It had been a whirlwind trip so far, Manila to London, the TGV to Paris, a fitful night of sleep in a new place, a long day sightseeing and eating and walking, and we were graciously invited to tapas and drinks by our wonderful landlady Josephine at the rather popular L’avant Comptoir. Josephine was a regular at the bar, and she whispered that most of the tourists end up next door at the wonderful Le Comptoir du Relais, which is one of the hardest places to get a dinner reservation, but locals know the teeny tiny and incredibly tightly packed L’avant Comptoir right next door is the place to be…
We arrived a few minutes before our host, so I spied the wonderful set up at the restaurant next door. They apparently have a really good prix fixe menu and the food that emerges from the kitchens is worth the trouble to secure a reservation (best done if you stay in the attached hotel I hear). What amused me that chilly evening was the table set-up outdoors, with space heaters above and wonderful woolen blankets for diners to keep their laps warm. They had little pigs embroidered onto the blankets. Cheesy tourist that I can be, I would definitely have purchased a blanket if they had a gift shop… heeheehee.
If you weren’t paying attention, you would miss the tiny entrance to the tapas bar next door. Inside, it couldn’t have been more than 30 square meters, INCLUDING behind the bar area. And I swear, they seemed to fit upwards of 80-90 people in there. It was cold outdoors, and we had just arrived from hot Manila, so I had donned a favorite old cashmere sweater underneath a woolen pea coat. I took the coat off before entering, but the place was so packed I couldn’t remove my sweater as well, despite the interior temperature approximating a Manila MRT with faulty air-conditioning at the height of summer.
The was the in-scene I gather. But I am not really that into being packed like sardines. And definitely not when a slight turn means you feel other people’s body parts rather too intimately. While Mrs. MM chatted with our landlady like old friends I checked out the hanging menus, the hundreds of bottles of wine on display, and the many clumps of hair in the vicinity (thank God I am taller than most people, even in France).
Their little red pig logo made me feel right at home. It was like Zubuchon had a snazzy french cousin. :) We started off by ordering a few glasses of red wine, then a bread basket was handed over together with a generous hunk of delicious french butter. Gosh, the butter alone is a reason to plan a trip to France.
We ordered a platter of carpaccio, thinly smashed raw beef topped with arugula and parmesan strips. It was delicious. At this point, think you are in a sardine can that is 100F (or felt like it), your body clock was saying it was 2am, and the loud chatter and din was pulsing through your entire body…
Next up was a gorgeous mini bowl of soup with octopus, red pepper and chickpeas. Josephine whispered the soups here were just Euro5! and such an incredible value so we ordered another one. :)
I spied a potiron or squash soup go by and we ordered one of those, and it was SUBLIME. So incredibly good and such a good example of cooking what is currently in the markets. The squash soup had chestnuts mixed in and a sprinkle of piment d’espellete on top. I made a similar soup for one of our holiday dinners last year. Remember the earlier feeling I described, plus hot soups, plus cashmere sweater, plus suddenly sweating pits and little black circles forming in my eyesight…
The final dish was these two generous slices of pate de foie gras, with the most amazing citron vert jelly — think lime jelly — or better yet, kalamansi jelly. This pairing was a revelation. So incredibly good. More wine please. Sweat on the brow, if I could see a mirror now, I would be pale or ashen I think. I whispered to Mrs. MM to continue chatting with Josephine, but that I absolutely had to get out of the sardine can to avoid fainting. I pushed my way out, sat down on the curb just in front of the well-dressed diners at the restaurant next door, tore of the sweater and basically fainted. I came to quickly, to quizzical looks of passersby, and managed to sit up on a fire hydrant across the street for 10-15 minutes until we made our way home. Despite the drama, I would return to L’avant comptoir every chance I get, that’s how good and good value their tapas were! Highly recommended.