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Michel Rostang Restaurant:
A Gastronomic Experience that Feels Like Home

FrommerLuxuryTravel
Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer

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 culinary performers - click to enlarge
Chef Michel Rostang (left) and his able team of culinary performers

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 performance.

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 restaurant.

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 beginning.

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 - click to enlarge A pair of Michel Rostang triad - click to enlarge

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 impressive sight.

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 remains.      

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.

Michel Rostang Restaurant
20 Rue Rennequin
75017 Paris, France

Phone: 33 (01) 47 63 40 77
Web:  http://
www.michelrostang.com
Email: rostang@relaischateaux.fr

Photos by Harvey Frommer

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Web: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frommer/travel.htm.

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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