Grenouille Confit
The Gastronomic Adventures of a Duck and a Frog in Paris

Paris is a city full of great restaurants modestly tucked behind unassuming facades on otherwise unnotable streets. This is a city that rewards gastronomic exploration. An epicurean explorer at heart, this is a place where I share my discoveries with you, as well as, some tips and advice on navigating the waters. Whether you are a visitor looking to avoid the ubiquitous traps of over-priced mediocrity or you are resident looking to (re-) discover the gastromic wealth of this city, I want you to eat well in the city that I love.

My Fab Four: Four Restaurants You Should Visit When in Paris

6/07/2009

While, for better or worse, I love trying new restaurants, there a few places that I eat at a lot. These four are among my favourite restaurants in Paris, restaurants that if you are looking for great food (rather than a great view) you'd do well not to miss.


Chez L'Ami Jean

27 rue Malar
75007
Phone: 01 47 05 86 89
Metro: La Tour Marbourg
www.amijean.eu

OK, the cat's been out of the bag on this one for a while now. It's a chaotic room, with friendly, if at times, frazzled service. This is definitely not a place for gazing into your lover's eyes over candlelight, but if you don't mind being close to your neighbour (I'm talking thigh-rubbing, elbow-knocking close) then this restaurant is a must whenever you're in Paris.

It's hard to pick a favourite restaurant here. There are so many good ones, each offering a slightly different experience. But if someone stuck that proverbial gun to my head and forced me to name mine, then I would probably have to say Chez L'Ami Jean. And gun or no gun, it's a designation I don't take lightly. My first time here, I ate the best cod I have ever eaten. It was simple, yet the earth (fresh basil and mozzarella), the sun (unbelievably ripe tomato) and the sea (cod cooked to perfection) came together on my plate and in my mouth in an event I can only describe as unadulterated bliss. I'm not exaggerating. I was changed. I still dream of reliving gastronomic rapture such as I experienced eating that cod. Far from a one hit wonder, Chez L'Ami Jean has proven itself consistent. Sablefish topped with beet chips. Stuffed cornish hen thighs. Each divine. And Froggy has been known to shamelessly wolf down the entire jar of potato purée served here as a side.

I won't lie. It can be hectic here. Most gastro-bistrots aim to turn their tables twice, but I've been told that Chez L'Ami Jean tries to turn their tables at least 3 times. That means if you are arriving for anything but the first service, you will likely have to wait. I've waited for over 30 minutes for a table with a reservation – don't even bother if you don't have one. Mind you, we were served some charcuterie and wine while we waited, but there is no adequate bar area, so this practice makes for a cramped, very busy room. But hey, if volume like this keeps the prices down, I'm all for it. At 34 euros for three courses, this menu really is one of the best deals in town.

And quite frankly, I like the atmosphere. It tends to loosen people up. While Parisians are used to being crammed into close quarters with strangers (take, for example, the unbelievably small aisles of the metro or apartments where you can stick your arm out the window and touch your neighbours across the vis-a-vis), they generally try to ignore them. But at Chez L'Ami Jean, a man two tables down will lean over his neighbour to ask about your plate. This is a place where a Japanese businessman, who ordered a deconstructed rice pudding, thought nothing of asking down a row of tables 'Comment on mange ça? Comment on mange ça?'. We were of no help. We couldn't stop laughing. Of course, he was laughing too. Comic and absurd. This is the effect of great food.


Le Beurre Noisette

68 rue Vasco de Gama
75015
Phone: 01 48 56 82 49
Metro: Lourmel


Le Beurre Noisette
is a gastro-bistrot in the middle of nowhere - with really great food. They used to have an amazing appetizer – pig's feet carpaccio with lentils topped with shaved parmesan. I haven't seen it for a while, but if they have this when you are there, order it. It is outstanding! I have also had sumptuous medallions of lamb and pork belly here so soft and tender it melted like butter on my tongue. And Froggy swears that the fromage blanc served with strawberries and pineapple was the best he ever had . I'd trust his opinion – this is one frog who loves his fromage blanc.

The room is larger and quieter than Chez L'Ami Jean(and the tables further apart). The service is friendly, but like most places with a quality to price ratio like this (3 courses – 35 euros, 6 course tasting menu - 45 euros), it can get busy. It's a little bit off the beaten path, but this restaurant is a close second to Chez L'Ami Jean. So go!

Croccante

148 rue Vaugirard
75015
Phone: 01 47 83 37 28
Metro: Falguiere

As I live in France, I eat a lot of French food and drink a lot of French wine. However, those who know me know that I love (love, love) Italian food and wine. So I was delighted to discover the real deal here in Paris less than a 20 minute walk from my door.

When you enter Croccante, there will likely be a line. And you will almost certainly be greeted by a short, stout man, who sings out 'Buona Sera', from wherever he is in the room, every time someone walks through the door. While the food here is traditional south Italian fare, I can't think of another place that does it better (or more authentically) here in Paris. Appetizer offerings include a bresaola carpaccio prepared in the classic way with olive oil and lemon, served over arugula and with parmesan cheese. The vegetable antipasti is among the best I've had, and the owner will often offer you a custom mix of vegetables, meats and cheeses that best satisfies the tastes at your table. The pasta is fresh and authenthic. The menu changes regularly, but the pasta con sarde and a baked annelini pasta are among our favourites. Croccante also offers traditional Italian pizzas.

The food here is great, but one of the best things about Croccante for me is their casual approach to great wine and a selection that favours Italian wine from the south. There is no actual wine list to speak of here. Instead you can ask the owner to suggest something from his cellar. Chances are, he will convince you to try something you've never heard of, and if you're a fan of Nero D'Avola, like I am, you won't suffer from lack of choice. That, in itself, is enough to recommend this restaurant. Nero D'Avola is not that common here - I'm usually happy if an Italian restaurant offers just one.

The prices are fair as well. Froggy and I eat here often, and dinner (appetizer and entree) for two with wine never comes to more than 75 euros. And what's more, every time we're here, we always find ourselves dining among Italian expats or tourists. Now if that doesn't convince you, ...

Jadis

208 rue de la Croix Nivert
75015
Phone: 01 45 57 73 20
Metro: Convention or Porte de Versailles

Jadis, like Le Beurrre Noisette is another gastro-bistrot on the edges of the 15th. It is quieter and smaller than Le Beurre Noisette, and attracts an older, very French crowd – the hallmark of great French food. The foie gras chantilly with beetroot was so good, I couldn't help but moan aloud. I've also had perfectly cooked monkfish here with sauerkraut and raisins, and a wonderful pollack with lentils. The service and ambiance here is friendly, if a bit reserved. Perhaps in reverence to the food.
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Tips for Tourists: Deciphering the French Menu

6/07/2009


When I first moved here, I jumped at every chance I got to have an English menu. Hungry, I usually didn't feel up for the language learning exercise a French menu would be. However, after peering over a Froggy's shoulder, I started to suspect that something in the translation had been lost. Homard éclaté dans une essence marine à l'echalote grise à la syrah seemed to me somehow different (and better) than 'lobster with red wine and shallots'. Sometimes, sketchy translations can do more than make a luscious dish sound boring - they can make an otherwise great dish sound positively unpalatable. Like lotte sur un lit de choucroute et raisins translated as 'fish on sour cabbage with dry raisins'. It took me a while to realize that the 'dry' raisins were just raisins of the regular sort and sour cabbage was in fact better known to most English speakers as sauerkraut, but what about lotte. So I asked Froggy.

'A fish.'
'Yes. I know. But what kind of fish?'
'I don't know. It's big and ugly.'
'Ok.'
'And white.'
' Um...ok thanks.'

As it turns out Froggy was right. Lotte is big and ugly when its alive, but it's also lovely served over sauerkraut with raisins. Lotte is none other than that tasty bottom-dweller known as monkfish.

Other times, I would be so frustrated with people treating me like I was stupid, that I wouldn't even bother to ask. Once I ordered rognons de veau. I knew veau was veal. No problem. However, in my hypoglycemic state, my brain somehow connected rognons with 'round' and 'round' with 'medallions'. Great. Veal medallions. Yum. When my dinner came, I pushed my 'medallions' around on my plate and one almost rolled right onto the floor. They were definitely round. Sighing, I steeled myself and took a bite. It was actually quite good, but it was obvious to me that I was eating an organ. And then I thought, what if I was right after all? What if rognon did mean 'round' and 'round' was some French euphemism for testicle. There, of course, would be nothing wrong with that. Like I said, they were tasty. But if I was breaking new gastronomic ground, I wanted to know. So I swallowed my pride and asked Froggy. When he finished laughing at me, he explained that I wasn't eating anything more questionable or groundbreaking than kidney.

After that, I decided no more. Chances are, if you want to dine well in Paris, you will end up in a bistrot that doesn't have an English menu, with companions or a server who don't know how to explain to you exactly what it is you're eating in English. But don't let your fear of eating testicles turn you off of trying new things or seeking out those very French restaurants. It is almost the only way you'll get to try authentic French cuisine. Just do what I did.

Get yourself a small gastronomic dictionary. A regular pocket dictionary won't do. The French have many words to describe the cut, style, origin and preparation of food. Your pocket dictionary is unlikely to have words as specific as jambonneau (hand of pork, pork knuckle, stuffed chicken thigh) or paleron (cut of meat from neck to ribs). I paid 4 euros on Amazon.fr. for mine and it has proven to be indispensable (mine is always in my purse). You can get yours here.


NB: There are two other common confusions that English speakers have when confronting the French menu.

1) Entrée means appetizer in French.

2)Menu in French refers to a set-price meal, usually consisting of 3 or more courses. What we would call a menu in English (a priced list of a restaurant's offerings), in French is called a carte.
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Spring

5/26/2009
28 rue de la Tour d'Auverge
75009
Phone: 01 45 96 05 72
Hours: Tuesday - Friday, 8:30pm. one service, reservations only


951 days of Spring and counting. American chef's Daniel Rose's project (don't call it a business), Spring, seems to have taken on a life of its own. Originally conceived as a dinner theatre of sorts, a limited-time only 'menu du marché', Spring has long surpassed its original shelf-life of 365 days.

This is a tale with two stories. The first is a fairy tale told about a young, self-taught chef, who against all odds, wooed and wowed the Parisian gastocracy with his innovative interpretations of traditional French ingredients and techniques. This is a story with a foreign hero who, without pedigree or connections, seized a throne on pure talent alone. The critics and bloggers loved him and the already exclusive, fashionably minimalistic 16-seat space became nearly impossible to get into. Dinner at Spring soon required a booking 5 months in advance, and thus, Spring further endeared itself to the cool and hungry, and their hangers-on. Rose had made it in a tough, exclusive world. But what seemed to be such a promising beginning for Spring and this young American chef may have proved to be only the beginning of the end.

Which brings us to the second interpretation of this tale. This is the story of an American who spent years in Paris as a student, years in which he likely acquired an understanding of the cliques he would need to court to succeed in the sharky waters of the Parisian restaurant scene. After studying culinary arts and working abroad, Spring was conceived as an experiment of sorts. An experiment that should have freed Rose from the grueling grind that a running a restaurant kitchen can be. 16 covers. One service. No choice – your dinner is chosen and executed by the chef mere meters from your table. It was a performance. A chef's table for 16 (and now for all those who want to live vicariously through those with reservations, live, via webcam, from home). It was culinary art meets theatrical performance. But like so many ideas conceived in the spirit of freedom, it ultimately became restrictive. Innovation and experimentation were yolked and tamed by the desire to please those who came to Spring with firm expectations, those who had in many cases, booked 5 months in advance. What began as a refreshing, Spring breeze ultimately settled into a - at times quite pleasant - blast from a state-of-the-art fan.

As was our meal there the other night. 16 patrons are advised when booking to arrive at 8:30pm. Dinner starts at 9pm. So we sat, sipping our champagne, excited, waiting for the others to arrive.

And the first course more than met our expectations. A ravioli of peas was served in a light mushroom broth with foie gras. It was delightful. The sweet peas, the lovely foie gras offset nicely by a wonderfully light broth. And each bite of ravioli unleashed a burst of something citrus on my tongue. Was that orange? Now that was definitely refreshing. As we polished off the first course, Froggy and I smiled at each other, anxious for what was to come.

The second course was monkfish topped with a cucumbers, radishes and crispy threads of onion. Monkfish, at its best, is slightly sweet, with dense flesh. Overcooked, monkfish loses its flavour acquiring a texture akin to rubber. Our monkfish, was slightly bland with a good chew. I admit it wasn't entirely unpleasant paired with the crisp salad. Truth is, if overdone, it was slight. It wasn't bad. I couldn't complain. But this after a sensational first course. I had an uncomfortable feeling. Why was I expecting more?

The next course was a tender and juicy duckling breast served with a sweet sauce. Here the meat was perfectly done. The duckling was served with a savoury ragout of fava beans and artichokes. Perfectly prepared, I couldn't complain. But where was the innovation there? However great it was, I couldn't help but be disappointed. This is a dish that is done, granted with varying degrees of success, if every other restaurant in Paris.

Dessert was prefaced by a teaser. The classic trio of raspberry, chocolate and white chocolate ganache. A great opener for dessert – strawberries topped with fresh whipped cream and a chewy square of crumble. A simple and delicious finale.

So how did we feel? It is a small, but stylish and comfortable room.All in all, it was a very good dinner. But as with all oft told stories, the legend and the myth tends to become bigger than the man. And although Daniel Rose is obviously a chef with talent, after all that hype, one can't help but be slightly disappointed.


In a nutshell: Great food but not as 'new' or 'innovative' as you might expect from a concept like this or an American chef. But if you can get in, definitely, go!

Price: 48 euros per person, one service, 5 courses, menu decided by the chef.

Reservations: Essential


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Chez Nous: Pasta Con Sarde

5/20/2009


I am convinced that some beautiful pagan goddess descended from Mt. Etna cradling two bowls of pasta in her arms– a gift to the south Italians for their ceaseless worship - the pasta puttanesca from Naples (which can be loosely translated as theWhore's Pasta. I guess we know which goddess brought the Italians that one) and pasta con sarde from Sicily.

If you're a stranger to south Italian cuisine, I can think of no better place to start than with these two pastas. Each are incredibly unique and satisifying. Nothing lifts my spirits like a good puttanesca, but it took me a long time to get up the courage to make it. The anchovies made me squeamish and I was convinced that my version would be a disaster, forever turning me off a discovery I had come to cherish and love. But one day my cravings (and you will be subjected to irresistible cravings for puttanesca if you let too much time pass between fixes) got the better of me and I tried to make it at home. And guess what - it was good. Since then I have perfected the proportions in my puttanesca to make a pasta that I love.

Pasta con sarde was another story altogether. Sardines and anchovies, raisins, pine nuts, onions and fennel. That seemed a lot easier to screw up.

But I decided, what the hell...Froggy was my guinea pig. This is what I did.


Spaghetti Con Sarde (serves 2)


What you need:


Pasta

1 lb fennel

1 50g can sardines

1 115g can anchoves

½ cup raisins

1/3 cup pine nuts

2 onions, diced

dash of saffron powder, mixed with two tablespoons of water.

1 cup breadcrumbs


Notes on Ingredients


Pasta – The Sicilians eat this with bucatini, a lone hollow spaghetti-like pasta. I couldn't find it, so I used whole wheat spaghetti.


Fennel – The authentic recipe calls for wild fennel, however, chances are that you will not be able to find wild fennel where you live. You can use the leaves from bulb fennel. However, you might have to find your grocer and ask him for them because I find that grocers often cut the leaves off the fennel before putting them out for sale. If you can't find fennel leaves, you can use the bulb.


      • to prepare the fennel, you need to soften it. I dropped by fennel bulb in boiling water. Reducing the heat to medium, I let it simmer for around 15 minutes. You want it to be very tender.

      • Remove from water, let cool and dice.

      • You should save the now fennel flavoured water to cook the pasta in.


Sardine – Again, the Sicilians swear you need you used fresh sardines. I used canned.


Anchovies – Again, you should use fresh, I used canned.


Raisins – Soak the raisins for about 20 min in warm water


Bread Crumbs – Purists will tell you to toast your own breadcrumbs in a pan and mix in a couple of tablespoons of sauteed onions. I had these 'toast' things that people eat here for breakfast. I just rolled those out with a large can.



    1) In a large saute pan, saute onions until they are translucent on medium heat.

    2) Add the anchovies and stir, cooking until the anchovies dissolve.

    3) Add the chopped fennel and cook for about 5 minutes.

    4) Add the raisins, crushed sardines, pine nuts, and saffron solution. Cook

    until the liquid dissolves.


The pasta should be cooked simultaneously in the fennel water. When the pasta is almost done, taste the sauce. If it is too salty ( from the fish) or the saffron taste is too strong, add some of the pasta water, and stir.


Strain pasta, toss with sauce and generous serving of breadcrumbs. Serve immediately.


And the result ….well let's just say I impresed myself. It was perfectly balanced. I might experiment next time with adding more sardines just before it's served.


We drank it with a 2007 Saint-Bris. Saint-Bris is the only appellation in Burgundy that can use Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Saint-Bris has some of typical sauvignon blanc characteristics while keeping a bit of fruit.

But I've been thinking about the saffron in the recipe and how well this pasta would hold up served next to a Gewurtztraminer.


Well, I let you know how it goes.





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Tips for Tourists: Avoid Service Continu

5/19/2009


So you've been dutifully visiting all that you've been told to visit in Paris. You've been to Notre Dame. You've braved the lines at the Louvre. And being the peppy sport that you are, you even forwent the elevator, dragging yourself up the stairs at the Eiffel Tower. You've been busy. And I don't blame you. Paris is an incredible city, with many things to see and do. But if you are like most North American tourists, you ate an early breakfast so you could beat the crowds and you probably had a sandwich or crepe for lunch, while walking (somewhere close to noon). So now, its 6pm and you are rightfully starving. Your stomach is growling and your companions are getting cranky. As you and your loved ones drag yourselves along the cobbled stone streets, clutching at your howling bellies, you make a wrong turn. Damn. There's nothing and no one on this street, but the thought of turning back makes you feel weak. There are black spots swirling in the corners of your eyes, but you go on. Luckily for you, you spot a small, authentic enough looking bistrot at the end of the street. The bistrot is empty, but the door is open. What the hell, you figure.

You and your friends stand grouped, backs together, like frightened cows, by the door. You wait. And wait. You try not to notice the nervous-looking dishwasher watching you strangely from the window to the kitchen. You hear people talking. You know they are talking about you. Cooks push their way to the window to gawk at you from the kitchen in turn. You shift your weight and look around, pretending not to see. Finally, someone emerges from the depths of the bistrot. You explain that you would like a table for dinner. The man removes the pen from his ear and flips open a large black book. What time? Maybe it was your bad French, so you explain. Oh.... you want to eat now? His mouth twitches. He can hardly restrain his smile as he tells you service doesn't start until 8. As he escorts you politely to the door, you get the distinct impression that he's chomping at the insides of his cheek.

So you and your friends slink out of the restaurant dejected. You are now officially on the verge of fainting. You think you might be starting to hallucinate. You can distinctly hear the scrape of cutlery on plates. And glasses clinking. You want to warn one of your friends to catch you if you fall. And then you turn.

On the corner, there is a hopping bistrot, with a terasse full of people....eating!. A big sign - Service Non-Stop – crowns the menu board. Saved in the nick of time. You mouth waters as you mentally savour your delicious (and authentic) French meal. I guess, this is your lucky day right?

Wrong. French restaurants (the ones that actually serve the French) close between lunch and dinner. If you want to avoid tourist traps in Paris and eat like a Parisian, then you must alter your clock. I know. I'm sorry. But French people generally don't eat dinner before 8pm and all the restaurants that you actually want to go to (trust me on this) won't start service before 7:30pm. So eat a late lunch or have a snack.

I've been there too. I used to feel like I was going to faint by the time I could eat dinner. I would fill up on bread and barely make it through my first course. And now 8pm reservations feel so early. Believe me, if I can change my clock, so can you.
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Campari: The Only Aperitif

5/18/2009
Having an aperitif, or enjoying a pre-dinner drink, is a practice that dates back at least as far as the 17th century in Europe. However, both then and now, the aperitif has been seen mainly as a commencement ritual for dinner. All too often, the potential of the aperitif to further prepare the palate and enhance the enjoyment of dinner has been ignored. Take the North American practice of drinking martinis (of the vodka/gin variety) before dinner, for example. I can't think of anything more likely to destroy and overpower the palate. In France, the gastronomic potential of the custom is slightly better understood, but France is country steeped in tradition, and traditionally the French have taken to enjoying a light white wine, a white wine or champagne cocktail (think kir or kir royale), a fortified wine (Dubonnet, or any of the various brands of white or red vermouth) or an anise-based liqueur (Pernod Ricard, Pastis) before dinner. As aperitifs, these drinks are hardly misguided and I suppose each has its place. Nothing beats a kir after a long day in the sun. And there are times when nothing can replace the ritual involved with drinking Pernod (pastis is usually served deconstructed, especially in the south of France. Patrons construct their drink from separate glasses of water, ice and pastis). I suppose there are even times when a gin martini would be an ideal choice before dinner - especially on those occasions when you suspect you might not actually want to taste your food. However, for the gastronome, the ideal aperitif is one that opens up the palate and gets those digestive juices flowing. I can think of nothing that does this quite as well as Campari.

Campari, an Italian liquer, is often characterized as a bitter, a description I find fails to do justice to the complexity of Campari on the palate. The original Campari recipe, created created by Gaspare Campari in the 19th century, is a closely guarded secret, known only by the directory of the Campari factory in Milan. Cocktail enthusiasts have made sport of trying to identify its more than 60 ingredients and it is exactly this unimitable flavour profile, a bizarre and dynamic combination of herbal, sweet and bitter, that makes Campari the ideal aperitif.

A single sip of Campari exercises your palate, forcing your tongue through its ranges of spicy and sour, sweet and bitter. Upon warming up your palate, the finish is refreshing and I suspect it is that mystery combination of herbs that gets your stomach pumping and those digestive enzymes flowing. Whatever the reason, it works. And whats more - it tastes divine.

Really it does. Nothing like what you expect. Like this great ad.



As an aperitif, I find Campari is best with a splash of club soda, with or without ice. However, for those long summer nights, when it is too hot to eat a real dinner, I love to sip a classic Campari cocktail, the Negroni, while nibbling on olives and charcuterie.


Negroni Cocktail

1 part gin
1 part Campari
1/4 - 1/2 part red vermouth

Shake in a martini shaker with ice. Strain into a chilled martini glass (if served neat) or in into a highball glass (if served with ice.) Garnish with an orange slice or lemon wedge.

And enjoy.

Note: I've been singing the praises of Campari, but you should know - it's a bit of an acquired taste. Most people don't like their first time. But hang in there. Chances are you didn't love your first taste of alcohol or your first beer. But you kept at it. So keep at this. Trust me. Your life will be better for it.

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Chez Nous: Mango-Lime Chutney Chicken

3/17/2009

Mango-Lime Chutney Chicken

It was such a beautiful day today in Paris. With the sun shining and the temperature mild, I got to thinking of summer meals al fresco.

This is a decidedly summer dish. But if you need a little sunshine in your life, why not start now.

Chicken Marinade

3 cloves of garlic minced
Juice of one lime
2 tblspns olive oil
1 cup of dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients for the marinade.

Beat chicken breasts until they are ¼ inch think.

Pierce breast with fork.Cover breasts with marinade and refrigerate for at least one hour.


Mango -Lime Chutney

1 can mangoesdiced
½ cucumber peeled/seeded diced
½ large white onion diced
1 pimento pepper seeded/diced
½ tblspoon fresh mint chopped finely
Juice from ½ lime

Combine ingredients and refrigerate.

To cook the chicken, heat a pan with olive oil on med-high heat. Cook breasts approximately 5 minutes each side. Plate and top with cold chutney.


This is meal for those who need refreshment in the dead heat of summer or for those who need some hope when winter just won't seem to end.

NB: The picture is just of the chutney. We were too hungry and the chicken was too good :p
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Afaria

3/17/2009
15 rue Desnouettes
Metro: Convention or Porte de Versailles
01 48 56 15 36
Hours: 12-2pm / 5pm - 11pm;
Closed Monday lunch and all day Sunday.


What’s all the fuss about?


That is the what I repeated asked myself when Froggy and I dined at Afaria. Paris, like all major cities and some not so major ones, has a devoted clique of foodies. These people, myself included, tirelessly trek to remote and no so remote parts of the city to find that hidden gem of a restaurant with great food and a great story. Since it opened, Afaria has been trumpeted by some of the best critics and bloggers in the city as a must-eat, much welcome, addition to the gastro-bistro scene.


So I admit. I was excited and my expectations were high when we pushed our way through the massive crowd at the door . We had a reservation after all. A harried waiter scurried past. An aloof waitress nodded at us and disappeared. So we watched. We watched as the crowd grew at the door. We watched as the previously harried waiter tried to seat a group of seven at a table for four. And we watched as the waitress announced to a table of lingerers that their time was up, reservations were arriving and it was time for them to go.

Considering the chaos, it actually didn’t take long for us to be seated. Which was good, because it was hot by the bar and I was hungry. Eagerly, I opened the menu. Froggy crinkled his brow.

“That’s all."

“Yup. That’s all." I wasn’t as bothered by the relatively sparse menu as I was by the confusing layout of the card. If a restaurant does what it does well, there need not be a myriad of options. However, it's annoying when the price is the only indication of whether a dish is an appetizer, entree or dessert. In fact, the menu is grouped by theme, each theme having a single appetizer, entree and dessert. As cute as this may seem, it’s not. And apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought so, because the first question our scantily clad waiter asked us (more on that below) was “Do you have any questions about the menu?”

No. But Froggy had a question.

"What is that guy wearing?”

I was not in the mood to be the sartorial police. “A t-shirt. Big deal.”

"No. It's an undershirt. You don’t think that’s strange for a waiter in Paris”, Froggy pressed.

“Mmm.”

Ten minutes later, I understood why.

This restaurant is hot. Uncomfortably so. I watched women around the room, removing layers, become progressively nude. One suffering soul dared to bare down to her camisole. I, on the other hand, with my lack of foresight and layers, suffered in my sweater. But the truth is, I would suffer the depths of hell for great food. And by all accounts, that was what I was in for.


Froggy, with his intrepid spirit, tried the pumpkin soup. I had my eye on it, but couldn’t bring myself to do it given the muggy heat. Instead, I had the Lebanese style bulgur topped with lemony oysters and roquette. Tracks of hummous striped my plate. It was nice and fresh and whetted my appetite, as any good appetizer should do. Froggy’s veloute was rich but had a nicely balanced base.

Not wowed, but not bad. So on to the next course.

I ordered the slow-cooked cod and mussels. Froggy had the stewed lamb. My cod was over-cooked, the broth singular and one note, reminding me – in taste, colour and consistency - of Campbell’s Vegetable Soup. It was an unfortunate comparison, although one further supported by the frozen (or gasp canned?) peas floating around my plate between logs of undercooked and otherwise bland potatoes. However boring Froggy’s lamb was, it was palatable.

Truth be told, my excitement had waned and I was not eager for dessert. But we trudged on. Froggy ordered what turned out to be a soupy bowl of crème anglais with slices of brioche. I had a a kiwi puree with pomegranate brittle and whipped cream. Both were well-executed and pleasurable. Dessert was easily the most interesting part of the night.


Pleasantly full, but more than a little disappointed, we asked for the bill. We were ready to go. The restaurant had died down. Most of the tables had left. A welcome breeze sliced through the humidity in the room. Yet we waited and waited for our bill. Finally our waiter returned (now fully dressed), sans bill, to proudly present us with shot glasses of Armagnac and fresh raspberry puree . This in lieu of petits-fours? Was this what we had been waiting for? Nice touch. Problem is, Froggy and I don't do Armagnac.


In a nutshell: Over-hyped mediocre food, fashionably smart crowd


Price : Appetizers: 7-12 euros, Entrees: 17-22 euros, Desserts:8 euros.


Reservations: Recommended

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Chez Nous : Wild Mushroom and Truffle Pasta

3/12/2009


The smell of truffles are intoxicating, the culinary equivalent of pure musk. I think that truffles have to be one of the best aphrodisiacs in the gastronomic world. Much sexier than raw oysters and champagne (although I admit raw oysters and anything are pretty yummy). So you can imagine my glee, when I opened my Valentines Day gift only to find not chocolates nor teddy bears nor books (books are a failsafe gift with me) but rather, a collection of truffle oils and pastes. I was a bit worried that my culinary skills wouldn't be up to scratch, but I quickly learned that the aroma of truffles is so characteristic and intense that they are actually quite easy to cook with. This is the recipe I made last night, using things I had in the kitchen.


Sorry guys. This is a little late for Valentine's Day. But come on, every day should be Valentine's Day with your sweetie.


Wild Mushroom and Truffle Pasta


3 cloves of garlic crushed

Olive oil

¾ cup cream

4 cups wild mushrooms diced ( I used porcini mushrooms)

1 tablespoon of truffle paste (I used white truffle and porcini paste)

Pepper

Grated parmesan

Pasta (probably best with an angelhair or spaghetti, although I used farfalle because that is what I had on hand)


  1. Cook pasta.(Come on, you don't need me to tell you that...you should have the pasta going at the same time.)

  2. Add olive oil and crushed garlic to a pan. Cook on medium for a couple of minutes. The point here is to brown the garlic a bit so that it infuses the oil with flavour. Remove the garlic from the oil.

  3. Add the mushrooms. Cook until tender around 5 or 6 minutes.

  4. Add the cream, the truffle paste and pepper to taste. Stir well. Cook for a couple of minutes. The cream will reduce quite quickly.

  5. Add strained pasta unto the pan and toss with sauce for a few minutes.


Voila. And there you have it. Incredibly easy. Top with fresh parmesan and your done.


Enjoy.

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Contributors

Daphne Duck

is a Canadian writer, who loves to eat, drink, and . . . write about it. Fortunately for her, Paris is the perfect place to do all three.

Benoit the Froggy

is a computer wizard by day, unrepentant sensualist by night. He is also Daphne's navigator. Without him, she would always be lost.

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