2 days in the 11th
La cave de l’Insolite is a small restaurant with a very decent list of organic free-thinking hippie wines, which can be taken off premises for 50% less, you don’t need a paper bag and there can be titties on the label. Hurah. There was an unusual but pleasant red Arbois Pupillin Trousseau from Jura. Light, fruity, mineral and pleasant to drink with the richer cooked ham, duck and poularde du Gâtinais. It has a farmhouse thing going on, with a cozy wood-burning stove in the corner, handsomely chiseled hutch keeping the stemware, communal tables and large zinc plated table that dominates the dining room. The kitchen is smaller than a 1 car garage, but they are efficient and put out simple, elegant, well-seasoned food, though the chef has a bit of a light foot as some of the items (chicken, duck, pork, cabbage) would have benefited from being waved over stove for a minute or 2, though everything was exceedingly tender and nothing short of delicious.
There isn’t a wine list so much as there are 2 wine shelves to choose organic wines (no added sulfites) from and the shelves are well stocked by knowledgeable and hospitable sommelier/owner Axel. Riding the coattails of Christmas enthusiasm and as a sign of good graces from the folks’ repeated visits which they disguise as forced solidarity for a bruised 11th neighborhood (Charlie Hebdo, Bataclan were within earshot), Axel treated us to a startlingly clean eau-de-vie de houx (holly berry) from an antique glass carboy, sucked up with an equally old glass thief, which went down exceedingly well at 120 proof.
Good memories of the fantastic immature English cheddar which had all the characteristics of similarly pressed Cantal/Salers style cheeses but less than 2 months old, sweeter, less salty, grassy and creamy.
Back-up wines are stored in the basement on the way to the boudoir, which has its own techno soundtrack piped in (they are still very into that, over there) complete with neon and disco ball.
Their sister restaurant/bar is the diminutive 20 seat L’Acolyte de L’insolite with a tinier kitchen but puts out a decent brandade de morue even if it has the superfluous potatoes and I would have discretely added chopped capers and lemon juice if I had them to the husky 130g portion of dry aged, lean Charolais beef tartar
La Bague de Kenza (3 locations I think) on Rue du Faubourg St. Antoine on the edge of the 11th is an Algerian pastry shop with a stunning collection of sweet almond-paste confections and a smattering of savory pâte feuilletée pastillas filled with either, anchovies, cheese, or leafy greens and such.
The level of craftsmanship and dedication to a single delicacy is comforting and a reminder of how such a store is like an American Sasquatch sighting.
Across the border in the 12th at 1, rue Théophile Rousseau (who stymied public drunkenness with a series of buzzkilling laws in 1873) is Le Baron Rouge, namesake of the pizza-peddling Tom Selleck impostor and extraordinary wine bar on the fringes of the bustling Marché D’Aligre which is kind of like outdoor market shopping if all the vendors on rue d’Aligre are fellow contestants and you’re the next one on the Price is Right.
Open since 1979, it hasn’t really changed much, or so we told by a veteran and somewhat withered waitress who must have been quite the boozy candy striper autrefois. A little bit of everything reasonable from all over France, satisfying plates of cheese and charcuterie, oysters on weekends and there is even a chalk-written sign to let you know what the jazz is all about (it was Sonny Simmons). 2 glasses of Sancerre, 1 Terre Grillée Roussillon, 1 petit Chablis and plate of aged sheep’s milk cheese for 20€ ($21.50) was fine by us. Best yet, they sell table wines by the 5 and 10 liter jug from the barrel, like a growler for you to chug-a-lug shamefully at home.
The shittiest bar in the 11th, if not the upper half of France is Le Fanfaron, namesake of Dino Risi’s 1962 cult movie and slang for a bragger with swagger: the perfect caption for the sole owner/employee/failed actor and dear friend of almost 20 years Xavier, who is not as sly as his “the fox” nom de plume would suggest.
He is functional, mostly, and on this visit he was playing mini ping-pong with 3 of his unemployable 40-ish sycophant friends in matching underwear, wearing sombreros. Despite his crapulence (it was only Tuesday) he was able to play some records (the only form of music) save for the rare live gig, pour drinks (nothing more complicated than Pastis and a side of water) and tally tabs (cash only). It is on a quiet cobblestones street, the bar is about 5 feet wide and don’t put your elbows on it. You’ll know why when it happens. It is a tribute to Russ Meyer’s busty agenda, Iggy Poppish punk, emphysemic French crooners and there is plenty of Day of the Dead bric-a-brac on the walls. Most of the harmless drunks can say some English words and with enough pantomimes you can tell your life’s story or be left alone.
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