Saturday, August 2, 2008
eating in Paris, Part Trois
One of our favourite finds in Paris is a little brasserie/bar in the 7th on Rue de Grenelle. Although it's just around the corner from Musée Rodin, tourists don't seem to venture in here, and it's full of a happy mixture of French-speaking folks concentrating on good food. Men in suits, most likely fonctionnaires given the many government buildings in the area, but also women friends on a lunch break from work or shopping, couples with or without children, and workers obviously re-fuelling before heading back to construction work. The first time we stumbled upon this place four springs ago, we were with our friend Andrea, who lives in Paris and whose French is so fluent that native speakers puzzle over which part of France her accent is from. Thank goodness, because she helped us sort out what was going on and now we know to choose from the 3 or 4 daily specials up on the blackboard and to have our choices ready when the owner/server comes 'round. The turnover is very quick and to keep things moving, the owner, a very personable and amusing fellow, has to keep stepping, so when, on our second visit, we hesitated over which tarte we wanted, he was gone to another table, and we've learned to be decisive -- you snooze, you lose! So while he can explain the dishes in English, and is very accommodating, this might take a bit longer.
Well worth it though. Homestyle, good food, usually a fish dish, another fowl choice, and beef or pork as another. Huge hearty helpings with the starch either a mashed potato with some kind of sauce or often a big serving of plain pasta. The tables are close together so you can easily check out what your neighbour is having and the atmosphere is friendly enough that you can ask either your fellow diner or the owner if you can have the same. Get a pichet of the rosé or the house red. When you're finished all that, I hope you've left some room for the desserts. We've never been able to take on the dessert platter despite how temptingly inexpensive it is, but we've been mesmerized watching folks who have already tucked away their filling lunch work their way through several different tarts, an île flottant, chocolate cake, and fruit salad. And then they go back to work! Mad props to those constitutions, I'd say!
Even with a coffee, we got away for less than 15 euros each. Heather Stimmler over at Secrets of Paris agrees with me, and I'm surprised she doesn't have more scruples about sharing this one. I'm tempted to be more selfish and keep it to myself, but my readers deserve better.
Another happy find was less accidental. I think I learned about le Petit Vatel over at David Lebowitz's or perhaps at Eric's Paris Daily Photo. This family restaurant is in St. Germain at 5, rue Lobineau, and I could give you the telephone number but it won't do you any good as they don't take reservations. It's a tiny place, with room for perhaps 24 diners, and you'll be sitting cozily close to your neighbours. Simple but delicious food with a strong Savoyard influence, the choices are listed on the ardoise as in the photograph above (which is my own poor shot of the photograph from the restaurant's cookbook). The friendly (and humourous) owner speaks English well enough that you'll manage fine without any French, but he patiently encouraged our French questions about the menu, explaining the various dishes, recommending an accompanying wine, and that discussion somehow brought in the woman sitting alone next to us, a charming older Parisienne who had divided her life between upstate New York, where she and her husband had raised their family, and her beloved Paris. As we worked our way through my cucumber soup and Paul's terrine, then moved on to my Diots de Savoie (Sausages, savoie-style) and Paul's Boulets Orientale (which he had read and heard as Poulet citrouille so was surprised to get Asian-spiced meatballs rather than chicken and pumpkin!), we had an engaging conversation about our neighbour's bi-national lifestyle, about America and Bush, and about whether to have the Tomme Crayeuse de Savoie (a white Savoyard cheese, delicious) or the gateau à noisettes (hazelnut cake) -- a problem easily solved by ordering one of each and sharing. French conversation practise, some cultural observation, and a delicious meal -- who could ask for more?
What's that, you're asking for more? Well, why don't I leave you with this photo of Paul standing with a canine friend in front of a newly-opened shop on Blvd. St. Germain? I'll be back soon to tell you even more about eating in Paris (unless you leave scads of comments saying "Please stop now!) and perhaps to tell you my little surprise about where I'll be eating next week . . .