When a friend told me that she sometimes dreams at night about the sizzling lamb at a Chinese restaurant called L’Orient d’Or, I knew I had to get there soon. French food is wonderful, but now and then I crave something entirely different, and I miss the great Chinese food I used to eat in San Francisco. In Paris, it’s hard to find a Chinese restaurant that doesn’t dumb down the food to what they think the French want, or offer a combination of Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai dishes, none of them very authentic.
Ambiance- and decor-wise, I was expecting something rather upscale, so I was surprised to find a standard Chinese restaurant (although with black walls, which gave it a den-like feel) with the usual large fish tanks and Chinese artworks. The main difference was the hundreds of red chili peppers hanging from the ceiling, a hint at the regional affiliation of this restaurant: Hunan, where the food is hot, hot, hot. The place was rocking with happy diners and rushing waiters and waitresses. When my friend Bonnie joined me, she was delighted: the buzz reminded her of the Chinese restaurants in her hometown, Manila.
She was even more delighted by the food. I came armed with a list of recommended dishes provided by another food-savvy friend. We ordered them all, plus a couple of others highly recommended by the two young Frenchmen at the table next to ours. Here’s a rundown:
Chinese black mushroom salad: This was my favorite. There was something addictive about those floppy but not rubbery mushrooms in their vinegary sauce.
Chinese green cabbage: Served in broth in a little wok over a flame, the cabbage was speckled with bright red chili peppers. “The longer it cooks, the better it is,” said both the waiter and our neighbors, so I kept stirring, at the risk of setting fire to our sleeves. Delicious.
Scallion salad: This was the only disappointment. The stringy scallions, which
The black mushrooms and scallions.
looked like green spaghetti, had a nice sauce, but they tasted like they had been sitting in the refrigerator for too long.
Crispy duck pancakes: No heat here. The duck was mostly crispy skin, cut into little rectangular sticks and served with extra-thin pancakes, scallions and the usual sweet plum sauce. Soothing, satisfying and very tasty.
Sizzling lamb with cumin: The waitress asked us over and over if we were sure we didn’t want her to lower the heat on this dish, warning us that it was really, really, really hot, but we steadfastly refused, even though our neighbors’ faces were turning fire-engine red, and they were sweating, sneezing and coughing while eating the same thing. When ours arrived, we found it bearable until Bonnie accidentally bit into a chili pepper and had a little turn. I didn’t dream about it that night, but we both loved it.
We had the tasty house fried rice as an accompaniment and a drinkable bottle of Brouilly for €20. We skipped the factory-made desserts and asked for fresh mango, which they were out of, and accepted fresh pineapple instead – a cooling finale to the meal.
Unusually for a Chinese restaurant, the menu vaunts the credentials of the chef, Qiang Zhang, from Changsha, Hunan, and even offers a picture and bio of him. The restaurant’s staff was adorable, smiling and amenable.
A word of advice: if you can’t take the heat, stay away from those red chilies and especially their seeds, which are often hard to spot. Red chili symbols on the menu rate the heat of each dish.
Those who like it hot might also want to try another one of my favorites, the Szechuan (Sichuan in French) restaurant Chengdu in the 10th arrondissement.Favorite