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Paris Tacos y Burritos

tacos

It’s kind of funny because the two times I went out with two different French friends for Mexican food this week, they practically wiped the table clean. Both said after eating, “Daveed…j’ai encore faim.” (“I’m still hungry.”)

The first time was at Cactus, where my friend (who I am pretty sure has .5% body fat) wolfed down his burrito and the aforementioned declaration of hunger, proceeded to order three additional tacos and eat them in rapid procession, then eat dessert as well – plus a handful of chocolates he had stashed in his pocket.

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Les Fines Gueules

carafes of water

It’s funny because I used to pass the building that houses Les Fines Gueules and think “Gosh, I would love to live in that building.” It’s just off the stately Place des Victoires, on a corner lot, and really, how nice would it be to sit on that balcony and catch some sun while having my morning coffee? Then one day a few years ago I made a reservation to eat at Les Fines Gueules and I was surprised when I arrived and found out that it was the restaurant on the ground floor, which I’d always thought was just some random café.

Les Fines Gueules jambon

It’s a place that’s on my radar because they have reliably good food prepared with excellent ingredients. And the wine list is lengthy and not that I know that much about wine, but whatever I read it, I’m always interested because it has a lot of wines I’ve not seen before on it.

At a recent lunch, my friend and I started off sharing an astounding plate of burrata and mozzarella di buffalo. True, it’s kind of hard to screw those up. (But believe me, I’ve seen it.)

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Le sandwich at Le Petit Vendome

le sandwich

It wasn’t so long ago that if you were walking down the street, or eating in public in Paris, you might get tsk-tsk’d. When I first started visiting Paris, I remember disapproving stares if you were standing on the sidewalk, jamming food into your craw. Croissants got a pass, because they were sort of designed to be consumed on-the-go. And honestly, who can expect anyone to be handed a small paper bag with a steaming-hot buttery croissant in it and walk more than ten paces before diving in to it?

(I also remember way back in 1979 when I first visited Europe and went to a supermarket, and after my twenty items was rung up and paid for, I discovered that there were no bags to put purchases in. So I had to gather everything up the best I could in my arms and try to get them all back to the youth hostel.)

A couple of years ago there was an anti-eating campaign on the métro depicting an obviously Italian man eating a fat, presumably pungent sandwich, surrounded by other passengers who weren’t so happy sharing the same car with a man and his lunch. That set off another kind of stink and the ads were pulled down for being pejorative.

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Restaurant Astier

Astier Paris

What’s not to like about a somewhat out-of-the-way bistrotière like Astier, serving examples of classic French cuisine, keeping the torch alive of a genre that’s become harder to find done right?

The pre-fixe menu at Astier is a little gentler at €35, and you can choose from four of five selections in each category. There’s more extensive selections on the à la carte side of the carte. (Traveler tip: Menu in French means a fixed series of dishes, often les plates du jour composed of various courses. A carte is the actual physical menu.) but we were thoroughly pleased with chunky block of house-made foie gras sprinkled with fleur de sel, with toasted brioche and chutney alongside.

knives at Astier Astier wine list

Warm brandade (whipped salted fish and potatoes) was a good rendition of the classic thankfully served in appetizer proportions, although I could have done without the diced roasted peppers on top which detracted from the taste. (I may also be a little biased, though because also can’t stand roasted peppers.) My main course was a shallow bowl of slow-roasted, tender lamb shoulder with stubby baby carrots in a thick jus and exactly what I felt like eating sitting in a Parisian bistro.

photo

The star of the show at Astier, which I hope they never take off the stage (I’m sure there would be a riot if they did, and I’d lead the pack) is the massive cheese plate. There’s hardly room on the table for it – Another tip: hold on to your wine glasses when they set it down – then dive right in. We had to guide our stunned neighbors when it was their turn with the cheese board—Romain is especially good at taking charge and took control, slicing cheese for them and putting in on their plates. When it was our turn, he loaded me up with five superb specimens: Époisses (which was the best I’ve ever had), Salers, Brie de Meaux, a fine, ripe Camembert, and a tangy Basque sheep’s milk cheese.

(Next time someone says the French practice portion control, they can remove Romain—and his damn 28-inch waist—from that equation.)

Astier menu

Needless to say, I could barely eat my rice pudding, which tasted fine with some poached fruits embedded in the top, but when the waiter set down a studly Baba au rhum in from of the man behind us, just about every head in the room turned, especially when the garçon split it open and doused both halves with nearly a quarter bottle of rum. His wife, who was being prudent forking up a warm chocolate cake, said to me “C’est le meilleur Baba au rhum à Paris!” And from the look of his face, she wasn’t lying.

We had a bottle of Chenin blanc (€22) from the Touraine*, which was the first selection on the reasonable wine list, after we started off with two glasses of Champagne. (€11 each and kind of steep, but I really needed a glass that night and didn’t think it’d be polite to drink one in front of a dinner companion without springing for one for him as well.) Dinner for two, with a few supplemental charges, because we veered a bit from the menu fixe, came in at €118. A few years back, a major food magazine was going to do an issue on Paris, but the editor told me she was concerned about the prices in Paris, especially with the exchange rate. But a four-course meal like this in any American city, with wine and two pre-dinner glasses of bubbly would cost about twice as much.

Fromages

(I’d also like to give points to Astier for serving bottles of chilled filtered water, still or sparkling, at no extra cost. France is one of the largest consumers of bottled water in the world, and the tap water is perfectly safe to drink, and free. The waitress told me they were trying to reduce waste and the strain on the waiters, who were tired of carrying all those cases of bottles. It’s a great initiative, one which I hope more restaurants worldwide would adopt.)

chocolate cake at Astier

It’s tricky these days to find an honest French meal in Paris, made with good ingredients by actual cooks rather than hired hands. And when I left, I took a peek in the sparkling kitchen where the cooks were staying busy plating up food for the other lucky diners. The waiters were hovering by the door and the owner was behind the bar polishing glasses, waiting to say goodbye as we left. I was a little sorry to go, but happy that there was a reasonably long walk home in front of me, because I needed it.

Restaurant Astier Paris

Restaurant Astier
44, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud (11th)
Tél: 01 43 57 16 35

Restaurant Astier is open seven days a week. They also have opened a take-out/eat in dining annex next door that’s very casual, focusing on rotisserie meats, charcuterie, and wines by the glass, called Jeanne A (42, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, Tél: 01 43 55 09 49)



Related Posts and Links

Jeanne A. (Hungry for Paris)

Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud (Secrets of Paris)

Jeanne A. in the 11th (John Talbott’s Paris)

Paris Bistro Astier: For Old Times (and New) (Patricia Wells)

Fastidious French Get Free Sparkling Water Fountain (Good)

Paris Restaurant Archives

French Menu Translation Guide

Sunday Dining in Paris


*I’m far from being an expert on wine, but I sure like it. And I used to come to France before I moved here and was usually timid about ordering it because of my inexpertise, so would limit myself to order bottles with familiar names, like Côte du Rhone and such. But I’ve been trying to learn more (by tasting, bien sûr) and as I started moving toward white wines, I found I was really enjoying wines from the Touraine, an area not far from Paris called the Loire.

The best white wine from that region is Sancerre, which is always priced a bit higher than the other white wines. (And usually merits it.) But other white wines from the Loire are Sauvignon blanc and Chemin blanc, and are often quite good and economical choices, if that’s a concern. You don’t have to pay a lot of money to drink decent wine in France.

Muscadet is another white wine produced in the same region, which has the unfortunate association (because the names are similar) with inexpensive sweet wine called Muscatel, which it doesn’t resemble. Muscadets aren’t always great wines, but some aren’t bad and I’ll take a glass at a bar during l’heure d’apéro, the pre-dinner drink.

So if you’re in a restaurant and want to try something different, if you see the word “Touraine” listed after a bottle, and something bright and minerally appeals to you, you might want to give one a try. And if anyone gives you a hard time about it, tell them you’re supporting the local wines.

Mexican Restaurants in Paris

rice & beans, paris

People think it’s odd that there’s a craving amongst a certain crowd (namely transplanted Californians…but with a growing number of curious locals) in Paris seeking Mexican food. But like any city with an international population, a variety of ethnic food and places are welcome.

(And if you don’t believe me, I’ve been reading about the hordes descending upon the Italian food emporium that recently opened in Manhattan.)

Parisians, notably the younger set, are becoming more adventurous about Latin American foods and the quality of Mexican places is getting better, including a few joints that are rolling out their own tortillas. Even Chipotle has opened in Paris.

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Princess Crepe

Princess crepe

I wasn’t on planning on going to Princess Crêpe, which I’d passed a while back and was intrigued (for lack of a better word) by their unusual look. Well it was “different”, as my mother used to politely make me say when something was out-of-the-ordinary. If we were in Harajuku, it’d fit right in. But in Paris, this is decidedly different from the rest of the surrounding area, the Marais.

I’d gone by the place a few times in the morning and they have “different” hours, open from 1pm and closing up a few hours later at 7pm. So basically they open after lunch and close just before dinner.

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Le Petit Saint Benoit

duck confit

I was recently following an online kerfuffle about the role that folks who blog about Paris play on the Paris dining scene. On one hand, there’s those of us that live and write about the city. On another are newspapers and magazines that do the same thing. I think I might be living under a rocher because although I do follow and read some of the various bloggers that also write about Paris, I don’t know if I perceived any problems with what they were doing: like journalists and television hosts, they’re simply writing and presenting information about restaurants in Paris.

There was some talk that people who live in Paris were writing up restaurants and people couldn’t get in to them. It’s an honest assessment as some of the “hot” restaurants in Paris have less than a few dozen seats and many of them only do one seating a night. So those eighteen seats because pretty valuable. In a place like New York City or San Francisco, for example, a restaurant might have fifty or a hundred seats, and do multiple seatings. Even so, reservations at restaurants du moment are often hard to secure in the states. But in Paris, with so many fewer seats, places fill quickly and extra attention can overwhelm a restaurant with a small staff.

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Maoz

maoz falafel

Yes, that’s me in the corner, wolfing down falafels at Maoz. I was trying to figure out a way to break the news, but my favorite falafel place in Paris is not where you think it is.

Last time I went to another joint, the French fries that came out were so light and limp that I was wondering what was going through the head of the cook who plated ‘em up. Let me state this simply (and in bold): If you have a professional-strength deep fryer, there’s no possible excuse for soggy fries.

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