Le freak, c’est chic
Claim to fame: A groovy eatery, incongruously run by an American lawyer/designer
Reason to go: Incongruous flavor combos, masterfully crafted by a Korean chef
To look out for: Stop Googling, there is no homepage
When American lawyer turned furniture designer Phil Euell decided to open his first restaurant in his new hometown of Paris, he wanted to rebel against polished surfaces and slick dining concepts. Together with Korean flavor master and Head Chef Esu Lee, he took over a former Eiffel Tower-tacky souvenir shop on a Marais street lined with Chinese wholesalers. He did nothing to the facade. He didn't even change the name, hence restaurant CAM Import Export. It looks like a rec center that was cobbled together by group of teens, it’s intentionally low-key, in a high-brow way. The furniture is of course designed and constructed by Euell whose clients include modish perfume brand Le Labo. Round marble tables are paired with inconspicuous wooden chairs and set with chopsticks, wine glasses and packs of paper tissues––bistro-bare is the new black. The atmosphere is effervescent, the music loud and the crowd a mix of young and objectively handsome foodies, creatives and random chefs; Yotam Ottolenghi and Alain Ducasse have been spotted here. The bookshelf behind the fiddle leaf fig tree offers assorted reading for fans of dancehall, Burroughs and The Clash.
Chef Lee works his magic in a glassed-in kitchen, fusing French ingredients with Korean, Chinese and Japanese accouterments. Dishes are simple and hands-on, yet surprising and inspired, thanks to Lee's astonishing talent for unexpected but well-matched combinations. Tofu, brie and onion jam? Oui, s’il vous plaît. Crispy shrimp heads with guanciale? Absolument. With one foot fermenting in traditional Korean cuisine, he never lets the food become too smooth. He has a soft spot for XO sauce, the chunky, umami dense and spicy seafood condiment invented in Hong Kong. Sometimes he pairs it with endives, sometimes it lurks in a steak tartare. Most of Lee’s vegetable-based dishes are punchy and exciting, his Kung Pao Chicken, an intermittent regular on the menu, is sensational and always presented with new tweaks. Order one of everything and share it, the bill of fare is short and changes frequently
It probably doesn’t come as a great surprise that the wines are natural, mostly orange and white. A Malvasia from Emilia Romagna, Calcarius or Le Mazel will all go well with the fragrant food. On a balmy summer day, you’ll find new friends spilling onto the sidewalk, wine in hand, waiting for their tables.
Besides CAM, Phil Euell runs tiny coffee shop Boot Café. Some years ago he considered opening an Ethiopian restaurant next door. He keeps us guessing.