Every now and then, you discover that rare jewel of a restaurant that just makes you go wow! La Famille, a French neo-bistro in Montmartre here in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, is that type of place. Though it's been around for quite a while now, I didn't know of it until walking by not too long ago and then reading about the bartender Houssin's artsy cocktails via 52 Martinis. But when Mei-i (a.k.a The Displaced Cook) recently made a business trip to Paris, we decided to have dinner there. And what a good decision that was!
When I called up to make a reservation, the very nice young lady who answered the phone politely informed me that they were all booked up for the night (it was a Wednesday but I called rather late). I took advantage anyway to ask her, for future reference, if they had a vegetarian option or could concoct one. To my pleasant surprise, she wasn't taken aback at all and assured me that the chef would be able to accommodate me with something other than légumes à la vapeur (steamed vegetables) or an assiette de crudités (plate of raw vegetables), which are what most French restaurants sadly believe make for an acceptable vegetarian meal. I thanked her and hung up, only to be pleasantly surprised when she called back herself a few minutes later to inform me that one of their reservations had cancelled and would we like to take that spot? Oui, avec plaisir! In almost five years of living in Paris, I've never experienced such a nice gesture. So right away, I knew that La Famille would be something out of the ordinary!
Upon arrival and beating seated in the tiny restaurant, we felt right at home with the simple decor, dim lighting (which unfortunately compromised the quality of these photos, all taken by Mei-i, thanks Mei-i!), communal style tables and bare walls. As expected, the place was packed, both at the tables as well as at the animated bar area. A cocktail list scribbled on a blackboard offered some very interesting concoctions - mojitos and caipiroskas with fresh fruits, herbs, even wasabi! I opted for a stawberry, raspberry, passion fruit and chili mojito, while Luis selected the strawberry, pear and ginger mojito and Mei-i the pineapple tarragon caipiroska. The drinks turned out to be little works of art, smoking cold with liquid nitrogen, little trays of chocolate and M&M-type candies, fruit garnishes and chocolate biscuit stirring sticks. I've never seen cocktails like this at a restaurant in Paris, and all three of us got a kick out of them!
Turning to the food, La Famille offers two excellent and reasonably priced formules (prix fix menus), either an entrée (appetizer) + plat (main course) or a plat + dessert for 31 euros or an entrée + plat + dessert for 36 euros. We opted for the latter, wanting to taste as much as possible from the very interesting menu, which can best be described as French with international, funky accents. For our entrées, Mei-i chose the half cooked foie gras encrusted with spéculos, which is a type of gingerbread. Luis went for the "viva el ceviCHE". As for me, I naturally opted for the vegetarian entrée, which was tomato and house-made artisanal mozzarella with a basil foam (fun!). Everything was delicious, and as you can see beautifully presented as well!
Our main courses were equally exceptional. Mei-i and Luis went for the night's specials, smoked noix de Saint-Jacques (scallops) on a Jerusalem artichoke puree and a roasted chicken dish respectively. For me, the kitchen created a special vegetarian dish consisting of vegetable tempura topped with the same basil foam as the entrée. Everything was perfectly accompanied by a white Burgundy wine, the Mâcon Chaintré Domaine Valette 2008 (La Famille has an excellent wine list featuring natural wines).
By the time we got to dessert, I was feeling pretty full. While Mei-i adored her deconstructed lemon tart (which was beautiful, I have to say), Luis was less impressed by his chocolate mousse with pineapple crumbs. I wasn't a huge fan of my dessert either, which was a chai parfait with a dacquoise of chestnuts and a coulis of physalis. Sounds very interesting, but it wasn't anything to write home about.
All in all though, La Famille was wonderful! Fun cocktails, great, inventive food, a warm ambiance and excellent, charming service (which is a rarity in Paris!) - seriously a find! If you're looking for a great place to have dinner during a trip to the City of Light (or if you live here!), definitely give it a try. Reservations are definitely needed though, so be sure to call ahead. It's also worth noting that on the first Sundays of every month, La Famille does a great community dinner for 10 euros a head. I have yet to check this out but definitely will soon!
41, rue des Trois Frères
Tel: +33 (0)1 42 52 11 12
Open 8:30-11:30pm, Tuesday-Saturday