Until two weeks ago, I hadn’t been to Frenchie since late summer of 2009. I loved the the two meals I had then, and I loved the food this time, maybe even more.
We started with a foie gras torchon, an hors-formule, 14€ add-on to the three-course, 38€ menu. It was outstanding, perfectly textured, dusted with coarse salt and pepper and getting a jolt from a few very boozy cherries.
A blade of of tender smoked mackerel was served with two kinds of asparagus, pale wild spears and sections of the usual cultivated variety. A dose of lemon tempered and unified the chlorophyll and oil and smoke, and tiny croutons added crunch.
There was one misfire. The gnudi – essentially ravioli filling without the ravioli – arrived in various states of doneness. One dumpling seemed completely raw. But everything else in the dish was splendid. Plump peas popped brightly with tender girolles and parsley, not a garnish but an element of the finished dish.
There’s really nothing extraneous in this food, but it’s not spartan or minimalist, either. The flavors are direct and clear, but to call the cooking at Frenchie “simple” is off the mark. The ingredients are great, but in this era of the un-and-barely-cooked, when many plates feel more like menageries than fully conceived dishes, Greg Marchand’s food is comfortingly cohesive, often complex, but always unmuddled. Honestly, if I never have another unseasoned, undressed heart-shaped sliver of raw beet sitting on top of a still-quivering red slice of some bird or beast’s loin that will be OK with me. Here the turnips and beets and spinach strewn around a crisp red duck breast were blissfully warm, kissed by sauce that was not applied to the plate with a paintbrush.
A filet of striped bass was served with a “spring minestrone”, a young cousin of the classic, glowing green with zucchini and peas and herbs in a pretty pool, the fish wreathed by a magenta sash of pickled red onion and crowned with a tiara of tiny blossoms.
I take back what I said earlier: There was one extraneous element, the shavings of summer truffle that came with the Napoléon cheese. If they had any flavor, I could get past the texture, but these things always make me feel like I’m eating card stock. The brebis was delicious, though, and the drizzle of truffle honey more than compensated for the papery tuber aestivum. The panna cotta could have used another hour in the fridge, but the flavor was great, helped by a shot of grappa. (Or maybe it was I who was helped.)
It was a visiting friend, not me, who scored the table. He called at nearly the last minute, and there was space available, at 7 p.m., an early time slot added to help meet the demand for reservations.
I’ll be honest: It felt very strange, not least because there were (not surprisingly at that hour) no French customers. Not one. I have nothing against my compatriots, but here’s the thing: For that first hour and a half, I truly felt like I was in a different version of the restaurant. The food was fantastic, the service was friendly and professional, but we could have been somewhere in lower Manhattan, not just because of the look of the room, the sound of American voices, and Gregory Marchand’s greenmarket cooking (cooking which I still feel is ultimately French in ways that I can’t easily explain except to say, very vaguely, that it seems to have a sort of foundational soundness. You can take the cook out of France…) but because it was very clear that we all had to be out of there before the next round of guests, the main act, arrived.
Now, I don’t begrudge Marchand for adding an early seating, not one bit. He is simply responding to demand. Most Americans eat earlier anyway, and we are certainly accustomed to having the check dropped before we’ve asked for it. But this demand, from visitors who feel they absolutely must eat at Frenchie, has actually altered the very thing I think they were hoping to experience, a tiny bit, at least for the first 90 minutes of service. The hype also creates certain expectations; the table next to ours the other night seemed a little baffled. “This is the most difficult reservation to get in Paris?” their faces seemed to be saying, having landed in this utterly casual bistro, where the only pretenses to be found were their own.
“Is it worth the hype?” People ask me. “He’s a great cook,” I usually say, and I mean it. “I would happily eat there all the time,” I add.
If I could get in.
Frenchie 5 rue du Nil, Paris 75002, +33 (0)1 40 39 96 19
Read more about Frenchie on Paris by Mouth.