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Sunday, May 16, 2004

Revisiting an old friend, L'Ardoise

April 25th, 2004

ardoise4_04anchoviesDinner tonight was at L'Ardoise, an old favorite to which I hadn't been for far too long. I was to take Doug and Tamar and meet my friend Maurice at the restaurant for our 9 PM reservation, but getting there proved to be a bit tougher than expected.

I looked in my trusted Plan de Paris, the same one I've used since the early nineties, found my notation in the book for L'Ardoise, and set out to that general direction. I only needed help from the map to get to the street, from there on I knew exactly where my old friend L'Ardoise was. Or so I thought.

So, there we were, for some odd reason, wandering around the small streets of what appeared to be the red light district in the 2e (2nd arrondissement). L'Ardoise was no where to be found. My confident x mark in my plan book was utterly wrong, strange indeed. Adding insult to injury, my mobile was at the hotel being charged so we couldn't even call information!

I turned to my fellow traveler, Doug, hoping he had the address. Doug is a meticulous former submariner who would normally never go anywhere without the carefully mapped out coordinates and precise navigating direction. However, as it turned out, after two weeks of following me around in Europe, he decided that I, in fact, knew my way around, hence put his faith in me totally and didn't even write down the address.

Damn!

Ducking in and out of many shops, keeping a straight face so as to appear completely unaffected by all the obscenity and provocative posters and signs, asking any passerby who looked friendly enough to approach, we still had no luck. Then, walking along rue Etienne Marcel hoping to find an internet café—well one that didn't restrict web-browsing to only porno sites--I came across an artisanal food shop called Le Comptoir du Terroir. I thought a shop like that would definitely know where L'Ardoise was if it was in the neighbourhood. As it turned out, the super friendly shop keeper knew where L'Ardoise was, but it wasn't even in this arrondissement! I, and my book, was off completely, by a whole arrondissement! What the…

Anyhow, a cab ride later, armed with the exact address the nice man gave us, we found ourselves at the restaurant, 45 minutes after we planned to be there. Maurice had already been seated, and was waiting patiently for us to show up.

The tiny L'Ardoise was jammed packed, as usual, but, this time, it was alarmingly full of Anglo tourists as English was heard everywhere. I wonder if the good Ms.Wells has just written about this place again.

The menu arrived, as in the name of the place, on a blackboard. The prix-fixé (or set) menu offered three courses for around 30 Euros. One normally has a choice of a few dishes per course. Maurice and I began to translate the menu for Doug and Tamar, a few heads were, comically, craning over toward us to hear our guided tour of the menu. We, nice as always, adjusted our voice just a little louder to accommodate our new crowd.

This time, I chose marinated anchovies to start, and veal and sumptuous mashed potatoes for dinner. Doug ordered the same thing, while the other two took the lamb chops (for 2).

ardoise4_04anchoviesI love anchovies. At L'Ardoise, they came with tapenade and salted butter, to be eaten with the bread that was already on the table. They were perfect, briny and tangy, beautifully complimented by the olive tapenade and butter. I could eat a whole plateful of these. In fact, I ate a whole plateful. Maurice had a crab salad (which, frankly, I thought looked a bit dubious), and Doug and Tamar the foie gras. I don't remember what theirs tasted like, but they all seemed to be pretty happy with the food.

ardoise4_04VealMy main plate, sautéed veal with mashed potato and pan juice was, in a nutshell, what L'Ardoise represents for me. The dish was perfect, unfussy, and homey, in the best sense of the word. The mashed potato was not as earth-shattering, screaming-at-the-top-of-your-lungs fabulous like Robuchon's version, but extremely delicious, earthy and substantial (like what my mom would have made, had she been French and known how to cook). The veal was perfectly tender, and flavored with the tasty tarragon-spiked sauce.

ardoise4_04rackoflambThe other main dish at the table, the roasted rack of lamb for two, was also a perfect example of what L'Ardoise's food is all about. The lamb was not just any lamb, but l'agneau de Lozère, from a special area in Provence. L'agneau de Lozère has its own AOC (Appelation d'Origine Contrôlée) and is considered the best lamb in France. Here the lamb was roasted with garlic, and served with roasted new potatoes. It was simple and just perfect, absolutely what the restaurant was all about.

L'Ardoise uses good seasonal ingredients, cooks them with skills and care, and serves them in an unfussy, jovial environment. The wine list was also, according to my friends who know wine, lovely and full of inexpensive treasures. Maurice, who goes there far more often than I do, said that he always liked the daily selection that would more of less pair with the menu that day.

We drank a bottle of Margaux, Chateau Labory de Tayac 2000, a very full-bodied wine with a nice nose of berries. We were also offered some Cerdon du Bugey from a nice French diner at the next table.

ardoise4_04dessertFor desserts I had a nice “nage” of caramelized cassis and fresh strawberries. A tangy and sweet ending to a lovely dinner.

Revisiting favorite places always carries a risk of not measuring up to your idealized image of them in your head. Revisiting L'Ardoise, on the other hand, not only matched the picture in my head perfectly, but also reminded me to come visit this old friend more often in the future.

L'Ardoise
28 rue du Mont Thabor (Beaubourg/Les Halles)
Tel: (01) 42 96 28 18 (You really need a reservation, and do book early.)

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