Saturday, April 4, 2009
La Table d’Erica - Coolin' With Ma Creole Belle
Recently, there seemed to be an interesting program on Creole restaurants on France 24 (otherwise known as ‘France vingt-quatre’), but I’m not positive because I just happened to stumble upon the broadcast twice only in time to see the last five minutes. Anyway, it turns out that during those five minutes, they were interviewing someone associated with the Left Bank restaurant La Table d’Erica – it could have been the illustrious Madame Erica herself, but I wasn’t paying too much attention, as usual the sound was off (French TV is bad enough without having to hear it), and I didn’t get to meet Mme Erica in the flesh until last night.
As soon as I heard the name, I checked out La Table and couldn’t find much beyond the restaurant’s decent web site (with the carte prominently displayed), but I threw caution to the wind and hotfooted it over for dinner with my Canadian friend, The Moose (sometimes referred to simply as ‘Moose’). Moose and I had a couple drinks beforehand at the Café Charbon, one of my favorite watering holes in the capital—and also one of the oldest cafés in Paris—to ease the rather longish trek by metro from Parmentier to rue Mabillon in the St. Germain neighborhood. A large cardboard cutout of Erica stood outside the entrance of the restaurant next to a glass-enclosed menu – check, same as the one online. I love when they do that.
I must admit, during my early days in Paris, I sampled several African/Creole restaurants with a Reunion Island, Seychelles, or Antilles slant. The novelty wore off pretty quickly—cheap but for the most part disappointing. Though I’ll never forget being at a table when a waiter brusquely put down a plate and an olive rolled off onto the table – the waiter grabbed it and virtually threw it back on the plate (tres chic!). So I can’t say my expectations were very high for La Table, but if they talked about it on TV, I figured it couldn’t be that bad, even it was only France 24.
As it turned out, I was right, it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t that great either, but overall, I’d have to say that each dish was well prepared, if not extraordinarily exotic. I opted for the salad marine (7.50€), slices of raw fish marinated in lime. This is a dish I like a lot, but so many times I’ve seen this prepared so unimaginatively that I almost ordered something else. La Table’s preparation was good, the marinated fish surrounding some iceberg lettuce pieces and a slice of lime, but not great. Moose was tempted by the crab farci but opted for the salad mango crab with avocado (7.50€), a dish that seemed to have made ample use of the food shredder. The crab farci (9€) probably would have been the better choice. As for our plates, I went with the pimentade de poisson des iles (16€), a healthy piece of fish (vivaneux) accompanied by some apparently boiled slices of potatoes and other root vegetables. If I hadn’t been talking so much—I hadn’t seen Moose for a while—I could have given the fish more attention and avoided the ample bones. Moose had the calou Creole (16€) , a stew consisting of shrimp, spinach, okra, slices of chicken pork, and a crab leg. This looked to be the better choice, and when I asked Moose how it was, he eloquently pontificated, “It’s pretty good.” Moose, a man of many words. Stuck in-between two other tables as we were, I observed some other noteworthy alternatives – the fried balls of morue (cod) looked well-prepared, better than I’ve seen in other restaurants, not greasy at all (see the accompanying image). The guy to my right, no vegetarian, I can assure you, had a large slab of meat (Colombo de Cabri, young goat?), and the spicy gambas in coconut milk seemed to be a big hit. The dessert menu, perhaps as expected in a Creole restaurant, was limited to fruit, a couple cake selections, and sorbet, in other words, pretty lame. I had the mango and lime scoops to clear the palate, which is exactly what it did (6.50€ for two scoops, not the three they promise at their website).
The best part of the meal by far was the jar of spicy sauce (a kind of crushed pimente that reminded me somewhat of harissa) – especially spicy without being overbearing – such a novelty to have something so perky at a table in Paris, where usually the spiciest condiment offered to accompany the meal is table pepper, and usually you have to ask for that. I should add, we washed down the meal with an inexpensive Bordeaux (16€), which proved perfectly adequate for the task at hand.
The restaurant itself consists of a relatively small room and accompanying half-terrace (where we sat), but it’s a funny place, decked out as if we were there to celebrate somebody’s birthday party. The tables are close together, but the atmosphere is a pretty comfortable and friendly one. In my best French, I tried to strike up a conversation with Erica at the end of the meal, (a) asking if she was Erica (she was) and (b) mentioning the TV show. Erica, a woman apparently of fewer words than Moose, didn’t go for the bait and before I knew it we were paying our reasonable bill of 71.50€. Maybe she was suspicious that I was some sort of famous Paris restaurant blogger and was afraid to misspeak, who knows. Despite that disappointing finish to the meal, I’d say if you’re up for a casual alternative to French cuisine in a lively neighborhood in the Left Bank, put this one on your list.
Just to add, a few steps down the facing street off Mabillon (15, rue Clement) is Coolin, an Irish pub that on the Friday night in question had spilled out onto the street and seemed to be one of the places to be on the relatively early April balmy evening. Inside, the place was packed, hot, and reeking of beautiful young things, out for some innocent (but I’m sure) Left Bank dancing, partying, but especially, SMS messaging. Why did I have the impression I was back at a college mixer (without the cellphones) circa 1975?: ZZ-Top and the Doobie Brothers blasting at eardrum-shattering levels, somebody’s daughter dancing on a table, and me gulping my pint of Guinness as quickly as possible so as to bolt back to a place where there was air to breathe. Alas, maybe I’m getting too old for that scene, but hey, it never hurts to try (except in the knees).
LA TABLE D'ERICA
6, rue Mabillon
tel: 01 43 54 87 61
15, RUE CLÉMENT
tel: 01 44 07 00 92