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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Relais de Guermantes: Proust Country the Geurmantes Way

If you remember your Proust, you no doubt recall that the Geurmantes name figures prominently in the author's epic Remembrance of Things Past.  Not far from the Geurmantes manor you'll find a cozy country inn that itself looks like something that sprung out of a historic French novel, and the setting for mine and Co's choice on the 'at least one restaurant out in the country per summer' circuit.  This being late August, we didn't have much time left to choose, and our preference, La Mere Au Diable turned out to be closed for vacation for another week.  The devil is in the details, so to Le Relais de Guermantes we gamboled. 

Le Relais was definitely open, with each table in the smallish secluded courtyard eventually taken, and some tables in the quaint restaurant interior also filled.  You couldn't ask for a more idyllic late summer, early evening setting, even with the occasional mosquito dropping by for a chat.  Unfortunately, the setting trumped the food, which ranged from pretty good (my croustillantes de gambas served with a puree of avocado and a pepper chutney) to pretty bland (Co's lamb, a replacement for the gigot on the carte which was unavailable).  If you check out the carte below (click to enlarge), you'll observe that Co. opted for the 34.50€ Maxine menu and I went upscale with the 44€ offering.  Washed down with a reasonably priced Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil (28€), which arrived at the table from a rather frigid cave.

And here's what the food looked like:

Alas, the closest we got to a madeleine were the little cakes that made up part of my dessert, the illustrious Cafe Gourmand, which was better than this usually turns out, and accompanied by a nifty wooden box containing various sugars, pistachio nuts, and chocolate pieces filled with marshmallow.  However pleasant the meal turned out to be, it fell way short of Proust's famous madeleine moment from the Remembrance books:

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin.

Place de l'Eglise
77600 Guermantes
tel: 01 64 30 13 03
website: http://www.relais-de-guermantes.com/

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

L'Apibo - Fresh Air and Breaking Glass

Last Friday night Co. and I ventured to rue Tiquetonne, the animated, pedestrian-oriented street in Paris's Montorgueil quarter to check out L'Apibo, a small venue across street from what appears to be a very popular pizzeria, amid a plethora of other cafes and restaurants.  This being a temperate evening in the waning weeks of the summer, we asked for one of the 10 or so tables on the sidewalk.  Our Thai hostess/owner/waitress (staff on vacation, we were informed) congenially discussed with us the absurd evening ritual of garbage collection - on rue Tiquetonne, not once, but twice - on a Friday evening when people are outside trying to eat.  She ruminated on the god-awful parking situation - thankfully, we took the metro - and how her unassuming moto was ticketed twice in the past week.  But otherwise, the street was more people than vehicles, the main form of transportation being the asundry baby carriages we espied as parents waited to be seated at the pizzeria.  Animated more than boisterous, except for the obnoxious guffaw coming from a pizzeria table of heavy drinking, but apparently harmless, Eastern Europeans. C'est la vie a Paris.

I remember reading another post about L'Apibo somewhere (now forgotten), with the author dubbing the restaurant as 'quasi-gastronomique' - I can't say I disagree.  As described at the restaurant's website, L'Apibo offers 'une cuisine d'instinct, curieuse et spontanée,' and I think you'll figure that one out even if you don't speak French.  Note that the description doesn't say 'fantastic,' 'unforgettable,' and 'super-fantastic,' but you can't have eveything.  Price/quality speaking, you could do worse.  Chef Anthony Boucher conjured up a very satisfying, quasi-innovative, summery carte on the night of our visit.  All washed down with a very good Corsican Sartene red (28€).  Grand total: 92€.

Not long after we were seated we were brought a refreshing amuse bouche in the form of a cold melon soup.  

Co. and I opted for the 3 course 32€ menu, selecting from among the options classified under the headings, 'pour commencer,' 'pour continuer,' and 'pour finir.'  There, you've just learned some more French.  The carte looked like this (click to enlarge):

A commencer:  Nearly seduced by the gambas, I ended up more intrigued by the daurade tartare, accompanied by vegetables, deli style pickles (hard to find in Paris), wasabi, and lime, the latter three being my Achille's (or is it stomach's) heel.  This was good, but nothing special until I hit the wasabi, which, when combined with the pickle, adhered to L'Apibo's promise of instinct, curiosity, and spontaneity.  Co., ever a lover of the foie gras, selected foie gras (and that's not a carrot, but a piece of melon you see).  On a warm night, these dishes hit the spot, even if they came up short of dazzling.  Meanwhile, a couple more hearty guffaws and rowdy back pats from our European neighbors across the narrow street at the pizzeria.

ALERT: Don't rush out to get your eyes examined, yes, my tablet camera failed me again and the photos below are blurry.  But consider this, if you drink a lot and then go to L'Apibo and keep drinking, this is probably what you food will actually look like.

A continuer:  The highlights of the meal fell in this category, with Co.'s bar on a bed of black rice (also hard to find in Paris), tandoori sauce, and eggplant caviar on one hand, and on the other, my stuffed encornet with blettes (chard) and pine nuts.  Both of us turned out to be reluctant to swap much of either dish and when we did, it was a jolt, with tastes apparently coming from opposite sides of the globe.  Meanwhile, some louder discourse from our European neighbors.

A finir: Summery selections, Co. went with the peaches and I went with the far healthier chocolate, both pretty decent.  Meanwhile, more yukking it up by our European neighbors across the narrow street at the aforementioned pizzeria.

And a grand finish it was:  as we stood and began to navigate our way past the tables to the left, all of a sudden our Eastern neighbors' table across the narrow street at the pizzeria thrust forward and every single plate, glass, and bottle smashed into a million pieces in the middle of the street.  Continuing with the evening's theme, an act replete with instinct, curiosity, and spontaneity.  My only regret is that I didn't take a photo, but the ever popular phrase 'it looked like a war zone' should suffice.

31 rue Tiquetonne
75002 Paris
tel:  01 55 34 94 50
website: http://www.restaurant-lapibo.fr/

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