Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Last Dinner in Paris - Frenchie Bar à vins

Sometimes you just ended up with the most interesting situation when you are traveling solo. I was waiting outside Frenchie Bar a vins just before it opens, when the maitre d' asked whether I mind sharing the table with another solo traveler. "Well, sure", as I figured he would have shoved me there anyway even if I said no plus not that I got any other plan while I tried the food at this popular spot near to the trendy Rue Montorgueil in Paris' 2nd Arrondissement.

Turned out this fellow solo traveler W, from the Bay Area, was in a similar situation as I am, finding himself taking a break from work and travel around Europe. So the evening turned out to be an enjoyable conversation exchanging travel stories - then the group of other customers next to us chipped in, and turned out they came from San Francisco too. So they kept me in a good company throughout the meal.

And what's most important was, the food was equally enjoyable. Some people have compared Frenchie to Noma, in terms of level of difficulty in scoring a table. It's probably slightly exaggerated but I heard good things about the restaurant and Chef Gregory Marchand's cooking. And luckily, Frenchie Bar a vins, located just across from the main restaurant in a side alley, is open in the evening and doesn't take reservation. Still, I went there like 15 minutes before it opens at 7pm and barely made it among the first group of customers inside.

The space inside was tight but not uncomfortable, with a dozen or so high tables around the bar and in the room next door with the kitchen on the far end. I think I had the best table in house, the one having a direct view to the kitchen so I could enjoy the sight of all kitchen actions. It served a simple menu making up of 15 or so small plate items - quite a lot already considered how small the kitchen is. Well, if you think Little Bao's kitchen is small enough, Frenchie Bar a vins was about half the size of that. Even with such a small menu I was having a bit of a trouble deciding what to eat since everything sounds so enticingly good. The wine menu was great - featuring a wide variety of unusual choices and many of them available by the glass. I liked the simple chenin blanc I had from Loire - good acidity with a note of aromatic citrus zest and a surprisingly long finish.

And I picked 2 savory dishes and a dessert to make it a 3-course meal. I did regret not being able to order more food the moment I stepped out of the door, but that's how it was. With such a small kitchen and team, they prepared the dishes in batch so there's no guarantee of the order of serving - except for the dessert I guess. The lobster roll was the first to arrive. That's the one I hesitated a little bit when I ordered - well not sure I should trust a French chef with this - but I was told this is the signature dish here so I went along. And yes it was awesome - the brioche bun was well-made with good buttery flavor, and well-charred to give it an interesting burnt taste, the Brittany lobster meat was delicious, the sauce creamy and I liked the diced celery giving it a slight hint of sweet taste and some crunchy textures. It was unforgettable - I probably would name it among the best food I had in the trip.

My second course was described on the menu as "Squids, fresh cucumber, greek yoghurt and buckweat". I didn't know what to expect but it's a beautifully plated dish, with slow-cooked squid in an almost creamy texture served with ribbons of cucumbers, dressed with chili oil, spices and the crispy toasted buckweat giving it a hint of smokiness. Then the Greek Yoghurt just brought everything together. It was a pleasure watching them assembling the dish with all those components and it was damned good.

With a tiny kitchen and the need to have the dishes ready relatively quick, they relied heavily on sauces and ingredients cooked beforehand, and just put together in a creative way. It was amazing to see how they put in some cases more than a dozen ingredients in dish that sounds so simple. The tuna crudo was something I particularly regretted not ordering, after I saw they started splashing a few kind of infused oil, then edible flowers, two kinds of tomatoes, dehydrated and fresh raspberries, all into a few thick slices of good-looking tuna with the surface slightly grilled.

There were 3 options for desserts and I went with the Apricot foam with verbena, sherbet and granola. Apricot was done 2 ways - in foam and in sherbet and the caramelized granola was nicely done to give this airy dessert some contrasting textures.

It's a pity that this came in my last evening in Paris this time around; otherwise I would have been back the next evening trying to sweep through the rest of the menu by skipping meals all day. It was a great night and a great casual meal. All these for 53 euros including wine. I would say that's a steal.

When? July 2 2015
Where? Frenchie Bar a vins, 6 Rue du Nil, Paris
Menu Highlights? Brittany Blue Lobster "Frenchie Lobster Roll"
Drinks? Domaine Nicholas Reau, Anjou Blanc Clos des Treilles 2014
Web: www.frenchie-restaurant.com/en

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