43, rue Croix des Petits Champs
Metro Station: Bourse or Sentier (Line 3), Les Halles (Line 4)
Type of cuisine: French
Days & hours of operation: Open seven days a week Noon to 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Credit card: Amex, Visa, MasterCard
Les Fines Gueules is nestled under two squinches of a 17th century townhouse that stands majestically on the Y-shaped intersection of rues Croix des Petits Champs and La Vrillière. A boxed olive tree in the front of the restaurant sets the tone for the drab olive-tone color of the façade and one part of the main room, which is painted olive-green. This room exhibits exposed steel beams, copper tubing, and brick columns, giving the restaurant a modern, industrial feel. The counter of the bar appears to be clad in aluminum, with a facing in painted steel. Drafting lamps hang above tables and large, dome-shaped, frosted-glass lamps hang over the bar. There are additional rooms for dining upstairs and a half-flight downstairs to the right of the bar. The restaurant has a decidedly eclectic atmosphere!
We sat on tall stools at a tall table in a small alcove at the very point of the Y-shaped intersection, from which we could enjoy watching automobiles suddenly appear from rue La Vrillière and then glide down rue Croix des Petits Champs. This little nook sheltered us from the hustle and bustle of diners and the waitress moving through the dining room. The one disadvantage to the general arrangement of the restaurant is that the menu is written on a large chalkboard, which the waitress places alongside each customer’s table. Because the ground floor dining area is quite compact, the chalkboard encumbers free passage of customers and waitresses, who, quite naturally, need to pass by.
As an aperitif, we each ordered a glass of Duval-Leroy Premier Cru champagne. We found this champagne to be quite sharp and mineral-like, with fine bubbles.
As the restaurant does not offer a fixed-price menu, we ordered à la carte.
In lieu of a starter and a main course, my partner ordered two starters. The first was Potage de campagne, huile de truffe, amandes torréfiées. She was pleased to receive a perfectly seasoned vegetable soup in which floated a small island of crushed, roasted almonds. While she was satisfied with the texture of the broth, she remarked that she could not taste the truffle oil.
The second starter was Tranche de boudin noir de Christian Parra, tiède sur lit de jeunes pousses. We later recognized the name of the blood sausage maker from our review of the Jeu de Quilles restaurant last October. My partner liked the texture, and thought that she could taste apple, which is often served with boudin noir, but did not find the sausage quite spicy enough. The large disk of boudin sat atop a bed of mixed greens, and five small, slightly sweet, roasted new potatoes were served on the plate as an accompaniment.
I ordered the same dish of boudin noir for my starter, and found it light to the taste and mildly spicy.
For my main course I ordered Suprême de pintade fermière, mousseline de brocolis, jus de viande à la châtaigne. I received a moist, tender breast of guinea fowl resting atop a bed of finely chopped, cooked broccoli in a delicious sauce. The mousseline de brocolis was, in my mind, misnamed, because mousseline is normally a purée, which this was not. It was, nonetheless, quite flavorsome!
To accompany our first course, we each ordered a glass of Mâcon Village Domaine de Roally 2007, which was rich yellow in color, soft, and full on the palate. For the main course, my partner ordered a Cheverny Domaine des Huards 2007. She found it spicy with a hint of animal notes.
Thinly-sliced country bread was served alongside in a basket.
For dessert, I ordered a Mi-cuit au chocolat. True to its name, the small round cake had a warm, bittersweet liquid center. A ring of caramel sauce around the plate added an extra touch of flavor.
My partner opted for the Tarte Tatin aux poires, crème double de chez Bordier. Like its cousin, the Tarte Tatin aux pommes, this is an upside-down tart in which the sliced pears are caramelized in butter and sugar before the tart is baked. She found the pears firm and pleasantly caramelized and the crust optimally thin. The extra-heavy cream, from Maître Bordier on the Brittany coast, was not as bitter or sour as standard crème fraîche; it was served alongside in a small ceramic cup.
The waitress was helpful and friendly and answered our questions about the food and wine. Though she tried valiantly, she never delivered bread to our table in time for the first course. Three times she headed our way, basket in hand, but three times other diners diverted her attention. She finally succeeded in getting it to us in time for the main course! Despite this snag, we found that she performed her tasks admirably in the restricted confines of this narrow restaurant.
The bill for two, including two champagne aperitifs, three starters, one main course, two desserts, and three glasses of wine came to 110€.
Tom Reeves has been a confirmed Francophile since he first traveled to France in 1975. A native of northern California, he moved to France permanently in 1992. Reeves’ love of French language and culture inspired him to create Discover Paris!, a travel planning service that caters to Americans interested in cultural travel to Paris. His book, Paris Insights – An Anthology, has been called “the kind of insider’s view of the French capital…that first or even second time visitors pine for.” He publishes a monthly newsletter entitled Paris Insights about history, culture, and contemporary life in the City of Light, and posts daily information about the French capital on Facebook.