|Napoleon would probably have felt at home here.|
Two of Corsica’s most noted exports are Napoleon and food, and both serendipitously came together on a recent dinner date, when I combined a visit to the stupendously bad exhibition of Ingres’s stupendously beautiful paintings and drawings at the Louvre (the show is unbearably cramped and totally devoid of any critical reassessment) with a first shot at a Corsican restaurant a five-minute walk away from the national repository of Great Art.
I mused on the Corsican link as I made my way with my dinner companion through the Palais Royal gardens – looking very fetching in their brazen get-up of blousy magnolias and tulips – because one of the rooms in the show has two facing, larger-than-life-size portraits of Napoleon. In one, an official post-coronation portrait, he looks like a toad in ermine, while in the other, he is the bouncy First Consul, dressed in red velvet, eager to get out and conquer the world. Ingres has so captured the man’s vitality that it seems as if the canvas will tear itself apart from the sheer charge of raw energy bottled up within the frame.
Some of that vitality seems to have rubbed off on the boyz in black who staff A Casaluna, a Corsican restaurant located right next door to the Table d’Hôte du Palais Royal, reviewed on this site a couple of months back. The service is friendly and efficient to a fault, if a mite expeditious. The staff has a reasonable command of English, too, as shown by their dealings with an American couple at the neighboring table. We four seemed to be the only aliens in the room, though, which was rapidly awash with a warm buzz of conversation.
The food is Mediterranean rustic, upgraded to china plates and crystal glasses. My soupe printanière corse, for example, had plenty of the promised baby fava beans (a particular favorite) and sweet, fresh peas, but came in a robust potato stew base. My companion chose a merenda, translated on the menu as an “assortment of Corsican products”, which meant meaty sausage, cheese, rich goat’s liver pâté and something interesting done to cooked chestnuts – a Corsican staple to judge by the number of times they appeared on the menu.
Interestingly, several offerings could satisfy an ecumenical vegetarian, such as the tourte aux herbes aux parfums de marjolaine, tersely translated as “vegetable tart,” or “eggplant baked with a sheep’s cheese crust”, and cannelloni filled with the same type of fromage frais that came with the a merenda. Watch this space for my forthcoming rant about the sad fate of vegetarians in France.
Unreformed meat and fish eaters that we are, we tucked in to a fillet of lamb with a crust of herbs, and roasted kid with Corsican herbs – not the dish to eat if you’re trying to impress someone with your delicate handling of knife and fork, since as it’s more suited to tearing apart with bare hands, with lots of interesting bones to suck on thoughtfully. The lamb (boneless – another parallel with Ingres’s models) was cooked exactly as requested and tasted as if it had actually done a bit of frisking before reaching the table. The herb topping complemented and brought out the flavor nicely, as did the underpinning of melt-in-the-mouth slices of roast eggplant.
To finish off, you can choose from a selection of Corsican cheeses or a clutch of desserts that you won’t find at other eateries round about. Even the sorbets have local flavors, such as myrtle and fig. I chose the sabayon d’agrumes au Muscat corse: oranges and grapefruit covered in a light muscatel flavored sauce, which came on such a searingly hot plate that I turned several shades more rubicund than normal. I’ll go back soon for the crème citron vert sur fond de sablé: lime custard on a shortbread base.
The house wine was creditable, but if you’re feeling adventurous, a selection of other Corsican wines starts at around 25 euros per bottle. And there’s live traditional music on Sunday evenings, for those who can chew and listen at the same time.
A Casaluna: 6, rue du Beaujolais, 75001 Paris. Métro: Pyramides or Bourse. Tel: 01 42 60 05 11. A la carte: around €35 (without wine). Fixed-price menus: €15 (lunch only) and €20 euros. Booking strongly advised. www.acasaluna.com
© 2006 Paris Update
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