Pork and Beans
|Astier’s rustic decor has been refreshed.|
Ah, memories. I can still remember the sore throat I developed on my first visit to Astier over 20 years ago. There were about six of us in the upstairs room when it was still a hangout for people with shoestring budgets and large appetites. The sore throat came from having to shout to make yourself heard. Is any of this sounding familiar?
When I walked into Astier the other evening, nothing much seemed to have changed, except the prices – and the decor, which had been refreshed. The staff greeted me cheerfully. Although it recently came under new management, Astier is just as cramped as I remembered. Finding space for a gastro-hound under a table for four was a challenge. As the evening wore on, poor Bertie tried to make himself smaller and smaller as various diners and waiting staff kicked him or, in the case of one little girl, tripped right over him. At one point, he decided he’d had enough and attempted suicide right in the middle of the tiny aisle between tables (you can touch elbows with the diner across the way), smack in front of a fully loaded oncoming waitress. I managed to snatch him to safety just in time and earned an acidly polite reprimand.
The employees are all professionals, multiethnic and multi-gender, which is a pleasure to see – in most French restaurants, the only place you will see a non-white face is in the kitchen.
The bistro style food isn’t bad at all. Nothing really fancy, with a lot of meat, including a daily special celebrating a different cut of the noble porker. My companions started with a casserole of petit gris (snails) in a garlic and cream sauce, and a generous hunk of foie gras served with onion jam. My choice was a pungent, chocolate-colored broth inhabited by wild mushrooms and chestnuts. The unusual color was a turn-off for my companions, who refused to taste it, but that was their loss, not mine.
I must have been in soupy mode that night, because my next course was a very liquid stew of mojettes, a type of bean. The Wikipedia article on this subject suggests combining the stub with the article on the common bean – an insult to a pulse that is native only to the Vendée département in Western France and a most uncommon member of the family to boot. The idea! Anyway, the stew was unusual in that no attempt had been made to thicken the gravy, which was clear and light. It came with a number of bits of pig in it, all of which had interesting, peppery, offally flavors. All three ladies at my table plumped for grilled salmon, which, one of them opined, was farmed, not wild. It was pronounced worthwhile in spite of its tame origins.
Before dessert (an excellent crème brûlée and a yummy prune-filled crispy pancake) came the cheese ritual, which never fails to wow out-of-towners for its sheer size and variety, and the fact that the platter is left on the table for as long as you like. This was good cheese, kept at room temperature so all its rich aromas could develop.
Wine connoisseurs will find plenty of reading material on the list, and the new manager, a former wine steward, is said to take great pride in searching out interesting tipples. Our first-choice Cairanne was unavailable, so we had a generic Côtes du Rhône, which did what was expected of it at around €25.
No sore throat this time round – we were in the non-smoking section.
Restaurant Astier: 44, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, 75011 Paris. Métro: Oberkampf. Nearest Vélib stations: 1, rue de la Pierre Levée or 80bis, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud. Tel: 01 43 57 16 35. Open every day for lunch and dinner. Fixed-price menu (4 courses, including cheese): €31. Fixed-price lunch menus: €14.50, €19.50 and €25.50.
© 2007 Paris Update
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