Heady, hedonistic pleasures beyond bistro basics
Claim to fame: Enfant terrible and originator of bistronomy.
Reason to go: Gilded apple pips and radically reconstructed French classics
To look out for: Decadent artists, architects, designers and musicians.
Chef Iñaki Aizpitarte didn’t set out to become a chef, he was studying stone cutting when a series of pure coincidences made him a bistro owner in the 11ème arrondissement. The fancy, pretentious name Le Chateaubriand didn’t discourage this rookie, quite the contrary, he took the challenge head-on and forever changed the Parisian cooking game.
The resto is anything but fancy and pretentious, more like an easily ignored, anonymous café. What’s on the plates here (Pink! Black! Metallic!) has influenced young chefs worldwide for ten years now. There’s no Instagram account, no books or TV appearances, Chef Aizpitarte’s notoriety has spread solely through word of mouth.
Merde alors! To hell with the staid French codes of what should be expected from a bistro, Aizpitarte displays a healthy dose of irreverence and a playful, childlike attitude towards steak frites et al. He randomly serves dishes in any order he fancies, cranking out a rare form of spur-of-the-moment cuisine that encompasses artful inspiration from across the globe. It’s a €70 whirlwind trip in a handful of courses. No consistency, no signatures, always ups and downs – which is also reflected in the service and atmosphere.
This Basque guignol infamously once served gilded apple pips (Potentially poisonous, or so they say). He loves to experiment with unexpected food combos and excels at it. Think bright sea bean risotto, perfectly crisp red mullet, adorned with flash-fried duck hearts or the so called Haricot-coco-cacao, a dish that combines the seemingly incompatible and turns a wordplay into a delicious little summer salad. Dramatic medleys such as these have never been part of the traditional French culinary vocabulary. Not until now. The same goes for a pre-dessert of small, infinitely sweet yellow tomatoes, served au naturel, just gently caressed with rosemary-infused crème cru. Most often the daily-changing prix fixe consists of five dishes, sometimes more, depending on the chef’s humeur.
Due to the constant changes and the obnoxious lack of consistency, you’d do well to eat here at least three times before you try to understand Aizpitarte’s art. What they’re enjoying at the table next to yours might be completely different from what you yourself will be eating ten minutes later. Some flavors are loud, some barely whisper, they’re a rogue choir that miraculously manages to hit all the high notes. This Marco Pierre White of the zero-star bistros still rocks out every night and plays punky music louder than any other Parisian chef. You might fall in love with this place, you might want to leave after just one plate. But you can’t ignore it and you won’t forget it.