Basque Cuisine

A simple menu that tastes extraordinary

The words "Paris dining" conjure up images of waiters gliding by in long white aprons, of spacious Art Deco halls, and of foie gras served on gold-rimmed china. Au Bascou restaurant, tucked into a corner of the third arrondissement, offers none of the above, but instead enchants diners with the seductive flavors of the colorful Basque region. "My home, the Pays Basque, is paradise on earth," says owner Jean-Guy Loustau, who opened the restaurant in 1993 after working at two-star Trou Gascon and cofounding the prestigious Le Carré des Feuillants with chef Alain Dutournier. "We're blessed with a little of everything." Indeed, the southwestern Basque region, cushioned between the Atlantic and the Pyrenees, boasts the freshest of what ocean, mountain, forest, and river have to offer. Capitalizing on this first-rate produce and the temperamental dialogue between French and Spanish culinary traditions, Loustau and chef Cyril Lalanne have created a simple-sounding menu that tastes extraordinary. The light crème froide de poiraux, a cold leek soup, is topped with tender smoked duck breast; spicy vegetables adorn delicate snails in the bouillon d'escargots Koskera. Sweet xérès sauce perfectly complements the poêlée de morue, a savory fish imported from Saint-Pied fishermen. A sommelier by training, Loustau has assembled an impressive wine list. The spicy Irouléguy selections, produced at France's smallest vineyard, in the Basse-Navarre, go beautifully with the bold flavors of the Basque dishes. Of course, there's also foie gras, which is a regional specialty, after all. Brought to the table by Loustau, served on a simple white dish, and enjoyed in Bascou's cozy dining room, it tastes even better. $70. Closed Sunday and for lunch Saturday and Monday. 38 Rue Réamur, 75003 Paris; tel/fax 33-1-42-72-69-25.