06 May 2011
One of the perks of my other, paying job is that it is not in the Marais, but allows me to float pleasantly through said neighborhood several times a week. I have ambiguous feelings about the Marais, finding it by turns charming and parodically frouffy. I'm speaking now of the nicer more genteel sections, not the shower-bars and accessories bazaars on rue du Temple - which are not nearly as insufferable as a certain bland, pastel-tinted, pre-rumpled fashion-esque ideal one sees draped in shop window after dull shop window between Filles du Calvaire and Saint Paul. Hang me with a wispy linen noose, already, and bury me in artisanal loose leaf tea.
Then you have places like renowned crêpe concept Breizh Café, which, while as artfully packaged as the next frouf-shop on the street, disintinguishes itself by hawking good taste rather - yes - tastefully. It's a well-run operation with fresh ingredients, good service, and an unbeatable list of ciders. Nothing wrong with the natural-by-numbers wine list, either.
If the place feels slightly impersonal, and is neither as conceptually pure as Crêperie Bretonne nor as jovial and welcoming as West Country Girl (both 11ème crêperies), it still very much suffices for a satisfying, culturally resonant midday meal. Which is why I was happy to bring my sister J3 and her boyfriend J4 there for lunch the day they arrived, jetlagged and happy, still blinking in the daylight, trailing my work-related wander through the Marais.
My sister and I used to live together in LA, during my restaurant years,* and J4 runs the bar program at a fine restaurant out there - so I figured they'd probably be after precisely the sort of thing I'd be after, had I just arrived in another country full of regional delicacies. Regional delicacies. (This is why we didn't go to nearby Nanashi II, as much as I would've liked to.) Breizh Café is a safe choice for this; their menu, in addition to the staple crêpes of all stripes, traditional and non-, also contains fine oysters, hams, artisal butters, and so on.
As it was their first meal in France, we sort of went to town. Lunchbreak be damned.
We shared a bottle of sommelier-turned-cider-producer Eric Bordelet's "Brut Tendre" cider, which, it turns out, places something of an emphasis on the latter adjective. It's about as "Brut" as a tutu. The lurid Reptilian flowers on the label were perhaps a tip-off, when it arrived. (Bordelet's celebrated range of ciders share a uniquely futuristic and horrible graphics design package.)
Anyway it approached, but didn't exceed, my own sweetness threshold for ciders, which when ordering for others I tend to stay well below, simply because most (non-French) people I know seem to like them quite beery. Me, I like a little nudge of sweetness sometimes, especially during the day.
The wine list at Breizh Café, for what's it's worth, is slightly more interesting than it looks at first glance.
The mark-ups are not kind, true. But I'm curious as to why on such a short list they give a marquee spot to Antoine Arena's 2005 Patrimonio Blanc. I noted also they were pouring Georges Descombes 2007 Brouilly, when most other restaurants around town are long into the 2009 vintage. Both of these wines are probably showing fine. It's just funny that here, where one would least expect it, one finds a few mildly interesting back vintages (from reliably great, widely distributed producers).
Because, deep down, I prefer the traditional crêpes at Crêperie Bretonne, I tend to order the stranger ones at Breizh Café. Sometimes this is a recipe for failure, as in a soupy underspiced Russian-themed creation I took that day:
Neither the herring nor the roe could rescue the grey-sky blandness of potatoes in cream in a shell of blé noir.
Happily my sister and J4 had chosen more wisely, something involving andouille, and seemed quite pleased with the meal, J4 going so far as to have a hit of Manoir du Kinkiz'** Fine de Bretagne, Brittany's low profile answer to Normandy's rather more renowned Calvados. I applauded the spirit of the gesture, it's good to hit the ground running in a new country. The spirit itself - the fine - was fine, but amounted only to confirmation of why Calvados is so renowned.
Then it was back to work, for me. J3 and J4 went off to wander through the Marais, newly fortified.
* Read: "My sister used to kindly tolerate my wretched, angry, overworked, highly caffeinated, accident-prone, strung-out, drunken, winestained lifestyle - all my day-old pizza, cheap suits, and empty sample bottles - in LA."
** They serve these ciders at West Country Girl also. Everytime I see the label I can't help thinking "Kinky Manor!" Time for a short stay at Kinky Manor.
109, rue Vieille du Temple
Metro: Filles du Calvaire
Tel: 01 42 72 13 77
A 2008 piece on Breizh Café @ DavidLebovitz, containing the benign authorial blunder of complaining about hipsters (really? in the Marais? how hip? hipster complaints invariably demonstrate an anxiety about cool equal to or greater than that which the author purports to disdain in those about whom he is complaining)
A recent comparison of Breizh Café and West Country Girl @ LesBonsBonsdesRaisons, unfortunately written in the voice of a 9-year-old game show host. (It also contains complaints about Marais hipsters. It's like people walk into the Marais and turn into frowning Mormons, or something.)
A profile of Eric Bordelet @ PolanerSelections
A profile of Eric Bordelet @ BeauneImports