A lovely reunion of dear MBA friends took place in Paris this past February as we convened in la Capitale for Vinexpo / Wine Paris 2023. It also happened to be the eve of my birthday, albeit not a very special one, though I’d been told a few shots of something were in order.
A Parisien friend chose Chez Paul in Bastille for dinner and we arrived to a long, undressed wooden table in the back of a main dining room where an antique brass mirror posing atop a working fireplace, red-and-white-checkered cloth napkins and granny-style curtains framing tall, elegant windows helped create the ultimate cozy bistro vibe. The mellow yellow walls were decorated with à l’époque Francabilia – antique posters, recipes and framed photos from when the place first opened in 1900. Since then, it’s changed hands, but only twice. M and Mme Paul inherited it in the 1940’s and the Karrenbauer took it over in 1998. But the place has maintained a timeless charm and remains a beloved bonne adresse parisienne, especially in the wine community. The kind of place with a real deep soul and a classic way of doing things that puts you at ease.
The menu is neoclassical French cuisine, traditional bistro fare, grandma’s house favorites. Start with œufs mayo or a soupe à l’oignon gratinée au morbier. Continue with Bobosse andouillettes in sauce Bercy or a veal kidney fricassée. Finish with their must-have Tarte Tatin or homemade profiteroles. The wine list is 100% French, with a little bit of everything. We started with an easy little Burg blanc, a few bottles of Domaine Tripoz Mâcon-Loché Cuvée Du Clocher. We continued with a Château de Fosse-Sèche “Eolithe” from Saumur, a Laurent Combier Crozes-Hermitage, and Marc Delienne’s “Greta Carbo,” a great natural Fleurie. We finished with a grand cheers with a round of coupes filled to the brim with Michel Gonet Champagne. By the way, did you know that coupe glasses are believed to have been styled after Marie Antoinette’s breasts? Festive. Terrible for nosing though. Anyway, here’s what I ate:
We got a round of half-dozen escargots de Bourgogne, purged and cleaned and scooped out into porcelain wells filled with plenty of parsley butter and roasted in the oven until the butter bubbled over. Always a pleasure. These were a bit less garlicky than what I’ve had before, allowing the mild herbiness of the parsley and subtle clam flavor of the snails to come through. Great crusty bread was provided for dunking.
Next came three large stumps of os à moelle or marrow bones, each filled with a generous lump of hot, creamy marrow. Scoop out the rich and tasty meat butter, spread it generously on crunchy toast and sprinkle with a bit of coarse Guérande salt, which brings out the marrow’s deep nutty and umami flavors. Yum.
I ordered the main dish that I thought to be the most onbrand for a restaurant with such homey vibes, the tête de veau et sa cervelle. A bedrock of cuisine classique, this dish is made with deboned calf’s head (skin, flesh and gelatinous bits from the cartilage included), which is boiled for a while together with root vegetables (potato, carrot, parsnip, turnip, celeriac and leek) to produce a clear, quite flavorsome broth. It is served in a pot with a side of eggy, creamy sauce gribiche, perfect to slather on the bits of head to lend each bite a zippy, herby flavor. Chez Paul’s version of this dish was wonderful. The meat was tender with a good balance of jiggly bits and hearty meat. The veg was well-cooked and the cornichons and tarragon in the gribiche brought a fresh, clean taste to the dish. But the pièce de la résistance was the full veal brain perched atop the veg. This was delightfully creamy and rich, like a kind of meat mayo to eat like custard in small spoonsful. Never not getting cervelle in Paris… It’s just become a thing.
The baba au rhum at Chez Paul is enormous, a spongy and soft cake totally saturated with vanilla-infused old rum. The baba came with a fat dollop of housemade chantilly and some raisins and was drizzled with a bit more rum upon serving. In a blur of of cuddly-soft wine-stained tipsiness, a friend and I attempted to “flambé” the thing with a neon green Bic. It didn’t work. But it was still very tasty.