Lunching in the
The homey setting upstairs at Distrito Francés.
One day in August I went to the Rue du Faubourg Saint Martin to try a new Mexican restaurant, Distrito Francés, and was delighted to discover that a whole enclave of non-French gourmet lunch places had popped up there: besides Distrito, a kebab and falafel restaurant that makes all its own ingredients and an African “fast food” restaurant with an original formula. I went back to try them one by one.
First, Distrito Francés. The young owner is cute and charming and obviously excited about what he’s doing. He’s not Mexican, but has taken inspiration from his travels and other restaurants, and has done an amazingly good job of creating something new that is not exactly authentic but is ingeniously delicious. My mouth waters every time I think of the spicy-hot “pollo PoPoPoP” brochettes: chicken
marinated in sugar and chili with a fantastic crunchy crust made of crushed popcorn, cornflakes, coriander and fresh mint.
I also tried the “Bang Bang” tacos, the prettiest I have ever seen. The excellent house-made corn tacos were filled with pork that had been
cooked to a meltingly tender state in a banana leaf and served in a sauce made with roucou (achiote, a South American shrub). Juicy and delicious.
For dessert, I can heartily recommend the exocola, a deep, rich chocolate tart with roasted macadamia nuts, caramel and a perfect crust.
My only reservation is that I paid over €30 for lunch, which seemed a bit pricey, although that included a Mexican beer, and it’s true that I ordered more food than I could eat (a doggy bag was willingly provided). It was worth it, however, given the quality of the food. I plan to go back for dinner and eat in the cozy dining room upstairs, charmingly done up like an apartment with vintage furniture.
A few doors down, in a stark setting with
designer chairs and raw-concrete walls, Rococo serves a slow version of Middle Eastern street food: kebabs and falafels. All ingredients are housemade, even the ketchup, mustard and bread. My friend Audrey and I couldn’t resist first trying an unusual (to us) starter: grilled
cucumber with feta cheese, dill and olive oil. It was a lovely, light and refreshing way to begin the meal.
The pork kebab I had afterward was also surprisingly refreshing, full of the bright flavors of super-fresh cucumber, lettuce,
tomato and herb salsa, although I couldn’t find the promised raisins. The pork was marinated in mustard and orange and smothered in garlic-infused yogurt, and the house-made pita bread was pleasantly soft and not at all chewy.
Audrey was just as pleased with her vegetarian falafel filled with goodies: the best falafel balls I have ever tasted – crispy and flavorful- along
with baba ganoush, pickled cabbage, tomato, cucumber, spring onions, marinated peppers and herb salsa. Both sandwiches were served with great fries.
We skipped dessert, but could have had a chocolate mousse, an apple compote with crumble and yogurt, or apricots in syrup with fresh herbs.
The service was provided at lunchtime by a pleasant young woman who seemed overworked and was somewhat neglectful. Otherwise, this is a great little lunch spot.
On the same side of the street is Osè, which serves a high-quality fast-food version of dishes from all over the African continent, to take out or eat in. This project has been carefully thought-out, with an informative,
efficient website for ordering, an attractive decor in this first location (there are apparently plans to expand), super-friendly and accommodating service, and fresh, high-quality food.
There is almost too much choice here. Customers have to pick their rice (red or white), sauce (mafé, yassa, coconut, rasta, ndizi or the daily special), meat (beef, chicken, shrimp) or sautéed vegetables. Then there are extras like chicken wings or plantain chips.
There are even four choices of hot sauce, ranging from mild to super hot, and made with different ingredients: chili alone or chili with ginger, tamarind or mango. Decisions, decisions! Luckily, the kindly young owner and his coworker are happy to give tastes of any or all of the sauces to help customers decide.
Once through the ordering process, I sat down to my red rice with chicken and mafé sauce (made with peanut butter and vegetables), all
fresh and delicious (I was not planning to finish the copious serving, but in the end I ate it all). I had a side order of salted plantain chips (sweet ones are available as well), which were as addictive as potato chips and probably even more fattening. It was a hearty, appetizing and satisfying lunch.
Good lunch options abound in this neighborhood. On the same block, there is also a new gourmet Portuguese food shop and deli, La Caravelle des Saveurs (12, rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin, 75010 Paris; tel.: 01 40 37 67 69), which serves simple lunches. And, a couple of blocks away is a great kebab shop/newsstand called Le Daily Syrien (55, rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, Paris; tel.: 09 54 11 75 35), where I tried the tasty sawet djat (chicken liver sandwich).
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