Friday, January 29, 2010

Two nights in Paris: Chez Paul

So last week I was in Paris for 48 hours and wanted French food. GOOD French food. Without the pomp and circumstance of fine dining. I wanted to eat where the locals eat. A neighborhood joint where the neighbors KNOW GOOD French food. And merci a la front desk at the hotel, we found it in the Bastille at a local joint called Chez Paul. MON DIEU did we find it. Tonight we speak in superlatives because this meal was hands down one of the BEST I have ever had in Paris and I would venture to say that if you are looking for simple French food done BETTER THAN YOU’VE EVER TASTED IT IN YOUR LIFE, you might walk out singing... like we did. But we’ll get to that later.

You know when you walk into a place and there is a certain sense of deja vu, a feeling that you’ve worn these jeans before, that this isn’t the first time you’ve met him. It was like that – I’ve seen that guy behind the bar before, aren’t the tiles on the floor familiar? the hand writing on the menu is so much like – home. The service was just surly enough to be that very French combination of rudely charming, charmingly rude (my people! My people!).

The Cote du Rhone tasted better than it ever does in Germany – which is pretty much standard with every French dish, condiment, dessert or aperitif I have ever had. They all just taste better in France – the air? The soil? The attitude? My attitude?

Eva the vegetarian started out with her standard, „if there’s nothing else, I’m sure they’ll have a...“ salade au chevre chaud – warm goat cheese salad. Luckily for her carnivore dinner companions Nathan and I, one little boule of cheese was wrapped in delicious crispy bacon and we were more than happy to take that off her hands. Not that we needed it – we had enough going on with our escargot au beurre du l’ai (see the empty dish second from above) – this photo almost does these delicious buttery snails justice. We sopped up every last drop of butter with a crusty baguette. Not to be outdone was the paté de campagne a la maison (above) and the poivre vinagrette, also for the vegetarian but sampled by the carnivores.

While Eva then feasted on her cabbage (mwaahahaha feasted on cabbage!?!? Although I must admit, it was good. And the carnivores felt less guilty enjoying their incredibly decadent meal knowing the vegetarian had more than just frisée and a boiled potato), Nathan had a gorgeous fillet de boeuf (above) and I had the most amazing cassoulet EVER (superlative). You may remember in a previous post, I ranted about my loathing of all things in or belonging to the lentil family – i.e. beans. Like the white kidney beans that make up 65 percent of this dish. But SWEET JAYSUS these beans were so good, so flavorful, so amazing – but I guess pork belly and duck fat will render the sole of a boot edible, n’est pas?

The rather pleasant (for a vegetarian dish in a bistro) cabbage plate...

The gorgeous cassoulet with leg of lamb..

Awww, glad mine were home and tucked in instead!

It was all this good.

While lapsing in to (the biggest ever) duck fat induced food coma, we half-consciously ordered dessert: a macaron with vanilla sauce and the tart tatin.

I love French macarons and this one was no exception and normally I would have waxed poetic here about the macaron but HOLY MARY MOTHER OF GOD the tart tatin was sent from heaven or the Bahamas or wherever it is you believe you will be hanging out for all of eternity. I usually err on the side of chocolate rather than fruit but this tart with a side of creme fraiche (only BETTER, the BEST creme fraiche YOU’VE EVER HAD) was otherworldly. The apples were caramelized to the point they could no longer be identified as apples. They were almost orange in color and glowing – a lovely nuclear orange. And slightly browned on the top like a creme brulé. I actually had to pause for a moment to hold back a few tears (yes, Eva and Nathan, that dramatic flourish in my chair was an attempt NOT TO CRY) because HALLELUJA I have just found a new religion and it is called TART TATIN.

Eva and Nathan insisted I post this photo as a summary of the meal sans parole.

We walked a good half an hour back to the Marais for a quick digestiv – which I desperately needed after ignoring my own advice – watch out for the cheese. Now you are thinking – what cheese? I mean the proverbial cheese. The mistake made by amateur French food enthusiasts when on a quick trip to France – they indulge on the first day. Wanting to make the most of a quick trip by cramming in as many duck livers, heavy creams and sticks of butter as humanly possible while you can. But French food is to be respected and gorging like this will only lead to discomfort and the need to BACK AWAY FROM THAT BUTTERY PASTRY! At least for a day or so. Luckily (insert sarcasm here), Eva found a lovely health food store/café and we put things back in place with quinoa, brown rice and other animal fodder that one should only eat while doing a cleanse. And one should never do a cleanse in Paris.

Singing also helps digestion. Particularly colon cleansing chansons from Julie Andrews musicals – the streets of Paris were quiet as we walked home at 2am – at least, until we graced them with a free performance. „The hills are alive......“ and so were we. Merci Eva and Nathan for un soiré tres belle!

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