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Pudlo Paris: 2007-2008

Gilles Pudlowski

Reviewed by Jesse Kornbluth


A year or so ago, a blogger with a special love for Paris bemoaned the way Americans read English-language restaurant guides and then make predictable choices:

I've given up the occasionally useful Patricia Wells [The Food Lover's Guide to Paris, last revised in 1999] because every self-respecting American foodie would never find herself eating anywhere in Paris without first checking with the good Ms. Wells. This often results in the mass descending of American food tourists on places she favored. Walking through the door of La Regalade these days feels like one has just been magically transported to Manhattan.

The blogger took solace in one enduring reality: “My Pudlo is still only available in French. When a translated version is published, then I will really scream.”

Well, scream your head off, darling. It's here: the first-ever English language edition of Gilles Pudlowski's voluminous-yet-handy guide to 1,000 Paris restaurants, 300 wine bars, tea shops, cafes and several hundred gourmet groceries. He gives awards: best Chef of the year, international restaurant of the year, young Chef of the year, bistro of the year --- even best hostess of the year. He lists new restaurants, with ratings (one to three “plates”) and prices. He summarizes the “best” restaurants. He collects restaurants that are the “best value for the money.” And he smartly organizes this mass of information and opinion by collecting restaurants in arrondisements, with informative short essays at the beginning of each one.

Gilles Pudlowski is not just a critic. In that French way, he's a public intellectual: a historian of regional French cooking, a novelist, cookbook author. As a foodie, he's a bit limited; he seems to be obsessed with “produce”. And he ends almost every mini-review the same way, with praise for the restaurant's wine list. Still, if you're off to Paris --- or, given the exchange rate, of a mind to read and dream about Paris --- this is the book to buy.

Not Zagat?

Not Zagat, except as a handy --- because it's alphabetical --- backup.

And for a very simple reason: Zagat tells you what tens of thousands of unknown people liked, Pudlo is one man's opinion. Okay, with a little help --- he uses “twenty or so professional and amateur researchers.” Still, I think my point holds: You do better dealing with one, reasonably consistent point-of-view than with a legion of unknowns.

[Some of you may be thinking: Like HeadButler.com. Yes. Exactly.]

Pudlo's point-of-view comes across as one of sensible optimism. He finds this a very good time: “Paris has never provided us with as many new opportunities to celebrate at reasonable prices.” [Looking at those prices, you may conclude there was a problem in the translation here.] His Chef of the year is female. And he has a knack for suggesting restaurants you've never heard of in a way that makes you want to go immediately.

The quickest way to test a critic is to compare his impressions of restaurants you know well with your take on those establishments. I was with him on Le Caveau du Palais, an old favorite on the Place Dauphine: “There is not a single false note...” Yes, Vaudeville is “the archetypal Parisian brasserie.” I thought there was much more to say about Benoit than to recite the menu and note that it now takes Visa. I found Bofinger overrated; Pudlo wrote around the subject, avoiding a negative opinion. He raved about the view at Georges, on the roof of the Pompidou Center --- well, duh. He nailed L'Orangerie for its devotion to “chic little suppers.” Amen. His enthusiasm for Rotisserie du Beaujolais could not equal mine; I forgive him. He overpraises the fading Vietnamese classic, Tan Dinh, and fails to include the outrageously great Cambodian restaurant, Au Coin des Gourmets --- for shame. And he has a weakness for killer expensive, big name restaurants that I don't share.

No matter. Reading Pudlo is to be in a conversation. I thrilled when he turned sour: Maxim's customers are “in search of a culinary museum.” And it's great to hear a voice that's a monotone for most of the book break out in wild praise. The Mori Venice Bar “will convince you that the Grand Canal is to be found in the heart of Paris.” Helene Darroze “looms over the Parisian culinary stage alongside all those she formerly admired.” And he finds the food at the Jules Verne --- the Eiffel Tower restaurant I recall as an overpriced tourist trap --- so great that he could almost “step over the balustrade and take to the air.” Nice touches, all.

Pudlo --- don't leave home without him.

© 2007 Head Butler .  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.  Visit www.HeadButler.com for reviews of the best books, music and films.

 

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