Two for the Price of One
|Ober-Salé, like La Laiterie Sainte Clotilde, has the simplest of decors.|
Restaurants are funny places. It’s that ritual of communal eating, people getting together to masticate. On off days, the thought of what happens to food when it goes into the mouth can give me pause, and I’m put in mind of the scene in Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie in which eating is depicted as a shameful practice to be done in the most private room in the home.
Recently, I was treated (the understatement of the century) to lunch at Pierre Gagnaire, rated third-best restaurant in the world (after El Bulli and the Fat Duck) by the San Pellegrino restaurant awards. It was the balletic nature of the service that set me thinking about our eating rituals and how they vary as you go down the scale. At Gagnaire’s, a lot of people were clearly there for the food rather than to cut deals (there were plenty of those, too). Several lunchers (me included) swooned at the sight of the debonair Gagnaire in person as he went around greeting each of his guests. You go there to eat and be blown away by the food. You do not go there to leave full.
At the other end of the scale is the local greasy spoon at lunchtime, where great play is made with restaurant vouchers, and where the ritual is all about getting together with work colleagues and filling up on carbohydrates to get you through the afternoon’s labor.
Moving up and down that scale is what makes writing these reviews such a pleasure. This week, I’d like to mention two neighborhood eating places that are probably about a quarter of the way up the scale. Both are the kind of places you would like to have on your doorstep for instant, inexpensive gratification, but neither creates the kind of excitement that would have you trekking across town for a tiptop gastronomic experience. While they don’t rate as highly as Itinéraires, Cristal du Sel or Afaria, they are both worthy operations in their own way.
Ober-Salé opened five months ago. The chef looks just out of high school, but has worked with Eric Frechon at the Bristol, and his smiling young partner does front of house very agreeably. There’s a sense of someone who likes good, fresh ingredients, as testified by the quality of the limited lunch menu: a couple of starters, two main dishes, two desserts. At €19 for three courses, and €20 for a very well made bottle of organic Côtes de Ventoux, you certainly recharge the batteries with excellent, relatively straightforward food for no more than the price of the greasy spoon.
A poached egg nestled in my cream of cauliflower starter, while the main course consisted of generous fillets of grilled whiting on a bed of humble leeks, which had been gently sweated in butter. Dessert was a room-temperature rice pudding with coconut milk, topped by tiny sautéed pineapple cubes.
The other main course was a well-cooked haunch of a guinea fowl whose taste and texture pointed to a good pedigree. This is certainly a place that merits spending your luncheon vouchers.
Second stop was the quaintly named (and also recently opened) Laiterie de Sainte Clotilde. Your guess is as good as mine as to why it should be called a dairy and be dedicated to Saint Clotilde. Perhaps the owners are fans of Clotilde Dusoulier’s mouthwatering Chocolate and Zucchini Web site? The name has a high-class ring to it, anyway, and sits well with the upscale seventh arrondissement, which doesn’t have enough of this kind of reasonably priced bistro.
We ended up paying about €50 a head here in the evening, with an aperitif and a pleasant bottle of Chinon, plus a couple of extra glasses of the same. The house foie gras was well-made, creamy and topped with plenty of good salt. The old-fashioned leeks in vinaigrette were gutsy and allowed to be themselves: no sign of trendy deconstruction here.
My companion and I both chose the same main course from the half dozen on offer: fillets of perch with preserved lemon and braised fennel. It was certainly an odd-tasting dish. I’m not sure that fennel and preserved lemon go together that well, but since I’m addicted to preserved lemon and the fish was well-cooked, I found it most acceptable – unlike my food-writer friend, who felt that the odd taste was rather suspect. A well-ripened Saint Marcellin cheese with the additional glasses of Chinon rounded off the proceedings.
The lack of decor at both places won’t win either of them any Michelin stars, but the warmth of the welcome and the efficient service more than make up for any shortcomings on that side. Both places restore your faith in human kindness and the pleasures of ritual eating.
Ober-Salé: 17, rue Oberkampf, 75011 Paris. Tel.: 01 43 38 46 68. Métro: Oberkampf. Nearest Vélib’ stations: Place Pasdeloup; 104, bd Richard Lenoir. Open: Tuesday-Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner only. Fixed-price menus*: €19 (lunch) and €29 (dinner).
La Laiterie Sainte Clotilde: 64, rue de Bellechasse, 75007 Paris. Tel.: 01 45 51 74 61. Métro: Rue du Bac. Nearest Vélib’ stations: 7 Cité Vanneau; 19 rue Casimir Perier. Open Monday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. Fixed-price menus*: €25-35
* three courses, not including wine
Reader Elaine Mintzer writes: “You wondered why Saint Clotilde was in the title of the restaurant you recently wrote about, and it is because the restaurant is right next to the glorious Saint Clotilde neo-Gothic church.”
© 2009 Paris Update
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