Unfortunately it doesn’t happen very often, which is why I appreciate the very rare pleasure of spontaneously deciding to try a restaurant in Paris even more. As a food writer, you see, I’m obviously obliged to keep up with the latest new addresses, and since I don’t like going to restaurants on the weekend if I can avoid it–as a rule of thumb, Parisians generally cook or entertain at home then, which leaves the city’s restaurants to suburbanites or tourists, and I’m also too busy to go out to lunch, this leaves me five available meals per week to test the latest openings. This may sound adequate, but recently a whole week went by during which I didn’t find a single meal that was worthy of writing up here, even if only in negative terms.
Yesterday, though, after we couldn’t get into “Mud,” which opened here yesterday, Bruno and I decided to go for a long walk after having spent a print-drunk day at home. Knowing that the fridge was bare, I hoped the Tunisian green grocer at the bottom of the rue des Martyrs would be open so that we could buy some asparagus and rustle up a simple dinner at home. But he’d already closed, so we keep walking up the rue des Martyrs with the idea of doing sort of a H shaped walk home. Along the way, I found myself regretting the two branches of Fuxia that have opened here–the food’s okay, but it is a chain, and also thinking that it had been a very long time since I’d last eaten at Le Cul de Poule, which was packed last night. The menu there didn’t really speak to me, though, and Bruno had already said he didn’t want to eat at a restaurant, so we keep moving, and then it started to rain again, so we stopped under the awning of La Table des Anges to wait out the shower, and of course I read the menu posted outside. It looked really good, and there was a reasonably priced 32 Euro prix-fixe, so I turned to Bruno, who said “Non” even before I’d opened my mouth. “Well, why ‘Non,’? We don’t have anything to eat at home, it’s getting late, I’m hungry, this place looks good.” “We still have some salad.” He could live on lettuce and other leaves, but I can’t and won’t so I told him I’d invited him to dinner and stepped inside.
Seated at a wooden table with Kraft paper place mats by one of friendly owners, who immediately brought us a complimentry serving of speck and salami to nibble while we studied the menu, I liked the look of this place. The exposed stone walls gave it a warm atmosphere, and the slicing machine by the chalkboard announcing the daily specials inspired confidence, too. Still, tempted though I may have been, I was not going to order langoustine risotto in a Paris restaurant I didn’t know–I’ve had good risotto exactly once in Paris during twenty-five futile years of trying, and so instead decided on the asparagus veloute and the brandade de morue, which is one of my favorite dishes. Bruno chose the homemade duck terrine and the quenelles de brochet (pike perch dumplings), and we ordered a bottle of Fleurie, a perfect Spring time wine, from the short but interesting wine list. Happily, the bright cherry-jam nose of the Fleurie dissolved whatever peevishness Bruno was still nursing over this impromptu dinner outing, and then things took a decided shift for the better when our starters arrived.
Studded with pistachios, Bruno’s duck terrine was homemade, beautifully seasoned (thyme, green pepper corns), generously served and accompanied by a ramekin of tangy onion jam. My froathy soup had a superb depth of flavor, too, and the bread served with these dishes was excellent crusty baguette with a lacy crumb and a faint perfume of wood smoke. I overheard the couple sitting in the corner across from us congratulating themselves for having found this place, too, and grinned as I watched the owner serving them each a complimentry tot of fiery hazelnut eau de vie that had been made by monks somewhere in the Yonne. I hoped we’d get to taste it, too.
Since brandade de morue, that sublime mixture of baked olive-oil lashed whipped potatoes, salt cod and garlic that’s perhaps best sampled in Nimes, can be a sorry business when it’s not made with real care, I hoped our luck would hold with the main courses. Ditto Bruno’s quenelles de brochet, which can be leaden and tasteless when made from industrial ingredients in industrial quantities. This apprehension surely explained Bruno’s alarm when the waiter revealed his enormous quenelle in a covered Staub casserole. As if reading his mind, however, he reassured Bruno that it was homemade and also explained that the accompanying sauce had been made with broth and a little cream but no flour. The quenelle’s delicate sauce was also garnished with mushrooms, carrots, baby onions and a potato.
Potently garlicky and almost airy in its lightness, the brandade was superb, as was Bruno’s quenelle. When we claimed a well-fed pause before dessert, the owner returned to the table with two glasses of Fleurie from another producer, a thoughtful gesture, and we complimented him over his chef. “Thank you, yes, he’s very talented,” said the proprietor, who told us his name is Yan Duranceau, a young up-and-comer who has already worked at Le Grand Véfour, the Plaza Athénée and Taillevent.
Both of us finished up with fine slices of brebis d’estive, which is made by Christine Arripe at her Ferme de la Montagne Verte in the Ossau valley and shipped directly to this restaurant in Paris. The particularity of this rich but subtle ewe’s milk cheese is that it’s only made during the transhumance period from June to September in the up-mountain valleys of the Bearn. Not surprisingly, it has won a Slow Food label, and it’s just superb.
And finally, two slugs of that mysterious hazelnut eau de vie, which made our eyes water and tasted exactly the way a rafter in the attic of Burgundian barn might if you gave it a good lick–grass, dust, caramel, smoke, it was just lovely, and we walked home with the fuzzy happiness of having inadvertently discovered a delightful new everyday restaurant in our neighborhood embroidered with the warm halo induced by the monks’ skills with a still.
La Table des Anges, 66 rue des Martyrs, 9th, Tel. 01-55-32-24-89. Metro: Pigalle or Notre Dame de Lorette
www.latabledesanges.fr, Closed Sundays and Mondays. Lunch menu 16 Euros, prix-fixe menu 32 Euros. Average a la carte 45 Euros.
Alexander Lobrano was Gourmet magazine’s European correspondent from 1999 until its recent closing. Lobrano has written for almost every major food and travel magazine since he became an American in Paris in 1986. He is the author of “Hungry for Paris” (Random House), his personal selection of the city’s 102 best restaurants, which Alice Waters has called “a wonderful guide to eating in Paris.” Lobrano’s Letter from Paris runs every month in Everett Potter’s Travel Report. Visit his website, Hungry for Paris.(Photo by Steven Rothfeld)