Paris Bistro, The
1500 S. (Emerson) 1500 East, Salt Lake City ; 801-486-5585
The Paris is inching to perfection but its French fare isn't there yet. Best bets include pan-seared duck and salads.
Cuisine: French, American
Hours: M-Th, 6 p.m. to close; F-Su, 5 p.m. to close
Liquor: Full Service
Recommended Dishes: Duck confit, oysters Paris.
May 9, 2007
Classic digs heighten notion of great, but unmet, expectations
By Anne Wilson
SUGAR HOUSE -- There's something about The Paris Bistro that creates serious expectations of good food and good times.
From its charming exterior and handsome décor to the extensive (and not inexpensive) menu, this restaurant in one of Salt Lake City's most popular historic neighborhoods aspires to be a player. And after nearly six years, The Paris has earned a reputation for quality seasonal cuisine and professional service.
The creamy walls and dark woodwork haven't changed since the early days, but there's more space and plants between the tables, maybe because American diners didn't cotton to sitting so close to strangers. With its mirrors, tile floor and café curtains, The Paris has a classic look that will weather well over the years.
And the food is good, frequently excellent, although there's still room for improvement.
On a wintry spring evening when our party of four revisited The Paris after The Tribune's last review in 2004, there were enough missteps to challenge the aforementioned expectations.
The first was a pervasive smell of wood smoke that, according to our server, was due to wet wood being burned on a fireplace in a back room. It took about 30 minutes for the stench to clear, in which time we ordered wine from The Paris' deep and broad list, which came promptly, and a couple of appetizers.
The Oysters Paris ($12.95) is a menu staple, a half-dozen plump shellfish baked with vermouth and beurre blanc. Chopped spinach adds color while a sprinkling of sturgeon caviar provides the right amount of saltiness and luxe.
Even better was a generous mound of Chaource Lincet cheese (a soft, tangy cow's milk cheese from France), accompanied by caramelized red D'Anjou pears, sugared pecans and lightly dressed, cilantro-studded greens ($12.95). It was fabulous, although we wanted more pears to match the cheese bite for bite.
The choice of entrees at The Paris is daunting -- there are two dozen, not counting specials, plus nine pizzas ($9.95-$14.95) and a half-dozen shellfish offerings ($10.95-$15.95). That's a lot of variety for a small restaurant and a possible contributor to a couple other missed expectations.
I expect a place like The Paris to serve properly cooked risotto. But a new addition to the spring menu, asparagus risotto with chopped fresh artichoke hearts, peas, fava beans and fresh herbs ($16.95), was disappointing. Instead of that rich, creamy texture created by relentless stirring, this risotto was undercooked, with a watery texture.
And the butternut squash ravioli ($14.95), garnished with the crunch of toasted hazelnuts and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, tasted only faintly of squash. Instead, salt was the overwhelming flavor component.
But two other dishes more than passed muster.
A loaded skewer of grilled shrimp and scallops ($25.95) was tender and moist, paired on the plate with a pretty salad of arugula, flageolet and fava beans, asparagus, celery and fennel perky with a light but tongue-tickling citrus vinaigrette. And a pan-seared duck breast ($26.95) was pink and succulent, pairing perfectly with a tender artichoke gratin that sang with the tang of fresh cheese.
Beef lovers have a choice of several steaks ($18.95-$28.95) and the house cheeseburger ($13.95), while fish options run from pan-seared Alaskan halibut ($25.95) to a seasonal selection steamed in parchment ($26.95).
The final misses of the evening came with dessert, which is offered in a dozen incarnations ($5.95-$7.95), from decadent bananas Foster with coconut gelato to crepes stuffed with caramelized apples, "drizzled" with Calvados and finished with a flourish of crème fraîche and a sprinkle of sea salt. Intrigued by the sweet/salty juxtaposition, we dug in only to discover portions of the crepe were literally drenched in the apple brandy. In this case, that was way too much of a good thing. The other oddity was coffee that tasted like mint. Our server's explanation was that the French press pot might have been used to make tea with mint leaves and even though the pot was washed, the mint extract remained.
It wasn't a perfect ending, but then it wasn't a perfect meal, although the service came close -- the waitress was attentive but not overbearing and familiar with all aspects of the menu.
In a less ambitious restaurant, it would be easier to let the details slide. But I expect great things of The Paris, and I think they're up to the challenge.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.
March 5, 2004
By Nancy Hobbs
Neighborhood diners that have members of the surrounding community to thank for much of their charm always seem to be the friendliest. And it is the Emerson Heights neighborhood -- the area radiating from the 15th and 15th (south and east) intersection of Salt Lake City -- that gets a lot of credit for making The Paris work.
When owner/chef Eric DeBonis bought the corner structure that once housed a grocery and drug store, he sought to turn it into a warm retreat, reminiscent of a bygone era, where families and friends could gather and enjoy a satisfying meal. If they could walk from home to the restaurant along tree-shaded sidewalks, all the better.
While I had to commute in from my not-so-quaint suburban neighborhood, I enjoyed watching others through the bistro windows as they walked their dogs and pushed strollers.
Inside, the bistro is a treat as well, with beautiful wood paneling, small antique-looking lamps between each linen-covered booth, attractively set tables and a polished wait staff, dressed in black with crisp white aprons.
At the far end of the dining room is a striking buffet on which glassware and plates are stored. It is a piece DeBonis purchased at an antique store and learned it had been a jewelry case built by Salt Lake Mill in 1910 for The Paris department store.
"Serendipity took its course and about three weeks later I found another one -- identical," DeBonis said. It was adapted to display the liquor behind the grill's classic bar, and the two pieces together helped clinch the diner's name.
Our dinner in the elegant dining room began with a complimentary amuse: a tasty eggplant and caper purée, dubbed eggplant caviar, served like bruschetta on a small piece of bread. The bread itself is delicious, with a perfect texture inside a good chewy crust. (It is delivered daily by Vosen's Bread Paradise, and is sold by the loaf at The Paris, as well as at the downtown bakery.)
That was followed by the day's special appetizer of gravlax served on a potato pancake about the size of a cracker, topped with a bit of creamy cheese and pinch of caviar. The melding of flavors was superb.
The house salad ($4.95), made with baby greens and a welcome addition of pumpkin seeds is nice, but even better is The Paris Salad, with goat cheese, candied pecans and lots of thin slices of Granny Smith apples with the greens, all dressed with a mustard vinaigrette ($8.95).
The variety of entrée options on The Paris menu is inviting, with reasonably priced wood-oven pizzas; several pasta choices; meats that include steaks, duck and chicken; and a limited, but delicious selection of seafood, including a tender sole meuniere ($17.95) and, though we haven't tried it yet, an intriguing napolean of diver scallops, leeks and caviar ($21.95).
We did try several of the pasta dishes between our dinner in the bistro and a subsequent visit to the grill side, and of all, the butternut squash ravioli was an easy favorite ($12.95). The filling was scrumptious -- savory and not sweet, topped with a delicious sauce flavored with parmesan and sage, and the perfect complement of coarsely chopped roasted hazelnuts.
(Less pleasing was the tagliatelle bolognese ($14.95). Although the pasta tasted incredibly fresh and the sauce was light, I didn't care for the sausage, which had a sour, almost gamy flavor.)
Also exceptional was the slow-roasted lamb shank, served on a bed of delicious vegetables that included diced carrots, onions and whole garlic cloves ($23.95). Here, the piece de resistance was the single roasted fig crowning the shank, which itself was cooked to tender perfection. The side of mashed potatoes were buttery and delicious.
Friendly and exemplary service added to enjoyable experiences in the bistro and in the grill, which is just through the open threshold to the south.
Called the Zinc Bar & Grill, it is more casual, less expensive and more lively, with the open kitchen and bar adding to the activity, as well as the noise level. Much of the menu is the same, but also available are The Paris cheeseburger, with Maytag blue cheese and bacon, a Reuben sandwich; and fish tacos -- some of the items that were popular at lunch, before DeBonis decided he wanted to concentrate on dinner service only.
A nice feature in the grill is the weekly three-course special, which includes a salad or soup, that week's selected pasta and dessert for $14.95.
DeBonis said several changes to the grill side are under way this month to give it even more vitality. The tablecloths are coming off, a large community table that seats 14 is being custom-made, and tapas are going to be a special emphasis during the early evening hours.
The concept is to invite customers to sit at the community table and converse with neighbors over tapas and a beer -- or even a milkshake. Hopefully they won't mind if some of us, jealous for a welcoming and cozy neighborhood joint of our own, drop by on occasion.