I keep topping myself in Paris. Yesterday, Le Relais de Venise was the best meal I’ve ever had. Before that, Chez Leon. Today, here.
After walking and standing continuously for more than seven hours in Versailles, I was ready to take things down a notch a bit. Seeing as my shoes were shriveling with dust from the gravel paths on the Chateau grounds, I returned to the apartment – dressed down a little (although my French host, David thought otherwise) as I switched to a more relaxed-fit Aldo shoe, and abandoning my H&M double-breasted coat for an Armani monogrammed navy windbreaker. While the temperatures were indeed still low, averaging 3 to 5 degrees Celsius in the evening, it didn’t seem all that cold to me, truly. I surmise that I’m feeling this way because I made Amsterdam my first point of contact, and had grown acclimatized to the lower averages there. I didn’t really want to go far. I wanted to check out the gay bars in Paris and that’s in the Marais, the district where I lived in, and the nearest, just a street one block behind my apartment.
You would think that a gay district would be some dysfunctional wild university dormitory – a sanctuary of sin and sex, home to infidelity and impossibly shaven men of Adonis participating in blasphemous harems in every nook, corner and crany. Their transgressions of immorality and wickedness irredeemable in their demerit as they ready to pounce and convert the righteous and heterosexuals into sapphic pillars of corruption and prostitution all while singing to the tune of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way (each camp has their own queen – Beyonce, Britney, Madonna, Gaga, Cher, Liza Minnelli)… and you’d be wrong. There are women too. Jokes aside, you’d find the Marais (meaning “Marsh” in French) an eclectic and trendy, fashionable district with artsy galleries and indie shops spliced in with some museums, a tightly-knit Chinese (I should say Wenzhou rather than Chinese because the rest are congregated somewhere else) community, and of course, some gay cafes, nightclubs, cabarets and shops (to be honest, it’s so hard to discern whether it’s gay or not). I see high-street labels like Superdry moving in, and even Uniqlo has a distinctively indie, edgier, street-style edge to its store and offerings here.
Not wanting to miss all that, I manage to find a lovely quaint little spot for dinner at Le Tir Bouchon, which is near Etienne Marcel station, one Paris Metro stop away from Arts Et Metiers, or slightly more than 400 metres walk away; and it’s not too far from Chatelet, Les Halles stations, and the RER Chatelet-Les Halles station. Basically, it’s all very close to each other, actually. Le Tir Bouchon, according to the dozens of reviews I’ve read, is one of the actually well kept secrets in Paris, but never really turned onto the mainstream for the exact reason that keeps people coming – foie gras. There seems to be a bit of a debate around it, and depending on who you talk to in France, some people think it should be banned, others think that it’s fine. Let’s be honest here alright? God didn’t quite treat animals fairly or ethically either – some animals more than the others got the bad side of the bargain. Take the chickens for example, humans from the early ages till today, and tomorrow, have and will indirectly participate in the intentional, mass ritual killing of what must be billions of birds with the sole purpose of consumption. Either way, past diners and online reviews rave about Le Tir Bouchon’s affordable yet intoxicating foie gras. One even proclaimed it was second only to the best, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Paris. With reviews like that, and it not too far from where I was staying, I had to visit.
The restaurant really does stick out like a sore tongue on the street. Compared to its contemporary, chic neighbors, Le Tir Bouchon evokes a vibe that borrows closer to the rustic side, with the menu still handwritten on the chalkboard outside the restaurant. The first thing that really impresses is the price – none of the main courses really exceeds 22 Euros. Factor in the cost of water, and it’s easily one of the few spots in the capital that dinner can be had for under 40 Euros (You have to factor in the cost of water. To bypass this, order a glass of wine per person, and the [still] water generally becomes free of charge). The menu, which is another chalkboard, is tugged onto a seat facing you. There are no menus in English, but fortunately I come from Singapore – restaurants from where I come from like to autonomously translate certain menu items or ingredients into French to sound a little more classy, so reading the menu was a piece of cake, really. If you do get lost, “boeuf” is beef; “poulet” is chicken; “porc” is pork; “canard” is duck. I decided to start with the Terrine du Chef, Salade Jerte (7 Euros) followed by a main of Parmentier de Canard au Foie Gras (19 Euros).
While I liked the terrine, which I believe is a chicken one, it was the duck and foie gras main which was absolutely heavenly and singularly, one of the best dishes I’ve ever had in my life. I think I gravitate towards Traditional French cuisine more, with the emphasis on rich, heavy and rustic flavors as opposed to Modern French, which tends to be lighter, more complex and tends to rely on opposing flavors to create the desired effect on the palate. Traditional French is concentrated and intense, but I really love the intoxicating tinge that radiates from it. It’s so indescribable, it’s unbelievable. My only regret is that I never went back a second time.
I finished with a Digestif of Limoncello (pronounced: lee-mon-sillo, they corrected me when I initially lemon cello) – a simple yet wonderful end to such a great meal , which was really, to be the inspiration for me to purchase a bottle of Lilette and Limoncello to take home to Singapore.