Les Provinces and Café des Abattoirs

Cafe des Abattoirs

My perfect day in Paris is one that starts at the Marché d’Aligre. I’d get there first thing in the morning, around 9 A.M. as the flea market vendors are unloading their trucks, scoping out treasures as they unpack them. (Before the rest of humanity descends on the market.) I’d rifle through the boxes of knives, cast-off kitchenware, and perhaps score a vintage Le Creuset gratin dish, before doing some food shopping, bringing home the bacon.

smoked bacon

I’ve been going to this market for over ten years, and it’s still one of my favorites. For a while, there weren’t any stand-out dining options at the market, which was a shame, because you’re surrounded by all this food at the one of best markets in Paris, but few places were serving them. So I was happy to see that in the last year or so, a number of eateries have opened where you can sit down and enjoy everything from Portuguese pastries to steak-frites, a market staple dating back to the days of the old – and sadly displaced – Les Halles.

Boucherie Les Provinces

One place in particular that I was interested in trying was boucherie Les Provinces, a combination butcher shop and restaurant. While I had my head buried in boxes at the flea market, avoiding getting stabbed by vintage French forks, an SMS popped up on my phone from my friend, asking me where the heck I was. So I hightailed it over to meet her for lunch.

Beef in France was recently under the spotlight due to a recent article in the New York Times, where a number of French chefs were quoted about how and where they source their beef, many noting that most breeds of French cattle were raised for their muscularity, not for producing tender meats. It raised a few hackles but it was interesting to hear French chefs talk about why they were choosing to import their beef.

I was recently speaking at an event here in Paris when a woman raised her hand and asked me how I find out about new restaurants, and what I look for, and so forth. Almost before she could finish, I said “Well, the first thing I do is avoid anywhere new.” It takes a while for places to hit their stride – at least a few months. But people come to Paris and want to try the latest and greatest, and I tell them to relax, because sometimes it’s more fun just to go to a café and have a croque monsieur or salami sandwich with cornichons at the scratched up zinc bar of a corner troquet, which is a more authentic French experience—the kind visitors seem to be looking for.

Boucherie Les Provinces

At boucherie Les Provinces, you won’t be blown away by the food, but you’ll have a good time, as we did, digging into our onglet steaks. Onglet is known elsewhere as hangar steak, which I once saw referred to as “meat that’s usually only available in Mexican and ethnic markets.” It’s juicy, flavorful, and cheap. The French in general eat their beef very rare, and you need to have a muscular set of choppers – and a very sharp knife – to get it from point A to point B since it’s not common to get beef that’s been aged, a process that tenderizes the meat.

cochonaille

After we started with an excellent board of cochonaille, mixed charcuterie, we were served our main courses. The onglets were offered in two sizes, one for the petite faim and the other for the grosse faim. (For the small appetite or the large one.) The small was 200 grams, which is 7.0547 ounces. (For readers’ sakes, I used to round up the conversions, and say “about 7 ounces,” but too many people were piling on, saying that I should be more precise. So there ya go!) The small was more than enough for us.

Served with pan-roasted pommes de rattes, the almond-sized, delicious fingerling potatoes that are rarely seen outside of France, and an entirely pleasant carafe of cellar-temperature Brouilly (slightly chilled, or at cellar temperature, as it should be served), we cleared our plates, keeping up a nice running commentary with the waitress and the butchers, all the while.

Boucherie Les Provinces

While you likely won’t find Les Provinces listed in restaurant guides as a place to cross town for, I can’t think of a better way to spend a day in Paris than strolling around the Aligre market, rifling through boxes at the flea market (after I’ve gone through them, of course…) before checking out the fruits, vegetables, French cheeses, dry goods, and sparkling fresh fish at the stands, before diving into a couple of steaks while knocking back a few glasses of red in the convivial atmosphere of boucherie Les Provinces. Then heading over to Blé Sucré for a little dessert.

Boucherie Les Provinces

Boucherie Les Provinces
20, rue d’Aligre (12th)
Tél: 01 43 43 91 64
Open daily 8am – 2pm, 4pm – 7:45pm, Sunday 8 – 2:30pm


Cafe des Abattoirs

Higher up the scale, certainly in terms of price, is Café des Abattoirs, which makes a point of sourcing beef from various countries, including ancient races of cattle raised in Brittany. The café is proof that interest in foreign beef has increased recently.

Beef magazine

So much so that it’s also spurred a new French magazine about bœuf, with an English title. (And les hamburgers featured as the lead article.) I was interested in trying the restaurant to taste what they were boasting about: Sourcing the best beef from in, and out, of France. The restaurant is more upscale than Boucherie Les Provinces, and offers three menus, which feature beef in various guises, from tartare de bœuf Charolais (French), veal tartare (from the Limousin) with sauce César as a first course, to bavette of beef (Black Angus), and a 400g (14 ounces) entrecôte from a famed race of Breton cattle. Desserts and garnitures (side dishes) are included and we went with the frites fraîches façon Suzy, also known as French fries.

(Prices for the three formulas are €32, €38, and €45, and there is a fixed menu express at lunch for €22 of a main course and coffee.)

Cafe des Abattoirs

Obviously I’m not quite as integrated as I thought, because the very friendly waiter asked as we were sitting down if we wanted English menus. Both of us were fine with the French ones. (Translated menus often have mistakes on them, like the booklet that came with my oven which said to change the time I was to hold the keypad numbers down for two minutes, which seemed an awfully long time to stand there and hold down a button – so before I subjected myself to an index finger cramp, I checked the French instructions, and it was, indeed, deux secondes.)

Thus began a series of funny exchanges with the staff, which I kicked off by peppering the waiter with questions about who Suzy was, and why she was important, and what she had to do with French fries.

In addition to the menu items, they bring you a series of starters that aren’t listed on the menu, but are a nice surprise. We had some deep-fried breaded cheese puffs that were okay, and ripe avocados with black caviar.

Cafe des Abattoirs

But I couldn’t forget the outstanding Black Angus ribs, above, which understandably, aren’t I’ve never seen served like that in Paris. (You do see travers du porc, or pork ribs, on menus and at the butcher shops.) Served off the bone, they didn’t look like much, but good gosh, they were as tender and juicy as my aunt Millie’s brisket, who once told me her secret was cocktail sauce. Which perhaps they use, too?

Cafe des Abattoirs

The bavette steak was nicely cooked but could have used some seasoning before it got slapped on the griddle, as the seared crust, aka: the best part, didn’t enhance the flavor and texture of the beef. And while the Black Angus meat was of excellent quality, some seasoning with a few grains of salt would have permeated the meat (not dried it out, as some people believe), and made it much juicier, with a tasty crust highlighted with crackles of salt.

Cafe des Abattoirs

Malheureusement, the fries suffered from the “soft frites” syndrome you find around town. And while they were made with fresh potatoes, they were soft and not crisp. So whoever the heck Suzy is (I never did find out…) she needs to get on the stick and double-fry her frites, or at least turn up that fryer oil, girlfriend.

House-made sauces were an interesting change from the usual pot of Dijon offered in French restaurants, which I avoid because people dip in their knives, knives that are covered with meat juices, and I don’t think the restaurants change or refrigerate the pots of mustard. (True, they go through them quickly. But I’m kind of a stickler when it comes to stuff like that.) The tomato-horseradish sauce was similar to cocktail sauce and not nearly as interesting to us as was the house-made bbq sauce, which was excellent, and I was tempted to pocket the rest of the bottle as we were finishing up. They do give each diner a nifty cotton apron to wear while dining, and my dining companion ended up buying one, she liked it so much. I should have asked if they sell their bbq sauce.

Cafe des Abattoirs

Desserts were an excellent, silky-smooth flourless chocolate tart that had the smoothness of a bittersweet, baked custard. The only thing missing was a scoop of coffee ice cream to offset the intense chocolate flavor. One of my favorite French desserts is œufs à la neige, a poached or baked meringue floating on a pool of ice-cold crème anglaise. With a nod to the bouchons of Lyon, the snowy meringue was studded with pralines roses, something you’ll find sprinkled through many pastries in Lyon.

Cafe des Abattoirs

Since I’m not a restaurant critic, I always ask myself, “Would I send readers or guests here?” when I write up a Paris restaurant. So I asked my dining companion and she said, “Yes,” which I would as well.” It’s not the cheapest restaurant in town; however, when people say Paris is expensive, I don’t think you could get a multicourse meal like this in San Francisco or New York for €32 – €45, which includes tax and tip. Plus they’re open every day, for those scrambling to find a place to eat on Sunday or Monday night in Paris.

Cafe des Abattoirs

Me? I’ll be back for those beef ribs and œufs à la neige – and to check on the progress of those fries. And to finish my discussion with the waiter.

Café des Abattoirs
10, rue Gomboust (1st)
Tél: 01 76 21 77 60
Open seven days a week


Boucherie Les Provinces


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34 comments

  • The marché d’Aligre is really a special one in Paris..there aren’t all that many that still have the covered market hall, with the fish, dairy and meat, bordered by the open square for the produce. It’s a really special place and I always try to take my visitors there, followed by a glass of white wine and some oysters or rillettes at the Baron Rouge. Great post!

  • I understand that even most grass fed beef here is “finished” on corn to give it the fat that most North Americans desire. Also, most beef in our markets is young, about 12 months I think. The real marbling occurs in cows that are allowed to grow to about 18 months. The younger cows have a bigger outside layer of fat.
    Also, in NA, there is a dislike of anything that takes work to chew and eat. We are a nation of soft foods. Which is detrimental to the quality of our teeth and jaws, and digestive systems, as it is the process of chewing that stimulates the digestive enzymes and creates the forces necessary for strong bones.

  • Why is it so hard to find crisp chips? (fries) Soft chips pop up everywhere, regardless of the price of the meal. If the cheapest kebab shop can do crisp chips, why don’t restaurants?

  • oooh! Wonderful post, David!

    I really do love your balanced and honest reviews as well as your so sensible advice for visitors to Paris to just cool their heels a bit when racing to the next hot spot. Thanks for sharing the everyday things as in your perfect day in Paris at the Marché d’ Aligre. Love your photos, drool-worthy for sure!

  • For a multi-course meal I think that’s a fair price. Those ribs looked stellar. Say what you want about American BBQ – my old Romanian boss and a lot of foreigners I know think its weird Americans put so much sugar on everything even meat – I think Americans do ribs quite well. So it’d be interesting to see what the French take on ribs is!

    And when we were in Greece they too suffered from soft frites syndrome. Pale soft frites syndrome. Maybe a lot of Europe still has to learn the double-fry method?? Although I hear the frites in Belgium and Amsterdam are quite nice.

    • JS and Romney: Am not sure why frites are often soft. I was at a restaurant and asked the owner why they didn’t fry their French fries more and he said “We used to, but the customers complained.” I think part of it is they are in a hurry in the kitchen (and/or don’t care), or they don’t use good frying oil. But it may also be like the baguette pas trop cuite, (baguette “not too cooked”), people’s tastes have changed and they prefer soft, over crisp, here.

  • Great article, you always leave me wanting more! I just want to know that as a vegetarian, would I be able to eat there and leave satisfied?

    Anyway, I don’t think restauranteurs realize that even though the vegetarian in the group may not usually pick the restaurant, he/she can usually veto it if there isn’t anything (or at least anything interesting) for a veg to eat… I’m sorry to say I’ve vetoed many over the years even though I LOVE trying new restaurants and new foods. It’s sad really.

  • I’m curious – what’s the difference between oeufs à la neige and île flottante?

  • Restaurant aside, what treasure did you find at the flea market? Hmmm?

  • I love the truthful comments you make and the cautionary recommendations. Sometimes you do enjoy places for what they are, the vibe they give -so to speak- and how fun the experience is. And at least you know the source of your food. Pretty cool!

  • Ooh, what’s the name of that beautiful little circular pastry?

  • Favorite menu mistranslations, both spotted in Brittany:

    1. Salade des avocats = lawyer salad
    2. Glace fruit de la passion = fruit of the loom ice cream

    (That last one was exciting to explain to the waitress. They haven’t changed their menu so I don’t think I made an impression.)

  • Hi David,

    Great post as usual, but I’m confused by the “Oeufs a la Neige”… it sounds similar to “Ile Flottante” in your description…. Which coincidentally is one of my favorite deserts in France (but only second to anything chocolate… lol)

    Also, I just received my copy of My Paris Kitchen and I love it!!! Thanks for all you do… Blog On ;)

    Emily@TownAndCountryShuffle

    • Hillary and Emily: Œufs à la neige are usually individual snow “eggs”, whereas Île flottante is a bigger meringue, which can be sliced and served that way. (There’s a recipe in The Sweet Life in Paris.) However people often interchange the names. And not everyone loves the dessert, but I do!

  • Spookily enough we just returned to the UK from a week in Paris, staying round the corner from Marché d’Aligre in a fabulous apartment owned by an NYC photographer. It’s a really great area in which to stay. I couldn’t agree more that this is indeed a fabulous little marche. Not only did we discover the delights of the flea market but one of the great cheese stalls in the covered market also sold delightful little Galettes de courgettes râpées.The short road leading to the market has a wealth of small cafes, fromageries and at least 2 small (English speaking) wine shops stocking excellent Sancerre!! We bought croissant every morning at Blé Sucre and their tarte aux abricots are wonderful – fine flaky pastry and sharp fresh apricots. I could go on and on and on and……..

  • Hi David,
    The Cafe des A is a Michael Rostang resto, so in addition to the beef served there, the CdesA has a pedigree too.

    I’m in love with that bacon (a little pricey, non?) — will factor that in to a “stay at home” meal our next visit to Paris.

    Question (photography department): when you are out and about (and on a book tour, e.g.), are you shooting with your new camera or the very handy and portable Canon G12?

    As usual, a great post!

    • I usually bring my Canon 70D because whenever I bring my G12, I always wish I had my better camera. But sometimes when traveling, it’s easier to slip the smaller point & shoot (G12) into my bag, as I did on my book tour – since I was going through a lot of airports.

  • David, does one of the pictures show that a kilo of bacon is 24+ euros?

  • Is the Paris-Brest in your photo from Ble Sucré? That’s my favorite French dessert.

  • Bonjour David!

    I subscribe to the “America’s Test Kitchen” podcast . I was listening to you this morning and you were fantastic! I became an instant fan! You spoke so eloquently. I loved hearing the stories you told about your dalliances in Paris. That is so wonderful that you live in Paris. I spent some time in Europe. I am a trained cook and I learned alot . I never made it to France. You have really made me want to go visit. I cannot wait to buy your book “My Paris Kitchen”. I would love if you could autograph a copy for me. Merci!

    Janelen

  • Wonderful…..memories are flooding back. D’Aligre is one of my favourite Saturday morning market haunts when in Paris also, and although I have been attempting to settle back in Australia, your post has me thinking September/October, vides grenier, could I do it……..
    Love your posts, thanks David.

  • Place d’Aligre…. Summer 1973, on my Eurail trip I met a bunch of French Hippies with an apartment there. I stayed 6 weeks and loved the market. I’m so glad it still exists.

  • Kicking myself that I’ve not yet made it to marche d’Aligre on various trips to Paris. This post is the clincher – next time! “Glacé de passion de fruit” doesn’t have anything to do with a clothing company. Passioflora edulis originated in South America (thanks, Wikipedia!) and is popular across the Pacific and in south-east Asia. A long-time favourite here in Australia, the lush green vines draped over the back fence (or the dunny, don’t ask) give sweet, delicious fruit all summer. It’s the traditional topping for a pavlova, it goes into ice cream, or you can just cut the fruit in half, scoop out the pulp with a teaspoon, and wolf it down. It flavours a soft drink with the fabulous name of “Passiona” and similar drink in Indonesia is known as Markisa.

  • Going along with the possible, ahem, reusing of the mustard pots, a few years ago my husband and I were dining in a Mexican restaurant. Complimentary salsa with chips was served tableside. Asked if we could take the leftovers home. Was told that I could buy the salsa on our table. It seems that the owner was allowed to reuse it if it all didn’t get eaten. Granted the carafe was long & skinny necked, making it difficult to double dip, but still off putting. I did not buy my table salsa, and proceeded to tell anyone who cared about this particular restaurant’s kinda gross practice. The restaurant’s closing a short time later didn’t make me too sad.

  • Beef AND a bittersweet chocolate tart? OMGosh, if I can’t have coffee ice cream, then please bring me a cup of good coffee!. (David, maybe they will read this and add it to the menu?)

    Poor Suzy, that chick is in need of a mentor. Hope she finds one soon, but in the meantime try dipping your French fries into cocktail sauce (hopefully not from previously shared containers,though), seriously. It changes that crispy salty fry into the most delectable delight. It’s wonderful alongside a sirloin burger.

    I need to shut-up and go to sleep. I’m going to be arrested by the diet police for viewing food porn at bedtime.

    BTW, the best beef in all the world comes from Weld County, Colorado. I’m cheering for my home team. Is it obvious? Oh how rude of me! Please pardon me. ;)

  • Dear Dave, I want that gratin pan………………Just sayin !!

  • The beef looks absolutely amazing! but can I ask what knives are you using? Couldn’t find any brand names or logos on them. Thanks.

  • I missed you when you were in Vancouver and kicking myself for it! Is it possible to order a signed book from you?
    Thank you

    • I don’t sell books, but if you are from Vancouver, Barbara-Jo’s bookstore may have some signed copies ~

  • Hi David

    Thanks for the info on French meat,,,I’ve been living in Paris for nearly 8 years and kept assuming it was my bad luck that I kept getting extremely chewy beef!

    Wondering if you could pass on Aunt Millie’s brisket recipe…I’m intrigued…

    thanks

  • First time commenting as I only recently signed on to this blog. I come to Paris for 3 months each summer and shop at the marche d’Aligre once each week altho I live a block from the Cours de Vincennes market.
    Les Provinces butcher shop has excellent meats – no chemicals EVER in their French-raised meat – and ages their meats – beef for six weeks, even the steak tartare is aged for 4 days – so they are more tender than from other butcher shops. If you like steak tartare and eat at the restaurant, theirs is different from any other you might come across, and is superb. Don’t just think beef if you go there, either to buy meat or to eat at the restaurant; the calves liver is excellent as is the lamb. They will prepare you what you want, even if it is not on the menu. For example, if you want a steak au poivre, saignant s’il vous plait, just let them know and it will be prepared for you. As they take reservations for dinner only, if you get there by 12:30, you can usually get a table. And watching the butchers work while you eat is always interesting.

  • What exactly is the definition of “entrecôte”?

  • Ok, which terminal has the hangar steak?