22 March 2009

Panique attack

We went to the Bastille marché Sunday morning, one of Paris' largest outdoor markets. Whether you seek inexpensive clothes, raw-milk cheese, fish, pig-head pate, or as we bought, perhaps the best big fat green olives I've ever tasted (from an "artisinal" olive vendor (whatever that means) that nearly knocked my socks off-- wow, wow, wow), disappointing fake-ripe strawberries (clearly gassed; we were suckered into them because I bought a small batch of real ripe and sweet ones from a smaller market Sat morning), an outstanding loaf of bread in a city that has a lot of good bread, and some deliciously funky african lamb curry with bright yellow rice with some insanely tasty meat pastry turnovers possessing a little heat up front and a long-lasting gentle cinnamon finish, chances are you'll find it there. A good morning's haul, really.

But none of that wound up in this week's Sunday Night Risotto. What did wind up in the risotto was the chicken stock I made Saturday from the economy brand supermarket chicken, since the butcher I went to in the morning said he didn't do chicken carcasses (you don't see a lot of chicken parts for sale at real butchers-- it's a whole-chicken-or-nothing buying experience) and some promising looking asparagus from the Bastille market. The asparagus was, in fact, quite good, making for a very tasting-of-spring risotto.

That was a lot simpler than our second dinner out in Paris Fri night, when we ventured into the 10e to visit Cafe Panique. As the website indicates, the chef is self-taught and, somewhat unusually in Paris, a woman. Terrific and influential women chefs are more common in the US, I can think of Alice Waters, Anita Lo, Lidia Bastianich, and Alison Barshak off the top of my head, but they're still underrepresented. Hopefully that'll continue to change. More importantly for our dinner, Cafe Panique is reputed to serve good and creative food and offer good value at a little north of 30 euros for a 3-course meal.

I've started carrying around a small notebook and pen to write down words I don't know or addresses of places I stumble on in my wanderings. The menu contained lots of words I didn't know, a little stressful when you're allergic to shellfish and a missed reference to a mollusk or shrimp variety can have very significant consequences, but you roll the dice and play the odds. Since the menu was posted outside, I decided I'd make my notes on words to look up later more discretely after dinner. Unfortunately, they'd taken the menu outside down by the time we left, so my understanding of what I ate is incomplete.

Most of the food, whatever it may have been, was bright and fresh. Karen had the tuna "mi-cuit", or half-cooked, with a watercress cream and a mini radish salad, pictured below. Very nice flavors and textures-- I'm increasingly fond of the use of salt (in this case on the tuna) as a textural seasoning. You get the tuna flavor and a little burst, and crunch, of the salt with it-- very nice. I had 2 large ravioli filled with lightly smoked duck breast with some kind of foam that was vaguely nutty (in a chestnutty kind of way, but I didn't see either marron or châtaigne, the 2 words I know for chestnuts). Also very good. 

For mains, Karen had a rack of lamb with spring vegetables, which though cooked past the requested rosé, was still thankfully both tender and juicy. I had seared cod over braised shallots and chestnuts, which was a nice combination. I am a sucker for chestnuts in just about any guise, and there are plenty of opportunities to eat them here. For desserts, Karen had a chocolate cake with an orange confit (bitter orange and chocolate is an old favorite, back to days in Ithaca where the best ice cream shop in town made a killer chocolate ice cream with veins of orange in it), whereas I had a filo dough contraption filled with an almond cream and accompanied by a hibiscus syrup, the remains of which are pictured, rather abstractly (or ineptly-- your call) below. 

Add in a nice bottle of wine, and aside from the overcooking issue, it was a very enjoyable and affordable meal. No regrets in using one of our dining out tickets there.


  1. Did you catch the NY times Bitten on Cuisine du Marché?
    I thought of you! :)

  2. Thanks for the link;, Cheryl, I'd not seen it.

    The sign on the sidewalk of the little cafe on the corner that advertises cuisine du marché I think has appeared just this week. You're so very of the moment!