Mélac is all about serious food and wine with no frills.
Pros: Good food; inexpensive, well-chosen wines
Cons: Slightly batty service
In one of those eerie strokes of synchronicity, my date had told me, when I suggested giving Mélac a whirl, that she had almost gone there a few days before, but had ended up around the corner, at the Paul Bert (which I have yet to try). Mélac is in a lively neighborhood, and a lot of the local food shops were still in full swing as I headed toward the restaurant at around 8:30pm the other evening. Later, as we tried to walk off some of the food intake, we noted that the hood was full of interesting-looking bars that were doing some pretty good trade. Where have I been all this time? Especially as the father of the present owner opened the restaurant in 1938…
Mélac prides itself as much on its wine as on its food, and the walls are lined with hundreds of bottles. A lot of the wines are sold by the glass, and, although the priciest bottle on the list was an €88 Côte Rôtie by Guigal, the majority of them were around the €20 mark. And a very tempting list it is.
After a glass of Languedoc white and a northern Burgundy red from Chitry (just outside Auxerre) to accompany slices of a meaty saucisson sec that we managed to tease from the erratic waiter after some cajoling, we chose one of the wines made by the owner himself, a Corbières made mostly from Syrah grapes, with some Grenache and Carignan thrown in for good measure. A 2005, it will be good for another few years yet. Its evocative, if uncomplimentary, name, Les Trois Chieueses, seems to allude to the three daughters of the grower. They must have given him a hard time when they hit adolescence, as the nearest meaning in English has to do with the causing of suffering in the nether regions.
The food is a take on local specialties from the Aveyron region in south central France. Vegetarians take note that meat features large on the menu. My starter was a winter salad of endive with blue cheese and walnuts – one of my girlfriend Katherine’s favorites. It took me a while to find the endive, which was coyly dissimulated under a layer of local country ham, a large dollop of cheese, mushrooms and what not. An excellent starter in a manly portion that was a balanced meal in itself. The other starter was baked eggs with cream and langoustines. The kitchen’s first efforts had to be sent back as the baking had not taken place. Second time around, after the requisite time under the flame, the result was excellent.
There was one fish dish on the menu, chosen by my companion, in the shape of organic trout fillets on a bed of green Puy lentils in crème au lard with a very smoky bacon flavor that perfectly complemented the fish, but could just as easily have been eaten on its own. My generous piece of beef, just seared and warmed through, as requested, came with tasty oyster mushrooms and crispy, garlicky sautéed potatoes – just the sort of thing you yearn for now that the evenings are turning chillier.
To finish, we had one serving each of cheese and dessert: a very fine fourme d’ambert (a blue cheese from the Auvergne), which came close to the sublime one we had at Lavinia, and a rice pudding served with the caramel sauce of “Adrienne, ma mère,” A fine, upstanding woman, that Adrienne. These generous servings went down with an equally generous glass of Muscat de Rivesaltes “Les Larmes d’Hélios,” teardrops of sunshine that almost brought real tears of gratitude to our eyes.
I feel very irritated that I had not been acquainted earlier with Mélac, which is one of the good things in life. It’s as if I had been cheated out of my birthright or something. If you, too, have been cheated as I have, you should make up for it, and soon. You are unlikely to regret it.
Mélac: 42, rue Léon-Frot, 75011 Paris. Tel.: 01 43 70 59 27. Métro: Charonne. Nearest Vélib stations: 30-32, rue Léon Frot; 22, rue Jules Vallès. A la carte: around €35. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Closed Sundays and Mondays in August. www.melac.fr
Reader Jane Riley writes: “I have been to Mélac and loved it. I’m happy to see that you did too. The owner and his family are very nice.” Nov. 12, 2009
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