Monday, July 21, 2008

Eating in Paris, Part II

Well, you could eat here, but we didn't. Somehow, amusing though it might be, the name "Good Meat" doesn't seem overly promising (if you have to say it . . . )
But we passed this sign on the way back to our hotel in the 13th--Résidence les Gobelins-- from dinner at L'Avant-Goût on Rue Bobillot, also in the 13th (which means that I could wear my heels since the return trip only required a few kilometres walking).
I can't remember where I found out about this restaurant, but I know it was in an article four or five years ago on young Paris chefs who were doing something wonderful but a bit "outside the box" in some way -- up-and-coming chefs to watch, or some such article. My Paris guide book pointed out that it was in the 13th, so we sought it out on a walk one day, arriving there in the late afternoon. We popped in to see if there was any chance of dinner that evening, and, dommage, they were already full. We left, but then Paul decided to go back and reserve for the next evening. When he caught up to me, we spent the next few blocks with him trying to unravel what he'd said wrong to cause such confusion over the time. Turns out, we realized with a light-bulb flash, he'd got twisted 'round between math (differentiating military, which the French often use, and civilian time) and languages, so that he'd kept agreeing that we'd be there for a 5:45 seating and they kept insisting on about quarter to 8. Besides that, he couldn't remember the name of our hotel, so they'd finally agreed to hold a table for Monsieur Paul from an hotel in Paris. He just groaned as he rehearsed his errors. Mortified already, and we hadn't even tried to order dinner!

That first evening, we got squeezed in, French-restaurant-style, by the windows against a table of engineers or mathematicians, apparently here for a conference. What I most remember from the evening was the arch humour of our server, very patient with our French. At one point, when I was apologizing for not knowing a word or mis-pronouncing another, he assured me that my French was very good (see? polite!). Later, when he asked us how we had enjoyed our appetizers, Paul said, in French, that he had only one word for his: merveilleux, or étonnant or délicieux, I can't remember. With the straightest face possible, the waiter said, "Mais monsieur, votre français est excellent aussi!" managing to imply that Paul had been waiting to hear these magic words, already doled out to his wife -- me too! me too! (which is so far from Paul's character) -- I think he had a tough time keeping that straight face while I choked on my mouthful of wine! And all was forgiven when he brought Paul the wonderful house specialty, pot au feu du cochon. (I've just seen that this recette is offered on their website -- Paul will be working on this one, for sure!)

We've been back each May, holding our breath that our holiday doesn't coincide with the closure they seem to schedule in spring. The chef and/or his wife are usually there, we see the same staff, and sometimes we like to imagine a glimmer of recognition. We've sat at tables pushed close to other diners (we had a lovely conversation the visit before last with an elderly couple, almost all in French, although the man, who had immigrated from Italy long ago, tried out his few words of English), and we've twice been seated at a table separated by a bit more distance -- I prefer the former, just for the chance to absorb more language (altho' this needs to be done discreetly, gradually, and with a careful attentiveness to one's neighbours' boundaries). While French seems to be spoken at most tables, many also feature a mix of French and English, and we were even offered an English menu on this last visit. (In such situations, we generally decline gratefully, asking for the opportunity to practise our French -- and then we try our best to be efficient enough that we don't let our language challenges slow anyone down.) But more than the language, we've finally got over that last hurdle that was marking us as tourists, and we've stopped arriving before 8. This year, we were there right at 8 (Paul would actually prefer to dine later, but I'm always starving by then!), so within seconds the other diners were filling up the room. Other years, arriving before 8, we were lonely and gauche for some time before the orange room livened up with other patrons.
"Enough of the preamble," I suppose you're asking. "What did you eat?"
Well, let's see. I started with a wonderfully flaky-yet-crispy Croustillant sardines-tomates while Paul had ravioli filled with duck and shitake mushrooms, with a shitake sauce. Predictably, he had the wonderful Pot au feu du cochon, the house specialty mentioned above, which he's had other years (actually, I'm a bit nervous of him finding that there's a recipe here for it, as the dish may actually be why he's willing to head back to Paris each May!) and I had a luscious duck breast, wrapped/coated in foie gras and served with a fig chutney. MMmmm. Then for dessert, Paul had strawberries served very simply with basil and cream, elegantly delicious (I know, I tasted!) and I had a Froid et chaud with the cold being a vanilla ice cream and the hot being a chocolate cake with lava-like interior -- all topped with a delectable caramel sauce.
We took the serveuse's recommendation for wine, a very nice Merlot/Grenache blend from the Pays de Vaucluse. 20 Euros for the wine, and the entire meal (including wine) cost us 92 Euros. And people say that Paris is too expensive?!
More posts to come on eating in Paris (you'll be yelling "Stop already!"), but meanwhile, should you want to bring some of that into your kitchen at home, check out the yummy-looking recipe David Lebowitz offers in today's post for an Upside-Down Cake. Paris-style eating, chez vous!

8 comments:

  1. Mmm, it all sounds very nice indeed. All your restaurant/food posts will be going straight into my 'Paris' file. Thanks! Patricia

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  2. Divine, I'm aching for that duck breast! Loved this story.

    When in Paris I treat dinner like going to a disco in my younger days; a nap and a light pre-meal (say, crackers and cheese), timed for 9 pm. restaurant arrival.

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  3. Patricia: Research in the name of service!
    Duchesse: I know, I should do this as well -- altho' a late dinner is so hard on my tummy and means very little sleep. Still, all in the name of sophistication. . .

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  4. I also have to tell you that you have literally whetted our appetites - this evening hubby and I decided that next year's summer vacation will be in France; fly to Paris, hire car, then do a loop - Normandy, Atlantic coast, Provence, side trip to Black Forest to visit friends, then hopefully up to Vimy Ridge and back to Paris. We have a year to plan, so keep those Paris post a-coming!! Patricia

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  5. Oh I have loved both of your food posts. We have had so many good experiences in restaurants in France and I think my husband prefers the reserve of the French over the over-familiarity found so often here in the US. The meal sounds wonderful and I will have to add the restaurant to our list.

    Oh so much of my travel memories revolve around food (and art). Your posts are so satisfying.

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  6. Patricia: sounds like a wonderful holiday you have planned, driving 'round the French countryside.
    Mardel: Isn't food one of the best ways to anchor memory? Although often I can just remember the conviviality of the meal rather than the specifics.

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  7. I found Paris easier to find a table in than the South of France. Much of it seems to center around a willingness to eat early. I am more than happy to, as I struggle to sleep after i have just eaten. Couple this with an inability to stay awake after 9pm and you have a very early customer.
    Keep the stories coming!

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  8. Alison: Sounds as if we're similarly unsophisticated, you and I, both early eaters by preference. And if the early eater gets the table, well, so much the better!

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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