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Paris Dining: Lunch @ A La Biche au Bois

Sally "Freedom Hound" Chow | Sep 15, 2003 07:10 PM

Roger and I have a lunch date back at the restaurant I had had a wonderful albeit short lunch a few weeks ago. It also happens this Friday is his last day in Paris before returning to Edmonton. I arrive 10 minutes late to find him anxiously anticipating a multi-course lunch featuring game. He tells me he is not feeling 100 percent. Maybe it is the after-effects of yesterday's light dinner which went off-course starting with foie gras. We had intended on a simple meal of fish at the apartment I had just moved into but one course led to another and the next thing we knew we had bought groceries for a small feast.

After last night a salad entree is an appealing idea. We both waffle over the choices: les champignons a la Grecque, celeri remoulade, or la salade Biche (crudites et terrine). Roger decides on the house salad which turns out to be a good call with a bit of each of the mushroom and celery salad plus terrine. I order the mushroom salad which if Greek is just button mushrooms sauteed with tomato sauce served cold. It is good but nothing memorable.

For mains there are two game selections- one on the menu and the day's special, a casserole of some kind. We both take the Scottish grouse listed on the menu with the 3e supplement. It is one of the better game dishes I have had in recent memory. I am not all that knowledgeable about grouse but this one tastes strongly of game which the waiter noted to us when we ordered as well as a hint of bitter. At first the bitter is a bit off-putting but I quite like it by the end. I check with Roger who also detects a bitter note. The breast meat, served medium, is very tender. Even though I normally prefer dark chicken meat I find I do not like the leg as much as the breast meat. What really elevates the dish is the accompaniment of puree de marrons (chestnuts). It is slightly sweet, velvety smooth, and subtly spiced. I think it is cinammon but Roger thinks nutmeg. Maybe it is a bit of both. The brown sauce is as good as a brown sauce can be. I ask if it is made with veal bones but the one server tells me it is grouse. Game maybe but I doubt grouse. I think she either does not understand my question or she does not know what she is talking about but who am I to challenge her, and in French no less?

A mash of potatoes & celery is served with the bird. We both wish more restaurants would serve creamy mash like this. Roger does his "spoon test" which means it should be creamy enough to drop off onto the plate. I do not detect any taste of celery apart from a seemingly lighter-styled mash. Although the mash is very good, I cannot help but think a side with a bit of texture would have provided a nicer complement to the grouse and chestnut puree.

I do a pretty commendable job of polishing off my dish. At around this point Roger tells me he is going to hold back to save room for cheese & dessert. I do not know what he is talking about; short of sucking on the bones and carcass there is not much left on his plate. Obviously, he has recovered from any after-effects of last night's heavy dinner.

We continue to the cheese course which is often one of my favourite courses in a restaurant. There are some 8 or 9 cheeses to choose from which I think have been selected for their mass appeal rather than to excite. I take some Chevre Cendre (rolled in what looks like ashes hence the name), Pont l'Eveque, and Cantal. Roger only takes a bit of Roquefort and says to the waiter he will share mine. I tell him I will make the ultimate sacrifice and taste all of the cheeses first so that he will be able to taste them in the right order. He gives me an unappreciative look but I know his taste buds will be thanking me later. In my estimation the Pont l'Eveque is a bit overripe but otherwise all the cheeses are enjoyable.

We are now down to the grande finale-- dessert. The mousse au chocolat is calling Roger. I try to sell him on the one spiked with Grand Marnier only because I would like to try it but he remains a purist and stands firm on the version "nature". I order the L'Ile Flottante and find a very pretty presentation of a beautifully snow white meringue floating on creme anglaise drizzled with caramelized sugar. The meringue is textbook light but a bit of vanilla bean would have sent the creme anglaise to high heaven. I take a spoon of the chocolate mousse which is a perfect balance of chocolate bitter and just enough sweetness whipped into a deceptively airy mousse.

Solidly good food. Attentive service. Warm atmosphere. It is one of the best four-course lunches and a bargain at 22.30 euros where few bargains are to be had in Paris.


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