A cabinetmaker and a chef are transforming 93 rue Julien Lacroix into a neighborhood bistro
Large white letters on the windows announce that Paloma is “ouvert”, open for business. But the restaurant perched on the corner of rue Lesage and rue Julien-Lacroix is still under renovation. The exterior, with its new mustard yellow tiles and large custom-made windows, still needs some finishing touches. A peek inside reveals piles of plywood, toolboxes, and an assortment of power tools.
“It’s a crazy life we’re living here. We’ve been working on the renovations seven days a week for six months,” says Olivia, a cabinetmaker, who along with her friend Marie-Anna, a chef, are transforming 93 rue Julien Lacroix into a neighborhood bistro. Tired of renovation work and reaching the end of their budget, they decided to open Paloma for takeout on January 18.
With Paris still under a 6 p.m. curfew, Maria-Anna prepares a three-course set menu for €15. Customers can pick up their meals from noon on weekdays at a walk-up window on the rue Lesage. Today, the menu is fennel and mussel salad, with a choice of either sausage with mashed potatoes or gnocchi with gorgonzola, and an apple-cinnamon-filled beignet for dessert. To supplement that offer, Marie-Anna also concocts “grocery” items, such as pâtés en croûte, duck confit, accras, or empanadas, which customers can take home with bottles of natural wine or organic beer.
“It’s good for us to take a break and move on to something else. Renovation work is boring after a while. Now we can still get to know our customers, make some money, and at the same time finish what we started,” Olivia says. She and Marie-Anna met 10 years ago at the National Fine Arts School in Paris and studied abroad together in Rio de Janeiro. At the end of their studies, they each signed up for a CAP certification class with the City of Paris: cabinetry for Olivia and cooking for Marie-Anna. Olivia went on to custom design restaurants and cafés. Maria-Anna worked in several kitchens and became chef at Le Dindon en Laisse. After honing their respective crafts, the two friends decided to open a restaurant together in the 20th arrondissement.
“Clearly, we wanted to be in Belleville. It’s a neighborhood we love. The idea is really to be a neighborhood bistro. We’d like to survive by selling to our neighbors,” says Olivia, who lives on the rue de Belleville. Marie-Anna lives in Ménilmontant.
“We would have prefered to find a vintage bistro we could use as is. But we didn’t, and this space had a lot of advantages: it’s big, it’s on an angle, it’s both in Belleville but far enough away to have a nice terrace,” Olivia explains. Once a Thai restaurant (Krung Thep) and then an African restaurant (Au Palais), the space needed a lot of work to become the convivial bistro they imagined. “There was nothing to keep. We had to demolish everything and rebuild,” says Olivia, looking across the L-shaped dining room.
“This whole area here will be a low sitting area,” she explains, indicating the part along the rue Lesage. “And over there,” she points toward the rue Julien Lacroix, “is more for standing at tables or the bar, more dynamic. The idea is to be a wine-tapas bar in the evening. We’ll do the same bistro cuisine as at lunch, but in small portions to share.”
“I say my cooking is rather bistro because the image of a bistro inspires me more than images of a gastronomic restaurant; it’s more convivial. But I try to elaborate, I’m inspired by my producers and by their products,” says Marie-Anna, who works with independent, organic or sustainable suppliers. “And I’m hyper-inspired by my region, the southwest. I love seafood, squid, oysters, charcuterie, everything meat really interests me, and I love offal.”
“Marie-Anna does everything by herself. She is impressive. And I do desserts and try to keep up with her,” says Olivia. Franco-American, Olivia makes desserts that are often inspired by her origins: pineapple upside-down cake, carrot cake, or brownies.
“We’ve already had a lot of positive feedback. But, of course, our choice not to put a lot of choices on the menu, there are sometimes always one disappointed client,” Marie-Anna admits, adding “But I find that interesting, too. And people are coming back. Neighbors buy a bottle here, a bit of terrine there. That’s cool. We want to make regulars. That’s what a bistro is all about. You go for your coffee. You go for your lunch. And in the evening you go for a drink. I have the impression it’s going in that direction.”