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France/Strasbourg review: Le Panier du Marché

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Restaurants & Bars

France/Strasbourg review: Le Panier du Marché

Moshulu | Nov 25, 2005 06:45 AM

The distance between Paris and Strasbourg is no more than 500 kilometers but, for a chowhound, it might as well be light-years in terms of food, service, and the all-important price/quality ratio.

The historic center of Strasbourg is magnificent, and there are many excellent dining spots. The presence of several European institutions (with their well-paid civil servants) has only made things better, chow-wise

For work-related reasons, I have lunch at the Panier du Marché every year on the fourth Thursday of November. As an American, I would obviously rather be elsewhere but, still, this is one of my favorite restaurants in France:

Le Panier du Marché
15 rue Sainte Barbe
67000 Strasbourg
Tel. 03 88 32 04 07
Closed Sunday

The Panier is a tiny restaurant of no more than ten tables, tucked into a side street near the Place Kléber. The room is elegant and charming, without the smallest hint of ostentation. It's also CLEAN, which is by no means always the case in France. The staff is efficient and polite. The customers are local businessmen and downtown shoppers. Jackets and ties, Cartier watches, daytime jewelry, hushed voices, etc. This despite the fact that the prices are very reasonable.

Normally, I hate eating in a restaurant by myself, but in this tiny, discreet place, I always feel perfectly at ease, and the time drifts by in a warm, dreamy way. The menu is full of excellent ideas. Typically, each dish is organized around a classic basic item such as a foie gras, a veal chop, or a fine fish filet (empereur, pagre, loup de mer). Then, one or two unusual touches are added to make it special (but never bizarre). The restaurant is well-named (“the market basket”) since the ingredients are as fresh as they can be and never, ever over-cooked. One thing that I appreciate here is that the various accessory items on the plate (herbs, balsamic vinegar, chocolate, things like that) are actually meant to be eaten, and don’t merely make you wonder whether was a dishwasher malfunction.

The three-course menu is 32 euros. There is not one place in Paris where you can get such quality at less than 50, if that.

The wine list is a perfect match to the food, and is organised in a unique way – by price. There are three categories (something like 17, 20 and 25 euros). Within each there are a couple of dozen wines, some full bottles, some half. What a great idea, and what excellent value! Naturally, the marvelous whites of the region are well represented on the list.

On this particular Thanksgiving, the amuse-bouche was a crème of Jerusalem artichoke with a vanilla-flavored oil. My appetizer was a tuna trio: carpaccio, grilled, baked. This followed by a dish of roasted wild hare with a strong reduction sauce. Dessert was a lavendar crème brulée. I had a half-bottle of 2001 Trimbach Alsace pinot noir, which is a wine that I love to drink with food (especially fish). It is a light wine that should never be confused with its more robust Burgundian or New World cousins, and it should always be served well-chilled.

After my delicious lunch, the afternoon euro-meeting passed by in a pleasant haze. Incidentally, I had dinner at the delegates restaurant of the Babylonian palace known as the European Parliament. Naturally, my expectations were very low, and I guess that I was disappointed: the food was quite decent.

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