By Katherine Trout
The main course for a dinner at Miroir.
PARIS, FRANCE – It’s 9:15pm and Paris is hungry – and many locals are craving their native French fare. For those near the Rue des Martyrs in the 18th arrondissement, Miroir, one of the last authentic French bistros, is the place to be on such an evening. The seats have been filled at Miroir since before 9:00pm, but that doesn’t stop a line of twelve from cluttering at the door. Despite the intimidating queue, passersby pause at the storefront to scan the menu taped to the glass door. Several pairs are won over and join the waiting party.
Customers are greeted with the friendly bonsoirs of Chef Sébastian Guenard and his small crew – and by the intoxicating smells of wine and sweet broths. The restaurant name Miroir, French for mirror, is fitting. Several large mirrors with gold painted frames don the walls. A red leather booth lines the perimeter of the left wall; small, mismatched tables stand opposite of it. Many of them have been pushed together, morphing them into a makeshift banquet table for larger parties. Looking to the right, a wall of French wines stands. Slipped in between several bottles is a hardbound copy of The Only Street in Paris, a book by Elaine Sciolino of the New York Times. The book features Guenard and his bistro on several occasions.
Tonight’s menu is an array of classic French cuisines. Slices of baguette and salami are laid out on wooden platters. They are shortly followed by cheesy puff pastries and fried seafood bites. Foie gras, a French delicacy, is brought out as a starter dish. What appears to be thin slices of savory butter adorned by slices of red beets and chopped green onions is none other than cuts of a force-fed duck’s liver. The main course, an impeccably cooked chicken with homemade broth and spices, is a crowd pleaser. The dessert, quenelle chocolat, closes the meal – it is a rich, thick mousse, drizzled with caramel and chocolate crumbs.
The restaurant, from its menu to its décor – is unmistakably French. But these intricate French concoctions aren’t created by native Parisians. Rather, they are the creations of Guenard and his three immigrant cooks in a tight six-by-six kitchen.
A tall, dark-skinned cook towers over a burning stove top, stirring and moving around metal pots holding different broths: chicken, mushroom, beef, seafood, pork, and cauliflower. His name is Lassana, and he is an immigrant from Senegal. He speaks little English on top of his French, but he tries to communicate with English-speaking diners through his fellow cook, Muhammad. After all, restaurant patrons are eager to learn the secrets of his culinary creations. Muhammad, an immigrant from Sri Lanka came to Paris to find work two years ago – and has been a cook at Miroir ever since. It’s the first day on the job for the third cook, Franky, another immigrant from Sri Lanka. Together, they give customers a taste of Paris.
Chef Sébastian Guenard and his cooks are breathing new life into the French bistro.