In the 25 years I've kept tabs on elite Parisian chefs, I haven't seen them stray too far from traditional French ingredients and formality. Now, inspired by foreign flavors and dining styles, stars like Joël Robuchon and Hélène Darroze are creating a new, casual restaurant. They aren't inexpensive, and they're not exactly ethnicyou can't order tekka maki at the sushi-style bar at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (5 rue de Montalembert; 011-33-1-42-22-56-56) or a tortilla at Darroze's tapas bar, Le Salon d'Hélène (4 rue d'Assas; 011-33-1-42-22-00-11)but you're not compelled to eat a three-course, three-hour meal either, a huge departure from haute-cuisine protocol.
On a recent trip to Paris, I ate at another new incarnation of this casual trend, Michelin-two-star-chef Alain Dutournier's Pinxo (9 rue d'Alger; 011-33-1-40-20-72-00)the name means pinch in Basque. Almost everything is cooked a la plancha (on a griddle). The decor is far from rustic: Banquettes are black leather, and servers wear black Mao smocks. Despite the tapas-style menu, locals aren't likely to share dishes, which include chipirons, a kind of tiny squid, and giant, spicy shrimp.
In the past, you couldn't pay the French to eat at a counter facing a giant meat slicer and vineyard photos. But at the new wine bar at the venerable store Fauchon (30 place de la Madeleine; 011-33-1-47-42-95-40), diners sit on stools around a counter surrounded by 2,000-plus wines. It's a funny mix of haute and humble: The napkins are paper, but servers wear ties. There are giant charcuterie plates with a slab of foie gras and a hunk of salted butter.