I had dropped into Gare au Gorille, a neighborhood restaurant with a hot reputation, for a quick lunch several months ago and loved it, but felt I had to go back for a more leisurely meal to properly assess it. I returned with two friends the other night and was able to confirm my favorable first impression.
First of all, I really like the simple decor of the long, narrow restaurant: white walls, white tiles, exposed beams on the ceiling and big windows looking out on the greenery of a small garden. It almost has the feel of a laboratory, but without the coldness.
In the evening, the restaurant offers small plates. One of the charming, attentive waiters advised us to order three each, which turned out to be just right.
Here’s a rundown of what we ate, in no particular order:
Lardo di Colonnata sounds pretty gross when described as a dish of fat, but that’s pretty much what it is. Not just any fat, however, but delicious, melt-on-the-tongue cured and seasoned pork fatback from Tuscany.
Dishes with interesting and unexpected combinations included cuttlefish with black pudding and green beans. The cuttlefish was cooked to a turn and nicely crispy on the outside, and the green beans, the “neutral” link between the meaty and fishy elements, could not have been more perfect: al dente yet cooked enough to release their flavor. I don’t think I’ve ever before enjoyed a green bean so much. When we asked where the exceptionally good vegetables came from, we got the same answer I have been getting everywhere lately: Terroirs et Avenirs, a high-end produce shop in the Sentier.
My two friends had the mozzarella with anchovies and coriander-basil pesto, a lovely combination of contrasting and complementary flavors, with impressively tasty anchovies.
The cod with spinach and hollandaise sauce might have been a bit bland except that it sat atop a stunning, rich mousse of mushrooms.
The fresh mackerel came with baby white asparagus – once again perfectly cooked – and cream subtly spiced with star anise. The cold cucumber soup was flavored with bits of bonito and goat’s cheese and festooned with fresh herbs. We also had a side dish of more of those wonderful seasonal baby vegetables.
We weren’t very hungry for dessert after all that, so we shared a nice summery combo of apricots, strawberries, pound cake and ice cream.
The unusual name, by the way, which means “beware of the gorilla,” comes from an odd song by Georges Brassens, dating from 1952, about a horny gorilla who escapes from the zoo. The women who have been eyeing his impressive male attributes run away, but an old woman, figuring what the hell, and a young male judge in robes hang around to see what happens. Guess who gets molested by the gorilla? Not the one you would expect. Apparently, the song is a protest against capital punishment, which was banned in France in 1981.
It is indeed a weird name for a restaurant, but don’t let that keep you away.