I’ll meet you in Paris for dinner

In life, you learn to recognize your limitations.  You learn at an early age that there are certain achievements you will never attain, and certain statements you will never get to make.

Things such as:

  • “This is only the second time I’ve been aboard the Space Shuttle,” or
  • “I sure wish all these swimsuit models would quit flirting with me,” or
  • “I think I might have too much money,” or
  • “Why don’t we meet in Paris for dinner, if you’re not busy.”

It just doesn’t seem realistic to plan on those kinds of thoughts, and musing over them is the likely course to disappointment, low self-esteem, and ultimately some form of insanity.

So imagine my surprise when that’s exactly what I found waiting for me in my inbox, the night before Tina and I returned to Paris.  Stan, a friend of mine who works with me at our fabulous and breathtaking workplace (NOTE:  WE ARE HAPPY EMPLOYEES), popped a message to my Facebook to let me know that he would be arriving in Paris around the same time as Tina and me.

Neat!

And would we like to meet up for dinner at the bistrot of a friend of his.

Wow!

Keep in mind, in among all of the excellent meals that Tina and I had enjoyed on our trip, we had endured an equal number of low-budget picnics, baskets of strawberries that imploded into purple juice populated by a thousand thousand black ants, and train station ham ‘n’ brie sandwiches.  Only that afternoon, we had made do with a pre-packaged salad with sun-dried tomato oil drenching everything to the point of a high shine.  So the prospect of an excellent meal in a Paris bistrot, particularly one where we would get to meet a proprietor, was absolutely welcome.

Plus, well… if you don’t mind, let me just update something, here…

  • “This is only the second time I’ve been aboard the Space Shuttle,” or
  • “I sure wish all these swimsuit models would quit flirting with me,” or
  • “I think I might have too much money,” or
  • “Why don’t we meet in Paris for dinner, if you’re not busy.”

Ahhh, much better.  Three to go.

As it turns out, the bistrot in question was L’Ebauchoir, which you may have read about in the Lonely Planet guide to Paris, among other places.  Just a subway stop down the line from the Bastille, it was a hop-skip away from our hotel in Place D’Italie, in a neighborhood that was interesting but not threatening.  How else can I describe it, when I look one way and see a hospital, look another and see a shop selling Latin dance shoes, turn a third way and see an art gallery?

We had a chance to introduce ourselves to Theirry even before Stan could, keeners that Tina and I were.  While he immediately tried to tempt us with a sparkling wine — clearly detecting that Tina and I were the type of romantic (read: alcoholic) tourists to be tempted by such an offer — we instead decided to hold off, sip our beer in the fading light, and enjoy the atmosphere of the neighborhood for a little while.  After Stan and Ray arrived and we all got to meet and greet each other, we retired to L’Ebauchoir’s intimate interior, all snug but not-awkwardly packed tables, already starting to bustle with the evening’s business.

“This is actually pretty light,” Theirry said.  “It’s a holiday weekend, so you can enjoy a little bit of quiet.”

I won’t fawn, but my local restaurants would kill for that kind of quiet.

Stan and Ray commenced being consummately fun and entertaining hosts, while Tina and I tried our best to return the favor by providing whatever intelligence we could about Lyon, apologizing for even going to Marseille, and evangelizing the merits of Burgundy in general.  While we chatted, Theirry would appear and offer us suggestions from the menu, coaching us gently through the appetizers until at least half the table simply bowed to his suggestions.

The starters rolled out first, richer than some entire meals I’ve tried.

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This is what asparagus looks like in France, everyone.  At least, when it’s prepared by someone who really knows what they’re doing, and can get their hands on produce that’s unrealistically huge and flavorful.  Straight in from the countryside, fresher than I had thought possible, and roughly the size of two fingers together, this actually re-defined what I think of asparagus.

By which, of course, I mean that I died a little inside when I came back to Canada and saw what we have in our grocery stores.  Sure, the standard veggie-noodles still have their place on a BBQ or something, but they have forever diminished in my eyes.  L’Ebauchoir found a way to make asparagus cut like butter, and taste sweet almost to fruitiness.

Meanwhile, as is her wont, Tina went for a terrine.

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Served along with sweet gurkins, this was a chicken liver terrine, blended with apricot and hazelnuts.  I have to admit, I had to count myself among the terrine skeptical community prior to this experience, but I believe I’ve been won over.

The thing about terrines is that they are, for all intents and purposes, reconstituted meat formed in the shape of loaves.  Sometimes made from organs.  There’s a lot to process in that information, and if you think about it too hard then you are likely to cost yourself a deliciously flavorful experience — particularly in this case, which was smooth in texture, a mixture of the sweet-meat flavor of the liver and the fruitiness of the apricot, underscored by the hazelnut crunch.  Round it out with a vinegary pickle, and you can actually have every spot of your tongue active at the same time.

“And this,” Tina said to me with a glitter in her eye, “is the appetizer!

By the time the entrees rolled around, we had all broken down enough social barriers that we were happy to share plates.  Theirry paired our next course with a beautiful red wine, and before we knew it the next wave was upon us.  Vegetarians, look away.  As a matter of fact, you might be happier reading about the Paris Catacombs again.

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My entree was lamb chops, carefully drizzled in a savory gravy that perfectly complemented the brightness of the meat.  Because I am an unrepentant carnivore, I asked for the lamb to come at least medium rare, and it was cooked to absolute perfection.  It was paired with a thinly-sliced potato and grilled onion side, topped by a sweet roasted tomato.

To give you some idea of its quality, I managed to get the better part of a single chop off of my plate before it moved on.  It came back empty, except for some potatoes and a smear of gravy.

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Continuing on the delicious baby animal theme, both Tina and Ray went for the veal chop.  A hugely generous portion, the chop arrived the better part of an inch thick, smothered in its own sauce and served with a dollop of whipped potato to soak up the goodness.

Even when cooked as rare as we like it, the veal was nearly butter-tender.  The fat in the cut ensured a moist and flavorful chop, as evidenced by the fact that — despite there being two of them at the table — I barely remember getting very much of either.  I have my suspicions about the evenness of the meat distribution, let me be honest with you.

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Ever the trouper, Stan opted for the braised ox tail, which is a challenging dish for anyone.  Again it arrived warm in a sauce of its own juices, served atop sweet peas and two dollops of potato.  The word “tail”, not unlike the words “butt” or “tongue”, is enough to deter the faint of heart.  Cooked properly, the meat of such nether regions can be an absolute delight; cooked otherwise, they can lead into a frustrating nightmare where one is forced to wonder if there is any knife sharp enough to cut through their dinner.

Fortunately for us all, the dish arrived blackened beautifully, with peppery notes of red wine and very possibly cocoa, and was tender enough to fall off the bone at the slightest touch of a fork.

After the briefest of respites, Theirry arrived to present us with a crisp white wine, and a cheese plate to complement it.  Tina will invariably be dissatisfied with my ability to describe what we had, but I will make my pathetic attempt:

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  • A semi-firm cow’s milk cheese, with floral notes in its flavor and a washed-out rind
  • A soft unripened cheese, with a nutty taste, that originated in Northern France
  • A soft sheep’s milk cheese with a gray mold, which was my personal favorite because exotic cheese scare the hell out of me
  • An earthier cheese whose rinds everyone else kept not eating, so Tina covertly gathered and ate the rinds herself

This was then followed by an absolute parade of stunning desserts, featuring cremes, meringues and stewed fruits enough to fire the imagination and double the heart rate.

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Like sweet creme on a light meringue, complemented by a thickened raspberry sauce and fresh fruit, topped with mint.

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Like a dollop of caramel ice cream in a dish of stewed pears and syrup, complemented by a cracker of lightly burnt sugar.

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Like a light sweet chocolate ice cream sandwiched between two slightly bitter-sweet cocoa wafers, drizzled under chocolate sauce.

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Like a double-decker vertical pairing of light meringue, caramel and chocolate ices, drizzled under a rich chocolate sauce.

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Or the BONUS DESSERT: which was a traditional rice pudding, baked in a cast-iron loaf pan and topped with caramelized sugar.  Yes, you just gained weight by even reading that description; yes, it is worth it.

You know, just for examples, to help you understand.  I’m not trying to gloat about the fact that I got to try all five of these, or anything.

And if you noticed the deteriorating quality of these photographs, you may credit it partially to the diminishing light, partially to the death of my camera battery, but mostly to Theirry’s skill as a sommelier.  Never was he without the perfect pairing to our courses, always happy to share with us the origin of the wine and the notes that it would bring out in our meals.

And with that level of enthusiasm, he brought us our closer for the evening.

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Poire William is one of those rough ‘n’ ready liqueurs that you don’t often see in North America, and more’s the pity.  An eau de vie, it’s an unsweetened spirit derived from Bartlett pears, along the same method that produces framboise from raspberries, or Kirsch from cherries.

While you might read that it has an embracing pear flavor to start and a disappointingly mild follow-through, I am happy to report that was not our experience in the slightest.  Even after a full meal with rich meats, full-bodied cheeses, creamy ices and stewed fruits, the Poire William we had certainly had plenty of oomph.

Best of all, for us it was a new and different; it was the perfect way to round out a meal that stretched out into an evening, and a dinner that became one of our favorite memories of the trip. L’Ebauchoir really was the Parisian bistrot experience we had been hoping to find — and were pathetically unable to — when we first arrived in the city, two weeks before.  That it took until our second-last night in the country to discover it hardly matters, and we’re grateful to Stan, Ray and Theirry for the chance to enjoy it the way we did.

Before we left, I deftly snuck a stack of business cards off the top of the bar, to hand out to anyone I hear might be going even close to Paris.  Such was the meal that I’d be happy to recommend it to anyone, and considering that I’ll damn a restaurant forever if the waiter is mean to Tina, I hope that conveys how much fun I had.

Now, excuse me while I update something…

  • “This is only the second time I’ve been aboard the Space Shuttle,” or
  • “I sure wish all these swimsuit models would quit flirting with me,” or
  • “I think I might have too much money,” or
  • “Right on! I found Poire William at the liquor store!”

It really is a never ending list.

  • http://jampacked.tumblr.com Jam

    Chicken and tarragon terrine (Simon Hopkinson <3) is simple (thought not for the squeamish), uses one whole chicken, lots of garlic, som tarragon and lemon zest.

    Visually very attractive, with white and dark meat visible in the slices, very tasty and great for the summer.

  • Will

    As a person who likes food (read…to eat a lots of food in one sitting) and perhaps the drink even more, I am pretty jealous of your little romp of a meal. I want to add “drink Poire William” to my list statements in life. Good for you bud.

  • Stan

    Nice writeup Michael. God–how do you remember all the details?! (especially after all the liquor)

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

      One word, my friend: Tina! She has a steel-trap memory for things like this, and I dwell on the recollections of things that make me happy. So between us we did okay!

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    What a great evening that was – fabulous food and wonderful company! I also now totally have a crush on Ray, who is handsome as all hell, works in a glamorous job which any foodie would envy, AND he gets down with the Corrie. It’s a good thing he doesn’t live in Toronto or he’d find me camped out on his front stoop every day when he got home.

    L’Ebauchoir was a complete gem. My favorite part was when Thierry humored me and let me tour the kitchen – a special fridge that was just for seafood and independently controlled to keep it at optimal temperature, a convection oven with monitored humidity levels, and everything so clean and well organized that I just looked around in awe. The garbage and recycling room was cleaner than my kitchen at home! I swear, even the floors had a sparkle. After working in hospitality for so many years, there are few things in a restaurant that will impress me more than a sterile and well managed kitchen.

    Mmm…I’m looking at the pictures again and my stomach has started to growl with nostalgic greed. Just fabulous.

  • http://thespitefulchef.blogspot.com kristie

    How did you pull off 5 dessert courses? Did you have an “in” with the pastry chef or what? The most desserts I ever had was at Alinea, and it was only three, and it cost more than my wedding dress, meaning it was a one-off performance. Jealousy is a bitter pill.