Monday, August 2, 2010

Dinner in Paris: Fogón

In his book Liquid Memory: Why Wine Matters (see review here), Jonathon Nossiter states "For me, one of the most joyous eating experiences to be found in Paris today is at a Spanish restaurant, El Fogón on the quai.  The cuisine of the forty-year-old Galician Alberto Herraiz is a wholly authentic expression of terroir -- and yet there is no more radical and innovative food to be found in Paris ..."  Wanting to be on the receiving end of this "joyous eating experience," I presented myself at the door of Fogón on my most-recent visit to Paris.

Given my predilection for spending my vacation at ruins and museums, I was warned by my travelling companions (my wife Parlo and Lauren, daughter of our good friends) that this trip was going to be short on culture and long on shopping and eating.  That turned out to be the case on our first full day in Paris -- a Sunday -- as we had a late brunch and then began cruising the stores in the vicinity of Rue Rivoli between Boulevard de Sebastopol and Rue de Pont Neuf.  As my feet began to tire under the strain, I began to harbor thoughts of this being the day for Fogón.  I communicated that plan to my team and we headed off in the direction of the restaurant; as indicated by my trusty iPad.  After a fairly lengthy walk, we got to the restaurant at about 6:00 pm ... they were not yet open ... and it was beginning to rain.  The restaurant did not open until 7:00 and the natives were becoming restless.  My travelling companions were not as invested in Fogón as I was and wanted to go elsewhere rather than wait.  As we discussed the options, we ducked into a French "sports bar" where I ordered a glass of cruddy red wine and sulked.

After we had sat around for awhile waiting for the rain to abate, me staring sulkily at the multiple television screens transmitting sports programming as varied as Australian Rules Football and the British Open, and my companions uncomfortably staring at the food menu, Parlo asked to be excused and rolled out of there with Lauren trailing behind her.  When they came back about 10 minutes later, they said that we had a 7:00 pm dinner reservation at Fogón.  I had won.  They could not deal with my surliness and had buckled.  I was ecstatic (not about winning, but about the upcoming meal). It was pretty close to 7:00 so I paid the bill hurriedly, all the while thanking Parlo and Lauren for doing the "right thing", and promising to pay penance the following day on Rue de Faubourg St Honoré (and pay I did the following day).

The restaurant is located at 45 Quai des Grands Augustins, only a block away from the sports bar.  As we approached, we saw potential patrons huddled around a copy of the menu which was emplaced in a glass-enclosed case on the outside wall of the building.  We pulled on the brass door handle, opened the door and

stepped into a narrow dining room with circular tables just inside the doorway and then tablecloth-covered, rectangular tables against both walls and separated by a long, narrow walkway which led to a slightly raised platform at the back of the room with tables for additional customer seating.  The kitchen was located just beyond this platform sitting area.
We were the first customers in the establishment and were ushered to seats at the center of the room on the left side of the passageway.  We took our seats and noted that tabletops were bare save for the coverings and glass candle-holders; no napkins, no silverware, etc.  We twiddled our thumbs and looked around nonchalantly, waiting for something for something to happen when, Voila!  Lauren had pulled on what appeared to be a drawer handle and, lo and behold, it was a drawer; and in it were napkins and cutlery.  And we each had our own drawer.  We were like little kids with this novelty.

A waiter came over and offered us menus.  I ordered a bottle of Duval Leroy Champagne to support us during our review of the food choices.  In our discussions with the waiter, he enthusiastically recommended the paella.  Nossiter was not a big fan of the paella and, instead, had waxed poetic about the tapas offerings.  We wanted to explore a representative slice of the restaurants specilaities and so opted for a mix of tapas dishes and a paella.

The first food item deliverd to us was an off-white Gazpacho in a glass.  The taste and texture was a complex mix of tangy and creamy and it was phenomenal, especially when paired with the Duval Leroy.  While we were emerging from states of stunned reverence induced by the Gazpacho, the waiter brought us a platter of cured ham (Nossiter described this ham lovingly as "... vintage Belota Pata Negra ham, aged in the restaurant for several years ..."), French white bread enclosed in individual brown cloth pillow cases, and a serving of Rolled Beef Brisket.

The first course was scheduled to be a fish tapas so I ordered a bottle of 2009 El Perro Verde Verdejo as an accompaniment.  This wine was light and aromatic with hints of tomato and anise.  The fish tapas, when it arrived, included Mackerel, Dorad, and Calamari portions.  The Calamari, nestling in a water-glass-shaped container, was light and airy, slightly salty, and was co-resident with shaved, light-green-colored

Plantain chips, all on a bed of salad.  When this concoction was stirred in the glass, it became lemon-infused.  There was a crunchiness in the mouth resulting from concealed nuts as well as the Plantain shavings.  To die for.  The Dorad rested on a bed of pureed tomatoes, green onions, squash, strawberries, and bok choy and was fried to a slight crispiness.  This was another mouth-watering invention.  The Verdejo was more than hanging in there.  The dish was decorated with dried black olives that struck a discordant note on the palate. The Mackerel was wrapped in legumes and surrounded by a Raspberry sauce and Squid Ink.  It had a slightly musty, tangy taste.  Overall, a big tip of a big hat to the tapas offerings.

At about this time we lifted our collective heads from our plates long enough to survey our surroundings.  The restaurant was now pretty crowded (it had seating for about 55 people) and many of the groupings seemed to be family gatherings.  There was a restrained familiarity in the interplay between the waiters and some of the groups which pointed to regularity of patronage.  But, back to the business at hand.

Our main course was a communal Paella which was brought to the table in the pan in which it was prepared.  The rice was intermixed with a heavy brown stew and, like soldiers in formation, a row of Langoustines

was arrayed across the pan on te surface of the rice.  The Langoustines melted in the mouth while the Paella exhibited a smokiness with citrus undertones.  The Paella was excellent but lost the sensory race to the tapas plates.  The Verdejo, which was good unaccompanied, rose to another level when asked to walk hand-in-hand with these culinary delights.

This restaurant is an excellent choice when you are in Paris.  The food is spectacular and the service exemplary (A shout out to Alexon, our gustatory guide on this journey.  Here he is below.).  Reservations are required.

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