Clarence in Paris: Les Diables au Thym
35 rue Bergère, 75009 Paris
March already? When exactly did that happen? If anybody ever tells you that moving to Paris will be good in terms of progress on your graduate degree, don’t believe them. You need to live somewhere like Orange County to be that breed of productive. Give me a cultural wasteland filled with chain restaurants and I’m a higher-learning machine. Here I’m an unproductive imbecile that spends hours wandering around random neighborhoods muttering to myself about “the light,” stoned on endless glasses of red wine and various forms of animal fat. It’s pathetic. I mean, I guess my French is getting better and I know a lot more about wine now and I’ve watched more Italian cinema than you can shake a stick at in the past few months. So I’m not saying I regret it, exactly, but it’s really March? Huh.
Sorry we’ve been so myopic over here at Keeping the Bear Garden in the Background. I was reading over the last week of posts and every single one is about my crankiness or my sadness or my liver. How fun for you that must be! Seriously though, I don’t know if it is more fun for you to read about the things I eat, but I do think that poor little Clarence needs to come out to play. The detox has turned him into a dour little mope.
Among the many lovely gifts that A gave me during his month here, one thing I’m particularly amped about is my copy of Le petit Lebey des bistrots parisiens 2010. A downsized version of the Le Guide Lebey, Le petit Lebey focuses entirely on the wealth of bistro cooking available in Paris, making it better suited to my sensibilities and budget. If a restaurant makes it into the guide, it’s good. From there, restaurants are given between one and three marmites (those sort of miniature dutch-oven things), indicating bonne cuisine, très bonne cuisine, and un des meilleurs bistros de Paris. Each entry gives a description of the chef’s style and the general ambiance of the bistro, a detailed list of the types of dishes you can expect to see, and a breakdown of the meal that the reviewer ate (including the wine they chose). Instead of some ambiguous system of dollar or euro signs that designate abstract ranges in price, Le petit Lebey gives you something like this (sample from the entry on Les Diables au Thym):
Notre repas du 19 mars: Galantine de viande et confiture d’oignons, poitrine de veau farcie et gratin dauphinois, crème au chocolat. Prix: 44 € pour ce repas avec un verre de haut-médoc et un verre de côtes-roannaises.
I suspect that my readers are the type of people who would finds this kind of detail incredibly comforting. I don’t mind spending some money on a meal, but it’s nice to go into a situation with a sense of what that is going to look like. Moreover, wherever you find yourself in the city, Le petit Lebey is likely to have some recommendations nearby. It’s broken down by arrondissement and even in areas I wouldn’t have imagined, they list several seriously delicious-sounding places. A’s rationale for buying it for me was that in addition to all of the above, it’s also purse-sized. Sadly, instead I’ve been keeping it by my bed and reading it with the same kind of late-night fervor that I imagine a 14-year-old boy might use to peruse a porno mag. To each their own.
When my friend O was in town for the theater, I was pleased to bust out my new guide when looking for a restaurant close to the theater. I quickly found the two-marmite ranked Les Diables au Thym, the work of Chef Eric Lassauce. They have a wonderfully laid-out website that also allows you to make reservations online, a nice feature when you are trying to make dinner plans for that evening but are stuck in that midday rut in which restaurants don’t answer the phone. When I exited the métro at Grands-Boulevards, I had a moment of skepticism when I was confronted with a large Hard Rock Cafe. My stomach sank as I searched for the restaurant as I was convinced that I was a Big Fat Failure of a Parisian resident who managed to pick a shitty restaurant in a shitty part of town for one of my friend’s only evenings here. The area seemed to be crammed with every tourist trap available to the discerning Parisian palate, including Leon des Bruxelles (with their Denny’s-style Technicolor pictures on the menu) and Indiana (because when I think Tex-Mex, I definitely think Indiana). To my surprise, however, Les Diables au Thym is a darling little place tucked away on a side street and sparely decorated with an eclectic collection of lamps and some nice collages. We were the first people there (when exactly DO people eat if they are going to the theater in this town?), but they were incredibly welcoming of us.
Okay, here’s the part I know you’re hot for: what we ate. In addition to some killer-sounding dishes à la carte, Les Diables au Thym has a lovely menu that allows for you to select an entrée, plat, and dessert for 28 € (22 € at lunch). I chose the salade de lentilles, haddock, œuf mollet; the poitrine de porc braisée, aux carottes; and the marquise au chocolat noir aux oranges confites. My entrée of lentils were cooked with lardons and topped with iridescent, salty hunks of smoked haddock and a poached egg, whose yolk spilled deliciously over the whole affair. My pork was arrived on a beautiful slab of stone and had a golden, caramelized layer of skin over the falling-apart and perfectly moist meat. It was served with candied carrots and pearl onions that had a strong flavor of chili and anise in addition to the sweetness. Really killer. Finally, my marquise au chocolat noir, which I can sometimes find to be texturally uninteresting, was filled with pistachios, making for a lovely crunch in addition to the sweetness of the chocolate and the tang of the bitter orange sauce. O had an entrée of galantine de canard, chutney de mangue; a fricassée de calamars au “Rigatoni” for her main course, and a baba au rhum, crème chantilly for dessert. She seemed underwhelmed by her meal and said that the galantine de canard was especially bland. The calamari in her pasta dish was lovely, however, and her baba was light and effervescent. We shared a nice Saint-Émilion, I don’t remember which, but the wine list is excellently curated. I keep using “curated” to describe these culinary decisions – is that food-writing blasphemy? Oh well, I like it.
Details: What a nice place this would be to go for a peaceful lunch or dinner, especially if you were foolish enough to endure shopping in the enormous crowds at the big department stores on Boulevard Haussmann. Certainly beats most of the other options in the area. You can make reservations online. Closed on Saturdays for lunch and all day Sunday. The menu in particular is a wonderful nosh for the money (like I said earlier, 28 € at dinner, 22 € at lunch).