Thursday, January 31, 2008
Chez l'Ami Jean
I got out of bed a bit earlier today and left the room around 12:45pm. I think the chambermaid is getting used to my schedule.
Strange as it may sound, finding a bistro to eat in Paris is a bit difficult. Sure, there are tons of them on every block and around the corner, but finding the great ones amongst the average is the hard part.
I heard about Chez l'Ami Jean on the Internet. I know it's risky taking advice from bloggers (go figure) whom you are not familiar with, but Ami Jean was just a couple of blocks away and the guy raved how he's been going there for years, and it's Basque, and the chef takes a molecular approach - so, I thought I'd give it a try.
It seems that Parisians don't really eat until after 1pm, so I was able to get a table pretty quickly, but half an hour later, the place was packed. The menu here changes daily and it's all in French, so it took me a little while to decipher it all. The Lentil Soup and Roasted Duck Breast seemed to be good choices, although the skate and rabbit sounded pretty tasty as well.
The lentil soup comes in two parts: first, the big, white bowl with the "croutons," ciboulettes et lards. It's all prettily arranged on the plate but since the server didn't tell me anything about the course, how am I supposed to know what's going on? So I start eating.
He then comes up and tells me in an exasperated French that I need to wait for the soup!
Finally, the soup comes in a pitcher and he pours it over the stuff and we're off to the races. The pitcher stays at the table and I refill the bowl as necessary. The soup is good, tasty and seasoned just right. I don't need anything else for it because it's on the money. The only problem is that it's on the runny side. I wish it were more viscous. It's so thin that I wish I could pour it into a mug and slug it down.
The restaurant itself is old French. Wood walls, old floors, old ceilings, old bar, old tables - this place is straight out of Hemingway and it looks like it was built before Hemingway. I state this because the food is in stark contrast to this place. Sure, these dishes are classic French, but the presentation is quite modern and very "small plate" in style.
When it arrives, the uninitiated might mistake the meat on my plate for beef. It's brown on the outside and seriously (almost violently) red on the inside: a perfect medium-rare. But this is duck breast, my friend. Not too fatty, but with a slightly tough texture and a bit of flavor that's helped along by a liberal dosing of salt to make it pop. The duck is really wonderful. You'd almost think you were eating beef. It may look like beef, cut like beef and bleed like beef, but it quacks like a duck.
The duck is topped with two very thin slices of bacon and some roasted potatoes. Alongside the duck is a carrot puree with dried, paper-thin sausage and a side of very buttery mashed potatoes. They're both a lovely accompaniment to the duck and the carrot flavor really stands out. It's bright and delightfully sweet.
I've decided to pass on dessert and my waiter can't believe it. Maybe the French always have dessert, but not this American. I've had too much to eat already. Disappointed, he drops off the check and I'm out the door scouting the Parisian landscape.
Chez l'Ami Jean
27, rue Malar
01 47 05 86 89