March 4, 2008By Richard HesseArchive

Family Fun

foujita, paris
The sushi bar at Foujita 2.

Every year, upwards of 600,000 people trek to what is popularly known as “the biggest farm in France,” set up for a week in late February in the exhibition halls at Porte de Versailles. This year, the show got even more coverage when a recently married French president had a “full and frank” exchange with another visitor to the Salon de l’Agriculture that went round the world in minutes flat.

I hadn’t been to the salon for a while, but had been promising myself a visit for ages. The last time I was there, that year’s famous visitor was Jacques Chirac, then Minister of Agriculture. You can work out for yourselves how long ago that was.

If you want a typical cross-section of the French nation, this is where you will find it. It might dispel a few myths about those slim, well-dressed French women everyone swoons over. It’s a massive, self-congratulatory celebration of the French population’s visceral attachment to the land and the terroir. A visit to the Salon might dispel a few myths about that, too. Almost the first thing you see when you enter the cattle display hall, upstaging the massive rumps and udders of the best that France can field in dairy and beef, is a McDonald’s sign: it may be one of the most popular restaurants in France, but not even McDonald’s would make any claims to being a part of the terroir DNA (or would they?).

We chatted with a British sheep breeder and his very patient exhibits, oohed and aahed at the little piglets with a black roundel on their derrières (and yes, they do have those twisty little corkscrew tails you see in the cartoons) and discussed their various merits when made into saucisson.

There were goats and horses and dogs and geese and cats and hens and pigeons and rabbits, and we waded through them all as we made our way toward the food and drink: masses of it. We tried some Basque saucisson and organic parmesan cheese made by the Famiglia Brugnoli from Bardi, sighed over lovely Sicilian dried-tomato spreads, munched new varieties of apple and finally ended up having a long chat with Pierre Pochon, who works with a producer of organic wines from the Entre Deux Mers area south of Bordeaux. Simonneau et Fils have been producing a range of organic wines for 35 years. We tasted an Entre Deux Mers that had body and character, and a sweet white that to my palate lacked acidity. Forsaking his bigger reds, we had a go at a nimble Clairet du Chantre that is just the ticket for summer drinking. I shall be getting a stock in.

Which doesn’t bring me to the real subject of this article, Foujita, at all, but I can’t bang on about the Salon de l’Agriculture forever, so without further ado…

I hadn’t eaten what is known in culinary shorthand as sushi since about the last time I went the Salon de l’Agriculture. That time, it was made (in vast quantities) by the Japanese wife of a British colleague, and I was very impressed, but never got around to cultivating a taste for it. This time, though, an old friend who had been at that very sushi party invited me to dine at Foujita after my visit to the salon.

His wife had asked me for the name of a good place. Me? I hardly know my sushi from my sashimi, and certainly need two hands to hold a pair of chopsticks. Luckily, she remembered a place where she had eaten with the Italian conductor Claudio Scimone many years ago: a lover of Japanese food, Foujita was his favorite place to eat when he was in Paris. And luckily for us, it was still there, and still run by the same family.

I can’t finesse the details, but the sashimi and sushi were delicious, especially the squid, as was a piece of grilled, caramelized eel on a bed of sushi rice. A dish of seaweed and cucumber in sweet vinegar was a treat, and I was lifted several inches off my seat by the hot, green wasabi. It was also a treat to see my friends’ teenaged children tucking into it. When I was their age, yogurt was the most exotic thing I was ready to eat.

I went back to Foujita a few days later with another friend, but found it closed, so we fell back on Foujita 2, located a block away and packed with a lunchtime crowd of regulars. We squeezed into seats at the bar and admired the knife skills of the sushi chefs behind the counter while we ate. I tried the tempura this time and was not disappointed – it was light, non-greasy and flavorful.

My companion, who has eaten in many a mediocre Japanese restaurant in Paris, appreciated the rich flavor of the miso soup – so often just a watery brew with a couple of miniature cubes of tofu floating in it – and the freshness of the fish. She didn’t find anything new and exciting on the menu, however, and vowed to keep searching for the best Japanese restaurant in Paris.

The ever-changing crowd of diners is an indication of Foujita’s popularity. The decor is run of the mill, but the staff is efficient and kindly. The food is the thing, and it will do you good without ruining you.

For a list of restaurants screened by Japanese residents of Paris for their authenticity, visit the site of the Japanese Cuisine Evaluation Committee.

Richard Hesse

Foujita 1: 41, rue Saint Roch, 75001 Paris. Tel.: 01 42 61 42 93. Métro: Pyramides
Nearest Vélib’ stations: 27, rue Thérèse, 4 rue de Ventadour. Open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. A la carte: around €30. Fixed-price lunch menus: €13-€15.

Foujita 2: 7, rue du 29 Juillet, 75001 Paris. Tel.: 01 49 26 07 70. Métro: Tuileries
Nearest Vélib’ stations: 215 rue Saint Honoré, 2 rue d’Alger. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
A la carte: around €30. Fixed-price lunch menus: €13-€15.

© 2008 Paris Update

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