They’ve done it again. The youthful owners of the excellent bistros Le Pantruche and Caillebotte have spawned another success. La Belle Maison fully lives up to its name, offering fine food at reasonable prices with friendly service in a pleasant (although sometimes noisy) setting.
My friend Linda and I wisely avoided the noise problem by dining early, at 7:30pm, when the restaurant, with its simple decor dominated by a handsome blue-and-white tiled wall, was still nearly empty. The noisy crowds didn’t arrive until around 9pm, and we were treated to special attention from the gentlemanly waiters in the meantime.
Linda didn’t want a first course, but I couldn’t resist trying the daily special, oursins with scrambled eggs, crab bisque and chives, a refined dish that let the odd, astringent flavor of the sea urchins shine through.
My main course, the only meat dish listed alongside four fish offerings, was a dream: a rich, gamey tourte de colvert (mallard duck pie) in a perfect, crispy pastry crust (none of the sogginess this type of dish is prone to) with foie gras tucked inside, accompanied by a puree of white cabbage in béarnaise sauce. It was so rich and filling that I couldn’t finish it, but I couldn’t bear the thought of it being thrown away, so I dared to ask for a doggy bag, which was graciously delivered. A nice change from the grudging disdain Linda said she had once encountered when she asked for one at another Paris restaurant. We commented on how much friendlier – sometimes even obsequious – service in Paris has become in recent years.
Linda was delighted with her lotte (monkfish), which she summed up beautifully in the notes she had made on her own dishes as “firm, resilient monkfish served with carrots in three guises: roasted, julienned and pureed, with just a hint of spicy heat.”
The desserts were another triumph. Mine was an ethereally light, deconstructed version of cheesecake with a layer of passion fruit, topped with crumbled spéculoos (spice cookie) and three meringues. Linda had the chocolate cream with orange marmalade and peanut ice cream, which reminded her of a sachertorte, accompanied by a caramelized cookie.
La Belle Maison turns the usual formula of French restaurants upside-down. Instead of offering one fish dish to placate those who don’t eat meat, it offers one meat dish for those who don’t want fish. I’m glad I went against the grain that night and ordered that tourte de colvert. I’m still thinking about it and can’t wait to return to the “beautiful house” to have it again and try some of the chef’s fishy specialties.Favorite