You might argue that, when it offers chilled king crab legs to be dipped in aioli, this unextravagant cafe breaks character. Does the same apply to garnishing sardines served in the can with an ingot of prized, costly butter made by Jean-Yves Bordier? Maybe. I thought, in any case, that the sardines and the olive oil they are packed in tended to talk over the butter.
The half roast chicken is not in the same class as the birds that Antoine Westermann cooked when he was still at Le Coq Rico, but it is probably as good a roast chicken as any normal restaurant can produce. The duck in olives, though, is misconceived; the sauce is thin, acrid and one-dimensional instead of head-spinningly rich, the way it is at Allard in Paris.
The seafood — the trout amandine with its sautéed skin taut beneath its armor of toasted almonds; steamed mussels in a lemon broth that’s satiny with melted butter; an entire steamed branzino with enough crisp summer vegetables to make a salad — is very appealing, though that won’t stop the people who are going to get steak frites without even a glance at the menu. Those people may get fries that are crunchy and golden, or they might end up with a limp, oily batch, or they may get both in the same night, as I did.
At the length of 20 years, memories are untrustworthy, but I’m reasonably sure the food at Pastis is better than it used to be. The wine is certainly more interesting.
What’s gone, and won’t be back now that the surrounding addresses have been taken over by shops like Loro Piana, Sephora, Hermès and RH, is the pure downtown electricity Pastis once generated. Sharing real estate with meat cutters in blood-smeared aprons and prostitutes in dresses as tight as the skins on a boudin blanc, Pastis did a drop-dead perfect imitation of the coolest restaurant in France. The French part was fake, but the cool was real.