Thursday, January 31, 2008

Robert et Louise

A la carte et Robert et Louise.

Not too far from Soluna Cafes is Robert et Louise, a recommendation by Juan Miguel, who says he goes there "with my friends every time I was in Paris." Juan Miguel knows good food, so I decide to give it a try.

It's cold in Paris but now it's getting windy. Ugh. I've got a long-sleeve zippered turtleneck Patagonia Capilene undershirt, a cotton Polo t-shirt, a Columbia Titanuim jacket and a Marmot fleece vest and I'm still cold. Not freezing, but cold. Comfortable - until the wind gusts. And it's gusting something fierce.

I make my way up rue Vielle du Temple and find Robert et Louise to occupy a small and very old space. Wood frontage, wood timbers support the floor above, the old wood bar is rustic and features old granite work surfaces behind the bar, old photos line the walls and the place is jam-packed full of hungry eaters.

They really are cooking in that fireplace.

From the outside, the place looks old, almost unremarkable. But once I stepped in and spied the gay couple sharing a wood-fired Cote du Beouf, I knew that Juan Manuel had steered me in the right direction.

The food here just looked hearty. And meaty. And delicious. Everywhere you turned, there were people jammed in just looking absolutely delighted with their meal. Happy faces. Fulfilled faces. Amazing.

The place can seat maybe twenty-five people comfortably. There were about thirty when I walked in and was offered a seat at the end of the bar, which would become my little outpost in what was to become an extremely crowded tiny restaurant.

Fresh Sausages from the fire.

One of the most amazing things for me was the real, old world fireplace where they were actually cooking the food over a live wood fire. Immense! I was totally stoked. You just don't see that kind of cooking in America. Not in a wood fireplace older than America itself, at least. Big wow factor there and not something I can just buy from JB Prince.

I decided to start with the Saucisse Fraiche for six euros. Long and thin, these were cooked and charred over the fire. The flavor was spectacular. Just the right texture, spice and slightly salty. Paired with the bread and the two struck the perfect balance. I could have eaten two orders.

In fact, I should have ordered it twice!

Confit de Canard Maison et pommes sautees et salade.

There are times when you just know that you should have chosen something else. Those times when you know that you have chosen poorly. The fire, the other customers' dishes, the signs were clear: this is the place for beef.

Even Juan Miguel in a text message later wrote:

"The confit is good. I've ordered the rib steak and it was only for me...I say go for it and order the massive meat. Let them look at you like you're crazy...they did when I ordered it. Plus you get to eat it on a cutting board."

The menu said it all: Cote du Beouf for two: E40. For Three: E60.

Juan Manuel is a smaller man than me. Comparatively speaking, he's downright petit. It's one thing for a petit man to order the rib steak than it is for a man such as myself to order the same. I didn't want to seem starving, so I decided to go with the Confit de Canard which, seemed to be an "appropriate" dish to order for myself.

Except that duck does not have the soul-satisfying power that beef possesses. Nothing can touch it. Except steamed white rice. But that only intensifies its' power.

No "and", "if" or "but" about it: on this night, I had chosen poorly.

Preparing espresso and preparing my bill.

That's not to say that the duck confit was not good. It most certainly was excellent. Just the beautifully soft and silky texture I would expect to find in a French-made confit. But it wasn't the beef and that choice would dog me throughout.

Of course, I rationaled it by thinking that I would stop by Chez Pierrot later to try his blanquette du veau, but it wasn't enough.

The confit was lovely. Just the right texture and everything was falling off the bone. Add a little sea salt and it was delicious and looked just beautiful. Paired with the sauteed potatoes and just delicious. The only thing I wanted to change was the texture of the skin. I prefer my confit skin to be crisped. The skin at Robert et Louise was just flimsy and oily. If it was crisped, it would have been perfect in my book.

I was full, but my mouth and tastebuds still yearned for the wood-fired beef.

The Bill.

I'm finding this whole dining in Paris thing to be quite expensive. I've been eating out every night and I'm still programmed into a "dollar" way of thinking. I see "28,00" and I think "twenty eight dollars," not "twenty eight euros." Back home, a nice meal for twenty-eight dollars is not too bad. But a meal for forty-one dollars is starting to push it. I can't go out eating every night spending that and more.

And God knows how much L'Arpege is really going to cost me.

The other side of this is that "forty-one dollars" means "forty-one dollars" - everything is included. No need to sit around thinking about tip or service charge. No more calculating. No more trying to evaluate the service and tip accordingly. No more nonsense. It's just, "here's the bill and this is how much you pay."

I like this system much better.

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