Where can you get an excellent gourmet meal in Paris for less than €20? In a Chinese takeaway, of course. This is no joke. In a quiet residential neighborhood near the Parc Montsouris in the south of Paris, Mr. and Mrs. Wang offer typical Chinese dishes in a display case, which customers can take away or eat in the dining room. But if you sit down and ask for the French menu, you may be surprised at the sophistication of the choices offered for €19.80 for three courses. They are prepared by the son of the friendly Wang couple, Wang
Gilly, who learned his trade with super-chef Pierre Gagnaire and has imported his know-how to this unlikely location.
I owe this amazing discovery to Therrese, a friend of a friend, who works in the neighborhood and had had the courage to try what must have seemed a risky proposition the first time she went there. She joined Susan, Pierre and me for lunch there the other day.
All three of them chose the pumpkin soup, a rich, flavorful brew with the added tastes
and textures of crunchy croutons, speck and pieces of squid. A serious success. My starter was even more inventive: fresh oysters and cubes of daurade royale (gilthead bream) on
top of a bed of parsnip purée with shallots: pure delight. The flavorful oysters, only slightly cooked by the heat of the purée, were so good that the daurade seemed superfluous. Bright red beet chips and coriander leaves added color, flavor and crunch.
Onward with great anticipation to the main courses: Susan and I had the veal kidneys flambéed in sake instead of the usual cognac, which added an intriguing floral aroma
to the mild (not gamey) kidneys, “like roses,” said Therrese when she tasted it. It came with red onion and puréed parsnips. Therrese and Pierre had the cod with a sauce of caramel and soy, which I found to be an excellent flavor
enhancer for the cod. It was served with pretty green broad beans and almonds. Both main courses were set atop circles of crispy fried potato: decorative, crunchy and tasty, the kind of touch you usually only find in fancy, expensive restaurants. And, as if that were not enough, a bowl of incredibly tasty potato purée was plopped down in the middle of the table for all of us to share.
Could this display of culinary prowess continue with the dessert course? It could and it did. Wang may even have outdone himself with the two we sampled: a shortbread cookie with chocolate mousse, candied grapefruit and Amarena cherries, and cake topped with a slice of pineapple roasted with turmeric and served with coconut ice cream. Both exquisite.
The care that went into the design and preparation of every dish was a wonder. And the pride that the elder Wangs take in their talented son, who will also cook for private parties in the restaurant or in other locations, was truly touching.
A word about the setting: a typical Chinese deli with all the trappings – flower-painted
scrolls, good-luck charms, no-nonsense furnishings – and some extra room for tables, it was spacious and sparkling clean, restrooms included.
And how’s this for a bargain: my glass of decent Cotes de Blayes cost all of €2.
I defy anyone to find me a better French dinner in Paris for a lower price. But the price is not the only attraction here: the meal we had was far better than many I have had that cost twice or thrice as much and as good as some that cost much more than that.