|Hats off and sincere thanks to chef Julien Duboué.|
Afaria means “dinner” in Basque, apparently, but there’s nothing particularly Basque about this restaurant’s food, methinks, which is a brilliantly personal take on contemporary bistro fare. “Good tucker,” as Bertie the Gastrohound’s Aussie mistress (a.k.a. my girlfriend) would say.
Interestingly, chef Julien Duboué has worked for Daniel Boulud in New York. Boulud has been invited by Paul Bocuse to be honorary president of this autumn’s Bocuse d’Or awards in Lyon – dubbed by The New York Times the “Olympics of Food.” These guys get around.
Anyway, the 15th arrondissement and Paris in general can consider themselves very lucky that Duboué has chosen to set up shop on his home turf once more. I must admit to a slight feeling of irritation at the fancy-pants menu, which the three of us stared at blankly for a while before realizing that it was divided into four separate menus comprising starter, main dish and dessert, but (as at Toustem, which uses the same system) there’s nothing to stop you from mixing and matching. That irritation soon disappeared when our starters were set before us.
One of the starters we ordered was for two, a salad of string beans and a saucer of shrimp flambéed in whisky, although you wouldn’t have known it. The whisky must have been used very sparingly, but the shrimp had plenty of fresh taste and bite, so no one was complaining. The beans were ennobled by a very fine vinaigrette dressing. Another starter, croustillant de sardines à l’italienne, came with a salad of Sardinian couscous. The sardines were fried in real batter and were properly steamed: crunchy outside, melting within. Brilliant. But the real winner was the boudin aux pommes en croûte de moutarde. The blood sausage looked like a thick slice of layered chocolate cake, the central layer being the apple compote, and it was topped with the thinnest of mustard crusts. We loved it, and told the waiter so, who was so pleased he made a special effort to slow down his Gatling gun delivery.
The slow-cooked loin of pork with preserved vegetables did not need a knife, and the flavors of the vegetables came shining through a veil of onion that sets my mouth watering anew as I write. Salmon, unless wild, is not the most inspiring of fish, but my mixed salmon and mango kebabs in a creamy Thai sauce tripped a light fantastic on the taste buds. Even better was the serving of rice, infused with coconut milk and lime leaves.
Completing the trio was an admirably cooked filet de daurade à la plancha (grilled fillet of gilthead bream), which came with a salad of tomatoes that had, we agreed, been allowed to stand a little in the blanching water used to loosen the skins, and so were just slightly cooked on the outside. They were paired with delicious baby fava beans, another winning combination.
We polished off a bottle of Pic Saint Loup with the meal, and in anticipation of dessert called for a glass of something white and sticky. After a bit of prompting, the waiter obliged with a fine Côteaux de Layon, opened specially for us, and sold by the glass.
The wine list, be it noted in passing, is written on a large mirror, which was uncomfortable for us, as we couldn’t read it from where we were sitting, and uncomfortable for the diners I had to hover over to pick out the evening’s tipple.
The beignets à l’orange, mousse tiède chocolat cacahuète (little orange donuts served with a warm peanut-flavored chocolate sauce) would have been dead in the water without the fine sauce. My crumble of apples and pears, like the sardine batter, had not been dumbed down to insignificance. Far from it: it was a hearty and memorable rendition of an old favorite.
So, hats off and sincere thanks to Julien Duboué for turning out supremely satisfying tucker tucked away in this quiet part of town.
Afaria: 15, rue Desnouettes, 75015 Paris. Métro: Convention. Nearest Vélib’ stations: 1, place Henri Rollet; 48, rue Olivier de Serres. Closed Sunday and at lunchtime on Monday. A la carte: around €40*.
* three courses, not including wine
© 2008 Paris Update
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