Friday, August 29, 2008
Casa Sud - E = mc2
Latest stop was the new addition to the Casa Sud restaurant chain, a partner of La Criee (reviewed last January). This is in the Paris banlieue-the suburbs-where you find some land and take a couple days to erect another cardboard box restaurant. You know how when you drive down the main strip of anywhere USA nowadays - you could be blind, but if someone told you 'hey, there's a McDonald's,' you could just wait ten seconds and, blind or not, say 'and there's a Burger King,' and ten seconds more, 'there's a KFC,' and ten seconds more, 'there's a Taco Bell,' etc. ad nauseum? Well, it's getting that way around the outskirts of Paris as well. If there's a La Criee, there's probably a Leon's across the street and, now with no. 5, a Casa Sud right next door. Down the street, you've got your Office Depot, and around the corner, probably something, gasp, French! like a Buffalo Grill or Court de Paille.
So much for the French being a nation of gourmands. The formula works - the chains like Casa Sud, La Criee, and Leon's are always packed (at least during the weekends when I check). When I asked Co. to ruminate on this, she replied that it's simple as E=mc2 (actually, simpler) - it's cheap and you don't have to drive into Paris. And I'll add two other important ingredients to the equation - big, free parking lots and consistent (i.e., predictable) food that isn't half bad. During our visit earlier this evening, my goat cheese bricks with salad appetizer tasted pretty much like goat cheese bricks with salad are supposed to taste, and my special plate, La Andolouse, which consisted of couscous and a melange of vegetables and seafood, was really hot (not spicy, I'm talking temperature here), and just a notch above 'pretty tasteless, but does the job.' Even better, the chorizo, which was noted on the menu, but which I do not eat, did not appear at all in the dish. Did the waiter read my mind or did the chef forget to read the menu? Meanwhile, Co. seemed content with her fish croustillants entree and leg of lamb main dish. The fish croustillants tasted like fish croustillants and the leg of lamb tasted like a leg of lamb, and she complains far less than I do anyway.
By the way, I should add that the name Casa Sud references the range of items on the menu, as in Mediterranean. So the menu leans heavily toward Italian dishes and Moroccan. I had heard that the restaurant covered more southern territory than that - I was thinking Latino - but no such luck. I'm still yearning for a decent Latino / Mexican / South American restaurant in Paris.
As with all brand new restaurants - this one has been open only a couple weeks - there were clear signs of some rough edges that probably will be smoothed out as soon as the young servers who can't hack it turn in their yellow Casa Sud t-shirts and shuffle over to the local McDonald's for the next addition to their CVs. We could see the big, muscular cooks, sweat dripping from their brows (hopefully, not into the soup), working like madmen to keep pace with the growing crowd. At the same time, some of the young waitresses seemed to be moving in slow motion, delirious, on the edge of tears. Eventually, a harmony will be struck, I'm sure.
The room itself is well-designed, again, in a rather formulaic way. There's a mezzanine, and a small terrace (or was that La Criee's terrace?) where you can watch the trucks and traffic jams a couple meters away on the motorway (no thanks). I was dutifully positioned under an indoor tree. I felt protected, once I was assured that there were no birds among the branches. Yet there was a persistent, low level drone of noise - muzak that couldn't quite be heard above the din of the diners, which, in formulaic tradition, were accompanied by some otherwise personae non grata in your better Parisian bistros - kids - and the occasional dog under the table (the quietest in the room, I might add). I don't know if it was the din or the tree, or a combination of the two, but the acoustics really seemed screwy. I had the impression that when I talked, my words weren't getting much further than my nose.
In sum, what is there to add? You want cheap (in our case, 64€ for two, including wine and three courses each), free parking, the possibility to avoid the hassles of Paris, and an okay meal in a congenial setting, Casa Sud is for you. If you want gourmand, keep reading this blog.
Now in five sites in France: Cergy-Eragny, Massy, Saint Brice, Saint Thibault, and Rosny-sous-Bois, all right next to a major motorway, and all next door to a La Criee. For maps, addresses, and contact info, go to this link.
P.S. I am happy to report that this week, the last in August, my local ice cream shop reopened after a one month vacation hiatus! Only in France - the ice cream parlors close for vacation during the summer! Unbelievable.