Chef Bernard Ros, an executive chef and restaurateur in New York City for decades, launched his latest French bistro, Paname (1068 2nd Ave, NYC) a few years ago on an unlikely block on 2nd Avenue and E57th St. His last restaurant, Meli Melo, closed because of that typical and horrendous New York real estate story of leases ending and rental rates doubling. This gentle sweet man, with an impressive outlook towards experimentation and classic French cooking, spent a great deal of time trying to find a location that would both serve his loyal followers and not force him to raise his prices beyond the very affordable level he loves to give those followers. Paname, although a bit plain in interior design, does come across as a quaint neighborhood place that caters more to taste buds rather than the stylistic eye. And we should thank him most definitely for that approach, because what we are given here is gloriously tasty and fresh, while being quite easy on our pocketbooks.
After our group of writers sat down for dinner, we were greeted with a generous treat of two types of Amuse-bouche: Fresh Salted Anchovies and a Porcini Mushroom Pate with hints of avocado and Italian spices that was just plain heavenly. Both were simple, smooth, and pleasing to the palate. Chef Bernard told us that these tidbits, along with a palate cleansing cream-less Cauliflower Soup served midway through, and a deliciously creamy Violet Ice Cream (not to be missed) and a basket of French Cookies served before desert, were generally given as surprise gifts to thankful diners, especially those who are having the extremely well priced 3 course prix fixe ($43). It’s such a welcoming gift and very telling of the level of care and attention Chef Bernard gives to the entire experience at Paname.
We started off, family style, tasting four unique appetizers. The first and best was the Pate Maison aux Cornichons ($13) that was dense but easy on the taste buds, exuding freshness and a wonderful classic French style. The Baby Octopus was tender and delicious with just the right amount of spicy flavor that sat so well mixed in with the Haricots Blanc ($16). As with almost every exquisitely presented dish, the Tuna Tartar with a light Sesame Chili Oil was as delicious as it was pretty, with the Artichokes Pesto ($11) being the only dish that underwhelmed us, being less pesto-y than anticipated.
For the entrees, we selected two of his most special and popular dishes: the Bouillabaisse with Shrimp, Cod, Clams, Mussels, and Seafood in a Saffron Broth with a delectable Garlic Aioli spread on a few slices of baguette ($28) and the French classic, Beef Bourguignon that generally finds its way onto the daily specials list at least 9 months out of the year. And thank goodness for that, as the Bourguignon was rich and divine, and the Bouillabaisse delicate and flavorful with a nice hint of spice.
We also were able to taste the most incredibly moist Crispy Duck, oven roasted in a spectacular and surprising Barley and Mango Coulis. Rather than utilize the more traditional flavor of the Orange, Chef Bernard attempted to exchange the fruit for mango after a glorious trip to India many years ago. He explained that he always prefers inventiveness over being stuck into tradition when the ingredients can speak for themselves and don’t overwhelm.
The final entree was a Sautéed Cod Fish a la Nicoise Tomato Fondant that felt like we stepped away from Paris and found ourselves at a beachfront bistro in Southern France, with the olive and old red tomato flavor bringing to mind the glory of Marseilles and the Mediterranean Sea.
Finally, to finish up a wonderful French style meal, that was never too heavy or overwhelming, we chose four deserts, with one being the most classic of all the classics, Crème Brulee (all desserts $9.75), that to no one’s surprise was the most delicious of them all. It was light and flavorful without being too sweet or simple. The Flourless Chocolate Cake and the Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream were rich in their perspective flavors, perfectly balanced and delightful, while the thin crust Apple Tart was a bit tough and less flavorful making it more of a challenge to embrace.
Speaking with Chef Bernard after our stupendous and filling meal (that was accompanied by a lovely French Rosé to begin, a delicious Malbec for the main course, and a perfect glass of Sancerre with dessert -wine at bar during happy hour $7 beer $5; wine at the table $12), he told us of his 50 year journey that brought him to this quaint little UES bistro. His hopes of creating an eating establishment that focuses more on the dish over the interior design. He has an inspiring view about breaking the rules of French cuisine without disqualifying the classics. Instead he hopes to break the rules just enough to give those dishes a modern face-lift rather than a complete overhaul.
He’s a man of exquisite taste when it comes to food and dining, creating a comfortable and friendly atmosphere where one can relax and feel at home. He leans away from showy or pretense which is such a pleasure to engage with. His handshake is so warm and inviting, that I look forward to the next time he wills my taste buds back over to Paris for some more fine wine and excellent dining.
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