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French Onion Soup and Duck Parts @ Les Philosophes, Paris.

5 Aug

“It is just onion soup if you’re in France.” M declared, as he watched me edit and label the photos on the interwebz.

Il a raison. It wasn’t French onion soup, the French was unnecessary. Yet I included it anyway, because it seemed incomplete without calling it French. An what-would-be-ordinary onion soup made better because of that pile of crusted bread with melted cheese floating on top. The cheese just whimpered and dissolved into a pile of delicious mess under the scorch from the boiler, bubbling and browning. Caramelized onion shreds were non-existent by this point, forming thin jello-like substance inside the beef broth, a deep golden-brown.

This was the first part into my two-part meal at Les Philosophes in the Marais, the latest and trendiest district of Paris. The cafe was hidden between narrow streets lined with boutiques and other cafes. Situating ourselves at the outdoor seating, we had the luxury of watching a mixture of classily dressed office ladies strutting off in their 3-inch heels, business men in suits on their uncharacteristically bright  (only to me, it seemed) scooters, as well as dark-haired art students holding their canvases in outfits likely made by themselves. A lunch menu was typical in French restaurants and cafes: 25 Euros for an entree and a main course, more to include dessert. Entree in France is an appetizer, which makes sense (the ‘entering’ plate). I wonder where it turned into main course in the United States.

I didn’t capture M’s entree, but snuck a picture of his main course of the day’s duck breast special with gratin dauphinois. The duck breast was slightly overcooked, to shame, while the potatoes were undercooked. It was lovely nonetheless, but we couldn’t help but have much heightened expectation in Paris.

My main course, on the other hand, was out of this world. A scrumptious piece of duck leg laid in my plate, crisp and golden. It came with a tiny ramekin of honey; poured on top of the leg and the golden liquid oozed slowly into the crevasses of the fried skin, giving the leg added sweetness and an almost nutty flavor. The skin crumbled like fall leaves at my bite, while the dark meat revealed itself in the most flavorful form, tender and juicy like harvest. It blew my tongue’s mind.

Even the salad and the fried potato slices were delicious. Simple, without many bells and whistles. But simple done well. I sucked the bones through of that duck leg, not exactly a very classy thing to do, especially in Paris. M watched me as I chowed down like a mountain lion, and could do nothing but sigh a very French sigh. But I simply didn’t care.

Les Philosophes | 28 Rue Vieille du Temple | Marais 4eme Paris 75004 | 01 48 87 49 64

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Pâté de Campagne.

1 May

I entered Cafe des Amis looking to enjoy some roasted bone marrow on toasted points and a cool terrine of trotters. It would be savory, delicious, and perfect paired with a nice glass of white on this warm, rare sunny San Francisco day. But alas, Cafe des Amis had failed me. My dream dishes could not be found on their brunch menu, which apparently replaces their lunch menu on weekends. How ridiculous – the French don’t even brunch!

Determined to begin my blog despite the little hurtle, I settled for something still slightly odd from the every day chicken and rice/meat and potatoes: an order of pâté de campagne.

For many, the word pâté calls for the famously creamy, liver-based pâté de foie gras. Though, pâté really just stands for a mixture of ground meat and fat minced into a spreadable paste, with optional addition(s) of herbs, spices or wine. For pâté de campagne, it is of the French farmhouse variety, usually made of coarsely chopped pork with garlic and herbs. Also known as country pâté.

The pâté de campagne at Cafe des Amis was made of pork shoulder. It came with pickled onion, small florets of cauliflower and dill pickles, ready to be spread on slices of warm, buttered toast.

The pâté, topped with sprinkles of green chives, was rich and meaty. Tiny white specs of garlic visible within the pink. The taste by itself was almost savory sweet instead of salty. The fat made it perfect to be paired with the pickled goodness.

I ate the dish two ways: with pickled cauliflower, then with pickled onion and a small dollop of mustard.

The cauliflower provided a soft, al-dente crunch. Paired to the tiny florets of tanginess, the pâté came to life on top of the buttery toast

The pickled onion, on the other hand, was some of the best pickled onions I’ve had. Equally tangy as the cauliflower but with a subtle sweetness, the little pink slices of heaven (likely pickled with red wine vinegar) packed a nice punch. Topping the pâté with a bite from the mustard, it was a simple yet lively ballad. Oh yum.

This sort of made up for the lack of bone marrow spread. Though now, as I write, I recall my last encounter at Zaré at Fly Trap: towering roasted bones arrived with a long silver spike that helped you poke out this rich, dark, savory marrow to be spread on crunchy toasted points with a sprinkle of fleur de sel…

*gulp*

Cafe des Amis: 2000 Union Street | San Francisco, CA 94123 | 415.563.7700