Thursday, December 4, 2008

Paris, part three: Camille - la première fois.

I don't really visit Paris often enough to have a legitimate favorite restaurant, but, if I did, I feel fairly certain that Bistro Camille would still make the cut. Nestled on a corner of the rue des Francs Bourgeois, impossibly difficult to find on my first two visits and remarkably easy to locate on this one, it's that perfect neighborhood spot: kindly lit, well-provisioned with wine, and full of delicious, simply and beautifully prepared food.

All of this is probably why I found myself there twice in two days on my trip to Paris. Louisa and I discovered Camille on this eGullet thread, and I think it's safe to say that (aside from a chance visit to the devestatingly wonderful Chez Yvonne in Strasbourg) neither of us has ever been happier with a find.

My hotel was just a few blocks south of Camille, and the walk through the Marais was lovely both nights. I took slightly different routes to be sure to catch all the shop windows and street life I could. I ate late (by American standards), not until 10:00, since I was jet-lagged and in need of naps. On Saturday, there was still a twenty minute wait for a table, so I sat outside.

I started with the escargots de Bourgogne, a traditional preparation. The snails are cleaned, the shells are stuffed with a mixture of butter, parsley and garlic, and the whole thing is run under the broiler for a few minutes. Good escargots are tender and light, not tough and spongy, and eating them is like eating delicate balls of buttery, garlicky goodness. Their shells seem so fine that you expect them to shatter when you pick them up with the special tongs (don't worry; they won't). You spend more time than you care to admit sopping up the butter with your bread.

These were good escargots.

The waitress talked me into a full demi (half-bottle, 50 centilitres) of Bordeaux, so I was in it for the long haul. I took my time enjoying the brisk fall weather, eavesdropping on the folks to my right (a British woman and two French men, speaking their own private Franglais), and savoring my escargots. Once I'd been able to stop myself from wiping up every last bit of butter from the plate, out came my main.

I'd ordered the duck breast, which was seared and served with the most delicious sauce made with pan drippings, honey and black pepper, all piled atop some seriously buttery pureed potatoes. This duck dish is a great example of how true French cooking defies its old American stereotypes - the flavors are extremely well-balanced, with the piquant pepper playing against the round, sweet honey, and the buttery potatoes contrasting with the seared crust on the duck. This is not over-sauced, over-treated food; this is gorgeous ingredients being coaxed into an even more perfect state.

Dessert was similarly delicious. Two years ago, Camille's creme brulée restored our faith in the French, after it had been destroyed by lackluster specimens in Strasbourg and Champagne. Camille still has the touch - the custard is particularly thick and creamy, heavy with vanilla and a touch of citrus. Most importantly, they've mastered the sugar-to-custard ratio: their shallow, wide dish provides lots of surface area for the crackly, caramelized sugar. Smokey, creamy goodness.

Finally, coffee. Camille makes an exceptionally delicious cup. Strong, rich, piping hot and just the right size - helps you settle down post-meal, but doesn't fill you up.

Ah, Camille, je t'aime.


Wendy said...

That is my favorite kind of Parisian meal Meg! Yum!

Meg Blocker said...

Me, too! Especially the wine...and the snails...and the duck...and...

Oh, man, you should have seen me stumbling home in my boots after that demi. It was a sight, I've no doubt.

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