Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Paris Dispatches: Chez Michel

Montmartre is a disgusting place. The most prized attraction of this hilled area of Paris is Sacre Coeur. The white walled basilica has a commanding view of all of Paris - a commanding view, that is, if it is not overcast and gray. Plus you have to walk up a considerable amount of steps to enjoy the view, and leading up to those steps are streets filled with 5 Euro sandwiches, t-shirts, souvenirs, and hucksters. As you get closer to the church, dark skinned emigres from Africa, ask, "My friend, let me show you something." They then quickly try to braid a friendship bracelet on your wrist.

It is enough to make anyone from New Orleans feel right at home.

Following this excursion, we walked down streets lined with shops selling fabrics of every shade in huge spools. This turned into streets lined with shops selling dresses, colorful tuxedos, and hats. Then a turn down a small street brought us to Chez Michel. Chez Michel may have been our best meal in Paris.

Cozy and inviting, the interior of Chez Michel was nautical in theme with wood paneling and sturdy wood posts. At one point the chef brought out a balsa wood bucket filled with blue green lobsters to show off to a tableful of eager diners. The cuisine at Chez Michel was rustic and marked at this time of year by wild game and truffles. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

To start the waiter brought out a bowl of cold snails, sharp mustard, and warm bread. I think you can piece together what you do with all three of those. This was a great way to start a meal.

We ordered half our meal off the black chalkboard, guessing and using google to roughly translate what the menu items were. I started with an on the menu item of little biscuits topped with St. Malo cheese and a salad. (What? I was trying to eat healthy.) Lindsay began with a very simple sounding tartine de pate de campagne foie gras. What arrived was an 8 inch loaf of crusted bread smeared with foie gras and gilded by black truffles. A side salad just seemed like a dare.

For my main, a tender shoulder of veal braised in a milk and tarragon sauce with baby leaks, carrots, and mushrooms. Utterly amazing, the milkiness of the veal and the milk had blended into a harmonious bite. The punchy tarragon and vegetables provided a connection back to the roots of good cooking.

Lindsay got more adventurous and was equally rewarded with her braised pheasant, buckshot included, in a rustic stew strewn with carrots and laced with brandy. At one point Lindsay picked up a portion of the pheasant and asked me, "What do you think this is?" I responded the leg with confidence. Until Linsdsay noticed her hand was clasping the beak of the bird. The rich gaminess of the pheasant went especially well with the bottle of Morgon on the table.

The meal wrapped up with two equally impressive dishes. One was a cheese platter, which arrived at the table as a large piece of slate festooned with six globes of different Normandy cheeses, some raisin studded bread, and a bowl of honey. I was instructed to take as much cheese as I liked, which is a bit like telling a child he can take as much candy as he wants. The dessert on the table was a masterful chocolate and coffee cake with a texture more resembling a pudding than a cake. It was light, but dense in chocolate flavor, if that makes any sense. 

The whole meal had a dreamy quality to it. After the disappointment of Montmartre, our expectations were naturally diminished. Then we sat down in the tiny corner front bistro on the Rue Belzunce and we let Paris come to us in a succession of refined rustic cuisine and red wine. It was enough to make anyone feel at home.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

Montemarte is my least favorite neighbohood in Paris as well, yet as you say oddly familiar. I am salivating over that truffle bedecked tartine. I'd say that was well worth beating your way through the tourists, hucksters and mimes!