Friday, June 13, 2008

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.

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