Somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city…
Gosh, it’s been a long time! Too long it seems, as I had to dust the metaphorical cobwebs off just to log in to my WordPress account. In the time since we last spoke I made a pretty big move, from Paris to Bloomington, Indiana. It hasn’t been easy, though it hasn’t been terrible either. I’m firmly of the mind that happiness is what you make of it, and that one can be happy anywhere. Perhaps not Antarctica or a war zone, but you know what I mean. I’m here for about a year, writing my dissertation on a fellowship while B teaches and finishes up some of his obligations at a large university nearby. That is officially too much information for a pseudo-anonymous blog, but there you go. I’ve got scads and scads of unstructured time and heaps of work to do in it, a combination that has more often than not leads to some very bad, very un-grown-up behavior. I’m not completely feral yet, but I have noticed that my work clothes are identical to my gym clothes, which are also identical to my sleep clothes. The Marais feels far away indeed.
Our last few weeks in Paris in July were rather melancholy. Most everyone we knew had either departed permanently or was on one of those achingly long and delicious vacations that Europeans take in the summer, so it was pretty much just B and me killing time. It was a record-breakingly wet summer, so my plans that we spend the month of July drinking Campari cocktails and working on our tans at Paris Plage were quickly dashed, as it rained nearly every day. We also found ourselves in a bit of a money pickle, what with the cost of moving internationally and our traveling in the spring. So those final days we were living pretty frugally, to say the least. That is to say, when we weren’t living frugally, like the day I managed to drop about a hundred euros at Dehillerin on Laguoile cheese knives and silicone trays for making madeleines and cannelés bordelais (which, um, I’ll get to making, someday), or the day when I bought a heap of antique lithographs and Turkish kilim pillow covers at the flea market. I think I was hoping that if I insulated my future digs with enough things from Paris, I wouldn’t miss it so much.
Most days we would trudge over the Louvre in rain (tough life) and continue our increasingly manic quest to tour the entire damn thing. We succeeded in the end, though I’ll admit that certain sections are just a delirious blur in my memory.
I cooked a lot of rabbit and boudin noir, and we ate rillettes and cheese for many meals. Every morning we ate croissants from our local bakery Huré, and most afternoons I would insist on a Paris Brest or a chocolate éclair with my afternoon coffee. Many evenings were spent with books, a bottle of wine, and a plate of charcuterie at our favorite caves. I probably gained ten pounds that month as a result of constantly saying “I won’t be able to eat this ever again!” We took a lot of long walks, went to see a bunch of Buñuel movies, and I cried a lot on various bridges.
Inexplicably, in our final weeks in Paris a magical thing happened. We were suddenly at home. Our neighbors chatted with us, the ladies that worked in the button shop downstairs joked around when we came through. Our baker, our vegetable man, our seafood lady, that guy that owned the bookshop down the road — everyone suddenly knew us and made small talk on the street. We got into long conversations with strangers while we hung out in bars, or sat in cafes, and or waited outside the cinema. The women at the market where I shopped every week knew what kind of lettuce I wanted to buy before I told them, and the man at the butcher shop where I bought our rotisserie chickens knew I wanted enough potatoes for two people without asking.
In short we were suddenly, amazingly, after two years, a real part of the community. And then we had to leave. I think that was the most heartbreaking part of the whole thing, and the part that has made it really hard for me to come back to writing here. In the end we said goodbye to Paris, for now. But I’m happy that I left plenty of things on my list for future visits, and I’m comforted that Paris is one of those cities that only gets better as you get older.
Our move was a real monster, as we both had things in storage with our respective families. We shipped (gulp) thirteen boxes of books to the States and managed to carry the rest of our junk in our luggage (it helped that we had sent a lot of stuff back with assorted visitors throughout the spring and summer). Upon arriving stateside with miraculously none of our precious glassware or ceramics in pieces (and a giant gratuitous bottle of Aperol to boot), we then managed to drive through ten states in the course of the month of August. B worked out that we spent more time in the car than we did in any one stationary location. We took a little jaunt to Santa Fe and Taos for B’s thirtieth birthday, which was lovely. I’d really like to tell you about it because I’m so in to New Mexican food it’s kind of crazy, but that has to be another entry for another day.
After seemingly endless schlepping we made it to Bloomington, where we quickly discovered that the little 1930s Craftsman-style house we are renting had fleas. I don’t know if you have ever had fleas, dear reader, but I’ll go on the record as saying that it was quite possibly one of the most annoying things that has ever happened to me. How generations of garret-dwelling 19th century artists and writers dealt with this and didn’t lose their goddamn minds is beyond me. We only made it through by pretending that we were Baudelaire and occasionally sleeping at B’s sister’s house. It took fumigating our house with six rounds of bug bombs and vacuuming and cleaning every day like madmen before we finally got rid of the little buggers, and I still feel assume that every piece of lint and pencil shaving I see is a flea waiting to bite me. I now officially understand what is meant by “the heebie-jeebies.” So September was written off to parasites, as I for one could think and talk about nothing else. I’d tell you to try it sometime, but I wouldn’t wish a flea infestation on my worst enemy.
The following months flew by, with a little trip to California and visits to Colorado and Michigan for the holidays punctuating long periods of rather solitary writing on my part. I’m a jerk and a half to complain about having nothing but time to research and write, but I’m finding it hard to feel purposeful and excited about my work everyday. The town we are living in is lovely, but this work is very lonely. I find myself talking a little too long to the cashier at the coffee shop or the grocery store. Thank goodness for the convention of Midwestern small talk, or I’d be a goner. I miss teaching, even teaching those crazy and disorganized classes at the university in Paris, where I did (as silly as it sounds) feel like I was making some kind of an impact on my students. But I’m deep in my writing now and it makes for good company on the days I let it. I suspect that what I’m writing it only feels stupid because I’ve been thinking about it so long, and some days it actually feels okay. On the days it doesn’t, I keep running over the final passage of the Great Gatsby in my head: “Gatsby believe in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther…” Writing well and with discipline may not really be an ‘orgiastic future,’ but I do find reassurance in the idea that tomorrow I will be better than I was today if I keep trying.
For those of you that have dozed off already or are wondering where in the hell all the food talk has gone, I’m still eating! Say what you will about the Midwest, the produce and the meat here in Southern Indiana are to die for, and I’m a happy camper in the food department, especially at home in a kitchen four times the size of our little culinary closet in Paris. We’ve been cooking up a storm with the welcome addition of some lovely culinary tools and cookbooks from Santa, including a stand mixer, an ice cream maker, the new Silver Spoon, and two tomes by Yotam Ottolenghi. And I still get my mandatory offal fixes, like when B took me to the oh-so-lovely Restaurant Tallent here in town for my birthday last month. Veal sweetbreads and seared foie gras never tasted so good.
So thanks for coming back, my friend, and I hope you stay even though my life has gotten exceedingly less glamorous in the past six months. Thanks especially to An Accidental Expat for his kind comment that prompted me to write today, and to M, whose gentle prods about the blog make me hope that she hasn’t banished me from her Google reader just yet. I’ll be back soon!
Such sweet sorrow, yes?
About a week and a half ago M left Paris. She stayed as long as she could this summer, but needed to get back to the States to move to Boston, where she’ll be living with her wonderful husband this year while he studies at the Big Fancy School near there while she works on her dissertation. We had sort of “reserved” her for her final week in Paris. We didn’t do anything particularly out of character, maybe a few little things that we hadn’t managed to do before, but basically we just shared a few lovely days of rambling around town, chatting and lounging in the park, seeing films at our favorite places, and eating some great meals. It was impossibly sad.
M was the first person I came to know in Paris. We were both working at the same university here and had both had a terrible time with the process of getting a visa back in the United States. I contacted her about her consulate visit before she arrived, and she sent me a long, concise, yet surprisingly warm e-mail about what I could expect from my own appointment. I recall showing the note to my mother and declaring that I was going to make friends with this woman. At our first staff meeting, I pounced on poor M, declaring that I thought we should be friends. She seemed a bit flustered by my forwardness (she’s unfailingly reserved with new people), but nevertheless agreed to my proposal that she accompany me to see Lars von Trier’s Antichrist at Le Nouveau Latina next door to my apartment. That lead to coffee, and that lead to falafel, and the rest is history as they say. Somewhere along the line we picked up B and the three of us were inseparable ever since.
Being in Paris for two years has been a magnificent experience, one that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But a huge part of what has made it so amazing has been the presence of these two remarkable people in my life. I fell in love with Paris because I fell in love with M and B. I truly have never felt more cared for than I do with this crew, and I know that they feel the same way.
The best part of leaving Paris is that I get to take B with me. The worst part of leaving Paris is that I don’t get to take M. Her final week was profoundly bittersweet, with poor B having shepard two women liable to burst into tears at any moment around town. I spent most of the day she left sobbing, and even though it will come three weeks later, I don’t think that the day we finally leave Paris will be anywhere near as difficult.
The good news is we’ve talked every day since she left, and I know that it’s only a matter of time before visits to Boston and the Midwest will be planned. I also know that she will be my Skype buddy during the long, likely lonely days of writing I have ahead next year. She’s not getting rid of me this easily.
A few have you have asked about my list of things to do in Paris before I leave. We’ve crossed off a lot in recent weeks, though I haven’t been stressing about doing everything. There is something strangely reassuring about the idea that there are still things left to do sometime in the future, a yet-to-be-determined “next time” with two of my best friends in tow. But a few little things that can be crossed off the list include:
Take B and M to the Cimitière Montparnasse
Not only did we cross this one off the list, but we did so with a bang. We tracked down all but one of the graves we wanted to visit (damn you Eric Rohmer!), blessed M’s new Repetto Zizis (the same ones that Serge wore, but in black, not white) at Serge Gainsbourg’s grave, and finished our afternoon in Montparnasse with a coffee at Le Dôme with M and E. It was a perfect afternoon.
Visit the Maison Rouge
What a lovely place! We especially liked touring the current exhibition of contemporary Canadian artists called “My Winnipeg.” Oh, and they have one of the only original-style Photomatons in town.
Go to Marché des Enfants Rouges as many weekends as possible The last few months we have been positively religious about our Sunday Marché visit. M was the one who “discovered” what we now fondly refer to as “McDo Bobo,” so it was fitting that her last Sunday morning was spent happily over a yummy marinated tuna tartare.
Eat at Frenchie
So after two years of trying to get a reservation at this place, they apparently finally took pity on the Americans on the 4th of July and granted us a table at 7 p.m. (the French equivalent of social suicide). The food is excellent, though the service was kind of weirdly abrupt. Um, yes, we do want that final hunk of foie gras before you whisk away our plates, thank you very much! Still, it was a lovely evening. I’m not going to spill too much ink over it, because too many people on the interwebs already have, and there are indeed better places to eat in Paris along the same lines that aren’t going to give you an attitude (La Gazzetta, Rino, and Yam’tcha among them). But still, here were the highlights:
Followed by a visit to Le Champo for a final Monica Vitti flick, Buñuel’s Le fantôme de la liberté, it made for a perfect Fourth of July in Paris. Three little Americans (okay, two little Americans and one little Soviet), three friends forever. Don’t worry, the blog snark will be back next time. For now, I just want to wish my lovely friend M happy travels always. Thanks for letting me come along on the ride.
Clarence Rides The Rino
So you know how it goes when you have a really great friend and you haven’t talked to them in a long time and you really ought to get in touch but it can’t just be a “hey, how ya doin’?” kind of catch-up, it has to be long and involved and messy and full of apologies about what a cruddy friend you are for being MIA for so long? And because that interaction is so dread-inducing, you keep putting it off, and putting it off, and putting it off. Which only makes things worse, of course, but you aren’t really thinking about this rationally anymore. You’re just a jerk-off who hasn’t been in touch for months.
Part of the problem is that I’m admittedly kind of a train wreck about my t-minus 50 days left in Europe. I’ve been crying over my dissertation. I’ve been crying at the cheese store. I’ve been crying over Godard movies. I’ve been crying over commercials. I’ve been crying over shoe returns, papercuts, the homeless couple who have taken up residence on my block with their two wee dogs, and my last day of a job that I didn’t particularly like in the first place. I’m a capital M Mess, people. It’s no excuse for abandoning this here blargh, but it’s definitely contributed to the paralysis I’ve been feeling with regards to catching up.
Let’s start small, shall we?
I ate at Rino!
The occasion was my mother’s visit, which was lovely. We decided to take her to Rino, as she had been hearing all about the goodness springing forth from talented young chefs in Paris working outside the conventions of the Michelin star system. That is to say, she (like everybody else I know) watched the hundredth episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, in which our sourpuss host treated the contemporary culinary scene in Paris as if it was this fraught battle ground between stuck-in-the-mud, Michelin-starred chefs (Eric Ripert was his co-host for the episode) and young, impertinent Le Fooding-backed geniuses who are reinventing the landscape with every licorice-smoked langoustine tartare they prepare. Which, yes, okay, sure, I guess that’s basically what is happening, but also, can we say also file this under rich people problems? Yes, there a lot of amazing new restaurants in Paris, some of which have a price point that can be met by proles like me and my boyfriend, provided we don’t buy shoes and eat dry lentils for the rest of the week (adding water would put us over budget). But it’s hardly a “revolution,” and it seems kind of gross to use that sort of language to describe the culinary landscape in Paris when uh, well, there are kind of a lot of real revolutions happening elsewhere in the world.
(Aren’t I fun to hang out with now! Do you see what kind of self-loathing monster I’ve become since we last spoke? Did I mention that I’m actively contemplating becoming a vegetarian! Should we quit this entry, bury our face in our sixth consecutive Margaret Atwood novel, and plan another tear-drenched trip to the Louvre this afternoon? No?! You mean you want to hear about the food?)
Okay, let’s do this.
Rino (46 rue Trousseau, 75011 Paris, Métro Ledru-Rollin) is the brainchild of Giovanni Passerini, the former second-in-command to Petter Nilsson of La Gazzetta, which is conveniently across the street from Passerini’s newish digs. Winner of Le Fooding’s 2010 “Meilleur bistrot d’auteur,” Rino is a delightful fusion of Italian forms with a decidedly progressive New York via Paris, seasonal ingredient-driven sensibility. If that makes any sense. (I’m rusty.) It’s really good! It’s unfussy! You don’t have to make any decisions, aside from if you want five or seven courses. Culinary proles we may be, but when you finally get a table at a place where you have to reserve months in advance, the answer to that question is always seven. Especially when the add-on courses involve lobster and cheese, which they did on the night we dined at Rino. Done and done.
I was excited to share this kind of beautiful, rarefied cooking with my mother, who is definitely Clarence’s mama and a lover of food. But I was also psyched by the relaxed, casual atmosphere of the place, which makes catching up with family and drinking a little too much while you enjoy your seven course meal a pleasure, not a white-linen headache. The servers were extremely knowledgeable about the menu and very kind to the Americans. And we had a great view of the kitchen, where Passerini himself had his hands in every single thing we ate, which is something I really appreciate about the Le Fooding-sponsored “revolution.” If I am spending 250 euros to experience a particular chef’s cooking, I damn well want to see him in the kitchen.
Well, what did we eat?
First course was pecorino ravioli, served in a sweet pea sauce and topped with fresh licorice. The salty tang of the pecorino wedded perfectly with the springy sweetness of the peas, and the whole thing was elevated by the unexpectedly bitter aftertaste of the licorice. It was smart, but not so smart as to be anything but totally delicious.
Next up was maigre de ligne in with both conventional and wild asparagus and roasted onions. It was perfectly cooked and an exquisite use of spring vegetables.
Third course (the optional one the night we dined at Rino) was tagiatelle and lobster in a cucumber broth. I was excited as soon as I spied Passerini lovingly pulling out each individual strand of fresh pasta. The cucumber broth was light and perfectly balanced with the lobster. Europeans have gotten me thinking that the American thing of drenching lobster in butter is overkill. Light vegetable broths, like celery or cucumber, actually help the lobster’s sweetness to sing more than a heavy dose of butter.
Our meat course was a sinfully-tender pigeon served with bing cherries, another kind of pea sauce, and braised cabbage. I’m a total slut for small birds, so this was the best thing I’d put in my mouth in a long time. Nevermind that thing I said about becoming a vegetarian.
Then we had a cheese plate, which was well-balanced if otherwise unmemorable. What completely did me in, however, was our dessert. Strawberries, rhubarb, Greek yogurt ice cream, and fried cubes of a sweet semolina custard. Lord have mercy, I could eat cubes of sweet semolina custard all day long and never tire of it.
There! That wasn’t so terrible! I have a feeling that this is like ripping off a bandaid. Stay tuned for tales of a life-changing vacation to Georgia and Ukraine (What?! I know!), our mother/daughter culinary odyssey in London, and a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT. And feel free to leave your vitriolic comments about what a lousy blogeuse I’ve been in the comments! I’ve missed you, dear reader. You’re looking more comely than ever.
In Which Our Young Hero Clarence Learns of Subtlety and Grace: Our Evening at Yam’Tcha
About a year ago B and I decided to play with fire and mess with our then excellent friendship by dipping our toe into the world of romance. Best. Decision. Ever. Suddenly I’m one of those obnoxious people that gives relationship advice like this:
“Well, you know, when it’s right, it’s right.”
“Well, why don’t you focus on your friendship first, and your relationship second.”
Basically the kind of platitudes that only the ridiculously lucky can administer, ones that more or less amount to saying “Meet someone awesome and then you won’t have any relationship problems!” I’m an obnoxious friend to have these days.
Anyway, this week we were celebrating the year that has passed since we made the fateful decision to totally mess up our friendship. Since “celebrating” is synonymous with “eating something amazing,” we had made reservations the requisite six years ago that it takes to get into Yam’Tcha (4 Rue Sauval 75001 Paris, Métro Les Halles). B had to make reservations before we started dating, before we came to Paris, in fact, before the beginning of time. I jest, but we did make our reservations well over three months ago, so you might want to make sure that you really to keep someone around if you intend to make an evening Yam’Tcha into a date.
The location: Just off of Les Halles, Yam’Tcha is tucked onto a small street. Inside, muted colors contrast with the gorgeous, centuries-old rough-hewn wood beam ceiling (why oh why do I live in a 400 year old building but lack one of these amazing ceilings?!). The concept: Chef Adeline Grattard serves an elegant fusion of Chinese and French food alongside expert tea pairings made by Chiwah Chan. The staff is warm and friendly, and able to use a staggering amount of interesting adjectives to describe the various notes in wine and tea. The menu is a set five course tasting menu that changes nightly, the only thing you select is whether or not you want tea pairings, wine pairings, or a mix of the two (we selected the latter).
Oh, what lovely, elegant, subtle food this is! Yam’Tcha serves the type of cuisine that forces your palate to rise to the occasion, to think about delicate scents and reconcile flavors you might not have imagined so harmoniously inhabiting a dish. The wine and tea pairings were equally sensitive and often transformed the experience of eating a particular course. This restaurant is absolutely worth all the fuss surrounding it (and apparently, this year, a Michelin star! Aren’t we fancy?).
So what did we eat? Well, we began with an aperitif of quince-infused champagne and an amuse-bouche of corn velouté with fresh herbs and tender cubes of tofu. Even Indiana agreed that it was the best corn he’d had on this Continent:
Our first course was an other-worldly sweet asparagus and cured sheets of beef, dressed in a slightly spicy peanut vinaigrette.
Served with the house buns, which are everything I’ve ever wanted the consistency of a pork bun to be…Should Yam’Tcha stuff these little guys with barbequed pork anytime soon, I’ll be the first in line.
Second course was Mozambique shrimp and scallops, served with heavenly straw mushrooms and a light citrusey sauce that was punctuated by the presence of lemon parsley faux-caviar. It was my first experience with faux-caviar in real life (Top Chef really makes you blasé about these things, doesn’t it?) and it was fantastic. They exploded in your mouth with this tangy punch.
The fish course was black cod (do we call it sablefish in English??) served over a bed of black soybeans and bean sprouts. It was perfectly prepared. I recall saying that I believe that if I ate that dish every single day I would likely live forever. If not forever, I would certainly live out the remainder of my days a happy woman.
Next up was a cured pork belly seasoned with little more than black pepper, served with some of the sweetest, most succulent eggplant imaginable. We’re talking an Ur-vegetable preparation here, the kind of thing that makes all future eggplant ingestion seem bleak and disappointing. I wasn’t quite as crazy about the pork belly, but B tells me I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. Fair enough.
Dessert was an exquisite combination of fresh strawberries and mango, topped with mint, ginger confit, and a fromage frais that I would happily eat by the gallon. It was topped with a tea wafer, which perfectly echoed with jasmine tea that it was paired with. If a dessert ever sung “It’s Spring!”, this was it.
It was a lovely night.
Hungerdome! The Battle of the Hip Right Bank Crêperies
Hey peeps! It appears that spring has finally sprung in Paris and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve resumed my loose-skinned, loping runs at the Promenade Plantée, which should officially be filed under “one of the most awesome things about Paris that nobody seems to really use.” Not that I’m complaining. But FYI, dearest reader, the flower beds on the elevated section are filled with daffodils right now, so if you are looking to get a springy fix, get to it. I’ll be the one shuffling along in a sad, out-of-shape, half-run, half rich-Orange-County-lady power walk.
But who cares about my fitness! This website is all about exercising your inner fat kid! To those very ends, our NUMBER ONE FAN has established a FAN PAGE on Facebook. Our dearest M has created a “Incarnations of Clarence” group where she is posting various guises that Clarence has assumed through the ages. Even better, friends of Clarence are now beginning to post delightful chronicles of delicious things they have eaten lately. We’ll use Incarnations of Clarence as a way of posting new updates to the blargh and foodie meet-ups over the next few months in Paris. So please join the fun, if wasting time on Facebook is your bag (and if you are a reader of this blargh, I strongly suspect it might be).
Okay, I know you’ve been waiting around for a HUNGERDOME! That’s right, today we have another installment of everyone’s favorite segment here at The Beargarden (We’re thinking of shortening it! What do you think?!). Two restaurants enter, only one leaves. Need a refresher course?
Okay, now that your day has immeasurably improved from a dose of Tina, let’s get to it. Today, we pit two mega-bobo Breton crèpe joints in town in a head to head battle. If you read food blogs—or design blogs, or Paris blogs, or any of the other kinds of blogs that make you look around your own sad apartment wistfully and wish that you had some truffle oil or midcentury Danish furniture—you’ve likely heard about Breizh Cafe (109 Rue Vieille du Temple, 75003 Paris, Métro Saint-Sébastien Froissart) and West Country Girl (6 Passage Saint-Ambroise, 75011 Paris, Métro Saint Maur). If you want a greasy, drippy street vendor crèpe filled with supermarket cheese and salty lunchmeat for less than five euros, these are not the establishments where you should be headed. But if you want a full meal of inventive crèpes of spot-on consistency, a fantastic cider list, oysters in season, and a bit of see-and-be-seen, then these are the restaurants for you.
Breizh Cafe, with additional locations in Cancale and Japan, is on quite possibly the most bobo street in all of Paris. John Galliano’s anti-Semetic fiesta at La Perle took place just a few blocks down the road. Rue Vielle du Temple is chock-a-block with achingly hip bars, interesting restaurants, and the kind of clothing stores that are so expensive that they give you a tote bag when you manage to buy something (Surface to Air, I’m looking at you). Oh, and the perpetually-under-renovation Picasso Museum. It’s cool, Paris. I didn’t expect that in living here for two years I might be able to visit. No worries.
Breizh, which has a suprisingly warm and comfy interior full of bright paintings and wood furniture, is right in the thick of it all. There can be quite a crowd come brunch or lunchtime, but late afternoons and early evenings it’s a great place to take a load off if you’ve been doing some consumerist combing of the streets in the Marais. At the center of this enterprise is chef/restauranteur Bertrand Larcher, winner of a 2010 Prix Fooding d’Honneur.
Larcher’s concept is Brittany and Japan by way of Paris, focusing on the best artisinal products from around France. Le Fooding informs us (I’ll translate for those of you who wish that Le Fooding should hire me as their English-language correspondent) that the andouille sausage at Breizh is from Guémené, cheese and salted butter by Bordier, jams and preserves by Raphaël de Saint-Malo, and the oysters by Saint Kerber of Cancale. If this means anything to you, I suggest that you check out a more sophisticated food blog. In addition, various Japanese ingredients find their way into the Breton crèpes at Breizh, including a variety of mushrooms, green tea ice cream, red bean paste, and kuromitsu, a revelatory (to me) bitter-sweet Japanese black sugar syrup. The cider list is extensive and the tea is properly brewed, as you would expect.
On a recent visit, we split a bottle of cider that the carte described as “supple and fleshy” (Le P’tit Fausset brut, Paul et Gilles Barbe, Merdringac 22) and each ordered a savory gallette de sarrasin and a sweet crêpe. Standouts from the savory end of things included the Normande (camembert au lait cru, jambon de Savoie, salade verte) and the Savoyarde (Reblochon au lait cru, poitrine grillée, pomme de terre, salade verte). While the cheese was especially lovely and molten, the gallette themselves at Breizh aren’t my favorite consistency, as they verge on chewy and tough. Perhaps this is a real Breton thing and I am just missing the boat, but I like things on the less fleshy side. The sweet crêpes are really where Breizh shines, in my opinion. We ordered a classic citron (lemon and sugar), a green tea ice cream and kuromitsu, and a salted caramel with vanilla ice cream. Holy mother of caramel, Batman. I could eat that last one all day long and never be satisfied. And the slightly-smoky, slightly-bitter combination of kuromitsu with creamy green tea was positively genius. If this battle were totally dessert-based, we would have a winner.
West Country Girl, a (relative) newcomer to the scene, is in a bit more up-and-coming area of town. I like it now, and suspect it will become increasingly chic over the next ten years. Right now, it’s a bit out of the way for this Maraisienne, but well worth the trip. The cozy interior, friendly staff, and well-priced menu all make for a lovely experience, but the real draw is owner/chef Sophie Le Floc’h gorgeous, perfect-consistency gallettes and crêpes. When we visited, we were given a table that allowed for me to gawk at her industry in the kitchen. The woman is a machine. We started—as per David Lebowitz’s blog’s recommendation—with the sardine rillettes, a creamy, fishy, citrusey concoction that we devoured like hungry wolves.
It provoked a sardines rillettes mania around our house for nearly a week, as I experimented with fromage frais / canned sardine / lemon juice proportions. Let’s just say we got more Omega-3 that week than we have in our entire lives previously. I settled on something I like (which includes raw shallots and chives), but it is nothing compared to the light, fluffy perfection at West Country Girl. So make sure and get it, okay? Paired with their house AOC cider (Manoir and Kinkiz Cornouaille), it was a great way to start a meal.
Next came our savory gallettes, which included bacon/mushroom/Camembert and egg/spinach/Mimolette combinations, both expertly cooked and delicious.
But, far and away, the winner of the evening was my gallette topped with boudin noir (blood sausage) and a whole roasted apple. I’m going to completely out myself as a competitive only child here, but isn’t it the best feeling when you order the best dish of the meal and everyone is envious? I used to do it all the time, but when I priggishly declared it aloud about six months ago, karma came around and bit me on the ass and I’ve been on a losing streak ever since. But me and boudin noir, we go waaaay back. I knew it would be amazing. One bite of the creamy, crumbly sausage paired with the sweet, earthy apple and I was dunzo. West Country Girl, with your crooked smile and heart-shaped face, you’ve won my heart.
For dessert, we split a classic citron and an amazing whole roasted apple, salted caramel, and vanilla ice cream extravaganza. I’d read in numerous foodie blogs about the beauty of Le Floc’h’s salted caramel, which is apparently stored in a giant bucket in the kitchen. I’d like to steal it and eat all that caramel out back with a giant ladle. It’s that good. I know that salted caramel is sort of like what sundried tomatos were in 1992 to the foodie landscape, but man oh man, what a bandwagon to hop on.
So without further ado, let’s tally up the Hungerdome results:
1) Restaurant ambiance. A close call, but I have to say this one goes to West Country Girl, which feels like the house of that super-cool older artist girl who you can’t believe actually wants to hang out with you. She lives a bit out of the way, but in a neighborhood you know is going to be super-cool in a couple of years.
2) Cider list. This one goes to Breizh, which has a far more extensive selection of ciders and very knowledgeable servers on this subject. The servers at West Country Girl are far more knowledgable about other things, including movies by the Cohen brothers. I’d take the latter anytime, but that isn’t the category, now is it?
3) Staff and servers. West Country Girl. They are really sweet and know about all-night screenings of classic Cohen brothers films.
4) Gallette and crêpe consistency. West Country Girl. The ones at Breizh—while delicious!—are a bit too tough for my taste. Purists and/or French Provincials should feel free to school me in the comments section.
5) Ingredient quality and creativity. A tie. Both have a far more inventive selection of ingredients and clever combinations than you see at most run-of-the-mill crêperies in town, and both have boudin noir on the menu. They both also obviously prioritize finding the freshest and most ecologically responsible sources possible for their food, which is something you can taste.
It was a close race, but if we make those sardine rillettes into a lightning round, West Country Girl is our clear winner. I can’t wait to go back, and hopefully this time M will order her own damn apple and boudin noir gallette and keep her dirty mitts off of mine. Clarence isn’t a big fan of sharing.
LEAVING THE HUNGERDOME: WEST COUNTRY GIRL!