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, except as a handy --- because it's alphabetical ---
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.
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.
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