Pasta in ParisIssue: Section:
I am lucky enough to travel to Paris, France twice a year to moonlight for a week working with my sister and her fashion company. Before every one of these trips someone inevitably oohs and aahs at my answer to their question, “where are you going?”. Paris is one of those cities that everyone admires even if they haven’t been there. It’s a place that’s on everyone’s bucket list. The magnificent architecture, the Seine, Chanel, Dior, the romance, the macaroon, the baguette, the cafe au lait and the beurre (demi sel) being one of my personal faves. It’s only the beginning of a long list of delights that come to mind when Paris is mentioned and they roll through my head, like a Maura Kalman book (probably influenced by endless readings of “Max in Paris” to my sons when they were young). But I digress...
One of the highlights of my Paris trips is indulging in a great steak, always a filet for me, at a great restaurant where I order it “bleu”, so it arrives after a very quick visit to the oven in a subtle pool of blood and the meat just melts exquisitely in your mouth (like a lump of that beurre-demi sel I mentioned earlier...). And I am a vegetarian. It’s my iron fix twice a year and I look forward to it like Spring. So, when my sister, who has become a total “foody” said “I want to try this great sounding restaurant I read about on a blog” I was excited, but then slightly dismayed to hear it was Italian. Italian? In Paris?? Are you crazy???
But my sister can be very influential, somehow you believe everything she says even if later upon reflection you may find yourself thinking, “really?”... and so off we went one night looking for Rue Oberkampf in the 11th. Rue Oberkampf is a lively street which is very local/residential French in feeling, a bit like Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg or a street on the Lower East Side. We soon came upon one brightly painted small doorway that opened into a very unassuming long skinny slighty L shaped room, which seated 24 if I counted the heads correctly. Our table wasn’t ready so the only place to wait was outside, that’s how small the restaurant is! Upon entering finally, we squeezed passed an old wooden table covered in flour with pasta making equipment on it, which looked a little staged to let people know they were in an Italian restaurant, if you know what I mean. We settled into our seats and surveyed the simple hand written chalk board menu to our right announcing the one special entree of the day and the main table menu listed the rest of the simple pasta dishes the restaurant is known for. Pasta is their thing.
Pasta is usually my least favorite part of Italian cuisine. I have also been lucky enough to take many trips to Milan over a 5 year period. Traveling to Italy demystified Italian cuisine for me. And I never ordered pasta. The fish, simply cooked vegetables, risotto and zucca fiore (amazing!) were the dishes that always spoke to me the most and I ate them with relish trip after trip. So, here I was in Paris eating Italian in a pasta restaurant no less. I told you my sister can be an arm twister.
The waitress who took our order was soon behind us at the wooden table flattening the pasta through the pasta “ringer” again and again, then slicing it into what looked like lasagna size strips of pasta. It was mesmerizing to watch how this super cheap, buy it in a box staple of most people’s lives was made. I ordered a simple dish of pasta with fresh tomatoes and it blew my mind. The pasta was like long flattened noodles, perfectly al dente and so tasty. The texture of the pasta was so much more complex than the mass produced box variety. The tomatoes were insanely flavorful. The simplicity of it made it all the more spectacular. All the dishes ordered at our table were simple (seafood pasta, meat sauce pasta) but silence reigned as we demolished our plates like hungry street urchins, which we were not.
So, if you ever find yourself in Paris and have maybe had one steak too many, put this little gem of a restaurant on your list. Just book ahead or get there early because it’s not a secret to the locals and it’s chilly waiting outside in Paris in March.