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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Le Dauphin - St. Aizpitarte’s Infirmary

Unable to snag a Feb. 15th post-Valentine's Day table at the more romantic Les Magnolias, Co. and I ventured out to the decidedly unromantic Le Dauphin, Inaki Aizpitarte's tapas wine bar a couple doors down from his remarkable Chateaubriand - the latter, as anyone who has followed this blog is well aware, is one of my favorites.  As pithily described at  phyllisflick's Paris Notebook site, when Monsieur Aizpitarte took over Le Dauphin, a previously non-descript Parisian cafe, he called upon Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas who transformed the space "into a modern white cube carved from Carrara marble." That's one way of putting it.  Another way is to sit at your little table surrounded by walls of mirrors and imagine butchers of yore happily splattering the marbled floors with blood and guts, ash descending from their cigarettes, sweat pouring from their brows.  Maybe it's just me, but the exaggerated clash of marble and mirror has that kind of effect on me.  When I say unromantic, I mean clinical.  The centerpiece bar is where the action is, with scruffy clientele mixing with animated scruffy bartender/servers.

Although I enjoyed experimenting with the vague list of tapas offerings, I kept thinking about how much more enjoyable an evening at Chateaubriand would have been.  Still, when it comes to the spate of contemporary and oh so French tapas venues popping up around town, you have to rate Le Dauphin up there with Aux Deux Amis and Au Passage.  For lack of better documentation, here's the bill listing the various offerings that comprised our dinner, followed by some photos - good luck matching the photo correctly with the itemized dishes on the bill.


 Tasty?  Check.  Diverse?  Check.  Inventive?  Check, well, for the most part.  Unforgettable?  Not really. I must admit, any time I can snag a risotto in black ink without having to book a flight to Valencia, I'm a happy camper.  But that clinical atmosphere got to me, and not in a good way.  Honey, I love you, but give me Chateaubriand.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Mansouria - No Aces in the Desert

Paris is no desert, especially when it comes to Moroccan restaurants, but unfortunately Mansouria is no oasis in the crowd.  Funny, I used to think it was.  Last decade, Co. and I had probably made the trip over to the Faidherbe-Chaligny Bermuda Triangle for a Moroccan repast 4 or 5 times, but for some reason the restaurant fell off our charts.  As a longtime mainstay, we considered the ambiance and cooking a cut above average compared to your typical neighborhood Moroccan.  Co. always commented about how the lamb had that special something, and I always enjoy a tasty, steaming hot tagine.

And so it was about a month ago when I suddenly had the inspiration to return to Mansouria for something a bit off the beaten path of neo-bistrots/contemporary French cuisine.  Out of the metro bearing northwest instead of northeast, the latter in the direction of Paul Bert and his neighbors.  There she was, an impressive orange glow on the corner, and upon entry, nothing much had changed.  Inside, several small, well-appointed rooms await, but we were led - as is often a custom when the restaurant hasn't yet filled up - to a conspicuous table next to a front window.  Check out the website for some more photos of the various
Mansourian rooms.  Elegant, chic, very Middle Eastern, yes indeed.

Not one who usually opts for a fixed menu in ethnic establishments, I found everything I desired in the reasonably-priced menu Diaffa (28€) - the briwatte du fromage entry, poulet tagine with lemon and olives, and an unassuming refresher for dessert.

Co. went with the spicy shrimp fingers (Les doigts de la mariée, 8€), the aforementioned lamb couscous (20€), and a tea gourmand (accompanied by 2 cornes de gazelle - those half-moon-shaped almond pastries, 8€).  

And this is what the tagine and lamb looked like, respectively:

As perhaps suggested by the photos, the meal left us wondering why we had thought Mansouria was so wonderful.  My tangine was uninspired, and Co. opined that her lamb was lacking that special something, whatever it ever had been.  The accompanying dishes were pretty forgettable.  Service was friendly and attentive, and sure enough, it wasn't long before the place filled up, another busy night in the popular Triangle, location perhaps having a lot to do with Mansouria's longevity.  My two thumbs up went up for the couscous, delicate and fine, as it should be, and the little dish of overly spicy harissa I had requested.  I noticed the server issuing the same warning to each table, along the lines of 'you must be careful not to try this because it is so spicy.'  Is such concern really warranted?  I mean, when I ask for hot sauce, I only want to be warned when it isn't going to melt the inside of my mouth.  I have to admit, though, this one was pretty melt-worthy.

Overall, with a decent Moroccan red for a change (Riad Jamil, 26€), our dinner clocked in at 90€ for a truly unimpressive price-quality relationship.  Trust me, you can do as well, or better, at a far more reasonable price at your neighborhood Moroccan standby, which is where I'll be headed next time.

11 rue Faidherbe
75011 Paris
web: http://www.mansouria.fr/
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