Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Paris Eats Part II: Le Gavroche

Before we left on our trip to Paris, we choose a list of restaurants where we wanted dinner resevations for the whole trip. I didn't want us to get there and be scrambling for a place. I wanted a nice selection of establishments, both fancy and simple, located all across Paris, so that we'd be able to experience different neighborhoods and types of restaurnts. Truly in Paris there is a difference between a cafe, bistro, brasserie and restaurant (although don't quiz me on the brasserie vs. bistro one!).

Le Gavroche had a favorable review in the Pudlo restaurant guide and was described as an inexpensive bistro serving fabulous French classic dishes.

The place is very tiny with a small bar as you enter which holds maybe five people. There are tables pressed against one another in typical Parisian fashion which hold an additional 20 or so people in the main room. There is a second room which holds perhaps another 10. Similar to Hier et Aujourd'hui, there were only two people running the place two men, one in the kitchen and one in the front of the house.

We definately got to know your neighbors as we were seated eight inches away from them in either direction. The English men to my left talked loudly as if wanting us to chime in with our opinion. The single guy to my right was content eating and drinking in silence. I did notice that he had the same copy of the Pudlo book as we did, nice choice!

The local feel made me nervous at first, would we fit in? The menu made me relax because as promised it held all the French basics I wanted to see... escargot, fresh anchovies, charcuterie plates, pomme frites, steak with peppercorn sauce, etc.

We patiently waited for the waiter's attention and then blasted our order at him... big plate of escargot, marinated white anchovies, carrot salad, tomato salad, and a charcuterie plate. I loved the old fashioned way the waiter kept track of our order by writing directly on the butcher paper covering our table. We loved the wine choices. There were several wines from Beaujolais that had a proprietary label on them. We chose a Fleurie and Julienas over the course of our meal.

The escargot were good, everything was good. Not fabulous, but delicious, simply prepared classics. It all really hit the spot, we had been craving good French food and this delivered the food and the very Parisian experience I wanted.

Our entree's were equally basic, filling and well prepared. I had a grilled sausage salad, which was a bit gamey but, after borrowing the mustard from the English men's table, really perked up. The pork with Dijon sauce was deemed a hit by my husband and the veal with peppercorn sauce was perfectly cooked and disappeared quickly.

I ordered the Baba Rhum for dessert which Pudlo recommended and it was wonderfully moist and delicious.

While waiting for l'addition, the solo waiter stopped by to pour my husband and I one more glass of red wine, which we gladly accepted. At this point I knew that we had managed to fit in with the locals. We found that if you enjoy food, wine and a true French meal, which we certainly did that night, well then the Parisians are going to respect you and your joie de vivre.

We stumbled out of our tiny table and took a picture of the chef in his tiny kitchen and he was happy to ham it up for the photo. They were certainly proud of the ambiance, food and experience they had shared with us that night. We were happy to have been there and I'd go back anytime!

Le Gavroche
2nd Arronidssement
19, Rue St Marc 75002 Paris, France
ph. +33 1 42 96 89 70‎

Friday, June 13, 2008

Paris Images: Hier et Aujourd'hui

Paris Eats Part I: Today and Tommorrow

We choose to eat at Hier & Aujourd'hui (In English: Today and Tomorrow) based on Pudlo's recommendation. The restaurant had won his year's Value for the Money award and we were anxious to see if it measured up to our expectations.

Hier & Aujourd'hui is located in the 17th Arr. - way the heck north in the outskirts of Paris. We took the Metro as close as we could and then walked and walked and walked trying to find the place. The neighborhood we passed through on rue de Saussure was the most un-Parisian we had experienced. It was very quiet, not a sole walking the streets. The area is filled with large apartment buildings most of which appeared to have been built in the 1960's or 70's. It seemed to be a bedroom community and there was no street-life to speak of. When we reached the huge train yard we knew we were close. We arrived at 8pm and were the first patrons to be seated for the night.

The place is simple and charming with dark wooden tables on a slab concrete floor, swaths of gray and white linen soften each table setting. A huge slate wall serves as the menu. The meals are all prix fixe here. There are five appetizers, seven main courses and five desserts to choose from.

The place is small, seating only a maximum of 40 people. I imagine this is the perfect size seeing that there are only two people running the entire place. One woman runs the front of the house which has one seating a night. One man is in the kitchen, quite methodically cooking and plating each dish. It's a marvel of hard work, focused calm and attention to detail which pull together to make this place seem bigger, more special than it's simple appearance.

The hand writing on the slate wall is difficult for us to read and our poor French makes things even more difficult. But we muddle through. Two of us order the beef entrecote as a main course, another a roasted fish fillet and I choose the slow cooked pork with pistou. For starters two spinach salads, the seasonal white asparagus with egg and I go for the gusto with the foie gras pots du creme (Pudlo had suggested it.).

The service is very French. We wait a long time to place our order, but by this time in the trip we have come to relax into the slow pace of a French meal. While we wait for our first courses, a beautiful country style terrine of pork and duck is brought to the table with a spreading knife sticking out of it, it isn't sliced, we're brought the whole thing still in the terrine in which it was cooked. A basked of fresh baked bread and a crock of cornichons round out the wonderful start to the meal. The terrine is perfectly seasoned and the bread is warm and just dense enough to hold up to a thick slathering of the meaty goodness. The cornichons add the perfect balance of acidity to wash away the fatty richness left in our mouths. We could actually make a meal out of just this... but alas we have to share the terrine. As our starters arrive the terrine is brought to the next table of patrons. An ingenious, if not hygienic, way to feed many in a simple manner.

The spinach salad has shards of a spicy cured meat laced throughout and has a creamy dressing. What seems a simple salad had obviously been well thought out, the spicy meat wakes up the spinach and the dressing pulls them both together. It's quite addicting and it's shared around the table. The white asparagus are wonderful, huge, perfectly cooked and dressed with French scrambled eggs and a creamy cheese which offers a tangy taste to offset the richness of everything else on the plate. The fois gras pots du creme arrive in two shot glasses. They are filled with thick creme and topped with a rich clear jus. Spread onto a thin toast or just spooned into the mouth it offers an explosion of foie gras flavor and creamy texture. It is so rich that I can only eat one and offer the second to Bruce who then offers me the second half of his spinach salad - a good deal for both of us.

Our main courses did not disappoint either. The beef entrecotes were large, perfectly cooked and well seasoned. Served with a lovely Lyonnaise potato salad neither serving could be finished as the portions are very generous.

The pork I ordered, rather adventurously as I didn't really understand the description on the board, is a simple and homey dish served in a bowl. It's pork shank that has been slow cooked and taken off the bone. It's served in a rich broth with large tender white beans, and cubes of carrots and zucchini. A basil pistou has been swirled into the broth offering a fresh flavor that brightens the whole taste. I was thrilled with this dish because it's something I can easily make at home and each bite is like the best home cooked meal you've ever had. Lovely!

For dessert we ordered one chocolate mousse, two yogurt, fruit and graham crumb parfaits and one baba rum. The mousse was light and fluffy served in messy large scoops onto a plate. Chuck inhaled it so quickly we could barely get a taste. Bruce loved the yogurt and vowed to eat his yogurt this way every day once we got back home. The Baba Rhum was served with a dollop of chantilly cream and was a bit dry. The entire bottle of rum, made in Martinique, was brought to the table and with a generous pour over the top, the cake and whipped cream became palatable enough through my rume induced haze.

We sipped coffee and espressos as we waited to get the waitresses attention for l'addition (check). This took quite a while as by this time every table was full and she was hustling calmly between each of them, serving, bussing, chatting, etc.

Pudlo certainly did not disappoint with regards to this fine establishment. The food was simply delicious and very affordable compared to most any restaurant we sampled in Paris. It's worth venturing out of the center of Paris to experience this wonderful spot as well as the unique neighborhood in which it resides.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pudlo for Paris

Hands down the best choice we made before leaving for our Paris trip this spring was purchasing the Pudlo Paris Restaurant Guide. We used this book for every restaurant choice we made. Before we left we used it to make a list of our desired dinner reservations to give to our concierge. On the trip we used it to look up places with great food that weren't too expensive, for our lunches.

The book is organized by arrondissement and uses symbols to give details such as fancy or everyday, expensive or affordable, and whether the food is exceptional for the amount paid.

Our best meals, with the most Parisian ambiance and very local feel as well as great traditional French food were chosen directly from Pudlo's best food for the money choices. The worst meals we endured in Paris were found when we went on our own without any Pudlo guidance.

The Pudlo book is similar to both the Zagat and Michelin guides. Similar to Zagat as it is written with authoritative opinion and direct quotes from the reviewers (Pudlo uses a team of people to review each restaurant). Similar to Michelin in the breadth of detail and local flavor given to the guide (you need to know the article for the name of the restaurant to find it in the index - le? la? l'?).

We ended up destroying our Pudlo Paris book during the trip. It was my husband's idea. Why not rip out the pages you need for the day and just put them in your day pack? This worked like a charm as the book itself is quite large and heavy. We tore out pages with abandon and left the tattered shell in the trash of our George V hotel room on the last day. The book comes out yearly, so clearly we'd need another one for our next Parisian adventure.

It's well worth the expense!