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Wednesday, August 25, 2010


"La Rentrée" (the return) is in full swing in Paris. People are finally coming back from vacations, parents are shopping for school supplies, and shops are coming back to life.

Yesterday was reopening day for the Cabane à Huîtres. I went there for lunch and took along printed copies of the photos and blog posts from my trip to Arcachon for Francis who doesn't have a computer. As I was slurping up my oysters I struck up a conversation with a couple sitting nearby. Parisians here for the first time, they were oohing and aahhing over the freshness of the oysters. Wow, what a find, they exclaimed, you rarely find this kind of ambiance in a Parisian restaurant. We continued to chat through the remainder of the meal and during dessert they mentioned another tiny bistro that has a similar family atmosphere. My ears perked up. I love to find small, out of the way places recommended by locals. I made sure to note the name and adress before leaving.

Today's errands took me to the north side of town and I decided to stop into the Clos Bourguignon mentioned the day before. On a small side street without much traffic, the place was packed! People were spilling out onto the sidewalk, waiting patiently to squeeze inside. I waited at least 20 minutes just for a seat at the bar. There are some advantages to flying solo. Who knows how long I might have waited for a table?

I immediately ordered the house specialty - Hachis Parmentier(following the advice from yesterday's conversation). This is NOT haute cuisine. Hachis parmentier is translated as "shepherd's pie". What's that? Essentially a casserole of ground beef with mashed potatoes and some melted cheese on top. But that description cannot possibly capture the flavor of this dish. It was family style, stick-to-the-ribs, and absolutely delicious. It was also a very large helping - as I'd also been warned.

As I sat enjoying my lunch - along with a chilled glass of Brouilly (red wine). I started noticing the interaction between the crowd and Mr. Louis the owner. I'd say fully half of the diners were greeted by name, and with handshakes or hugs. I couldn't help chatting with a couple of the regulars who were standing at the end of the bar waiting for their own tables. Mr. Louis had jokes or friendly snide remarks for most.

I couldn't finish my portion, and sure enough, Mr. Louis noticed. Whose plate is that? he glared. I did my best, I whimpered, it was delicious but I just couldn't finish it all. Well, if you did your best . . He let me off the hook. And then shared the secret behind the flavor. We start with beef that's been cooked in a pot au feu. Aha, that would explain the flavor. I imagined beef simmered for hours with onions, carrots, and savory spices until it's falling apart. No wonder the flavor was so intense. I'll be back. And next time I'll save room for cheese.

I didn't get too many photos - the place was 100% French and I didn't want to break the spell and look like a tourist by bringing out my camera and taking pictures of my food. Here's a shot of the exterior. You can see how crowded the place still was when I left after 2 PM.

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