moroccan


Our apartment
Our apartment
For our week in Paris, I opted to rent an apartment in the Marais with the plan to cook in, which of course turned out to be a flight of fancy. Indeed, with so much choices within walking distance, why bother?
The Marais, with its maze of narrow paths that criss-cross at will and barrage of trendy fashion shops remind me of New York’s Soho. Like Soho, the Marais is also home to a mind boggling number of cafes and restaurants, but also markets, epiceries and a dense bakery per square feet count. We briefly sampled the wares from a few restaurants:
Boulangerie Malineau – Situated one block away from my parents’ apartment, this was where we picked up breakfast most days. The baguette was not as good as the bakery right around the corner from my parents’ place, but the baked goods are really good, with a croissant that shatters into salty, buttery bits and a chausson aux poire with a rich and creamy custard complementing the slices of sweet pear.
 
falafel sandwich
falafel sandwich

L’As du Fallafel– In the world of falafel joints, L’As du Fallafel has attained rockstar status, not least because it has the seal of approval from Lenny Kravitz, whose picture is prominently displayed on the wall of the restaurant’s dining room. The falafels have been quoted in press, written in blogs, featured in travel guides and truely thoroughly hyped up. It deserves praise no doubt, the pita warm and fresh, the falafel crisp, the vegetables plentiful and the tahini sauce tangy. The fried eggplant, soft with a little smokiness is my favorite part of the sandwich. The bursting sandwich makes for a fulfilling but messy lunch. Great tasting, but in my opinion, best sandwich in the world may be a little pushing it. Sitting in costs 1.50 more than take out though, so next time I would take it to go and eat at Place des Vosges, saving my money for an after-lunch dessert.

Dinner at Min Chau
Dinner at Min Chau

Min Chau– Manhattan restaurants can be tiny, but Min Chau is even smaller. Imagine a 8 by 20 room packed to the rafters with 20 odd customers and 4 servers, with a small steam table keeping a dozen or so dishes warm and wall space economically utilized, lined with bottles of beer and wine. This literal hole-in-the wall was a block away from my parents’ apartment, and we headed there after picking my parents up from the Eurostar terminal at 9pm. We slid into a really snug table for 4 with barely enough room to even stretch our arms to take off our coats,our knees banging with each others’ under the table. But there is something that makes eating in this crowded room appealing, and it is the unassuming but comforting Vietnamese homestyle cooking, combined with the friendliness of the proprietress and her crew, talking to customers like they are (and probably are) old friends, cajoling them to finish their food. We shared 3 of 4 appetizers and took the proprietress’s recommendations for mains, ending up with a shrimp curry, a chicken ginger stirfry, a tender beef stew and a honeyed pepper pork dish, all saucy and terrific with rice. Best of all was dessert, a banana and coconut soup topped with toasted ground peanuts for a savory twist. As we spoke in Mandarin during dinner, the proprietress took interest in our table and started talking, first in Mandarin, then Cantonese and even more surprisingly Teochew! At the end of the meal, we left Min Chau feeling like we’ve known her and her place for ages.   

Couscous royale
Couscous royale

Couscous stall at le Marche des Enfants Rouge– Couscous was on my list of my things to eat, and wandering into the Marche des Enfants Rouge- a daily covered market with deep historical roots- while trolling the streets of Marais, we saw a stall already brisk in business at 11+ and decided it was time for lunch. We sat on an outdoor table shivering as the platter of couscous royale was served to us, billowing hot steam. It was served in a dish small but deep, and on the couscous were different pieces of meat and vegetables layered precariously at the edge of the dish. One careless move and you find yourself flinging couscous, or even worse, a hunk of lamb, a piece of chicken, mechoui sausage or one of the two lamb meatballs on the table. The couscous was nice and dry, soaking up the tomato-ey and peppery stew while the cuts of meat were fork tender and flavorful. My favorite must be the sausage, spicy and aromatic with cumin. Too bad there was only one and I had to share with P!  

Names and Addresses:
Boulangerie Malineau (18 rue Vielle du Temple)
L’As du Falafel (34 rue de Rosiers)
Min Chau (10 rue de la Verrerie)
le Marche des Enfants Rouge (39 rue de Bretagne)

In an attempt to break out of our chinatown rut and try something different, my friday evening dining companions and I made our way 10 blocks south of the office to Barbes, a french moroccan restaurant at Murray Hill. While the restaurant was crowded on a weekday during lunchtime when I last walked past it, the dune colored dining room was only half full when we walked in at 630 on a friday evening. However, the crowd grew larger as the night went on, and so did the chatter and clatter of the plates. Still, the tables were nicely spaced and the huge palm tree that sat squarely in the middle of the room (and next to our table) gave us a semblance of some privacy and probably acted as a noise buffer, or buffer others from the noise we four loud females were making.
While a few dishes showed signs of french inflection, the menu is largely focused on traditional moroccan items, namely tagines (hearty stews in a moroccan clay pot) and couscous (semolina grains. semolina is also the main ingredient for pasta, and therefore some people identify couscous as a type of pasta) . And since neither ying nor rosie had not had moroccan food before, and it is harder to find compared to french cusine for sure, all 4 of us ordered either one or the other dish. We also ordered a very french, and very good duck confit salad to share. The composition was an amalgation of well balanced flavors, with the salty and earthy duck blending extremely well with the mild lentils and the sharp and peppery mesclun and the sweet roasted beets.
Unfortunately, the moroccan entrees did not fare as well. The couscous were well cooked and non soggy, although a little lacking in sale. However, the meats that came with the couscous, grilled or stewed, were all overcooked. Grilled chicken breast on top of a plate of couscous dressed up with plump golden raisins were stringy. And the lamb in the tagine was too tough and underseasoned, despite the best efforts of the prunes in the same dish to provide some seasoning and taste. The tagine unveiling ceremony was however, very impressive. So points for that. The fish tagine in a spicy tomato stew happened to be the best entree that evening, but the favorable impressions was marred when Ying ate a spoonfull of clay. When questioned about it, the servers explained that the pot might have chipped because she had dug into the pot too vigorously. But points still go towards the service, as the servers were pretty apologetic about the mishap and the overall service was attentive and prompt.
We surveyed the dessert menu afterwards and found the offerings of about half a dozen french based desserts perfunctory at best. Still, we ordered a molten chocolate cake (mistakenly advertised as chocolate souffle to us) which was pretty standard.
In the end, we had a really enjoyable dinner. However, it was more a function of the boisterous conversation and the enjoyment of each other’s company, and food unfortunately, played second fiddle.

Barbes
19 E36th St (At Madison Ave)

NB: My pictures of the tagines did not come out properly so i filched a picture online. Ignore the gnome =p