Monday, June 13, 2011

Paris - Chéri Bibi

I can't confidently recommend taking an Ambien on the flight to Paris from Los Angeles. I thought I had it all figured out. A nonstop 1 p.m. flight would land us in Paris at 8:55 a.m. (Paris time) the following morning. So I took the sleeping meds about seven and a half hours before we arrived. Well, I was in something of a jetlagged fog for the next three days. While A. was recovering in less than two. Sleep bedevils me all the time. I cannot conquer it, and Ambien never really helps.

I had planned ahead for the fog, and reserved a table at a bistro near our B&B in the Montmartre district several weeks earlier. In fact I made a quite a few calls to Paris in advance of our trip, struggling with poor connections and seriously rusty French. I was denied a number of times, but was successful a satisfying four (more to come!)!

Unamusingly, I just received the phone bill that reflects my earnest attempts to secure divine dining in Paris. I'll tell you this, but don't tell A. The bill came to $313.11.

We could have gone out for at least one more dinner!

I'll keep my feelings about AT&T to myself, but really, $3.25 per minute to France makes me feel rather murderous.

Cough. Sorry for the rant! Back to what matters.

I'd read about Chéri Bibi in Alexander Lobrano's handy Hungry For Paris: The Ultimate Guide to the City's 102 Best Restaurants. One hundred and two! Funny number. In any event the restaurant was one of the one hundred and two and was walking distance from our B&B, the lovely and very clean Au Sourire de Monmartre, (highly recommend it!). Possessing only one dollar sign out of a possible four rating, this was inexpensive by Paris standards, and perfect for us.

We managed a nap, and strolled around the Sacre Coeur and later the Champs Elysée, but our lids were heavy and we lacked our usual pizzazz. Why are jetlag and plane travel such killers? It was almost too much to motivate to stay up for dinner.

Chéri Bibi was the perfect antidote to our fatigue. The staff was kind and forgave us our grammatical embarrassments. It is a smallish bistro with warm lighting and folding glass doors which open onto the sidewalks on summer evenings, run by a youthful crew of gorgeous French folk. The menu is written on a chalkboard and you might have to twist about to get a look at the wine list on the wall. Casual and comfortable (and comforting), this bistro has a hip and exciting buzz about it.

Not too far into our meal, I was bemoaning the lack of restaurants like Chéri Bibi in Los Angeles. It's the kind of place that I would love to have down the street from my house, something like a Canelé in Los Angeles, but way more French and far more delicious. I started thinking that I should open a bistro like Chéri Bibi, but that's not right.

I want someone else to do it.

The menu is 26 euros for an entrée, un plat (main dish) and a dessert. I opted for the plump violet asparagus from Landes that I had already seen in many of the vegetable shops around the city. They were lightly steamed or poached and dressed with a fruity olive oil, a sheep's milk cacciota and cracked pepper. These asparagus were stunning in their simplicity. We don't see asparagus this delectable in Los Angeles. Or at least, I haven't.

A. selected the shrimp with piment (might have been paprika or more likely piment d'espelette) and coriander. These were succulent beasts. We chomped the heads and all.

The food at Chéri Bibi is supposedly terroir style cooking. Meaning that it harkens back to an older time in Paris when the cuisine was heartier and more rustic, more of the earth. This may be the case, but somehow I managed to order in a different vane. I was delighted by how fresh and light everything seemed (except les pommes de terre).

Of course, I wasn't the one who ordered the lamb shoulder cooked in milk from the Pyrenees and duck fat. That was A. I've never seen lamb shoulder served on the bone here in the States as it was at Chéri Bibi. When A. saw it presented at another table, he wondered if it might be the duck magret.

Um, not quite. But let's face it, he isn't that familiar with fowl. The lamb was scrumptious and I suppose you could call it rustic. It took quite a bit of carving to finish it off, but I felt it was well worth the effort.

Each main dish comes with a choice of sautéed vegetables, mashed potatoes, house made fries, or a salad. It must have been the sound of pommes purées in French that had me ordering mashed potatoes with my lieu jaune (pollack) tartare. I never order mashed potatoes (and certainly not with a fish tartare). They are far too heavy and fattening to justify.

But, whoa! If it is possible, these were a revelation in potatoes. They were as buttery and decadent as any dessert. Just as sinful and equally as satisfying. It was a entirely different potato experience. My eyes have been opened anew.

Can you see all that butter? When the general guilt surrounding eating in Paris wears off, I am going to prepare some potatoes like those at Chéri Bibi. Those alone were worth staying awake for.

My pollack tartare with pesto (not as glamorous sounding as Le Tartare de Lieu Jaune au Pesto), impressed the hell out of me. The fish was remarkably fresh and clean tasting. The coarse pesto atop the fish complemented it suprisingly well, as did the olive vinaigrette drizzled alongside. These strong pesto and olive flavors are so often paired with a stronger main-player, but this absolutely worked without overpowering the delicate fish.

After a glass of champagne, a bottle of wine and very little sleep, I was too wiped out to remember to take pictures of our desserts. We shared an adequate albeit runny rice pudding with caramel (nothing compared to the rice pudding later in our vacation) and a sheeps milk cheese with an herbaceous ruby jam of Corsican cherries and thyme.

We stumbled out of the cozy glow of the restaurant into the warm night for a tour past the Sacre Coeur and a short walk home. We were sated, exhausted and happy.

Chéri Bibi
15 rue André-del-Sarte
75018 Paris
18th. Arrondissement
01 42 54 88 96


Anonymous said...

Awesome stuff, Jacqueline! I'e never been to the City of Light, but these posts make me hungrily look forward to that day.


Sarah said...

I'm ready to book my flight tout-suite! You make it sound so delicious. I'm living vicariously through these photos and descriptions. Merci!

jacqueline f. said...

reThank you Sarah & Jeremy! I still have the three best meals of the trip to write about, but I'm in WA visiting my Mother-In-Law. Too little time to write right now. Please stay tuned!