Since opening their taqueria-cum-speakeasy Candelaria in the spring of 2011, the trio of ex-pats behind Paris-based restaurant group Quixotic Projects has quickly become one of the city's most beloved restaurant teams. "It wasn't part of some big plan to come to Paris and open restaurants," explains co-founder Josh Fontaine. "We'd all been working in bars and restaurants our whole lives, and it was just an idea we had that sounded like fun."
Fontaine moved to Paris from New York City in 2008 with plans to study international relations—that all changed when he picked up a weekend shift tending bar at the Experimental Cocktail Club. It was there he met Adam Tsou, a bar regular who'd come from New York to go to cooking school, and Colombia native Carina Soto Velasquez, his then-manager. His two new friends ended up getting married, and, upon returning from their honeymoon, began hatching plans to open a new place with Fontaine.
"Being foreigners and loving tacos, we had the idea of having an authentic Mexican place in Paris," Fontaine explains. "Obviously, one with a strong cocktail program, since that's what Carina and I were most experienced with." They saw a location in the city's Upper Marais neighborhood, an area they liked for its proximity to a number of art galleries. The only problem was the space itself: long and narrow, it seemed ill-suited to house a cocktail bar—that is, until the trio realized there was even more room in the back. They refined the concept: the space in front would be the taqueria, and the room in back would be the bar.
Candelaria was an instant hit, something Fontaine credits to the trio's reluctance to compromise their vision. "When we opened Candelaria," he explains, "we said, 'Don't tone down the spice for French palates—and we were told: 'You're crazy, the French don't like spicy things!'" Five years later, only one cocktail has remained on the menu consistently since opening day: it features chile-infused tequila.
Next, they wanted a late-night, rock 'n' roll spot, so they opened Glass in September 2012, in the then-grittier Pigalle neighborhood. It's their elevated version of a dive-y, late-night spot, replete with organic hot dogs, Boilermakers, and a miniscule dance floor that tends to stay crowded till closing time at 5 a.m. Then, just when they thought they would rest a while, a real estate agent they knew showed them a location they couldn't resist: a big, corner space with endless windows, right near Candelaria. That became the space where they'd open Le Mary Celeste, which takes its name from a 19th-Century ship, and features a raw bar, a tapas-style menu of small plates, and, of course, an outstanding array of cocktails and wine. After taking 2014 to soak it all in, they opened Hero in April 2015, their first "pure restaurant" serving Korean-inspired fare, including Yangnyeom (spicy fried chicken), kimchi mac 'n' cheese, and jellyfish salad.
They've managed to captivate locals and garnered numerous awards from Le Fooding, the go-to independent resource for all forward-thinking food matters. One thing ties them all together: "the angle with all of it is trying to find something that doesn't exist yet in Paris." And Fontaine has found that there are advantages to being a gang of foreigners. "We learn as we go," he says. "We might make mistakes along the way, but it also gives the places [their own] unique vibe."
Fontaine says the group has benefited greatly from bucking the preexisting trends. "It doesn't need to be the gruff caricature of a Parisian waiter that everyone's used to," says Fontaine, "and it doesn't have to be super-expensive." How does one explain change being so happily welcomed in a town known for its rich culinary tradition? "You might think it would turn off a large part of the population," he says, "but I think people are attracted to it because it's something new." He's noticed that the locals are traveling more, and returning home hungry for variety. "When they come back to Paris," he says, "they're like, 'Why can't I have the same kind of crazy flavors, or unique experience, or style of service I can find in New York, or London?'
Here, Fontaine shares a list of his favorite places to visit when he's not too busy at one of his own.
Medusa, 48 Rue Basfroi
My new favorite bar, Medusa, just opened a few months ago on a side street near the Voltaire metro. It's got a great, laid-back vibe, an amazing playlist, and super nice guys running the place.
La Féline, 6 Rue Victor Letalle
This rock 'n' roll dive in Belleville hits the mark when you want to go to Glass, but are on the other side of town.
Chez Michel, 10 Rue de Belzunce
Chez Michel is a small, standing-room-only, natural wine bar with great snacks.
+33 1 44 53 06 20.
Clown Bar, 114 Rue Amelot
My favorite place to eat in Paris at the moment—with a great wine list, too. Ask for Xavier or Pierre.
Naritake Ramen, 31 Rue des Petits Champs
Killer tonkotsu ramen—but I recommend asking them to go easy on the pork fat.
+33 1 42 86 03 83.
Broken Arm, 12 Rue Perrée
This one's a café in my friend's concept store. They've got great coffee, and are killing it during lunch.