Christian Etchebest is one of Paris’ most beloved bistrotiers (is that a word? Like a restaurateur, but for a bistro?). His original Troquet is much-loved, though rumor has it he’s sold the mothership in order to focus on a new project. In the meantime, though, he’s still running the convivial, no-reservations offshoot, La Cantine du Troquet.
Nick and I met some food-loving friends there a couple of Thursdays ago. We had misread their opening hours (they open at 7pm, not 8 as we had thought) and as a result, had to wait out on the sidewalk for a table to open up. It was a balmy evening, though, and was not at all an unpleasant wait, with a platter of Basque chorizo balanced on the wine barrel out front for all to share, and ordering bottles or carafes of wine to drink while standing on the corner is not only sanctioned, but encouraged.
Over our wine (poured from a liter carafe of totally drinkable – and totally affordable at 18 euros – Bandol red), we studied the chalkboard menu posted outside, our mouths watering over the beef cheeks and the lomo dish. Of course, by the time we got seated, both had been stricken from the real-time-updated indoor chalkboard. Not to be deterred that easily, I asked the waitress about the beef cheeks. She said they were out, but they had a pork cheek dish to replace it. I, and two of my three companions, said “yes, please.”
To start, I ordered the salad with goat cheese and fresh figs (which I always order when given the chance). Nick, feeling adventurous, went for the crispy pig’s ears.
Both were served on those impractical-yet-trendily-ubiquitous slate plates. Other than that, though, I loved my salad. Knowing that my main course was likely to be on the heavy side, I appreciated the fresh note, and ordering a salad makes it easy for me to convince myself I’m eating something healthy. Plus, it’s hard to go wrong with goat cheese and fresh fruit. Nick’s salad came loaded with fried strips of pig ear, some certainly crispier and more appetizing than others. (Having tasted these, I’m inclined to agree with Ryan of Nose to Tail at Home when he says that these really can’t be sliced thinly enough.)
Our friends opted for a double order of couteaux, or razor clams, which here in France tend to come served in the shells from which they derive their name. (As opposed to in the States, where more often than not they are butterflied, breaded, and fried.)
They generously let me taste one, and the clams were great – somehow simultaneously briny and meaty.
And then came the swoonworthy pork cheeks.
Slow-cooked and tender, the cheeks were bathed in a gravy-like tomato sauce and served atop a pool of incredibly creamy potato purée. I made a valiant effort, but couldn’t quite finish the generous portion (I did, I admit, scrape up every last drop of potatoes). As such, I couldn’t justify ordering dessert, though the caramelized plums sure sounded tempting. We also noticed about this point that the group seated next to us at the long communal table were all getting the same thing, and they had several courses. Upon closer inspection of the chalkboard, we saw that the kitchen offers a menu dégustation for 32 euros, which, judging from what we saw on our neighbors’ plates, is a screaming bargain for at least four courses. Next time, we’re totally trying that.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.