entertaining.
A Parisian transplant originally from Connecticut, Lobrano has been sampling the city’s culinary riches since 1986. He maintains the city is packed with passionate, creative young chefs and that its restaurants still offer the best bang for the buck — even with the weak dollar. His advice is to travel outside the city’s overpriced and tourist-swarmed core into the “double-digit arondissements,” where, for example, there’s Bigarrade — by Lobrano’s estimation the “newest and hottest” bistro. Tucked in a remote corner of the 17th with just 20 lime green seats, it has already garnered a zealous Japanese fan base, including a group from Comme des Garçons.
“Get in a taxi or get in the Metro and get into the ‘hood,” says Lobrano, who next plans to do a gourmet road trip into the hinterlands. “Even in the remote towns in France, you find astonishingly good chefs.”