Saturday, 7 June 2014

Two Paris Winners: Le Comptoir and Albion

Paris is full of culinary surprises and that is what makes it such a popular tourist destination. A foodie friend of a friend contacted me early in May and I thought it would be great to meet at a favorite place of mine: Le Comptoir du Relais. Open several years by the noteworthy Yves Camdeborde (who began the bistrot revolution for affordable and delicious reasonably-priced restaurants) it has been operating with an enthusiastic crowd willing to stand on line to nab a table for several years.

I suggested to my new friend that we meet for a late lunch to avoid a long line. We met at 2, and were seated after 15 minutes. Seating is cramped and this adds to the fun and conviviality of the place.

Le Comptoir's lunch menu is rather diversified and you can spend within a large range for a full meal or for a sandwich, but all the prices are reasonable. Gan ordered a three course meal (being a foodie on vacation) whereas I just had one main course. There is a full wine list and you can also order by the glass.

I was most interested in Gan's choices, which were beautifully prepared and delicious.

This was a wonderful foie gras with spice bread crumbs worked into the silky liver: Foie gras de canard mi-cuit au pain d'épices.

He followed this with  Carré d'agneau rôti au thym, haricots Tarbais. In other words, rack of lamb rubbed with thyme and served with white beans from the SW of France. 

 Not to be outdone, I chose one of  my favorites. It was Thon rouge rôti "bleue" à la plancha, légumes de saison. This is a chic way of saying just grilled tuna served sushi rare with seasonal vegetables. This is a beautiful dish.

I loved the desserts here and often think of coming when everyone has left (at around 4) just for dessert. Gan chose a wonderful Crémeux au chocolat noir Guanaja, huile d'olive, fleur de sel. Another way of saying a superb chocolate mousse-like concoction.

Le Comptoir is open daily for lunch from 11:30am until everyone leaves and all day on Saturday and Sunday. In the evenings during the week, there is an excellent prix-fixe menu (very few choices) that changes daily. One must reserve 6 months in advance for a table inside or outside this small popular restaurant. It is at 9 Place de l'Odéon in the 6th arrondissement.


Albion is a noteworthy and relatively new find off the beaten track on a street that is becoming a foodie destination,  at 80, rue du Faubourg Poissonière in the 10th arrondissement. The chef is British and used to work at a reputatable fish restaurant, and the manager-sommelier is from New Zealand.

Right now, many expats are opening noteworthy French restaurants all over the city.
After reading about a number of these newcomers, Albion was the choice and it was an excellent one.

The room is large, modern and spacious, the service very efficient and friendly, and there is a wine shop at the entrance. Entrées range from 9-16 euros, mains are 24-26 and desserts are all 10. There is also a cheese plate for a little more. There is a full wine list and the Vins de la Semaine at lower prices.

If you don't understand French, the menu is hard to understand, mainly because the products are market-driven and the regions from where they come are noted, but everyone speaks English, of course.  I will delete the geographical areas which are named on the menu.

My friend, Gaby and I split two wonderful appetizers:

Thon blanc cru, concombre épineux, fruits rouges, crème aux herbes (raw white tuna, spiny cucumber, berries and an herb dressing); 

and a wonderful dish of ris de veau croustillants, mini navets, soude, pamplemousse blanc (crispy grilled sweetbreads--an offal which we love--, baby turnips, a succulent seaweed, and white grapefruit.

Main courses were also superb: Pluma iberica (Spanish pork), purée de betterave (sweet beet purée), chèvre, sésame noir (goat cheese and black sesame);

and my delicious Cabillaud (a firm white fish) with small shellfish, gnocchi, baby leeks and pecorino (a mild Italian cheese).

Desserts sounded so fabulous that we had to choose two and they were both sensational. Gaby especially loved her interesting lime cream tarte with celery sorbet and pieces of celery in the cream. It really was superb. I had a more classic chocolate cake with chocolate ganache.

The atmosphere is also fun. Although the tables are nicely spaced, you can enter into a conversation with your neighbor, should you so choose. We had a lively back and forth with the owner and manager of a famous wine bar in Paris.