Chatomat - Dumb Name, Great Restaurant

If you have to ask "Who knows what a Chatomat is?!" as Le Fooding Guide recently did while naming said restaurant the "Meilleure Table" of 2011, chances are you've got a dumb name on your hands - almost as dumb (or presumptuous) as claiming to know what is the 'best table' in a city with more than 40,000 restaurants (see 'Paris'). No, it's not a distributor of 'chats' (cats), nor is it a Facebook or Twitter competitor. Paris Update's Grégory Picard suggests the name is 'a punning response to Chateaubriand,' the terrific Parisian restaurant that I have often lauded at this site. If so, I don't get the pun, but who cares anyway? I can't put it any more succinctly than Le Fooding, that 'one thing's for sure, it's a damn good restaurant.'

A short walk from the Menilmontant metro stop and just around the corner from the little bistrot La Boulangerie, which I wrote about a couple months ago, on a street that is oh so typically Paris - how did the Woodman miss it as a locale for Midnight in Paris? - Chatomat is a diminutive spot that seats no more than 24. Tiny, in the sense that you'll have difficulty discerning the ongoing conversation at your table from the one next to you - speaking of oh so Paris - but comfortable enough not to let that detract from the understated, joyful dishes brought to your table. Co. and I arrived at 8 p.m. on the dot and had our choice of tables, selecting one in the back against the wall that allowed Co. to keep tabs on the efficient goings-on in the kitchen, helmed by Alice Di Cagno and Victor Gaillard, a multicultural coupling that brings a fusion of flavors to the meal.

If you are a regular reader, you know how I am a sucker for the little things - a finely appointed 'amuse bouche' offered before placing one's order goes a long way to endearing me as a loyal patron. Well, Chatomat has this one down pat, with a pair of succulent oysters and toast appearing before us, a fine omen of things to come.

The well-balanced (whites and reds) and fairly-priced wine list made for a difficult choice, but I was satisfied with our Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil, Domaine Du Mortier (32€). The food carte is sparse, with 3 options for each course, and no 'menu' offered. A no-brainer for Co., as she went with the pan-fried foie gras, which turned out to be very special indeed (12€). I glommed onto the salmon dish: saumon fumé mi-cuit/velouté de fèvettes/clémentine (10€). This dish worked well without setting off fireworks, yet with each component nicely complementing the other. I wasn't so bleary-eyed from the wine yet as the photo suggests - does anyone want to buy a nice ASUS smartphone with a lousy camera?

For the main course, Co. went with the bar (sea bass) with round rice and leeks(18€) and I opted for the volaille fermier (20€)- both turned out to be delicate and creative surprises, the fish enhanced in part by jus de betterave, and the chicken structured in two facons with creamy semoule. Forget my smartphone, here are some more accomplished images of Chatomat offerings from Google images:

We split a dish of two slabs of tart and excellent Comté cheese served with quince confeture and raisin toast (10€), and thankfully, there was still some Bourgueil left to wash it down. The desserts did not disappoint - a pain perdu (8€)and a mousse chocolat (6€). As is wont to happen - maybe it's me - my dessert - the mousse - started off slow, but I figured it out by the end and wanted more. What we got, eschewing a post-meal cafe for a change, were two tiny lemon tarts, another freebie that iced it for me.

So there you have it. Two three-course meals, cheese, and wine clocked in at a reasonable 116€. There appears to be good reason a lot of folks are chatting about Chatomat. It doesn't go out of its way to 'wow' you - there is nothing ostentatious about the the food, decor, or service - but that understated approach goes a long way to charm.

6 rue Victor Letalle
Paris 20
tel. 01 47 97 25 77
no website

Note: there's a hot little nightspot a couple doors down from Chatomat, Le Feline, perhaps a noise nuisance for Chatomat's owners, but the throng outside simply adds to the ambiance of the setting.
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