Hungerdome: Will “la vraie gastronomie mexicaine à Paris” please stand up? (part one)

I bet you thought I forgot all about you.

I won’t bore you with a tedious account of what I’ve been up to, other than to say, man, writing a dissertation is really hard. Once I’ve stared at the blinking Word cursor for hours doing that, it’s really tough to get motivated to write a blog entry that isn’t just like “whine, whine, whine, woe is me, I’m the pitiful scholar.”And is there anything more grating than listening to a graduate student bitch about their “work”? It’s annoying whenever anyone complains about their deadlines and their stress level, but there is something uniquely agitating about it when that person is a graduate student. I slept until eleven today, people. I don’t get to complain about my life, like, ever. So I won’t, and anyway, I’m sorry to be such a deserter.

ON TO BRIGHTER THINGS:

We’ve been eagerly awaiting the French release of Carlos Cuarón’s Rudo y Cursi, starring the überdreamy Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna.  A quick gander at IMDb suggests that everyone in the entire world who has wanted to see this movie has probably already seen it, as the French release date was the very last one in the list of international premieres. That said, if you haven’t seen it, you really should. It’s fantastic. We’ve been giddily anticipating it, being big fans of everything Gael García Bernal does, from his acting right down to his face sweat. Seriously, I love that man like a sickness. Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control left me with months of sweaty Mexican cowboy dreams. Recently, I rather uneasily discovered that B’s enthusiasm for Gael rivals my own, and couldn’t help but wonder who both of us imagined we were making out with after the movie last night.

At any rate, we decided that Rudo y Cursi demanded a fully Mexican-themed evening, so we made reservations at Hacienda del Sol (157 bd du Monparnasse, 75006 Paris, Métro Vavin), one of two Mexican restaurants in Paris that receives a fair amount of gastronomical acclaim. I had first read about it on the New York Times’ In Transit blog, where it was lauded by someone who was supposedly originally from California (had it been a New Yorker, I would have ignored it entirely). It’s kind of a trek from our place in the Marais down to Montparnasse, but this is the way that Gael would want it, we reasoned.

I’ll cut immediately to the chase: the food is pretty good! If you are a European, you’ll probably totally dig it. If you are an American in Paris, or god forbid, a Mexican, I’d give yourself about a year in Paris until you start checking out restaurants that advertise themselves as “la vraie gastronomie mexicaine.” By then, you’ll be so psyched to see Bohemia and Negro Modelo on the menu that you won’t even blink at the fact that they cost as much as a few six packs in the States.

I guess that part of my problem stems from the fact that Mexican food seems like it shouldn’t ever be fussy, and Paris isn’t particularly good at doing anything that isn’t fussy. There are a few (wildly popular) exceptions to this rule, including the abysmal Ave Maria (1 rue Jacquard, 75011 Paris, Métro: who cares, the food is terrible), where huge sloppy platters of the equivalent epicurian value as “world music” are eagerly gobbled up by the “sophisticated” palates of the French hipster public. Hacienda del Sol is marketing itself as a refined take on Sonoran food, and I suppose that is how you’d have to market yourself if you wanted to make a living in this town. But for an American accustomed to big bottomless baskets of hot chips and sloppy bowls of spicy salsa, the tiny dish of cold chips and the miniature spoon that accompanied our little puddle of hot sauce felt, well, heartless. As did our kindly server’s warning that our salsa was “dangerously spicy,” which I suppose it is, if you’re French.

For our entrées, we shared a serving of (rather bland) guacamole and some beef chimichangas. The presentation cracked me up, because, really, chimichangas? This is a food item that I associate most clearly with the microwave at a gas station. They were pretty good, I guess.

I’m terribly homesick.

For our main course, I got the pollo en salsa de mole poblano and B got the tamale plate. My chicken in mole was quite good, even if the mole wasn’t quite as spicy as I’m used to it being. The flavor was nuanced with that medley of sweet and smoky that I love, and the corn tortillas were fresh and homemade. Yes, those are bananas, not plantains. Sigh.

Even better were B’s tamales, one filled with tomatoes, cheese, and roasted chiles in a banana leaf, and one filled with red chile cooked beef in a corn husk. I was immediately overcome with jealousy when they served our plates, and wished that we had both ordered tamales and been done with it. They were tender, flavorful, and moist, and I wished that the two bites B generously doled out could have been bigger. In an ideal world, I could have smothered them in Chimayo red chile sauce and made a glorious feast, but we’re in Paris, and they got the job done admirably.

For dessert, we shared a dish of ice cream, which our server proudly noted is made in-house.  We selected scoops of tamarind, hibiscus, and lime, and the combination was perfectly sour and refreshing.

The only thing that soured the meal a bit for me was the check. Look, I get it. Many of these ingredients have to be imported from across an ocean. The 29€ menu of entrée + plat + dessert is indeed the magic number in this town. But 76€ for a meal that involves chimichangas and Mexican beer? That’s $96.32 as of today’s conversion rate. When I pointed out to B that were spending about a hundred bucks on this dinner, he turned slightly pale. Sometimes it’s best if you can dwell in the stupidity of the unconverted tab.

Anyway, why am I calling this a Hungerdome? Well, because now we are on a quest, and date night next week will be at Anahuacalli, the other Mexican restaurant that everybody can’t say enough good things about. We even had a Real Live Californian say that their enchiladas verdes were the best he’d ever had, immediately rousing my suspicions about him as a human being. But at any rate, it’s on, and while two Parisian Mexican restaurants may enter this battle, only one leaves.

Finally, I’d like to give a Cinéclub shout-out to Le Nouveau Latina (20 Rue du Temple, 75004 Paris, Métro Hôtel de Ville) where we saw Rudo y Cursi last night. I’ve kind of abandoned the Cinéclub theatre review section of this blog, probably because there are only so many things you can really saw about a movie theatre (There are seats! And a screen! Sometimes they play movies you might want to see!). But in addition to the fact that it is literally next door to my apartment building, Le Nouveau Latina is really one of the more charming Cinéma d’Art et d’Essai in Paris. Specializing in Spanish, Portuguese, Latin American, and Italian films (though they also show a healthy dose of other classic and contemporary independent films from France and the US), Le Nouveau Latina reliably has a lot of great stuff showing on any day of the week on their two well-maintained screens. It’s also a darling place to hang out, with a large café and a well-edited selection of books and DVDs for sale. I’ve even heard that they sometimes give salsa lessons upstairs. I have a personal soft spot for this theatre, as it was the site of both my first date with M (we saw Antichrist together!), as well as a midnight screening of Alien that was one of my first “ah-ha” moments about B. He held my hand during the scary parts and seemed only mildly amused by my histrionics. As I’m widely acknowledged as the most annoying person in the world to see movies with, B’s seeming cool made me suspect that he might be a good person to keep going to movies with for a long time.

Dearest reader, I’ve missed you. I hope your autumn is shaping up splendidly.

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2 comments

  1. Lena

    Thanks, i needed the fix… lovely… as always. yes, the dissertation is important..but this blog is a life line and i insist on more..

  2. Hattie

    Thanks for this, and good luck on your dissertation. It is not an easy road one travels to enlightenment. I’ll be thinking of you when I’m in Seattle eating at one of the two excellent Mexican restaurants within walking distance of our condo. Even our little burg of Hilo here has a Mexican restaurant with the kind of unrefined Mexican food I really like best: Beans, rice, tamales, enchiladas, etc, etc. with sauce and cheese all over everything.

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