I have never been too hot on Chinese restaurants in Paris since so many serve up frozen versions of the Cantonese standards, but that has been changing as more and more offer authentic, freshly made regional cuisine.
When searching for a lunch spot the other day, I stumbled upon La Table de Zhao. The menu posted outside immediately appealed to me with its promise of house-made noodles and a picture of something I had never before seen in a Chinese restaurant: a sort of sandwich made with Xi’an-style flatbread.
In fact, I had never before eaten in a place specializing in the cuisine of Xi’an, famed for its spectacular buried army of ancient, larger-than-life-sized clay warriors.
The small restaurant is staffed by three sweet young women. One suggested that along with the sandwich (which they do not call a sandwich but “bread with meat” – I don’t see the difference but the server insisted), I try the specialty of Shaanxi Province, liangpi, a cold noodle dish dressed with rice vinegar and chile oil, and topped with julienned cucumber, said to date back to the third century B.C. Emperor Qin Shi Huang supposedly liked it so much that he demanded it in tribute.
I’m in total agreement with the emperor when it comes to liangpi. I loved it so much that every time I think of it I want to rush to the
Taverne de Zhao and order another one. The combination of soft, slippery noodles; chewy bits of solidified gluten (the allergic beware!); sour, peppery sauce; and cooling cucumbers created the perfect balance.
I also loved the shredded-pork “bread with meat” (a veggie version with tofu and egg is
also available). The combination of the two dishes made a perfect, satisfying lunch, almost too much quantity-wise, but I enjoyed them so much that I was compelled to finish both. I left with a just-right warm glow in the mouth that was a pleasant reminder of the meal.
That was not the case a couple of days later when I went to a Sichuan restaurant I had been hearing a lot about, Deux Fois Plus de Piment, which I left with a sweaty, flaming red face and a burning tongue. I should have known, if not from the name, which means twice as much chile, then from the sign on the door, which states, “Chile can cause stomach aches and diarrhea.” How appetizing! Hot enough to make one trot.
Nonetheless we forged on, studying the grubby menus and ordering some tasty house-made dumplings topped with ground peanuts and three dishes to share: fish in spicy soup, Sichuan-style chicken and pork with leeks. We enjoyed all of them, although the chicken (heavily spiced with cardamom) contained lots
of splintery bits of bone. The mystery fish in a very spicy broth remained tender, almost soft, not often the case with fish soup.
We had asked for the moderate level of chile, number two of five. If what we had was moderate, I’d hate to try number five, and I am a lover of hot food (the restaurant’s owners recently opened a new branch of the restaurant called Trois Fois Plus de Piment – ouch!).
The restaurant was doing a bang-up takeout business while we were there (it’s on delivery service Foodora’s list of selected restaurants), which would seem to indicate that the French are losing their aversion to hot foods.
Between the Taverne de Zhao and Deux Fois Plus de Piment, I vote for the Taverne de Zhao. Can’t wait to go back.
La Taverne de Zhao: 49, rue des Vinaigriers, 75010 Paris. Métro: Jacques Bonsergent. Tel.: 01 40 37 16 21. Open Tuesday-Sunday for lunch and dinner. A la carte: around €20. Closed Monday. latavernedezhao.fr
Deux Fois Plus de Piment: 33, rue Saint-Sébastien, 75011 Paris. Métro: Saint-Sébastien-Froissart, Saint-Ambroise, Richard Lenoir. Tel.: 01 58 30 99 35. Open Thursday-Tuesday for lunch and dinner. Closed Wednesday. A la carte: around €20.
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