Due west of Paris, the dramatically modern skyscraper-filled business quarter of La Défense, a ’70s vintage Gaullist attempt to equip Paris with a miniature Manhattan, rarely attracts visitors, but the boiler-room of corporate France is architecturally fascinating, especially when a visit is teamed with lunch at L’Escargot 1903. This long-running bistro, a favourite of many of France’s best-known executives, was recently remodelled to give it a stylish, contemporary décor – it previously had the grandmotherly look of a classic traditional bistro – and a new chef was recruited to update the kitchen in deference to a preference for lighter, healthier cooking and more expedient service.
Chef Paolo Boscaro previously worked at Le Meurice, Le Grand Véfour, Le Carré des Feuillants, and Lasserre, among other tables, and his delicate, inventive cooking has been a crowd-pleaser ever since he arrived last November.
“I have a really interesting clientele to cook for,” says Boscaro. “These people are sophisticated, and they travel constantly, so they know what’s going on in London, New York and other major cities. They want dishes that are inventive and original, but they don’t like gimmicks and they prefer subtlety. It’s also a cosmopolitan crowd, so I tip my hat at that by using foreign flavours and produce in the context of contemporary French cooking. I was inspired by the fact that our clientele is cosmopolitan. These people travel all the time, so I wanted to propose a contemporary French cuisine that is inspired by products and flavours from all over the world.”
Dining here recently with a friend who was staying at a La Défense hotel on a business trip, the menu began with three very appealing starters – feather-weight gnocchi under thin ribbons of lardo di Colonnata in a peppery sauce of rocket puréed with yoghurt and an earthy garnish of black sesame paste; roasted Provençal asparagus with green-pepper-spiked onion foam; and smoked, spiced shrimp tartare with lemon and cabbage in a light bouillon.
The main courses were similarly inventive, well balanced in terms of taste and texture, and beautifully plated, including the Iberian pork with lentil purée, ground, toasted pumpkin seeds and a warm lamb’s lettuce salad I enjoyed, and the superb sea bream meunière, where the fish was dredged in linseed flour instead of the usual white wheat flour to create the extra taste and texture my friend swooned over.
“What a superb dish,” she said, “and the garnishes are so interesting,” (grey prawn bouillon, mushrooms, baked fennel and watercress). Finish up with the house favourite, a carpaccio of poached spiced pears with hibiscus jus jelly and lemon sorbet, and be sure to engage the delightful young female sommelière, who has created a wonderful wine list here.
L’Escargot 1903, 94 rue Sadi Carnot, Puteaux. Tel: +33 01 47 75 03 66. Menu déjeuner €49, Menus prix-fixes €59, €75.
From France Today magazine