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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Luz Verde - Seduce and Destroy


Now that I have your attention . . . where the hell have I been?  You may wonder, or not.  I could say I have been in restaurant reviewing purgatory after that little episode last June in Le Servan when I knocked a half litre bottle of water to the floor, whereupon it shattered into a thousand pieces, leaving a piercing sound in my ears to this day.  Don't blame me.  I can't help it if the Moose dragged me to the Vodka Lab around the corner on rue St. Maur where we found ourselves at the mercy of a benevolent entrepreneur who for some reason deemed us test subjects for tasting trials of every unknown variety of Russian vodka on the planet.  Or it may have been that faux pas I repeatedly commit when I wander into Paris cafes during my photo treks demanding a glass of red wine without first asking what they have to offer by the glass.  I could go on.  But I won't.

At any rate, I am back to seduce and destroy.  Actually, that sounds good, but my mission here is not so much to destroy the typical template for Paris restaurant reviews which, however accurate, are BORING, but to guide, admire, discover, and recommend in as casual a manner as whatever my relative state of sobriety allows.  I digress.

I've been doing a lot of eating in the months since my Clown Bar review.  (Was that really in 2017?).  I hope you were sitting down when you read that.  To precise (as we French are fond of saying), eating in restaurants.  But lately I've been getting into the lunch circuit and have much to relate.  I begin by Luz Verde, a small taqueria on quiet rue Henry Monnier, a couple blocks walk from the not-so-quiet center of Pigalle.  At Luz Verde you will find the BEST GUACAMOLE IN PARIS.  Would I joke about something as momentous as that?  I know what you're thinking.  Best guacamole in Paris - ben, that ain't saying much.  That is true.  The bar for good guacamole in Paris is low.  Very low.  Typically, what you will find in French Mexican restaurants is a cup of tasteless, creamy avocado accompanied by a small basket of stale nacho chips.  Let me tell you something about nacho chips in Paris restaurants.  They are ALWAYS stale.  I can't for the life of me explain why that is the case, but trust me on that.  Which is one reason the guacamole at Luz Verde is worth the visit.  On the two occasions I tried the dish, a full basket was brought to the table bearing nacho chips that were relatively fresh.  Not only that, the guacamole was somewhat chunky, very tasty, and arrived in a large bowl accompanied by refried red beans, large coriander leaves (the closest thing to cilantro you will find in a Paris restaurant), tomato, red pepper, onion, and lime.  Certainly in the same ballpark as the many dishes of genuine guacamole I sampled during my various visits to Monterrey, Mexico.  Have a look.

Luz Verde's guacamole: a meal in itself, and the dish is yours for €9

Luz Verde also has received strong positive reviews for its tacos and I can't disagree there.  During my first visit I opted for the tacos de poulet duo (€7) pictured below.  The second visit, I gave the tacos de gambas a shot (€9).  Fresh and tasty, with one big gripe.  You cannot pick these babies up.  Believe me, I tried.  The first time, I got the message and quickly shoved them into my half eaten bowl of guacamole.  This was a mess - the 'destroy' part of the title (see photo), and probably a good thing that there were few in the restaurant at that point in the afternoon to observe my uncouth eating behavior.  Things were worse with the gambas - don't get me wrong, the gambas were large and seductive, so much so that I quickly tried to bring the taco to my mouth and half of its contents quickly fell onto the table.  I quickly scooped everything up and shoved what I could salvage into the guacamole bowl.  I'm telling you, once I obtained a small cup of hot sauce from the waiter and threw that in with the rest of the slop, the meal was excellent.  Etiquette begone.

Chicken tacos before I tried to eat them.

One of the aforementioned chicken tacos several minutes after I tried to pick it up to eat.

One drawback to Luz Verde at lunch is the limited carte, lacking some of the more intriguing items available at night, such as guindillas, poulpe, and couteaux al ajilla.  Maybe I just got there too late in the afternoon, but one advantage to that is this (see below).

And this:

Because if you go at night - no reservations taken - you can expect this:

Because Luz Verde is a popular night spot for the denizens of Pigalle, with a nice list of cocktails to slake one's thirst:

I slummed it with glasses of serviceable Tramonte at €5 a pop during my two lunch visits.

Voila.  Finally a decent Mexican restaurant in Paris.

I'll tell you more about some good Paris lunches and lament some bad ones in a subsequent post.  Unless I suffer a return trip to restaurant reviewing purgatory.  But I will be back.

Luz Verde kitchen - seduce & destroy
24 rue Henry Monnier
75009 Paris
tel: 01 70 23 69 60
website:  www.luzzverde.fr

Cost of lunches described above: €21 (one glass of wine, chicken tacos) and €28 (two wines, gambas tacos).

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Clown Bar - How Do You Say 'Clown' In French?

Source: https://www.eater.com/2016/10/19/13314418/paris-clown-bar-veal-brain
The answer is 'clown' (pronounced 'cloon'), but you probably already knew that.  But I already used the obvious 'no clowning around' as the sub-heading of a previous post (Bondi, same neighborhood) and I hate to be redundant.

This was mine and Co.'s second visit to the much touted Clown Bar on rue Amelot in the 11th for dinner.  Co. couldn't remember the previous visit at all.  I could remember exactly where we sat, but nothing we ate, but then again, that must have been 4 or 5 years ago and my memory cells have decayed a lot since then, or, the food just wasn't that memorable.  No doubt, a combination of the two.

In fact, we had no intention to return to the Clown.  Earlier in the week I reserved online for one of our favorites, restaurant Louis and then, memory cells again, I completely let slip the fact that I never received an email confirmation from the restaurant.  So perhaps it wasn't surprising when I called Louis (the restaurant) on Friday afternoon to confirm, gave my name, and received the dreaded response, 'Who?'  I was then informed what an ignoramus I am for thinking that I could get a reservation outside of the 10 days to 2 weeks window.  Ah yes, I remember the good old days when Louis was relatively obscure.  But I take full responsibility for my blunder.  Anyway, faced with the 'we're going out to dinner tonight' mojo and no place to go, Co. fumbled through her recent Telerama clippings, called Clown, and they were kind enough to offer us a Friday evening table if we got there in one hour, which we did.

BORING.. I know, you probably could care less about all this crap and just want me to get down to the business at hand - dinner at Clown.  So I'm not going to leave you on the edge of your seat any longer - the food was, uhm, 'meh'?  No, that's a bit unfair - the food was pretty good, but I still don't get the effusive praise.  For example, according the The Eater Guide to Paris (the eater guide to Paris?  yikes, what a name):

 'Clown Bar Is the Most Thrilling Restaurant in Paris. You won't find anything more  exciting, innovative, fun, or (literally) cerebral.'
Well, I wasn't inordinately thrilled, excited, or bowled over by innovation and raucous fun during our visit, although the carte did get a little cerebral (literally), with it's calf brain entree offering. As I prefer to use my brain rather than to eat brain, maybe that diminished my 'fun' experience.  No brain, no fun?  Pretty good title for a spunky little punk song.  I will file that one for later.  Nonetheless, I've been seeing many 'Eater'-like accolades over the past year lavished on the Clown, and I'm still not sure why.

I have to admit, it is sometimes difficult to dissociate the eating experience from some element of the dining experience that lingers in one's cerebral hemispheres (literally) long after the meal has ended.  I remember having a meal at one casual bistro that I had frequented a couple of times, but this time, plans having already been made, I happened to read a review in which a diner complained of a mouse skittering around the restaurant floor during his meal and the waiter simply pooh poohing the diner's complaint.  So I'm sure my reaction to the food would have been more favorable if I hadn't been constantly looking around my feet for any evidence of rodents (it didn't help that my table was shoved into a corner toward the back where mice are no doubt more prone to congregate).  Now, mind you, the Clown had no such rumored rodent problem, at least that I am aware of, so let's not go down that route.  However, there was - literally - a quartet of elderly Cuban/Miami denizens sitting at the table next to us extolling the merits of the Donald (the clown president, literally).  I won't get into the irrelevant details, and our interaction was cordial enough, but as I said, it's kind of difficult to dissociate those sorts of things from the meal itself.

Source: http://www.clown-bar-paris.com/

The bistro/bar is a real throwback to Cirque d’Hiver circa early 20th century, with circus-inspired decorations and painted tiled walls.  But other than atmosphere, don't expect a Ringling Bros. experience (hell, they're defunct now anyway).  English spoken here - by patrons and servers (Americans?)  Given the quality of the food - pretty good, not really great - I found the carte to be somewhat over-priced, including the wine list, which only had a couple of choices of reds for under 40 euros.   36€ for a turbot filet with asparagus seemed pretty unreasonable to me and I didn't like the fact that no menu was available.  Granted, the dishes were rather copious and, rare for French bistros, the main courses each came with an accompanying side dish.

The nitty gritty - click to enlarge

As for our choices from the carte above, read on...

Co. chose the crab meat wrapped in beet (15€), a tasty starter, if not extraordinary.  I opted for the moderately-priced (16€)  black rice with fava beans and tuna (the latter veritably missing).  Black is my favorite color, I must admit, and that includes pasta and rice.  This dish was good, but ala the crab/beet appetizer, hardly spectacular and my attention wavered after 4 or 5 forkfuls.

Crab in beets entree

Black rice with feve and disappearing tuna entree

Two hefty main plates followed - pigeon for Co., with accompanying courgette (24€) and, for me, a rather intriguing canard/foie gras pairing with an unimaginative salad and vinaigrette on the side (30€).

Co.'s pigeon, as seen from the other side of the table, wine and bread in foreground.

Pithiviers de canard et foie gras, dates and yuzo included

Our desserts provided a refreshing finish to the meal, but lacked the thrilling, exciting, innovative fun that Eater site had promised: lemon tarte for yours truly and a crème brûlée with banana ice cream for my counterpart, both reasonably priced at 10€.

Tarte au citron with flowers

What was left of Co's crème brûlée by the time I got my camera focused.

For a warm end of Spring Friday evening last minute selection, it's hard to complain about dinner at The Clown Bar.  But for what is becoming a Paris institution, the restaurant had a distinctly ex-pat feel about it (it takes one to know one, I guess).  And for the second time out of two visits, I was left with the impression that the meal fell short of what we expect from our favorite dining venues in Paris.  We could have spent roughly the same amount (148€ including a 33€ pretty decent bottle of Roussillon) for a much more rewarding culinary experience at our preferred choice (Louis), which left a bittersweet taste in my mouth as we hit the pavement and began our walk back toward Republique.

TEL: 01 43 55 87 35
Web: http://www.clown-bar-paris.com/
Closed Mon/Tues.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Aux Plumes - Intriguing Discovery

I've long been intrigued by the tiny little storefront restaurant that I passed numerous times on rue Boulard in the 14th.  This is for a couple of reasons: I was always hungry at the time, that time essentially being lunchtime, and the place looked so nondescript from the outside that I figured that something interesting must be going on inside.  A nameless facade often belies a magical cuisine, and that is what Co. and I discovered during our dinner at Aux Plumes last Friday evening.

Good vibes from the outset - a warm greeting by the hostess and a nice discussion about Spanish wines with the server/sommelier.  The 22 seats were filled pretty quickly, by which time we had already commenced the dégustation of six courses - 3 éntrees + 1 poisson + 1 viande +1 dessert.  Throw in an interesting amuse bouche (rillettes
d'espadon on thinly sliced, buttered pieces of baguette) and you have an incredible deal at 50€ a pop.  I chose one of those Spanish wines that are rarely seen on a French carte, an Aleceno Twelve from the Murcia region (32€), and as promised, it was puissant, corsé, and really, really good.

Aux Plumes is another one of those Paris neo-bistros helmed by an Asian  - in this case, Japanese - chef.  Here you will find behind the counter in the spatially impaired open kitchen in the rear of the restaurant Kazuhiro Fujieda, who previously worked at L'Arpege and Chamarré Montmartre and who not surprisingly infuses his dishes with Asian textures.  Aux Plumes is conveniently located next door to the Desnoyer butcher shop, where Monsieur Kazuhiro gets his meats.  The room itself is minimalist Asian, with bare white walls, wooden tables, and brown leather banquettes.  

Chef Fujieda (Source: http://sortir.telerama.fr/paris/lieux/restos/aux-plumes,30490.php)

The menu changes regularly according to the season and what is fresh in the market that day, but here's a rundown of our meal.

Entree 1 : This was a tantalizing French onion soup, comprised of a portion of red onion and a healthy slab of foie gras.  Aux Plumes had me at the soup. 

Entree 2:  Carpaccio de thon, flowers, red caramelized onion, and cranberry powder - wow.

Entree 3:  Calamar with petit pois, and don't quote me on this, but I think I think that's a cushion of white asparagus cream.

Poisson :  Panga with wild asparagus and chorizo - as good as it looks.

Meat :  Coquelet a la vanille with caramelized Roscoff onions an thin mushroom slices on a bed of green asparagus (this being the season of the asparagus and all)

Dessert:  Mousse de chocolat blanc, mostarda de céleri  rouge et granité de Yuzu.  Need I say more?

If your appetite is smaller, there is a 38€ dinner menu option, and the possibility of an 18€ lunch, which I fully intend to take advantage of the next time I pass 45 rue Boulard around lunchtime.  That lunch has to be one of the best deals in Paris.  Aux Plumes recently received a shout-out from Telerama Sortir, so it should now be tougher to snag a table.  That means you should be sure to reserve a week in advance.  I noticed several people pass the restaurant during our visit who appeared equally intrigued to discover, but once the two small outdoor tables were filled, they were turned away.  Better luck next time. 

Total price for a really terrific dinner: 134.50 (one espresso included)

45 rue Boulard
75014 Paris
tel. 01 53 90 76 22
web:  https://www.facebook.com/Restaurant-aux-Plumes

Tues. - Sat. 12h-14h15 et 19h30-22h30

Springtime in Paris, as seen through the window of Aux Plumes.

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