Flesh is one of the emerging restaurants in Paris bringing new flavors to the City of Lights. (Illustration: Kemi Mai; Photos: William Lounsbury)
Peeking in through the wide windows of Flesh, you could easily mistake the place for a sleek home in Arizona. Wood-and-metal chairs perch on a saddle-colored tile floor; a spindly green cactus leans in the corner; and the bare walls reflect the empty white plates of guests who have just devoured the best barbecued meat in Paris.
Walk in, and you smell it. Chef Simon Lewis is cooking with charcoal in the back, grilling up smoked pork and Black Angus chuck flap as well as sea tiger shrimp. He emerges from the clanging kitchen to greet an English-speaking guest, bringing her pork tacos topped with chili-pickled pineapple salsa. It’s a welcome splash of brightness in the otherwise somber Wild West color palette.
While barbecue is new to Paris, it’s always been a part of Lewis’s life; he grew up in Southern California before moving here to start his career as a cook at Spring, then Frenchie, both set-menu restaurants serving quality food in casual settings. As Frenchie underwent a renovation in summer 2014, he looked for a new opportunity and met David Vidal, co-owner of Flesh.
“We met him and we were like, ‘This is our guy, we hope he feels the same about us,’” says Vidal.
Vidal and his best friend Arnaud Champetier had quit their jobs to open Flesh when Champetier turned 30. They liked the endless possibilities of barbecue: It could be applied to fruit and vegetables as well as meat, the portions could be measured or banquet-sized. Why the name?
“It’s quite rough: It’s about food, but also about other things, which I can’t talk about.” He suppresses a giggle, but it’s obvious what he’s referencing: Flesh sits in the ever-seedy Quartier Pigalle, a stone’s throw from the Moulin Rouge, and peep shows are being advertised up the block at the red-lit “Sexodrome.”
The chic/sleazy combination draws a mixed crowd of locals and in-the-know visitors, and the night-life friendly neighborhood also means that the scene can get pretty raucous once dinner service is over. (The bar is stocked for classic cocktails as well as the deadly-sounding Flesh Punch and a comprehensive menu of sours.)
Flesh already has all the ingredients of a Parisian hot spot. But the coolest thing about the place is its carefree, freewheeling vibe. Lewis and Vidal are both hype-averse, laughing about their limited PR efforts; they love the fact that most diners arrive via word of mouth.
“Just keep it simple, keep it quality,” says Lewis. “That’s our philosophy.”
This story first appeared on Medium.com as part of Gone – a collection of smart, surprising and compulsively readable travel stories, launched in partnership with the Marriott portfolio of brands.