Friday, August 19, 2011
Going Natives: Wally Fay and Lao Lane Xang 2
It's that time of year again and the natives are going, going, gone. During past Augusts I have lamented the Parisian mass migrations to beaches and other sun-drenched locales in the hinterlands during August, even though an ersatz beach has now come to Paris, running along the Seine. I'll spare the reader my typical complaints, save the fact that beginning in early August I tried to reserve at ten of Mortstiff & Co's old reliables and, reliably enough, they were all closed for the 'conges d'été' until at least the last week of the month. I will also mention that our neighborhood ice cream parlor is also closed during August. That is not a misprint. I'll leave you to muse on that one.
Never fear, there are enough ethnic venues in the capital to leave the hungry warrior well-fed until life starts up again in September. First stop was the highly touted Senegalese restaurant Wally Fay, and it did not disappoint. If you enjoy consulting lefooding.com's regular feature 'Leurs restos preferes,' where each week three noted personalities with ties to France reveal their top three preferred restaurants, you'll notice that Wally Fay pops up periodically, as it did for Israeli singer-songwriter Yael Naim. That's how I found out about the unpretentiously hip African venue in the 11th. As lefooding's guide put it:
Superb place, mix between inn and loft. African cuisine without a Jimmy Clegg trip. Quite subtle food, mix between continental and West Indies’.
A tasteful soul/funk soundtrack (from Aretha to Fela) and dark woodsy decor, replete with discarded old primary school chairs and amiable waitstaff, Co. & I had a laid back reintroduction to some African/Antilles spices. We split an entree of gratin de crabe, a mainstay in just about any Antilles restaurant in Paris, but this is one that for once woke up my taste buds, nice chunks of crab included (9€).
I went with the national Senegalese fish dish, "Thiep bou dien," the most expensive item on the menu at a mere 19€. This kept reminding me of a N. African couscous, minus the grain - a dish of tasty short-grained red rice and a quarter of lime accompanied this dish of vegetables (carrots, turnips, eggplant) and a nice thick slab of grouper fish (I think) smothered in a tomato-based sauce endowed with various African spices (colombo, etc.).
Co. opted for N'dole boeuf, a delicately spiced melange of beef and spinach cooked with a barely detectable peanut butter (17€). The aloco de cote d'ivoire (6€) side dish seemed like a good choice for an accompaniment and as far as I'm concerned, this was the highlight of the meal. A dish of chopped banana plantains cooked in red palm oil, these were delicate, non-oily, and addictive (6€).
The plates were copious enough, and the dessert menu didn't spark much interest, perhaps as is the wont in such restaurants. The entree came with a tiny little separate serving of a spicy hot sauce, and it was not shy. Dinner was washed down with a 22€ Bourgueil, selected from a sparse list scrawled on a wall-sized chalkboard. To sum up, back in the day, Co. and I tried several African restaurants in town and nothing really caught our fancy. Wally Faye definitely may be the ticket. I'm definitely going back to check out those jumbo shrimp Creole next time.
Despite the attentiveness of our waiter, I must admit our mutual butchering of the French language limited our dialogue to such an extent that I decided not to ask, "Why Wally Fay?" The only Wally Fay I ever heard of is the Jack Carson character in the 1945 Michael Curtiz film, Mildred Pearce. Mildred, played by Joan Crawford (Kate Winslet in the remake), runs her own waffles and chicken diner, but as far as I know there is no connection between the film and the Paris-based Wally Fay.
6 rue Godefroy Cavaignac
tel. 01 40 24 17 79
Next stop, the Thai restaurant Lao Lane Xang 2 in the Chinatown in the 13th around Tolbiac. By the time we got to the topic of recent good meals in Parisian restaurants at a dinner reception following a friend's marriage in Versailles (hohum, somebody has to do it), the room was already spinning around from the copious glasses of champagne and wine. Yet I did manage to punch 'Lao Lane' into my iPhone, recommended by the lovely blonde lady to my left. So off Co. and I went earlier this evening, and once again we were led along the right path. A few people lingering outside waiting to be seated in the amply-size, two-tiered restaurant, a good sign. After about a 2-minute wait - for once, we hadn't reserved - we were led upstairs to a modern, finely-appointed room with obligatory elephant imagery, but one of the more pristine rooms I've seen in an Asian restaurant in Paris, and A/C!, yes we've got it in Paris, not that it was really needed - until we took in the moderately spiced cuisine, that is.
Long story short, given that the waiter quickly disposed of the bill that listed the names of our items, we started off with a salade of fruit de mer, which was a meal in itself--a couple shrimp, nice-sized scallops, and mussels-- and excellent. This was followed by two coconut and red curry dishes, one with canard and the other with six large shrimp.
When I first saw the curry dishes on a tray, I opined to Co. that 'the soups look excellent, we'll have to come back during the winter,' only to find that the 'soups' were our main dishes. Which made me jealous, because however tasty, I really wanted the sauteed dishes the guys sitting next to us seemed to be enjoying. Live and learn. But the dishes were very tasty, with various sliced vegetables included (onion, green pepper), thickened by the accompanying riz gluant.
And a couple more images from a Google search (a papaya salad and a sauteed duck dish:
You can't beat the prices at Lao Lane Xang, with most items ranging from about 7€ to 12€. Other Asian cuisines were on offer, including Vietnamese and Laotian. By the time we left, after paying a paltry 42€ including a pichet de vin rouge (8€ for 50cl), the line was now snaking along the sidewalk.
LAO LANE XANG 2
102, avenue d'Ivry
tel: 01 58 89 00 00