14 March 2009

The root of the matter

Last night we ate dinner out for the first time in the 2 weeks we've been here. Eating out costs a lot in Paris, so it's something we'll probably do in moderation. If we eat out once a week for 6 months, that's … ummm … about 24 dinners out. That's a pretty decent variety, if you forego returning anyplace for a repeat, but there are more places than that on my to-visit list, already, and that list will probably only grow.

We spent the first of our 24 dinner tickets at a tiny bistro/wine bar in the 2e arrondissement called Racines. Racine in French means root, and the schtick of this particular place is that it gets all of its ingredients, veggies, meats, and wines, from organic sources. It was on the list because we'd heard good things about it, and we started there since I happen to have spent a year or two in a town called Racine, which seemed as good a reason as any to start there.

The experience started out a bit rough. I made reservations on Wed for Fri, my first use of French over the phone. Knowing how gestures and other non-verbal clues contribute to effective communication, I was worried. The exchange went OK until I gave him my telephone number. I'd practiced it several times before calling (I've worked with people who have been in the US for decades and speak perfect English, but when they're in a math-heavy activity automatically revert to their native tongue), but I still messed it up. Still, we had our 8:00 reservation with the caveat that we needed to be out at 10. No problem; we'd get there a bit early just to make sure we weren't hurried.

Though on the metro line that goes right past our apartment, Racines is in an indoor gallery where the many passages aren't well labeled on our maps. As such, after getting off the metro, we (and by we, I mean I, since I had both the responsibility for figuring out how to get her and the map) got lost. Maybe not lost, but turned around enough that we wandered around and around for a good 20 minutes. We went from getting there early to at least being there on time, to hoping we'd have time to eat at all, but we finally found it. In fact, we were only the 2nd table to have arrived. Another 30 min and the place was completely packed, and when we were the first of that seating to leave at 10:00, we'd never felt hurried or pressured and nobody else was being kicked out. To the contrary, it was a cozy, intimate, and comfortable meal.

The menu at Racines is limited but well-executed. We had veal tartare made with lots of herbs and wonderfully mild radishes and a pan-seared Iberian pork with braised onion (the pork was as dark, and rare, as beef, and very flavorful) as starters, and a pan-seared pressed chicken breast with exceptionally crisp skin and pan-roasted young lamb for mains. The lamb was interesting in that it wasn't a set cut served to everybody, but seemed to actually be a lamb (or two) broken down and distributed throughout the night. Very organic. The only way my lamb could have been better is if I'd gotten part of the delectable rack that walked out right past me to a table in the front window. Regular customer or savvy enough to ask for it specifically? Dunno. Me, I got unidentifiable bits, but no matter. They were tender, juicy, delicious unidentifiable bits. The red wine recommended by the waiter was both very reasonably priced and flavorful.

Dessert was a choice of a chocolate torte (a thin layer of glossy, dark, intense chocolate on a rich crust, served with fudge sauce, yum) and something else-- Karen locked in on the chocolate right away, so I didn't even bother reading the other option. Since everything had been good, I broke my own no-coffee-in-Paris rule and ordered one, asking the waiter first if the coffee was a cafe serrée. Yes. Really? He smiled and said yes. OK, good feelings. The grinder and machine were right behind me, so I heard him grind, tamp and start the pull. 8 seconds later, I had my weak, bitter coffee. Aaaargh! Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, ...

Coffee notwithstanding, it was a very enjoyable first dinner out in Paris. If half of our 24 dinners turn out as well, we'll have dined very well, indeed.

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