Saturday, July 14, 2012
Paris Trip 2012 - Non-French Cuisine
The presence of American fast food chains and restaurants that are obviously catering to Americans in Paris demonstrates that you don't absolutely have to interact with the local cuisine if you're not so inclined (in which case, I'll pray for you). Because this was a family trip, I tried my best to put my needs/wishes towards the bottom of our priority list and experienced some (but not all) surprisingly-decent cooking as a result.
Our first day in town, Mom and Sis arrived late due to aircraft mechanical issues, so they were jonesing for a no-nonsense, easy to digest (read: not French) meal. Our guidebook led us back to the 10th Arrondissement for pizza at Pink Flamingo, a whimsical local pizza chain with an outlet not far from the Canal St. Martin. We opted to sit in the small dining room next door to the pizza counter, which was garishly decked out in bright pink and Elvis Presley album covers (indeed, the restaurant's own website describes it as being "like an American dinner (sic) on drugs" - or maybe they WERE referring to the dinner). As for the pizzas, they took a page out of Hot Doug's playbook, naming various topping combinations after famous people (for example, the Bjork features smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, and creme fraiche). Some of the offerings were pretty esoteric (sag paneer, anyone?), but we stuck with the basic Margherita and one slighty off-center choice, topped with grilled eggplant and hummus (the Aphrodite, see above). Although Pink Flamingo isn't going to join Burt's or Great Lake as a pizza juggernaut anytime soon, both pies were actually pretty good considering the locale (not as good was the Pink Flamingo beer I tried, made for the restaurant by a Belgian brewery, probably the most unremarkable Belgian beer I've ever had).
The next morning's breakfast brought us to another diner, this one actually called Breakfast in America, billing itself as a "real American diner in Paris" and started by a native of Connecticut working in the film industry. I can assure you that they were not whistling Dixie, as the place (small as it was) was operated with a waitstaff of American expats and was pretty much spot-on with its decor and menu, right down to the American brands of condiments (not including the syrup, whose label was nutty enough that I had to get a picture). As much as I figured that most Parisians would rather watch Jersey Shore than ever set foot in such a place, amazingly, there did seem to be a few locals dining there that morning (maybe we underestimate the global allure of pancakes). Sadly, while my tripmates were happy with their meals (except Mom's bacon, which was more like ham), my breakfast burrito missed the mark and I ended up leaving half of it on the plate (in the future, I should probably avoid French renditions of American dishes adapted from Mexico).
We did visit one more eatery shamelessly pandering to Western Hemisphere natives, although this one was quite by accident as we sought out a lunch place one afternoon not far from the Louvre. Charly Bun's was yet another restaurant obviously styled to reflect some sort of Average Joe American tastes, this time in hamburgers. Although I was tempted to order steak tartare (another French specialty I wanted to try that qualified as a potential gross-out dish for Mom and Sis), I decided to stick with the house recommendations and ordered a burger; specifically, the Lausanne, which came with 2 kinds of cheese (Raclette and Emmentaler), strips of viande de grison (a type of air-dried beef), tomato, and ketchup, plus mediocre potato wedge-like fries, and a small green salad. Forgetting that the French tend to undercook their beef, I ordered my usual medium-rare and promptly received a burger that pretty much was already tartare on the inside. This didn't bother me in the least (indeed, the burger was quite delicious, as you can guess from looking at it above); however, having advised the ladies to order theirs medium, they were distraught at how rare the sandwich was when it arrived, prompting them to return it to the kitchen for further cooking and resulting in a shower of angst from the proprietress (who spoke only French, but could be clearly heard muttering unpleasantries about the dining habits of "Les Americains").
My favorite non-French dining experience in Paris had to be a Japanese one. Sis found a recommendation in her guidebook for Zen, a Japanese place again not far from the Louvre that we decided to try for dinner. At first, we sensed a bit of a challenge as they had no English menus or English-speaking waitstaff, but luckily, I was able to fall back a little on my experience with Japanese cuisine to help us parse out the food offerings. While I steered Mom towards a teriyaki pork platter and picked out a glazed teriyaki and yuzu salmon for Sis (both of which were first-rate, the equals if not better of anything comparable I've had in the States), I opted for a cold pork salad, crab spring roll, and wonderful takoyaki balls stuffed with squid and topped with dried bonito shavings (see above). You might recall that I'd recently had my first experience with takoyaki at Yusho in Chicago a few months back - I'd have to say that this Franco-Japanese version was the better of the two, earthy, sweet, and rich all at the same time. The 3 of us agreed that we'd happily return to this restaurant on our next Paris trip (whenever that may be).
Happy Bastille Day to all and to all a goodnight....