Thursday, August 8, 2013

Paris Dining: Au Fil des Saisons

I've been really bad about writing posts about Paris. I've been working hard on my dissertation, which takes up a lot of time and sucks my will to live, or at least to blog and take photos. I've been in a bit of a rut with home cooking (see also, dissertation), so I haven't had much to food blog, unless you want me to write about the wonders of Picard (It's a wonder, don't get me wrong.) I've had a bunch of really excellent meals here, from the plebeian (rocking good ham pizza!), to the sublime (Atelier de Joel Robuchon for my birthday! Oh la la!) However, most of the places I have eaten are all well documented restaurants, covered by many excellent food writers, with pictures (which I hate taking in restaurants), and I haven't really felt like I could add a lot to the conversation. Paris has got to be one of the most blogged cities ever, when it comes to food. However, I just had lunch at a little gem off the beaten path, and it was so awesome, I felt like I had to share, photos or no.

Within a stones throw of my work is Au Fil des Saisons (6 Rue des Fontaines du Temple 75003 Paris). It's down a tiny little street, and is about 15 feet wide, with a very understated sign. You could blink and miss it. However, should you happen to find it, walk inside, say bonjour, and ask for a table. The owner speaks excellent English (although please be a good traveler, and at least start with "bonjour"), and is friendly and warm.

As noted, I've been having a lot of really good food in Paris, and before that, in California. Au Fil des Saisons is not the best restaurant I've ever eaten at. (That honor falls to Manresa, in Los Gatos. Sorry, Monsieur Robuchon. And I'm still holding out for The French Laundry, which is on my bucket list. I hear the food there is pretty decent.) It's not even haut cuisine. However, I have never eaten in a restaurant with such painstaking attention to detail. There is nothing here that is not lovingly crafted or chosen to be excellent. There are no "throw-away" dishes. Everything has been refined, from the amuse bouche to the coffee.

When I sat down, a tiny basket of potato chips landed on my table, golden brown, and very thin. They were very lightly salted, and had that nuttiness that comes with just the right amount of caramelization. The owner came by with the menu (on a free standing chalkboard), offered to explain it to me in English, and then very sweetly explained his recommended dishes slowly and clearly in French when I told him I was working on my French.

I started with a cold cucumber soup (something I discovered in Paris, and love on hot summer days. Also very popular with my two year old, so if you're trying to get your kid to eat more veggies...) Like most I've had, this was cucumber, creme fraiche, and mint. Lots of grated cucumbers for texture, and a little tiny scoop of basil sorbet (very sweet and pungent) in the center of it. The basil really made it pop, and stand out from the "liquid tzatziki" soups that I've been getting. Very refreshing. I reached for the bread to sop up the last of my soup, and noted that it was excellent, even by Parisian standards, chewy with a good crisp crust, and very slightly hearty.

Next, I had the volaille farcie, chicken stuffed with ground mushrooms. I was expecting a very French bistro implementation of chicken, but what arrived had strong Asian overtones. It looked very much like Thai "angel wings", with a drizzle of shallot sauce, and came with a colorful side of stir-fried julienned veggies, and what appeared to be a puck of plain white rice. The chicken wings looked tasty, but I braced myself for disappointment with the sides.

The chicken wings were excellent, as expected, with a savory ground mushroom filling stuffed under the skin of the wing, and cooked to crispness, with little pops of salt sprinkled on at the very end (a technique which I love, and Manresa also does to perfection.) I moved on to the veggies. As I suspected, stir fried in soy sauce, but quite good, neither over nor underdone. Finally the rice, and a pleasant surprise. What looked like plain white rice had been cooked in olive oil, with a little bit of onion added, and some matching pops of salt. Very simple, but done perfectly, and absolutely delicious.

I decided to forgo dessert in the interests of my waistline (next time!) and went straight for the espresso. The espresso is brewed by the owner, and is strong, sweet, and mellow with a hint of molasses. (Definitely not Cafes Richard.) The sugar was plain white, rather than raw, but that let the molasses notes really shine.

All told, it set me back 30 euro or so. A little on the pricy side (sadly, I am unlikely to bring my coworkers on a weekly basis), but totally worth it as a splurge. Next time I'll get dessert. I'm sure it'll be fantastic.
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