La Fresque and Le Hangar

December 22, 2009By Richard HesseArchive
la fresque restaurant, paris

La Fresque (pictured) and Le Hangar are safe bets in areas that are not overflowing with great restaurants.

One of the most striking things about this week’s two restaurants (Christmas bonus?) is the almost complete absence of road traffic: La Fresque is

la fresque restaurant, paris

La Fresque (pictured) and Le Hangar are safe bets in areas that are not overflowing with great restaurants.

One of the most striking things about this week’s two restaurants (Christmas bonus?) is the almost complete absence of road traffic: La Fresque is in the nearly pedestrian precinct of Les Halles, and Le Hangar, just across the road from the Centre Pompidou, is in a small cul de sac, invisible from the main drag, and has the added benefit of the adjacent Anne Frank Park, where, once sated, you can stake out a bench to digest and soak up the sun in congenial surroundings.

The other striking thing is that neither has any pretentions: both are in the district that used to be called the “belly of Paris,” and their vocation is to fill bellies with wholesome food – plenty of it – that does not tax the chef’s imagination too much. No stars in their eyes, so the down-market locations and decor translate into affordable prices and lowish gastronomic expectations – these are places where you can hang out with a few friends.

I swear that I increased the average age of the diner at La Fresque by a good three months, to 23 years and three months. I was by far the hoariest of those present, which was an interesting experience. We were surrounded by younglings for whose appetites the menu is designed. Ladies definitely do not lunch here. The two young women at the adjoining table each polished off one of those ubiquitous souris d’agneau lamb knuckles (and those lambies sure did have big knuckles) and a heap of what I would call potato fritters in no time at all. And they followed up with dessert.

We started with a large dollop of black olive tapenade with half a loaf of toast and a goat’s cheese salad that would have fed a peasant family for a couple of days. My main course was a decent-sized veal chop, with some of those potatoes plus carrots and zucchini. Good solid stuff, well prepared and presented in a way my mom would have recognized. We skipped dessert.

A lot of Coca-Cola is consumed at La Fresque, but there is a decent, inexpensive wine list: we had a bottle of 2006 Graves that set us back only €22 without our feeling cheated at all. It was a cold Monday evening, and the place was heaving at around 9pm, with no sign of the rush abating: tables refilled as soon as they emptied, with the bouncy wait staff of handsome young men doing a pretty good job all told.

Le Hangar is slightly more upmarket, with a much wider age range. Again, people go there to eat uncomplicated food in unpretentious surroundings. It’s the sort of place where I can take my girlfriend, who likes mom and pop places. It feels as if the owners have been here forever, and they employ a bevy of absolutely charming waitresses dressed in black.

I’ve been to Le Hangar a couple of times recently, once in a pre-theater group of eight, when I had prawn tagliatelle with cream that was disappointing because the prawns had not been cooked with the sauce. Everyone else was happy with what they ate. On my last visit, after seeing the documentary Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine for the second time, I had a great deal of trouble attracting my date’s attention as an iconic French film and theater director and one of his favorite actors were sitting right behind me. I had to tell her it was rude to stare! Being a grown-up feminist, she was quite unabashed.

Again, the wine list is honest and down to earth, featuring, among others, an inexpensive Crozes Hermitage, drunk in large quantities on the first visit, and a Saint Joseph, not from the Cave de Tain, as advertised, but from another producer and a different year, but lip-smackingly hearty all the same.

We had a tasty lentil soup to keep out the winter chill, followed by a parmentier de canard (shepherd’s pie with duck rather than lamb or beef) and a steak tartare that was perfectly prepared and served with tiny pommes dauphines that were lighter and crispier than any I’ve ever tasted. A real culinary feat. Again, we passed on dessert.

A word of warning about Le Hangar: they do not take credit cards, which is a bore. My date also felt that the portions were small (this came as a surprise to me), but then, she’s from good French peasant stock.

Both of these places amply make up for the fact that they do not reach dizzying gastronomic heights with their heart-warming atmosphere and gemütlich buzz. An added benefit is that both have outside, mostly car-free (but not cigarette-smoke free) eating areas in warmer weather.

Richard Hesse

La Fresque: 100, rue Rambuteau, 75001 Paris. Tel.: 01 42 33 17 56. Métro: Les Halles. Nearest Vélib stations: 40, boulevard Sébastopol; 3, rue de la Cossonnerie. Fixed-price menu: €14. A la carte: around €25. Open for lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

Le Hangar: 12, impasse Berthaud, 75003 Paris. Tel.: 01 42 74 55 44. Métro: Rambuteau. Nearest Vélib stations: 46, rue Beaubourg; 49, rue Rambuteau. A la carte: €25-€30. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday.

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