Ever been to Les Halles, kawan kawan? If you’re looking for directions to the Forum Des Halles, a subterranean shopping mall, you’d better be able to pronounce the name correctly or you’ll be misdirected or even ignored by the staff at the métro stations. Les (H)alles has a silent H and is never pronounced as one would pronounce the word “Hall” with the “huh” sound in the H. It is also not pronounced with the liaison between the ‘s’ and (h)alles – say lay ull – and you’d be better understood. It’s just the French way (picture shrug of shoulders here), I didn’t make this up as I went along!
Well, I was there with my friend, Laura G, who sadly will be returning home to Madrid in the summer. She was looking for the Dutch home ware store Hema; this, one pronounces with the “huh” sound in the H, methinks. Hema is akin to Ikea where one can purchase almost anything under the sun, from food stuffs to gardening gloves. I love their macadamia nuts and butter caramel waffles. When in Hema, it is really difficult to stop at buying only 2 items. I usually end up with a big bag full of things that are useful but not necessary. You know what I mean, don’t you, kawan kawan? My excuse is that “I’ve come all this way…..” So yesterday, I bought a whisk, which I do need, 2 boxes of macadamias, debatable if I needed these, bags of waffles for SS’s breakfast, biscuits, in case I have guests for coffee, more nuts for apéritif, forks and spoons for RN’s lunchbox, necessary as she keeps losing the ones I pack for her and tons of stickers for her Arts and Crafts – how can you resist a pack of 100 stickers for only €1.50? See, I was in trouble already as I now have to lug this shopping bag to school for pick up then on the bus which is usually very crowded armed with my handbag, her lunch and school bag.
Happy with our finds, Laura G and I then headed towards Rue Montmartre, which is just around the corner. I wanted to show her the bistro where MVO, CB and I had lunch one day. This little bistro is attached to a delicatessen selling all sorts of delights.
Comptoir des Gastronomie is owned by Dominique Loï, a connoisseur of fine foods and wines. There, in the deli, you’ll find shelves of bons vins, champagnes, tins and bottles of foie gras, confit de canard, in the frigo, cured meats and smoked fish that have been vacuum packed for easy export. But if it is lunch or dinner you desire, then find yourselves a table at the resto next door. Decorated to fit in with the epoch of decadence, 1920s, you’ll find an extensive menu of classic French dishes like escalope de foie gras pan fried and served on a piece of spiced bread or if you prefer, an assiette of saumon mariné gavalax with toast. And that is just the entrées! For the main course, you can choose from a parmantier de canard de canard, served with a cêpe sauce or you can have the dos de bar with a crusty pesto topping over a lobster sauce with potatoes on the side. Salivating already, kawan kawan?
These dishes as in all French restos and bistros come accompanied by wines in the bottles or glasses. The waiters, who are all very charming indeed, can advise you on what wines to have but if you are already a wino, you’ll know what to order. Their wines are really inexpensive and very good. Of course, you can choose to go without the vino and just have a carafe d’eau or a bottle of San Pe.
Laura G reads the menu carefully. She pontificates on what to have – the ravioles de foie gras with a truffle cream or the salad of fresh asparagus for starters. Then for the plat, perhaps, she’ll have the magret de canard rôti or the cassoulet grâtiné. Hmmmm! Maybe the filet mignon de veau.
All very tempting choices…. but very heavy ones too. The first time there, I had the roasted duck breast served with mashed potatoes and a jus reduction drizzled elegantly over the magret de canard. That was indeed delicious but also a very big lunch.
This time round, I decided on the Salade Gourmande which consisted of a piece of foie gras, half a boiled egg, pieces of gizzards, slivers of smoked duck breast and a leg of confit de canard, all sitting on a bed of leaves. This is a rather common salad, I’m afraid, served in rather a lot of French bistros. But it is a good way to taste every thing to do with the duck, I guess. The French really waste not and want not when it comes to their ducks. I really appreciate this very “Chinese” mentality in them although it is not common amongst the Chinese to eat duck livers, chicken and pig’s livers yes. Besides, the Chinese don’t eat the livers, if they eat them at all, fattened like the foie gras. I am not a fan of livers myself, so I really haven’t any happy memories of eating them although once, my mom made me consume a clear soup made up entirely of animal innards, in this case of the pig; a clear soup cooked with that pickled mustard I mentioned in Oodles and Oodles of Noodles. That memory causes anxiety and involuntary reactions to retch. So I don’t go back there, if you know what I mean!
Look at my beautifully plated salad:
I love the confit de canard. This is duck leg that has ben poached, then preserved in it own fat. It is really easy to cook, takes only about 20 to 30 minutes in the oven if you like the legs browned and crispy and they marry well with potatoes, green beans and carrots sautéed with the duck fat. Ma famille loves it when I cook this dish. I don’t very often, of course because I reckon it can’t be that good for the heart to eat such a hearty (oops, pardon the pun!) meal regularly.
The tradition of poaching and preserving duck legs in this fashion is centuries old. I guess ducks are treasured and revered for their foie gras which has become a French delicacy. The foie gras is really a by product of a fattened duck or sometimes, goose, in this case this would be mentioned on the receptacle that holds the liver. In order not to waste the bird when the foie is extracted, the French has taken to preserving the duck legs in this fashion. We don’t want too many duck legs swarming the marchés, do we? Besides, the magret is considered the better half of the duck, being the breast.
It’s funny how in the West (a very loose geographic term, indeed), the legs of the birds are almost never eaten, it being considered the inferior part of the bird. Chicken and duck breasts are favoured more. In South East Asia, the legs of the chicken or duck are preferred, usually reserved for the patriarch or first born son. An African friend of mine who hails from Cameroon once mentioned to me that the legs of the chicken (not many ducks there in Cameroon) are reserved for the man of the house of the first boy child. The women are left with the worst part of the chicken – the breast, tasteless and tough. In this way, both the African and Asian cultures concur when it comes to their treatment of boys and girls. Hah! but if you were like me, first born girl child in an Asian family, then the chicken and duck legs will be all reserved for you. The irony is this: as a child, I only wanted the chicken breasts much to my mother’s chagrin. She keeps picking out the legs for me which I pass to my dad in exchange for his piece of breast meat. (He gets to have the worst part of the bird. With 3 precious daughters having to share 2 chicken legs, there just isn’t enough to go round, is there?) Maybe it’s got something to do with how I view myself? Low self esteem, inferiority complex? – all reflected in my choice of chicken parts. That is another session on the therapist’s couch, kawan kawan. But I do have a fab recipe for Duck Leg and Pickled Mustard Greens soup. Tell ya another day!
For afters, we decided on the café gourmand. Why not? we thought. We are in a bistro for gourmands, so let’s just go with the theme. Comptoir, which is the French word for counter or bar has a selective dessert menu, all chosen to reflect the typical desserts in a Parisian eatery. But of course, this bistro is top, so the typical desserts are dressed with very unique condiments like the tonka bean which hails from South America. This black wrinkly bean has the combined flavours of vanilla, almonds, cinnamon and cloves. It’s the waste not and want not mentality again, my friends. All these wonderful flavours in just one bean, no need to waste money and time adding these flavourings separately. I like that! And the tonka bean. Speaking of vanilla, you must really try the mi-cuit au chocolat with vanilla ice cream, served on the side. The combination of warm, gooey chocolate and cold vanilla ice cream is truly morish and delicious.
Here’s our dessert:
I like the café gourmand because it usually comes with 3 or 4 choices of cakes. I like having choices, as you can see! The chocolate brownie here was delicious. To be honest, that would have been sufficient for me as I didn’t fancy the other two choices all that much.
Bill paid, we wandered into the deli next door. Look at this Aladdin’s cave of goodies:
In the resto, you’ll find a plush vermillion velvet curtain dividing the deli from the eating area. I guess you can enter this cave of goodies through there. But we didn’t want to disturb the other diners, so we decided to leave the resto and enter the deli by its main door. Look at the curtain I mentioned:
There we found things that delighted our eyes. Shelves of wines and champagnes. More shelves stocked full of cans of terrines, sauces, cassoulets:
Look at the refrigerated section:
When you’ve made your commandes, the lady in charge will give you a facture and with this bill, you’ll have to go to the lady behind this box for all your purchases:
I guess she gets to sit behind a Fort Knox like counter because she is in charge of the money – very important for any business.
So Kawan kawan, whenever you’ve finished your shopping at Hema; do go to Comptoir des Gastronomie for a quick bite or a relaxing lunch. I’ve never had to make reservations for both the times I’ve been there. I’ve been lucky, I guess. But if it’s the weekend you’re going, I advice reserving a table.
Comptoir des Gastronomie:
34 Rue Montmartre
01 42 33 31 32