Pierre Sang Boyer was high on my list of places to try in Paris. I was actually both happy and a bit trepidatious that the restaurant doesn’t accept reservations – this can be either handy (especially if one dines earlyish by Paris standards) or have the makings of a catastrophe.
It was a Thursday night and it was raining rather heavily. I ventured forth into the soggy streets, armed with raincoat, umbrella, map and a list of alternative restaurants in case RPS was mobbed. I frankly wasn’t sure whether the downpour would make things better or worse – that is, would people simply stay home on such a crappy night? As I walked along Bd Voltaire, toward Rue Oberkampf, I became concerned. Cafés and restaurants appeared just as full as always – maybe even more so. “OK, Eric, be prepared to switch to Plan B,” I said to myself.
Well, imagine my delight when I showed up a bit after 8 and found the counter wide-open, save for the 4-top on one end. I greeted the waiter and was invited to belly on up to the bar. Quelle chance! And, being a non-asshole, I attempted to choose a seat at the empty counter that would allow any couples who showed up to have room on either side of me (oh, and to the the party of three who came later and got the last seats at the bar? Say a little thank you to us Mary Ann Singletons next time you’re out…)
Now, I should add here that Pierre Sang Boyer is a “celebrity” chef insofar as he was one of the finalists on the 2011 French version of “Top Chef” (Romain Tischenko, the chef at Le Galopin was apparently – and judging from his cooking the other night, deservedly – the winner in 2010). I tend to be quite leery of “celebrity” chefs – at least the American ones. They seem to be focused primarily on TV appearances and book deals rather than actually cooking.
I guess things are different in France – not only was the man himself right behind the counter cooking alongside his sous-chef, he greeted me and chatted a bit. Pretty cool, no?
After I was seated and advised my waiter (I believe it was Max, charming, handsome and extraordinarily good at his job) that “mon français n’est pas bon,” he responded with a smile and “Well, then we speak English.” He proceeded to explain the menu to me – it’s 6-course set menu, though he inquired as to any food issues or allergies I might have (I confessed my aversion to offal and this was not part of the menu, so not a problem). There was also a supplemental 7th course of something like wild duck (he didn’t actually know the specific term in English, so he said it was a duck caught in the forest – while also making a lock-and-load shotgun motion – I told you he was charming) – foolishly, I refused the supplement. Zut alors… I did however say yes to the wine pairing. Max would choose a wine for each course (at only €5 per glass!) – though he advised I could quit at anytime if it became too much (I did my best to stifle a guffaw at this idea of “too much” being used in reference to me and wine…)
First course, a bright orange soup. “What is it?” I asked Max. “Oh, I’ll tell you after. Yes, it’s a bit weird but that’s how we do things here.” Fine by me! It was a pumpkin soup, subtle and fresh. A bit of crème fraîche in the middle. And something else? Turned out to be a bit of Pastis (I did not figure this out on my own, but only when the dish was described after I finished it). A lovely start.
As for the wine, Max described each one after each course. I nodded sagely each time and then proceeded to immediately forget everything he’d said. So, for the most part, my comments will be limited to “the wine was really good!” I do recall that this one was 95% Chardonnay. But I did take photos – presumably the oenophiles among you will be able to make more sense of wine than can I.
I never did figure out what this slab of something was – though one of my favorite parts of the evening was when the sous-chef started slicing and plating it and M. Boyer scolded, “Check, check, check!” since the fellow slicing it hadn’t tasted it first…
Next course was a purée of celeriac, topped with a shrimp chip and some cured salmon and some fresh chicory. My notes say simply “it is sublime.” The celeriac was intense and creamy, the chip and the chicory adding some crunch, the salmon meltingly tender.
And this wine I actually remember as my favorite – spicy, though with a bit of floral.
Third course was pickled herring with a vinegary beet purée, topped with quinoa (which I initially mistook for mustard seeds). I don’t think of myself as a herring-lover (though this may just be due to it not being served to me with any frequency) but this may have been my favorite dish. The acidity and sweetness of the beet preparation went marvelously with the oily herring.
Another great wine – I wrote “flower bomb” and also detected a bit of honey.
The 4th course was clearly pork belly (even I knew that!). I’m not always crazy about pork belly – I tend to like my fatty meats cooked and rendered for hours. But, judging not just from this meal, but one I had another evening, I think the quality of fat in French pork must somehow be different – maybe it’s richer or less gristly or something? Whatever the case, this was great – had a hint of old-school “pupu” platter spareribs. Served with sushi rich and wilted spinach in a tangy Korean-seasoned vinaigrette. My only complaint was that some of the pork skin was too cartilage-like for my tastes.
And the wine. It was red! And I liked it! That’s about all I can tell you…
Oh, it was also at this point that I realized the huge slab of what I took to be cheese sitting just in front of me was, in fact, butter. You do know about French butter, right? As my friend Ralph (le Genevois) says, it makes American butter seem like wax. I’d had no idea before tonight how right he was – it was like butter meets crème fraîche meets runny cheese – plus salt! Oh man – it’s probably just as well I hadn’t dug into this right away or I’d’ve needed an angioplasty with my dessert.
Cheese course next, served with what with a bit of what tasted like strawberry yogurt. Max explained that it was actually a sauce made from a Korean fruit that is actually rather bitter – but that it was meant to stand up to the strongish 24-month-old cheese.
And, all too soon, dessert. Some sort of oat concoction with lemon curd and cream. I thought the oats were a simply too oat-y… by which I mean they had an uncooked quality to them and it felt heavy – not as in a rich, creamy dessert, but as is a bit leaden. This was the weakest dish of the evening.
A generous pour of bubbles rounded out the evening….
It was also during dessert that the lady on my right inquired as to how it was – and I was honest, saying it was not my favorite of the six courses. I got to chatting with her and her husband (she French, he British, they live in Paris) – OK, I may have been prattling a bit, but I WAS on my sixth glass of wine, so… Anyway, they could not have been nicer – fellow foodies, so we compared notes on Le Galopin (one of their favorites too) and other restaurants. We exchanged email addresses, me assuring them that if they rent an apartment in SF for a vacation, to let me know the location and I’d let them know the frequency of gun play in said neighborhood…
I think my evening at Pierre Sang was probably my favorite of my visit to Paris. Obviously for the food – but also for the hopping atmosphere; watching the show behind the counter as the chefs and the waiters put out plate after plate after plate; for the conversation, both with my fellow diners and the super-talented waiter Max. I left with a great big grin on my face and a full belly in a hail of mercis and au revoirs for a leisurely stroll home in the rain…
Oh, one more thing – the bill, including wine with each course, was €65. I actually exclaimed, “C’est incroyable!” – the quality of the food and of the dining experience was almost shocking at this extraordinarily reasonable price.