The kids have got it right at La Balançoire.
Pros: solicitous service, lighthearted atmosphere, generous spirit
La Balançoire, a new bistro in Montmartre, has a juvenile nostalgia theme going for it: one of the seats is a real swing, or balançoire (the other night an attractive young woman was perched fetchingly on it and took an occasional vigorous swing between courses); a silhouette of a girl on a swing is painted on the wall, jars of jelly beans and other childish delights are dotted around the room; and the waiter and chef are barely more than school kids themselves.
All that, combined with the cheeseburger on the menu, made me a bit nervous about what was to come: was I in for a meal of what a foodie friend sneeringly calls cuisine jeune (by which he means a lack of good taste and cooking skills)? Cheeseburgers, by the way, are now ubiquitous on Paris menus wherever the young and trendy congregate.
The welcome was so warm, however, and the waiter’s evident pride in the place and the food on the menu so touching that I was quickly won over. Unasked, he took the time to explain each dish to us (“cheeseburger” was the only one that didn’t merit any extra explanation).
The first courses were a sweep. I loved my œuf cocotte in a creamy, mushroomy sauce, just the comfort food I craved. One of my friends had the salad of avocado, mushrooms and crab, which could easily have been boring but wasn’t. The avocado slices and crab were artfully arranged on a bed of chopped raw mushrooms in vinaigrette, with bits of fresh herbs livening up the neutral flavors of the ingredients. The star starter, however, was the foie gras (priced at a
reasonable €10), one of the best and most flavorful I have tasted in a long time, served with apple-pear chutney and raisin-and-nut toast. And, praise be, it was properly served at room temperature, not icy-cold straight from the flavor-killing fridge.
We moved on to the main courses in great good humor. One of my friends had kefta, another dish I had been suspicious of – they are just spicy meatballs, after all. He was very happy with them, but I found them a bit overcooked. Each one sat on a little bed of humus, and they were accompanied by rice and a coriander-flavored yogurt sauce. My other friend’s scallops
with chopped leeks and snow peas were deemed a success, and I once again found comfort, this time in a very tasty parmentier de boudin noir (blood sausage and mashed-potato casserole) with cooked apples.
For dessert, we ordered the café gourmand, coffee and a sampler of three desserts in
generous helpings: a genuine homemade chocolate mousse, tiramisu with brownies, and cheesecake with crumble on top, enough to satisfy the sweet tooth of any kindergartner.
At the end of the meal, the waiter proudly served us complimentary drinks in little round bottles with cork stoppers. More kiddie fodder, but only for those of drinking age: melted jellybeans and Carambars (the favorite candy of all French kids) had been mixed with vodka to create sweet, potent cocktails.
I hate to admit it, but the thick cheeseburger and homemade fries served to one of our neighbors looked delicious. Next time… And there will be a next time.
La Balançoire: 6, rue Aristide Bruant, 75018 Paris. Métro: Blanche. Tel.: 01 42 23 70 83. A la carte: around €32. Open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner (until 2am).
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