"The evolving Francophile..."

My husband Jack has always wanted to live in Paris and learn French. I thought it would be good for him to achieve his life time dream. Hence, we moved to Paris in 2008. My first year was difficult. I started "missives" to relieve some stress and chronicle my life so friends back in the US could read what I am experiencing. I currently write about my food and travel experiences, which is my passion.

It is definitely a challenge to live here, but each year it gets easier, and quite enjoyable, in large part because I value friendships over locale. I have a love/hate relationship with Paris as do most Parisians, mais La vie est belle (but life is good)!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Variations -- Restaurant review, the way a restaurant should be run!

Stan, Jack and Loui in front of Variations Restaurant

18 Rue des Wallons
75013 Paris
Metro: Saint Marcel

Rating Standards: 4-Stars = Extraordinary; 3-Stars = Excellent; 2-Stars = Good; 1-Star = Fair; NO stars = Poor
€ = Inexpensive: 30€ and under; €€ = Moderate: 31€-49€; €€€ = Expensive: €50 -75; €€€€ = Very Expensive: more than €76 (prices based on minimum 2-courses)
1-Bell = Pleasantly quiet (less than 65 decibels); 2-Bells = Can talk easily (65-70); 3-Bells = Talking normally gets difficult (70-75); 4-Bells = Can talk only in raised voices (75-80); BOMB = Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)


Friends Stan and Loui live right around the corner from this restaurant, and eat there quite often. They consider it as their neighborhood little secret and an extension of their own kitchen.  I was very anxious to go since  I heard so much about this restaurant, and it also happens to be Loui's favorite restaurant in Paris. 

The restaurant has been opened since June 2008, so a relative newcomer.  Chef Phillippe Tondetta is at the helm. Originally from Piedmont and the former chef at Le Petit Pontoise, his food is not only wonderful, but can be very innovative. In fact, some are down right untypically French serving interesting combinations and using such hot and spicy spices such as the "Voantsy Perifery" a wild pepper from Madagascar". He has quite the track record, first in catering, then a stint at Tour d'Argent, and also worked as a private Chef for George Clooney and David Beckham.

Prior to coming to the restaurant I decided to do some research. Variations has a toque from Gault Millau, 2010 edition , as well as a fork in the Michelin Guide, 2010 edition, which basically means it's a very comfortable restaurant. I always take reviews with a grain of salt, because as far as I'm concerned, the "proof is in the pudding."

As you enter, you notice the restaurant seems quite airy and spacious. Very simply decorated, almost minimalist, but extremely comfortable. 

The menu is on a chalk board, I was a little taken aback, I was expecting a very expensive restaurant and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was quite reasonable. Also, if you book online you can get a 30% discount if you order a la carte, and not from the pre-fix menu.

We perused the menu, and decided not to do the pre-fix since we weren't all that hungry, but select from the menu.

Poquillos avec reblochon
Jack and I both ordered entrées. Jack had the poquillos avec reblochon cheese, not only did it look pretty and simply laid out, it was delicious.

I had the Raviolis avec rognon, raviolis stuffed with kidneys, in a nice white wine reduced cream sauce. It was so delicious, I could have licked the bowl, not to embarrass my dinner mates, I used lots of bread to sop up the sauce, but had I been alone, one could just imagine what I would've done with that bowl.
Stan and Loui ordered the "Bar" a European bass. Oh my God, I tasted this fish and it was literally to die for. The skin was nice and crisp and the flesh was so moist and delicious. It was spiced with a little hint of lemon and thyme, but not at all overwhelming. I was impressed that both Stan and Loui were able to filet their fish with ease, but they reminded me they're both doctors so they've had alot of practice cutting into flesh and bone.


After tasting the bar, I almost regretted ordering the grillée homard (grilled lobster), but after tasting it I realized I made the right decision, but promised myself that the next time I'm there I would order the bar all for myself.

Simplicity has it's rewards. The homard was nicely grilled and accompanied with a nice very light buerre blanc sauce. Nothing complicated, but sometimes simple is hard to do.  The beauty was that the Chef left the tomalley, which is oftentimes discarded. It is a delicacy and not for everyone, but I found it extremely delicious. The lobster was pre-cracked in strategic places facilitating the ease of eating the lobster.  All I have to say, is I think I died and went to "lobster" heaven.

At this point we were feeling quite full, but Jack saw something on the menu he just could not resist, a rhubarb tart, and Loui found a creme brulée flavored with an coquelicot  that we planned on sharing. In fact, I think the Chef is enamored with coquelicot, a wild flower oftentimes used in salads, since he has a huge painting of the plant on one of the walls.


The Rhubarb tart was delicious. It was mixed with apples, but there's no second guessing whether there's rhubarb in this dish. It had the tart characteristics of the rhubarb. Although, the crust was a little croustillant (crunch), it was very delicious.

The creme brulée coquelicot, all I can say is yum, yum, yum. I've had alot of creme brulées in my lifetime, but this was one of the best I've ever had, ABSOLUTELY delicious. It was light, creamy and just plain perfect.

In summary:  This is the way a restaurant should be run.  Many can learn from Chef Tondetta. There's absolutely no pretensions, hype, or PR blitzes. You can easily make a reservations both online and on their phone.  The staff is courteous, engaging and extremely helpful. And, on top of all of this, the prices are extremely reasonable. Bottom-line, the food is simple, great, and unpretentious, but also very innovative!!!

Would I go back, a thousand times over, PLEASE!!! Thank you Stan and Loui for sharing one of your secret little neighborhood gems!!!


  1. I think I'll give this place a try. Thanks for the wonderful restaurant ideas!
    This is a great blog!

  2. Can't wait to go on Friday night...
    Merci Randy1

  3. Unforgettable french souper ! Don't leave Paris without having tasted these wonderful dishes.