Most of the time we shop on the nearby market street Rue Levis and cook in, but it is occasionally fun to get out and here I will talk about three very different eating out experiences — one a typical French brasserie and the other two wonderful little ‘finds.’
We like to hang out at a brasserie and wine bar not far from our apartment called Le’P’tit Canon’ — The Little Canon.
It has a classic old French zinc bar and a wide array of wines; we love just coming here for a glass in the evening. And a glass of good wine served up with a plate of charcuterie and olives costs about the same as a cup of cafe creme and a coke at a sidewalk cafe during the afternoon. We like the wine and the food, but we also just like the way the place looks and feels — like the way the lights are painted.
Brasseries tend to have pretty much the same menu; they vary by charm, by the quality of the cooking, by the diversity of wine on offer — but by and large they are much alike. It is like going into an American burger place, you know what to expect on the menu. In a brasserie there will be substantial salads with meats and cheeses and such; there will be classic bistro fare like our confit du canard and cassoulet; there will be steak frites; there will pates and terrines.
When you want to do something more ambitious there are of course very expensive restaurants in Paris — Michelin stars and all. But there are also lovely small places often run by one innovative chef that offer interesting fare — and take some homework to find. We had lunch at a real find, a few days ago: L’Agrume which is slightly hard to locate near the Les Gobelins metro stop. It is run by a chef and his wife who manages the tables.
We had met a couple of college professors from Iowa at a falafel shop on Rue Rosiers (now there is fabulous food for a bargain price) a couple of days before and joined them for lunch at this hot and trendy spot; they heard about it from some ex pat acquaintances. We were lucky to get the coveted seats at the bar overlooking the chef at work (well their concierge at the Hilton managed it.)
The restaurant is small — four tables plus the four seats overlooking the chef’s space occupied by Amy and Phil and Ed and me. It was fascinating to watch the cook at work. Here he is putting together one of the three items in the appetizer — a salad with chicken, endive and shaved tart green apple. It sounds sort of bland, but the mix worked well.
While we ate the lunch menu of appetizers and main, we had a chance to watch a number of a la carte menu items being prepared. This is a dish of razor clams prepared with peas, bacon and a variety of other vegetable garnishes. There were three about 8 inch long clams in their shells; they looked similar to our razor clams — they are called couteau or ‘knife’ clams here.
I used to dig razor clams on the Washington coast; they are unusual for clams in that they run away while you are digging them so it is tricky to slant the special clam shovel to come in underneath them as they flee. They are fragile so hitting them is disastrous. I never liked eating them (my family all did) but it was fun ‘hunting’ them.
For dessert Ed had a ‘soup’ of grapefruit pieces in a syrup with fresh minced basil; it was truly luscious — we plan to try it at home. I, of course, had the balls of chocolate mouse rolled in chocolate and topped with a mint schnapps infused simple syrup. Hmmmm chocolate.
The lunch menu is just 16 Euro for appetizers and main — plus 5 for desert. They have a 6 course tasting menu at dinner time for only 35 which we plan to try before we leave. One of the six courses is TWO desserts — my kinda place.
Afterward we headed back to Amy and Phil’s hotel — the Hilton Arc de Triomphe (they are wizards of points; Amy even managed to secure a room with balcony with a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower — for free — she has our total admiration).
Today — Wednesday the 9th we ate at what is now my favorite French restaurant — Le Cottage Marcadet. I have been reading raves of this place for some time and was kicking myself for not being aware of it last summer when we lived on Rue Caulaincourt for a week. The restaurant which is tiny — only 6 tables — is just a block or so from the Lamarck-Caulaincourt metro.
Years ago we discovered the “Independent Chateau and Hotels” of France — a loose collection of largely family run small hotels with fabulous restaurants. It was like walking into a new dimension. For quite reasonable money you could dine on multi courses that were beautiful, well thought out and just delicious. And there were always the extra touches — the little pot of pate or tiny cup of soup before the actual meal even began — and the plate of magnificent petit 4s at the end –after desert. There is one place, La Roseraie in Montignac in the Dordogne that we have eaten at 4 times — it is just such a wonderful experience. http://www.laroseraie-hotel.com/
Le Cottage Marcadet is the closest thing to this kind of restaurant we have found in Paris at prices we are willing to pay.
Lunch began with a choice of charming hot breads. I chose a roll made with seaweed.
And bless the French — they don’t much cook with onions. Onions give me a raging headache — and in the US most every dish seems to have chopped red onions thrown on it. Here almost nothing has onions in it — so I am not forced to look on while Ed eats the yummy appetizer or salad.
I just ordered two courses the main and dessert (of course) and Ed ordered the entree and main. His entree was a lovely smoked salmon which was delightful.
While I am not generally a big fan of fish, I had read reviews of the tea infused sauce used in the preparation of the dorade (sort of a sea bass from the Mediterranean) and wanted to try it. It was sumptuous — well browned on the outside but flaky and moist inside.
The flavors were similar to Ed’s desert at L’Agrume — but there it was a basil sauce on grapefruit. My desert was a lovely array of orange and grapefruit slices, topped with preserved lemon rind and then crowned with the basil granita. Beautiful and just wonderful to taste. We have plans to try making the granita in our ice cream maker when we get back to Nashville. (how hard can it be, right?)
One of the charms of a good French dinner are the petit fours. I grew up thinking of ‘petit fours’ as those not very tasty little squares of cake, often stale, with jam in the layer and with not very tasty icing and a little rose on top — served at receptions of various sorts. But in France petit fours just refers to the custom of serving 4 tiny bites of sweets at the end of a meal with the coffee.
Usually there is a chocolate truffle — and often a tiny macaron — but there are all sorts of other options. We once had a tiny rice crispy square as one of the four and at La Roseraie I remember a tiny crock of walnuts in a balsamic vinegar honey sauce among the array. Here in addition to the truffle and macaron, we had a puff pastry with peach filling and tiny spoon of green jellied fruit. This was such a pleasure — we’ll definitely be back.
Addendum: We had so much fun at Le Cottage Marcadet that we did it again — this time with Steve, a doctor from Valparaiso Indiana and his wife Lita, a physics teacher. She is in Paris on a scholarship to study French cooking and is taking classes; we thought she should have a chance to experience our favorite restaurant.
We had several of the same dishes shown earlier, but some new ones too. Steve and I had this entree of beef ankles (shanks?) in a pastry; extremely tasty.Ed and Lita had something that roughly translated as cloud of whatever they had in the market that day which they also deemed tasty.Ed, Steve and Lita all had fish dishes for their main course similar to the one I had in the earlier meal and post; I had the rabbit.And although the basil granita on citrus fruits may have been one of the tastiest things I have ever had, I decided to try their creme brulee to see what they would do with this standard dish. I wasn’t disappointed; it was amazing — that little purple cup holds violet granita which paired perfectly with the custard.As you can see, the creme brulee itself was free standing, not in a custard cup as it is usually presented. And of course we ended with Petit Fours — I can’t get enough of those. We are hoping to do the 6 course tasting menu at l’Agrume as well before we leave Paris next week and if we do, we will update that as well. But Le Cottage Marcadet is hard to top.