By Ann | September 10, 2008
Chez Omar is a gem, but it is not a hidden one. Nor is it particularly Parisian: Almost every other voice you hear has an American accent; many others are Japanese. Heck, the host (propriétaire? Omar?) even speaks Japanese! But, with its classic bistro appearance (complete with smoke-stained walls, mirrored columns and red pleather booths), it is bustling and lively, the tables inched together, the place packed to the gills (at least the two times we’ve been there).
Of course, the reason to come here is the couscous, that classic North African repast. At Chez Omar, it arrives in heaping mounds, tender and light, light years away from that Near East stuff that comes out a box and always tastes slightly rancid. On top of the couscous, you scoop a vegetable soup/stew that’s loaded with tender chunks of turnip, courgette and carrot, and on top of that you add a dollop of harissa, a fiery chili paste.
Meat arrives on the side — you can order a lamb brochette, which features tender, lean chunks of lamb, grilled to a rosy interior. There’s also merguez, or lamb sausage, smoky and savory. Or a half roasted chicken, slightly too salty, but oh-so-succulent. If you’re in a very meaty mood, there’s the “couscous royal,” quite simply a festival of lamb, including brochette, a grilled chop, merguez, and fork-tender braised shank.
Perhaps once upon a time Chez Omar was a bargain. We assume this was before Sophia Coppola declared it her favorite restaurant in Vogue, before it was mentioned in every guide book ever printed in the United States and Japan. Alas, it is no longer quite a bargain — couscous royal will set you back 24€, couscous poulet 18€, couscous aux legumes (which is just couscous and the vegetable soup/stew) 12€. But the portions are enormous and sharing is encouraged — recently, four of us ordered: 1 couscous royal, 1 couscous poulet, 2 couscous aux legumes; even after stuffing ourselves, we still had leftovers.
Chez Omar doesn’t take reservations, but the wait goes quickly — and it’s worth it.
47 rue de Bretagne
01 42 72 36 26
Open seven days, closed for lunch Sunday