Le Pacifique

13 08 2011

I’ve always been intrigued by this place on an uphill corner not far from the Belleville Métro stop.  Something about the design of the place has always made me think of Chinese restaurants in L.A. in the forties – or at least the way they’re portrayed in film noir.  The fact that they’re open until 1:30 am only reinforces this perception.

Le Pacifique, Belleville

The effect is certainly more pronounced late at night, when the neon trim is lit up and you can just imagine the Private Eyes rendez-vous-ing inside.  I know this because I’ve walked past here dozens of times, en route to and from Restaurant Raviolis.  I admit that’s where we were headed last Saturday for lunch before doing some banana leaf hunting at Paris Store.  This being August, though, our regular haunt was closed for vacation, and so, on the strength of a recommendation from Sophie, we found ourselves perusing the dim sum menu at Le Pacifique.

You can learn a lot about an unfamiliar restaurant by observing the other diners.  I don’t mean you should be staring, but do check out what’s on their plates, discreetly.  I learned this way that Le Pacifique serves pitchers! of iced! tea!  Of course it was printed on the menu as well, but now I knew to look for it.  And at 4 euros a pitcher, it’s a hell of a bargain, especially when compared to the price of a single glass of iced tea at, say, Le Loir Dans La Théière.  Iced tea seems to be something of a rarity outside the United States, but it’s something I like very much, so it’s always exciting to see it outside my apartment.

Iced tea at Le Pacifique

And it was good, too – not skunky at all, the way iced tea can get when it’s been sitting around too long – flavorful but not overbrewed, nicely chilled and not watered down by the ice.

Enough about the tea, though.  What of the food?

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Noodles on Joinville

20 01 2011

Are Chinese noodles the Next Big Thing in Paris?  Until the last year or so the state of Chinese food in Paris was abysmal.  There were one or two good places, and the rest were cheap, greasy, and bad.  Fortunately for all of us food lovers who live here, Paris seems to be falling mein over bao for Chinese cuisine.

Paris by Mouth notes the Asian trend, citing a number of recent positive reviews for Asian restaurants in the City of Light.  Many of them are located in the 1st and 2nd arrondissements, on the traditionally Japanese (and now Korean) rue St. Anne.  Other well-known centers of cuisine from the East are in the 13th arrondissement – often referred to as Paris’ Chinatown – and in the Belleville neighborhood, which straddles bits of the 10th, 11th, 19th, and 20th arrondissements.  Rue de Joinville is rarely, if ever, cited among these.

Situated on the opposite side of the 19th from Belleville, rue de Joinville is tiny, running about two blocks from the Bassin de La Villette to the Avenue de Flandre.  Small as it may be, it’s a beehive of Chinese culinary activity.  There are no less than four Chinese grocers there, at least three have butchers, and two have fish tanks.  Despite their size, they are amazingly well-stocked, and I can usually find any exotic Eastern ingredient I seek there.

So how is it that I know about this hidden gem?  Well, I used to live only a couple of blocks away, back when I first moved to Paris in 2008 (has it been that long already?).  Since the majority of the neighborhood butchers were either Arab or Muslim, that meant that the only pork available was at the Chinese butchers on rue de Joinville.  It was also a lifesaver for a couple of new expats, who didn’t have to go too far to find peanut butter or chili peppers.  I have also been working in the neighborhood for the last two and a half years.

Until recently, however, the only dining options were traiteurs of dubious quality.  And I’m not just saying that – I’ve tried several.  But on Thanksgiving day, when I was making a market run during my lunch break (and getting turkey necks and gizzards for my stock at one of the butchers) I saw this:

Chinese Noodles!

A brand-new noodle place!  My stomach did a happy dance, and I not-so-secretly hoped that this place would be truly excellent, and that it would give me a reason to live through another grueling holiday season at work.  So perhaps my expectations were a bit high.  Sadly, when I got a chance to try it the next day, I was sorely disappointed.  The noodles were good enough, texture-wise, but the broth in which they swam was completely flavorless.  I had to dump inordinate amounts of soy sauce, black vinegar, and Sriracha into it in order to taste anything at all.  Needless to say, I wasn’t in a hurry to return.

Yesterday, though, I was feeling optimistic, and hoped that maybe a couple of months had helped them iron out the kinks.  I would give them another shot, and be sure to ask for a recommendation from the waitress this time.  Who knows?  Maybe I had just ordered the wrong thing.  I had to make a quick run to the bank to get cash before lunch, and on my way I saw this:

A NEW new noodle place!

A newer noodle place!  This one even has a picture of a guy pulling noodles, so I abandoned my original plan and decided to try out the noodles at Palais de Wenzhou.  I do not regret my decision.

I know this picture sucks, I took it with my phone, in a hurry to eat.

I did ask the waitress for a recommendation, and she asked me if I wanted something spicy.  “Oui,” was my enthusiastic reply.  She suggested the beef noodles, which came out in a flavorful, mildly spicy broth.  The noodles were pleasantly irregular, indicating that perhaps they were indeed hand-pulled.  The chunks of beef were so tender, I could tell they had cooked for hours, but they still had plenty of rich beefy flavor.

Was it better than Les Pâtes Vivantes or Happy Nouilles?  No.  But for a 6-euro lunch next door to work, I’ll be more than happy to eat there regularly.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Around Paris: 19th: Zoe Bouillon

20 07 2010

Zoe Bouillon on a sunny afternoon

It’s too bad they’re closing next week for summer vacation, because Zoe Bouillon is serving up an ideal summer lunch.  I’ve walked past the cute canteen on rue Rébéval many times, but today was the first time I’d eaten there.  I doubt it will be the last.

A soup joint might not seem like the best place to eat on a warm July afternoon, but Zoe is cooking up (or mixing, rather) some delicious chilled soups, perfect for summer.  I met my friend Celine there for lunch on Monday, and we were delighted with the fresh, seasonal offerings.  The soups and salads are available à la carte or as part of a formule: from 9 euros for soup and a sandwich, salad, or slices of savory cake, to 11 euros for soup, sandwich or salad, cake and dessert.  We went with the simplest menu, though both of the freshly baked cakes looked so good, we both had to ask for a slice of each.

savory cakes at Zoe Bouillon

There was the mozzarella and herb, green with fresh herbs, and the goat cheese with eggplant and zucchini, which was still slightly warm from the oven.  Both cakes were incredibly moist with a pleasantly browned crust.

Gazpacho andalou with oeufs mimosa

For the soup, I chose the chilled gazpacho andalou, a refreshing and savory blend of tomatoes and herbs.  It was served with a sprinkling of crumbled oeufs mimosa (hard boiled eggs), which provided a satisfying dose of protein.

Chilled cucumber-mint soup at Zoe Bouillon

Celine opted for the chilled cucumber-mint soup, which was incredibly cooling.

The service here is pretty much non-existent, though the staff are friendly and accommodating.  The soups are served in plastic cups and the cakes  on paper plates.  Spoons, forks, knives, and napkins are disposable, too.  (A little surprising to see so much waste at an establishment that otherwise seems to respect food and nature.)  Orders are taken at the counter, and you bring your meal to your table on a brightly colored tray.  When you’re finished, you bus your own table.  It’s bare bones, but it probably helps to keep the prices low.

A restaurant with seasonal fare and reasonable prices in one of my very favorite Parisian neighborhoods?  I only wish I could swing by for lunch more often.

On this day in 2009: Le Rouennais (Another lovely lunch.)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





12 Hours in My Paris

3 05 2010

I’ve gotten requests to do this “12 hours in…” meme that made its way around the interwebs a while ago, but mostly just felt confounded by the enormity of the task when faced with only 12 hours in Paris.  If I wasn’t frantically packing, I’d probably end up with my nose buried in various guidebooks, trying to figure out the perfect day, only to find that once I had it planned, my 12 hours were up.  But my recent move (for those interested, the fridge gets delivered on Saturday, and maybe one of these days our bathroom will have a medicine cabinet and a door, all of which will go a long way towards making the new place feel like home) prompted me to give the 12 hours thing a second thought. 

Granted, we really only moved about half a mile away, but it feels very different over here in the heart of the 10th arrondissement.  Both neighborhoods have diverse immigrant populations, but while the old one was predominantly North African and Chinese, the new one has Turks and Indians.  The old street had a dozen butchers and at least twice that number of crappy clothing stores.  The new one is a veritable market street, with vegetable stands, a fromagerie/wine shop, and a handful of butchers and kebab shops taking the place of most of the cheap clothes.  Which is just fine with me.  But I still want to take you on a farewell tour of my old neighborhood, which centers on the Goncourt métro station and stretches its arms up into Belleville, down along the Canal St. Martin, and over a bit into the lively Oberkampf district.

So here we go… 10 am: Escargot pastries (basically croissant dough rolled up around various fillings and sliced to show off the spiral shape), chaussons aux pommes, and pain au chocolat-banane for breakfast at Du Pain et Des Idées.  Ideally, it’s sunny out, so I’ll eat at a bench along the canal, and then find a Velib’ to ride up the canal to the Bassin de la Villette.

Just try walking past here without succumbing to the mouthwatering aroma of roasting chickens.

12 noon: Make my way back home, stopping for a roast chicken from Boucherie Tizi Ouzou (the best), Boucherie d’Agadir (the friendliest), or Boucherie Djurdjura (if I’m in the mood to pay a little more for a poulet fermier).

1:30 pm: After devouring chicken (and potatoes, and hopefully some salad or fruit) chez moi, take a walk up to the Parc de Belleville to enjoy the flowers, people-watch, and take in the wonderful view of the city.

Parc de Bellville, in full bloom

3:30 pm: Wander further up the hill to the village-y Jourdain neighborhood.  Admire the St. Jean Baptiste church, the pastries in the window at the Pâtisserie de l’Eglise, and the smells emanating from the Boulangerie au 140 and the Fromagerie Beillevaire.

St. Jean Baptiste de Belleville

5 pm: Head back downhill, stopping for a drink (or two) on the terrasse of Aux Folies.  Look at the graffiti around the corner on rue Dénoyez.  And of course, more people-watching.

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