Snagging a dinner reservation at the nine-month old and very popular neo-bistro Itinéraires was difficult and I only had either Friday or Saturday night since the restaurant is closed on Sundays. After reading the rave reviews from the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Gourmet and FT Weekend, I knew I had to get a table so after several attempts of getting the answering machine, I tried to book for dinner on either Friday or Saturday -impossible so opted for Saturday lunch instead even if it would take away some of the day we had planned to spend on walking and going to a museum.
After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel where we met up with a family friend whom I last saw when I was in 2nd year high school, more than twenty years ago, we headed off to one of our favorite Paris boutiques (Arthur Fox on the Boulevard Saint Germain right beside Brasserie Lipp) to see if we could find anything in the last few days of the winter sales. We lost track of time trying on jackets and shirts and left more than an hour later with some fantastic purchases and hopped on a cab instead of our original plan to walk slowly down St. Germain to the restaurant. Itinéraires is on a corner of the rue de Pontoise (turn onto the street when you see the famous candle shop, Diptyque).
We arrived to a surprisingly packed restaurant and were releived to have booked as a few diners who had walked in hoping to get a table had to leave. The place is light and simply decorated with calming beige walls, beige linen shades and small tables set elbow to elbow int he typical Parisian fashion. We were luckily given a banquette (bench) so my husband (who always races to get the banquette) had a view of the whole room. There is also a bar table in the center where around six people can squeeze in on high stools and eat high above the crowd.
The prix-fixe menu at Itinéraires is written on blackboards that are displayed on several walls of the restaurant including an extra-large one above the banquette that stands out against the beige fabric-covered wall. The three-course menu is €36 (while a two-course – starter and main or main and dessert is €29. There are several daily specials, not on the board, which have a €10 to €15 supplement.
On the day we went, specials included a low temperature poached egg with shaved black truffles and a creme de topinambour (Jersualem artichoke cream) which I chose as my starter. I decided on the joue de boeuf (beef cheek) for my main course while A had the cocktail de tourteau (crab cocktail)to start and the pave de lieu jaune (pollack fish, similar to cod). We ordered a 2001 Chapelle Lenclos Madiran, a red from the southwest of France along with a Badoit.
A‘s crab cocktail was served in a large glass topped with foam – the shredded crab, onions and fresh herbs were at the bottom so each spoonful was filled with the citrus foam, making it like a cold crab-flavoured cappuccino. My soup was served in a small carafe and set beside the bowl which had some tiny croutons at the bottom and some sand-coloured ingredient which turned out to be foie gras. I poured the hot soup into the bowl then slowly mixed in the mound of grated foie gras which immediately melted and thickened the soup. Each spoonful was both hot, sweet, rich and crunchy from the crispy croutons hidden at the bottom. Heavenly!
Next up were our main courses: the seared pollack for A which came with caramelized endives that were bitter-sweet and melting at the same time and a small split walnut shell filled with the nut-tastin sauce. My confit of beef cheek was so tender, all I needed was a fork to eat it and the accompanying potato puree was soft and drizzled with jus. The flavour combinations were simple but amazingly put together.
A skipped dessert and went ahead and ordered an espresso while I couldn’t resist the ganache chocolat en robe d’hiver – a quenelle of chocolate ganache (chocolate mixed with creme fraiche) with bits and pieces stuck into it – squid ink meringue, hazelnut praline, coffee macaron, chocolate sponge and an jagged piece of pistachio tuile (biscuit) making the dessert look like abstract art. The chocolate was creamy and bitter and the different chunks made every bite taste new.
As the restaurant started to empty, we got to talking with the couple seated beside us – she was Australian, he was Dutch and we exchanged addresses of our favourite Paris restaurants. While we waited for the bill, I snuck into the kitchen to say hello to 30-year old chef Sylvain Sendra who was calmly standing by the passe, and told him that I had just had a fantastic meal. His equally-young wife was still at the bar helping out with service. Our very reasonable bill came up to around 55€ each and the best part is that if you don’t finish your wine, they pop a cork in and put it in a nice little paper bag so you can take it home and have it later. All the more reason to order a good bottle of wine instead of a glass.
The reviews were right – Itinéraires is going to be one of those places that will be on the go-to list of both locals and tourists soon so get there before it becomes impossible to book a table.
P.D. May 27 2011
I was there again for dinner last week. This time with my mom and we both enjoyed it. The food has stayed wonderfully original plus the restaurant has had a slight revamp and now have a window looking into the kitchen. The place was packed as usual for a Tuesday evening but the service has remained friendly and accommodating. The only thing that has changed is the price which has gone up quite a bit from 2009. Still worth it though for the impressive cuisine.
5, rue de Pontoise, 75005
Tel: +33 1 46 33 60 11
*Open Wednesdays to Saturdays for lunch and dinner. Closed Sundays, Mondays and lunch on Tuesday.