Monday, April 27, 2009
Bofinger - Not For Tourists Only
When it comes time to compile the list of famous Parisian brasseries, Bofinger makes the cut. As suggested elsewhere, the city’s oldest brasserie, dating back to 1864, offers elegance without pretension, a combination that many aspire to, but few achieve. Located on a side street within striking distance of the center of Bastille and the original opera house, Bofinger, which specializes in Alsatian dishes, harkens back to France’s Belle Epoque period. Once through the doors, you recognize immediately that you are not in Kansas anymore. Just past the anteroom you can glimpse the boisterous surroundings in the expansive main room under the dome – waiters maintaining a frenetic pace, carrying their enormous multi-tiered platters of fruit-de-mer or choucroutes amidst the ornate décor and furnishings that now are protected as national heritage. Whoa, sorry . . . I’m starting to sound like an airline magazine.
Back in the day, Co. and I used to visit Bofinger from time to time, primarily to indulge in the meat (Co.) and fish (your’s truly) choucroutes (sauerkraut platters, for the uninitiated). Never an easy place to reserve, we’ve always found it next to impossible to get a table under the dome. Big deal. We find the second floor rooms
cozier, less formal, and more intimate – a great place to bring visiting friends who may commit some sort of embarrassing faux pas. You know it’s best to restrict one’s audience when there is a chance one of your dinner companions may opt to drink the little finger bowl of lemon water and exclaim, ‘garçon, the soup was delicious!’ These days, it seems, the only time we revisit Bonfinger is when we have guests visiting from outside France. On this occasion, that was the case – our friends from Valencia, Spain, whose identities will heretofore remain veiled, but consisted of husband, wife, and 17-year-old precocious daughter, the latter of whom could speak fluent Spanish, Valencian, English, passable German, and has begun to learn Russian. At that age, I could barely speak one language, English, and my parents never took me to Belle Epoque Parisian brasseries, and likely wouldn’t have even if they were closer than 3000+ miles away. Some kids have all the luck.
Our dinner turned out to be an enjoyable dining experience from start to finish, no major faux pas, no arrogant waiter, no overcharging for the wine. I don’t know if our guests were merely being polite or were taking a conservative no-sense-agitating-our-stomachs-during-our-trip stance, but they limited their choices, opting out of a couple entrees and desserts, and passing on the post-meal coffee, resulting in a reasonable bill for five of 190 euros, including an inexpensive (22€) bottle of Languedoc.
Co. and I went the tried-and-true route and selected the aforementioned choucroutes. Mine and the teen’s
wife consisted of haddock, salmon, lotte, and quenelles (50€ for two). Her’s, which was shared with the precocious teen’s father, consisted of a medieval-looking array of sausages, pork, and andouillettes, and was kept warm with the aid of a kerosene-generated flame (42€ for two). The multilingual teen chose the Royale St. Jacques plate (12.50€) and quickly learned that she liked scallops a lot, and could now ask for them in at least three languages. Her mother praised her entrée of blanquette de saumon (19.50€). A couple of us shared a platter of a dozen oysters Fine de Claire as an entrée (27€), and despite their relatively small size, these really excelled. Raised on Utah Beach in Normandy, these were the tastiest oysters I’ve had the pleasure to slide down my throat in a long, long time. A couple more oyster platters and I would have been a happy camper, even without the choucroute. I indulged in a café gourmand, happily donating my little crème brulee to Co. to accompany her moelleux caraibes option.
If you’re not comfortable with these options, don’t despair, chef Georges Belondrade’s carte is pretty expansive, including some Bofinger specialties (foie gras, tartares, bouillabaisse, onion soup, lobster salad) and pretty much anything you would expect to find in an Alsatian brasserie. Service was impeccable and our waiters projected that Parisian air of having seen it all before, which I am sure they had, at least at Bofinger. In short, if you are visiting Paris and need that Belle Epoque, ornate décor, bow-tied waiters, and hair-raising edifices of seafood experience, Bofinger is your kind of brasserie. And as the title of this post proclaims, it’s not just for tourists.
7 rue de la Bastille, Paris
Tel 33 1 42 72 87 82