Thu 30 Jun 2011
Motto: One does not live for eating (A Friend)
Really? Even in Paris? or in France in general?
Maybe so. However, culinary experiences makes part of the Paris or France experience. The story of my trip to Paris would not be complete without writing something about some of the meals we had. We actually had quite a busy schedule with almost daily museum visits, meeting with friends and evening theater shows – so we visited less restaurants than usual. Yet I will write about four of them. The surprise may be for the reader of this blog entry that only one of them was French. International cuisine and ethnic food is stronger in Paris than it ever was.
The first restaurant I will talk about is a … Middle Eastern restaurant. Going to Paris and eating in an Israeli-style restaurant? Yes, you do it if you have a Parisian friend who is nostalgic about Israeli food. So here we went on Sunday afternoon on rue des Rosiers, in the middle of one of the areas in Paris with a high percentage of Jewish population, a street where the number of restaurants, street food stops, butcher and delicacies stores with kosher signs and Hebrew inscriptions is as large as in Netanya in Israel.
We skipped other options and we sat on the terrace of Chez Marianne, a place which our friends had previously visited. From what I heard and read from other sources this place knew better days. For people trying to understand what Israeli or Middle Eastern food is about this is the wrong place to go. Having already eaten in Arabic and Jewish restaurants in different other places than Israel my impression is that the Arabic restaurants are on average much better than the Jewish ones. Portions at Chez Marianne were small, pita bread which comes first and hot at any restaurant in Israel was late and cold and had to be ordered separately, houmous and tehinah were not fresh and tasted fade, only the felafel were somehow OK. Just one sort of Israeli beer (Maccabi of course) was available. We ended by regretting not having taken the street food option, but at least we spent a nice time on the terrace chatting with our friends on a late sunny afternoon.
The next experience was a dinner with the same friends at what I was remembering as the best Romanian cooking experience I ever had out of Romania – the Doina restaurant. Splendidly located by the Champs de Mars, close to the Eiffel Tower and on the same street as the Romanian embassy and the Romanian Cultural Institute the restaurant may be the only place of its kind in the city. In 1991, during our first visit in Paris we ate there and the culinary experience was memorable, although the waiters seemed to have problems with translating the menu items to the French-speaking customers.
Some things have changed – the waiters seem nowadays to speak better French. The Web site shows photos of quite a bunch of Romanian celebrities having visited the place. We started with pike roe salad (icre de stiuca) which was excellent, but the traditional meatball soup (ciorba de perisoare) disappointed, not being sour enough. Most of us had as main course the traditional mititei which are the equivalent of the Israeli kebabs - kind of spicy minced meat sausages. They were good but not as fantastic as we remembered them, but probably it was the fact that we had as term of reference the real stuff we ate in Romania many times in the last years that interfered. We ended with papanasi a traditional cheese dumplings desert, which were quite tasty but not as big as their cousins in Bucharest. The wine choice was really disappointing, as the wine industry in Romania developed immensely in the last few years and you would expect to find at least a few of the good Romanian wines and not only the ubiquitous Murfatlar brand. We had the Merlot, it was OK, but then the choice was really disappointing.
The third place we visited was Leon de Bruxelles which is a chain cloning the original mussels place Chez Leon located at 18, rue des Bouchers in Bruxelles, maybe the best mussels restaurant in the world. In Paris they got several places and we chose to have lunch in the one that was closest to our hotel, on Boulevard Sain Germain des Pres.
I personally learned to have nothing else when eating at any Leon restaurant but a large bowled of steamed mussels, des frittes, and Belgian beer. There are many other options and combinations, Liliana picked a different one with a special white wine and garlic sauce. It was great, it’s a standard that is always at best level, and for whoever is in love with mussels it’s the place to go.
Here we got the really French, better said Parisian experience. Au Pied de Cochon is located near Les Halles and is a restaurant-brasserie specialized in any French specific recipes. I had however a friends recommendation in mind already so I had no hesitation in ordering the onion soup and the flag meal that gives the name of the restaurant.
The onion soup was great, one of the best I had ever had, with a generous cheese thick crust over the edge of the bowl and with hot and aromatic onion that somehow succeeded to remain slightly crispy.
The pork leg was however disappointing. It’s the first and probably the last time I am trying it. It’s simply too much work of cutting, separating meat from cartilage and bones, and the ratio is 10-15% edible stuff out of the whole portion you get on the plate. I was expecting something close to the Czech pork knuckle specialty that I ate in Prague which I liked very much, but this was far from it, and having it prepared very well in a schnitzel style was not enough to make it attractive for me to try it a second time. At least I know that I tried.