Saturday, July 07, 2007

Miscellaneous Food: Paris

One of the good things about studying in the UK is that the rest of Europe becomes extremely accessible. Paris, in particular, is only a train ride away, and it doesn’t take much excuse to go visit. One such excuse was the recently-concluded French Open, though with all the good food in Paris, it’s really only a marginally better excuse.

Although this wasn’t supposed to be a food-oriented trip (insofar as that is possible where I’m involved), naturally food wasn’t completely ignored either.

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Our first good dinner was at Le Chansonnier – a petit bistrot on the corner of Rue Eugene Varlin. Very French, it had a very relaxed attitude towards animals – a dog sat comfortably at one of the tables, while the lady of the house waged an endless war with the resident cat.

This was a Lonely Planet recommendation, so I wasn’t expecting much, but surprisingly, the food was excellent, and even more surprisingly, service was wonderful as well.

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I started with white asparagus spears, steamed, with a simply-dressed salad. I wasn’t entirely sure the asparagus was fresh, as it seemed a bit stringy, but the spears were juicy and fairly succulent.

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Some of my friends had the duck confit, which was meltingly tender, though served with some slightly questionable garlic roast potatoes.

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I was debating between the osso bucco and the souris d’agneau, but in the end the latter won out, simply because I haven’t had lamb shank in a while. Braised in a rich sauce of red wine, tomatoes, herbs and orange zest, the lamb was tasty and hearty, though the mashed potatoes were a bit chunky.

No dessert, as we were all a bit full. Nonetheless, Le Chansonnier restored my faith in Lonely Planet recommendations, and demonstrated that good food at decent prices isn’t really too hard to find in Paris, provided you know where to look.

Le Chansonnier
14 Rue Eugene Varlin
Tel: 1 42 09 40 58

It was rather fortuitous that a few days before I left for Paris, Chubby Hubby posted an extremely helpful six-day itinerary of things to do in Paris.

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One of the places he recommended was Bechu, an artisanal bakery known for winning le Grand Prix de la Baguette de Paris, or the Best Baguette in Paris.

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There was already a queue outside the bakery when we arrived, and we saw satisfied customers leaving with armfuls of baguettes, the heady aroma of yeast and dough permeating the area.

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As it turns out, Bechu is not just a bakery, but also a patisserie and salon de thé, though the last is a slight exaggeration; customers sit outside sipping their morning cafés.

The baguette here is rather good – the crust is crispy without being gum-piercingly solid, and the soft, billowy interior is at once tasty and comforting. Bechu offers a number of different types of baguette, but we had the classic. Interestingly enough, when a Frenchman ahead of us in the queue asked us what we were eating it with, he was aghast to hear that our reply was 'nothing'. Do the French not eat their bread plain?

118 Ave. Victor Hugo; 16th Arr.
Closed Mondays
Tel: 1 47 27 97 79

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Lunch was at a random restaurant fronting Place de la Bonaparte (?), which, again, was better than expected. The mussels in cream sauce were exceptionally flavoursome, and we were given a generous quantity of the molluscs, which meant there was more than enough to share.

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I had intended to make another reservation at L'Os à Moelle, but unfortunately they seem to be closed on Mondays, and I made a reservation at Le Petit Pontoise instead, a restaurant with a similar reputation for quality food at friendly prices.

The restaurant has an interesting concept – there are no individual menus, merely multiple blackboards that adorn the walls advertising the choices on offer, with a separate blackboard for fish. The review I had read recommended the braised pork cheeks, but oddly enough none of us ordered it.

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I started with the baked brie, with balsamic vinegar and truffled sauce. I’m not entirely used to starting with cheese (unless it's something like goat’s cheese salad), so I found this very rich and heavy. While the brie was warm and gooey, I couldn’t taste any truffle, and I thought the dish could have benefited from more vinegar in order to cut through the cheese. While good, I was not able to finish all of it.

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The fricasée of escargots that my friends had, on the other hand, was rather delicious. It reminded me of the signature dish at Sage, though without the poached egg. The dish was bursting with the taste of the plump and succulent snails, without the traditional oiliness of the parsley butter.

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My main course was calf’s liver, served with a meaty brown sauce and creamy mashed potatoes. I can’t remember having liver before, which was mainly why I ordered it. It had a most interesting texture – crispy and almost meat-like on the outside, before becoming pastier, slightly chewier on the inside. It tasted characteristically liver-esque, much like foie gras paté, though much less silky and rich. It was a good change, though I think I prefer steak.

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The duck breast here is quite good, though served with somewhat unpresentable snowpeas and carrot discs. The potatoes and grapes were a nice touch though, with a sauce that had body without being overpowering.

While perhaps not as dramatic as L'Os à Moelle, the food here is by no means inadequate, and Le Petit Pontoise benefits from having a much better location. The restaurant is very small though, so bookings are essential.

Le Petit Pontoise
9 rue de Pontoise
Tel: 01 43 29 25 20


Of course, no trip to Paris would be complete without a trip to Ladurée and Pierre Hermé for some macarons, on which you can read more in one of my earlier posts.

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