|When we thought about it afterwards,
it was as if we spent an evening in the home of Michel and
Marie-Claude Rostang. There was so little that suggested a commercial
establishment and so much that evoked the experience of being guests
of warm and welcoming hosts. The impression was set by the charming
Madame Rostang who greeted us in the entrance foyer, helped us with
our coats, and led us into a dining rooms where were it not for the
two other tables, we could easily imagine ourselves in the
beautifully-furnished dining room of a house somewhere on the
outskirts of Paris.
Spots in the ceiling shed glare-less, flattering
light on the coral-colored wallpaper, the china closet filled with
attractive platters, the cabinets of highly polished wood beneath open
shelves displaying colorful porcelain objects. Later we would learn
these whimsical figurines of French country folk and ladies in great
hooped skirts are valuable Jean Born originals of the Art Deco period.
They also double as containers. Within the pot belly of the rotund
monk was a quantity of Grand Marnier.
Chef Michel Rostang (left) and his able team of
|But then we noticed a rectangle the
size of a big picture window had been cut into the far wall to
reveal a bustling sea of white. Only then did our illusion snap.
We were, after all, not in a private home but at the gastronomic
restaurant of Michel Rostang with a front-row seat for a culinary
Still our impression of
intimacy was not far off. The restaurant serves between five and
twenty-five per seating in a total of four small dining rooms.
Beside us was a table of eight men from Flanders, in for a
business meeting. Whenever they’re in Paris, they dine at Michel
Rostang, they told us, switching from their native Flemish to
English without dropping a syllable. It is their favorite
By the end of the evening, we understood why. Now we
sampled the miniature club sandwich before us, a pate of lemony
sardines from Nice on little slices of toast, and consulted the autumn
menu. The cepe mushrooms which come from Correze in the middle of
France were at the height of their season. We would have them in two
preparations: first sautéed with parsley and tiny fresh-water crayfish
and then in a marvelous, pungent soup accompanied by hearty country
bread that had been smeared with truffled butter and grilled for just
a moment bringing up the flavors of the truffles. An excellent
A three-compartment glass dish bore a glass tumbler
of refreshing watercress soup, the most beautiful shade of green, a
sautéed artichoke, and a crisp dumpling filled with codfish flavored
with garlic mayonnaise. A second three-compartment plate bore a unique
oyster sampling which delighted the oyster lover among us: one large
raw oyster on the shell, several smaller ones with green cabbage, and
a crock topped with a pastry shell that served as lid hiding a layer
of creamy mashed potatoes, cooked oysters, and a thick fragrant broth.
A pair of Michel Rostang triad
We sampled butterflied red mullet in a singular
sauce made of the fish’s liver puréed with turnips and baby carrots.
The fish was delicate, and the sauce, enlivened with coriander, added
an exotic taste sensation.
|For entrées, one of us had the wild
duck: slices of breast with a marvelous salt and sweet flavoring,
a crispy leg with an equally excellent but totally different curry
and saffron flavoring, and a cracker shaped like a cylinder with
fig sauce. What a combination! On the side, came an irresistibly
rich potato gratin. One of the few dishes still made with cream in
this contemporary kitchen, it is a specialty of the chef, a
nostalgic reminder of his alpine origins.
The other selected the Brittany langoustine
accompanied by a salad of crisp greens, celery and black radish.
After being presented whole, the waiter expertly cracked the
claws, scooped out the succulent meat, and artfully arranged it on
a platter before pouring over it a tangy lobster vinaigrette. Sans
bib, sans nutcracker, this is the civilized way to eat a lobster.
At close to eleven o’clock, a scrim was lowered over
the opening to the kitchen signaling the end of the culinary
performance. But encores lay ahead. From an enormous board displaying
a wide range of cheeses, we selected the pale yellow creamy beaufort.
It seemed apropos since like the chef, it comes from the French Alps.
|We managed to resist the
mignardises, so beautifully displayed on an Art Nouveau tray, as we
had decided at the dinner’s start to splurge on the soufflé
caramel. It had been quite a while since either of us had a soufflé,
but this evening we chucked concerns over calories and cholesterol
in favor of the pleasures of this towering concoction, light as
air, spun through with the flavor of caramel.
Michel Rostang stores 30,000 bottles of wine in
a warehouse and 10,000 more in his wine cellar beneath the dining
room. The collection, which includes many oversized bottles, many
of them famous vintages going back as far as 1937, is an
On the recommendation of Alain Ronzatti, the
informed and informative sommelier who visits the wine-producing
regions of France several times a year, we drank a clear and dry
Chassagne Montrachet (2002) from the domaine of Marc Morey and Sons.
When Alain suggested the excellent white burgundy, we told him how it
bears the name of one of our favorite New York restaurants. Back in
1985, according to our friend Tracy Nieporent, he and his brother were
pondering what to call the French restaurant they were about to open.
“Then Drew saw this bottle of wine,” said Tracy. “The light was
hitting it a certain way, and he was very inspired by it. We named the
restaurant for that exquisite burgundy: Montrachet.” And exquisite it
Although Michel Rostang could be seen at work in the
kitchen during most of the evening, several times he came out to greet
diners, reinforcing the aura of hospitality that pervades the
environment. And then we had the added pleasure of meeting Monsieur
Rostang the affable restaurateur.
“I am the fifth generation of chefs,” he told us
over coffee. “My grandfather had a two-star restaurant Michelin
restaurant. My father had a restaurant near Grenoble. When you are
involved in the restaurant since you are a child, it is natural to
follow this way. I was trained by my father. Then I went to hotel
school, after which I came to Paris where I worked in classic
restaurants for about four years. I went back to my old restaurant in
the Alps, but I missed Paris.”
|He returned in 1978 to open his own
place on the Rue Gustave Flaubert. The dining space was small, the
kitchen miniscule, and Chef Rostang totally unknown. Still within
a year, he had earned a Michelin star.
Today his gastronomic restaurant is around the
corner from the Rue Gustave Flaubert. The original space is one of
four bistros he operates, all named for their locale. In addition,
he runs three other restaurants, one specializing in seafood. This
has to be one busy man.
What does he do for recreation, we wondered, as
Michel Rostang took us around the corner to see the Bistro Flaubert.
Cozy and rustic, it was decorated with a collection of antique mugs.
“I like to go to flea markets,” the chef confessed.
20 Rue Rennequin
75017 Paris, France
Phone: 33 (01) 47
63 40 77