Monday, November 26, 2007

Vive La Froth


For our first dining experience in Paris, we decide to seek out a local restaurant in the 13th. L'Ourcine comes recommended by Conde Nast Traveler, Time Out and Zagat alike for its “Basque and Bernais classics.”

The sober interior with an open view of the kitchen tells us the focus is on the food. The menu (à 30 Euros) offers a choice of three courses, ranging from veloutés, ravioli, composed salads to classic entrées and updated desserts.

To start, we are offered a canapé of Mousse aux poireaux (Leek Mousse) -- a highly aerated, savory verdant cloud topped with well-oiled croutons. This leaves our lips smacking with salty goodness, ready for more.

Next arrives the appetizer course. I choose something completely foreign to me -- bulots in a curry rémoulade with granny smith apples, chestnuts, topped with microgreens (Rémoulade de bulots au curry, pommes granny smith, marrons). I continue to ask myself, what the hell is a boulot, guessing it is something between a mussel and an escargot. The gentle creamy curry and tart apples envelop the meaty little boulots with subtle piquante flavor.

Later, I spot boulots at an open-air market and learn they are whelk (which doesn't do much to clear things up) -- an ambiguous mollusk.

With Brett’s ravioli appetizer, we begin to detect a theme: foamy froth. The Raviolés d’araignée de mer, émulsion crémeuse à citronelle come bathed in a fine foam emulsion. Brothy and buttery, the fresh seafood ravioli may have suffered from the foam, as it left a watery feel in the mouth.

For the mains, I go straight to la tradition: Blanquette de Veau. The chef offers a version from his native village of Painblanc in Burgundy (Traditionelle Blanquette de Veau, trompettes de la mort “comme à la Painblanc”). The dish’s highlights are a tie between the powerful triumverate of succulent stewed veal, aromatic vegetables (carrots, leeks, crosnes, parsnips) and insanely flavorful mushrooms (champignons de Paris and trompettes de la mort). Again, the stew sits in a light broth enhanced with foam, which works quite well this time, distinguishing it from the heavier cream-based blanquettes I’ve had in the past. Trompettes de la mort qualify as some of the most exotic mushrooms I’ve ever tasted - when cooked they are dark like hijiki with a deep earthy, salty flavor.

Brett follows with another traditional dish: Noix de Saint Jacques rotiés en coquille au beurre persille, endives meunières (roasted scallops in a parsley butter with endives meunières. This dish is straight-up good. The chef achieves an exceptional texture with the sweet scallops that is reminiscent of lobster. A kiss of foam and oily croutons top this dish.

Finally, dessert: Bouchon de chocolat guanaja, coeur coulant, sorbet à l’amande. Our hearts melt away in this oversized timbale of bittersweet chocolate cake. A beautiful quenelle of homemade almond sorbet cools our jets.

This is a fine start to our séjour à Paris.

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