December 18, 2007By Richard HesseArchive

Variety Meats:
The Spice of Life

ribouldingue restaurant, paris
The pretty, cozy interior of Ribouldingue, with mirrors to infinity.

“Ribouldingue” is one of those yummy words that you can chew and chomp and turn over on your tongue like a well-polished oral worry-bead. Apparently, it is late 19th-century slang for a spree, conjuring up images of festive eating and drinking in low places.

There is nothing low about Ribouldingue le restaurant, however, located just across the Seine from Notre Dame and across the street from one of the oldest, tiniest and most romantic churches in Paris, Saint Julien le Pauvre, which itself stands on the site of a church attested in the sixth century.

Ribouldingue opened to some critical acclaim about 18 months ago, and is expertly run by la patronne, Nadège Varigny, who is clearly a gourmet eater and drinker herself. It specializes in offal, while also generously catering to the less adventurous. The super-value €27 menu is scattered with reference to brains, testicles, udder, snout, tripe, tongue and sweetbreads, alongside one or two more classic dishes, if your dining companions are of the fainthearted sort.

Its two intimate wood-paneled dining rooms seat about 35 and are painted in a creamy wash, touched up with discreet pictorial homages to the pig and its various parts. Snowy-white tablecloths and grown-up stemware are brightened by a different fresh-flower arrangement on each table – dark arum and clematis blooms graced the tables around us. Our hostess certainly likes pampering her guests.

I almost said “her boys,” because at least three-quarters of the diners the other evening were male, in tables of three or four, out on a spree. Why is it that variety meats are such a male preserve? Certainly, the males I know who rave about offal often do so with the daredevil bravado of a 10-year-old playing a game of gastronomic chicken.

Before the serious business started, we were given a taste of things to come with an amuse-bouche of pig’s rind in jelly, accompanied by salad leaves sprinkled with crunchy deep-fried onion. This was all about texture, as I could find no discernible taste in the jelly. It did not have me swooning, but my dinner companion said it grew on her.

My starter was crunchy cow’s udder salad. That doesn’t sound very poetic, but it was deliciously crunchy and bacony, with the richness cut by the salad dressing and large capucine capers. Another starter, pig’s-foot ravioli, was swimming in a delicate, creamy sauce. Again, the pig’s-foot part of the equation was more about texture than taste, but it gave the fabulous fresh pasta packets their chance to shine.

The dish of the day was an embeurrée de chou à la queue de boeuf, slow-cooked oxtail paired with lightly cooked Savoy cabbage. The cabbage was not quite cabbagey enough (French home-cookery books offer all sorts of ways of leaching the flavor from cabbage). My first choice of ox tongue was unavailable, so I fell back on the pan-fried sweetbreads with root vegetables. These proved to be perfection, although again, I would have liked the personality of the vegetables – salsify and carrot – to be more assertive: we had to resort to the salt and the pepper mill to jazz them up a bit.

Ribouldingue’s handpicked wine list ranks bottles by price (from around €15 to a high of €90), covers all the French regions, and leans toward the biodynamic and organic. Our €24 Minervois La Nine 2005 by Jean-Baptiste Senat had the meat and the spice as well as the freshness to hobnob graciously with the food. With the desserts, I pounced on a beautifully made Muscat d’Alsace by Audrey and Christian Binner of Ammerschwihr, which punched us right on the nose and had our eyes rolling in delight with its dry roundness. It was perfect with the desserts: a caramelized pain perdu (French toast) with ice cream and a quince compote with a ginger sorbet, both outstanding.

A great find, superb value.

Richard Hesse

Ribouldingue: 10, rue Saint Julien Le Pauvre, 75005 Paris. Tel.: 01 46 33 98 80. Métro: Cité, Maubert Mutualité or Saint Michel. Nearest Vélib’ station: 6, rue du Fouarre. Open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday and Monday. Fixed-price menu: €27.

© 2007 Paris Update

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