Monday, June 24, 2013

Europe 2013: Le Comptoir, L'Avant Comptoir and L'Office in Paris...

When we arrived in Paris I was starving.  I really needed some serious food and a glass of wine.  Traveling does that to me sometimes.  Alex was in even worse shape - not eating enough tends to leave him vaguely nauseous.  I just get cranky.  And I get progressively worse until I am fed.  You don't have to point it out - I am well aware that I'm rather like a 3 year old in that respect.  Unfortunately we arrived the afternoon of the same sex marriage protest and it was nearly impossible to get around.  Luckily our hotel happened to be located near one of the restaurants that we wanted to try.  We got a little lost on the way there but after about 10-15 minutes of walking/wandering we found Le Comptoir.  Only there was a wait for a table.  And we were too hungry to wait.  So we decided to belly up to the counter at L'Avant Comptoir for some wine and snacks.  Alex let me do the ordering while he polished off a crepe from their walk-up window outside.  Actually, Alex let me do the ordering throughout our trip since I speak French and he doesn't.  There were a few mistakes along the way, but I think my French served us remarkably well considering it has been years since I practiced.

Anyway, as soon as I looked at the menu cards dangling from the ceiling I couldn't resist ordering the pate (I have always had a weakness for pate), the pig ears (pate and pigs ears pictured below) and some sardines (pictured above).  I also wanted to order the croquettes, but I wanted to see how big the other dishes were first.  And then I forgot.  I probably ate more pate than you should safely eat in a year but I have no regrets.  It was deliciously porky and fattening.  Strangely enough, the sardines were my favorite of the dishes.  They were buttery, fresh and delicious.  And the butter they used in the sauce wasn't just regular butter but Bordier's salted butter, which is absolutely fantastic.  I loved those sardines.  And I dredged the bread all through the sauce because you really can't waste the butter.  It made me so happy.  Oh and I can't talk about dining in Paris without mentioning the wine.  I had a blast trying a bunch of different wines by the glass.  At L'Avant Comptoir we tried two different reds by the glass, but as the trip wore on we became far bolder about ordering lots of different wines by the glass.  If only the wines in the United States were as wonderfully plentiful, tasty and cheap by the glass.  Or by the carafe.  Being able to buy quality wine by the bottle, large carafe, small carafe and by the glass is amazing.  

More after the jump!

Luckily, we had the chance to visit Le Comptoir for lunch a few days later that week and I had perhaps the best salad I have had in a long time.  It had olives, roasted peppers,  slow cooked eggs and caperberries on top of a bed of mache.  It was delicious - fresh, bright and creamy.  The acidity was a very welcome counterpoint to our meal.  It was easily my favorite salad during our trip.  And then we started on our entrees - a stuffed squid with a squid ink sauce and an avocado sauce (which almost felt and tasted Spanish, rather than French) and a traditional French daube (braised beef cheek with potatoes and macaroni).  The calamari was wonderful - totally unique and bursting with flavor, but the beef cheeks really stole the show.  They were so tender and rich.  Plus they also had great flavor.  Then we moved on to dessert.  And it was fabulous.  I've never been that into tapioca, but when I saw the tapioca pudding with rhubarb on the menu (and after oogling the French ladies' dessert next to me when they ordered the riz au lait) I couldn't resist.  Everything else was great, but I would go back to Le Comptoir for that dessert alone.  The rhubarb was nice and tart and the tapioca was rich and creamy, but maintained a lot of its texture so it didn't feel mushy.  And it had the caramelized almonds for a little crunch and extra sweetness.  It was heavenly.

While Le Comptoir and L'Avant Comptoir were on my list of Paris or bust restaurants, I brought a list of potential restaurants that I was interested in with me.  L'Office was on that list, along with a number of other restaurants spread out all over the city.  L'Office is what they call a "neo-bistro" and it is tucked away on a random street in the 9th.  HiP Paris was instrumental in my decision to add L'Office to my list of potentials and it has a few posts with much better pictures than I could ever conceive of.  You should take a look.  I think both Alex and I were pleasantly surprised with how good our meal at L'Office was.  The restaurant was adorable, the service was similarly adorable, the wines by the glass were yummy (I had a lovely rose) and the food was delicious.  The chef at L'Office is Japanese so there were a lot of Asian or otherwise unusual ingredients tucked into the dishes he served.  I certainly didn't expect to eat such a global meal when I looked at the menu, which is written up on a mirror with a paint pen.  The entire meal felt a little more global than the other meals we had in Paris, which felt entirely French and/or European.  I remember avocado in the gazpacho that was topped with mackerel,  a hint of miso in the fish and salmon roe topping the poached egg, not to mention that the katifi around the poached egg is certainly not French.

All three restaurants were great, but I might have to give the edge to L'Office for its sheer adorableness (in addition to great food).  If I had to put together one meal from all 3 restaurants I would probably take the sardines from L'Avant Comptoir, the salad and the tapioca from Le Comptoir, and the gazpacho, the asparagus and the fried chicken from L'Office.

Stuffed calamari with a squid ink sauce (Le Comptoir)

Beef cheek daube (Le Comptoir)

Tapioca rice pudding with rhubarb and almonds (Le Comptoir)

Pig ears (L'Avant Comptoir)

Gazpacho with mackerel (L'Office)

White asparagus and katifi-wrapped poached egg (L'Office)

Filet de bar (sea bass) with spring vegetables, dill, lentils (L'Office)

Cornflake fried chicken with more spring vegetables (L'Office)

Strawberry tart with basil ice cream (L'Office)

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