L'Ourcine: Is That My Mussel Soup, Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

On the basis of a recommendation from a friend who had never been there and a quick subsequent Internet search, Mortstiff & Co. ended up last weekend at the small gastro-bistro, L’Ourcine. We were not disappointed. This is one of those typical French bistros, somewhat off the beaten path in the 13th, that tourists would love to find, but more often than not, end up missing. Casual and sparsely decorated, what makes this spot worthy of a detour is the occasional creative surprise served up by Sylvain Daniere, one of Yves Camemborde’s protégés.

Following a tasty amuse bouche—a veloute de carotte with croutons and cumin—we selected from the blackboards posted on each wall. L’Ourcine offers a 3-course menu for the reasonable price of 32 euros, which can’t be beat given the quality received.

Before getting to the food, I’m afraid I have to digress briefly on the matter of blackboard menus, which seem to be more and more common in the restaurants we tend to frequent. I don’t mind the restaurant slate as a concept—after all, it conveys a frequently changing menu—a chef who isn’t afraid to experiment or benefit from serendipitous discoveries in the local markets. What bugs me, however, is that in more cases than not, I can’t read the bloody things. I don’t know what it is about French handwriting—from my point of view, not having been trained in the art of calligraphy in a French ecole—it all looks like chicken scratch to me. Co., who was trained in French schools, begs to disagree. Nonetheless, my recommendation for Parisian restaurateurs: PRINT! Okay, back to the subject at hand, I must admit, I could read about 75% of the blackboard at L’Ourcine, which for me is well above average.

For the first course entrée –and if you’re not familiar with the French menu, this is not a mistake. Entrée::appetizer as Plat::entrée. We started with a poelle de encornets (small, thinly-sliced squid) with Breton risotto in ink. Very tasty choice, but it paled in comparison with the soup of moules, prepared with a feuilletee covering. Let me try to describe this – you know what one of those grand dessert souflees looks like, a big bloated cake that appears as if it would pop with the prick of a pin? Well, that’s what the soup looked like when it arrived. Once you break through the flaky dome, it slowly crumbles and begins to soak into the soup, mixing with a plethora of mussels lurking around the bottom. Let me tell you, Mortstiff, who rarely orders soup in restaurants, also rarely uses the word ‘exquisite’ in casual company, but the word definitely applies in this case. I always have to laugh when friends visit from the States and choose to pass on the entrée in order to watch their figure or budget. This is hardly a well-kept secret, but in many Parisian restaurants, it is in the preparation of the entrees where the creativity and imagination of many local chefs are most likely to shine through.

On to the main dishes and desserts. For the plats, we opted for a plate of noix de Saint Jacques (scallops) in their shells, prepared with endives—a combination I had never seen attempted before. Not my favorite combination, mind you, but it was an interesting attempt on the chef’s part. The roasted dos de cabillaud (cod) a la plancha, prepared with mushrooms and chestnuts also drew no complaints from either Mort or Co. For dessert, the blanc manger aux amandes supremes d’oranges aroses de grand mariner didn’t knock Co.’s socks off, but it did the job. Co., as is known far and wide, is pretty, pretty tough when it comes to dessert, even when it takes ten words to name it. On the other hand, I was extremely pleased with my decision to forego sugar for cheese. I had never tried the hard Breton cheese, Laguiole fermier, but this is just the sort of fromage that I could eat well into the night, or until the wine runs out. Oh yes, the wine. Our selection for the evening’s festivities was a Cotes de Luberon – Domaine de Font Leale 2005, a satisfying red, but a bit too light for your’s truly’s taste.

Overall, a satisfying visit to an interesting little bistrot, worthy of a return visit. Apparently, the menu is in flux, which is always a good thing for those of us who value variety.

L’Ourcine - 92, RUE BROCA, 75013 PARIS
01 47 07 13 65
Mº Les Gobelins

Overall note (out of 10): 7-
Ambience: 5.5 (sparse, but comfortable room, although the small size makes it difficult not to follow the conversations of your neighbors. Co. suggests that a few well-chosen b&w photos on the walls could transform the place.)

Food: 7
Price (over, under, average): Just right
(dinner for two with wine tallied up to 101 euros, a perfect price/quality balance).
Service: 6 (3 young females worked the room, with one behind the bar in the front of the restaurant - they certainly seemed to enjoy their own company, but were unobtrusive enough to draw no complaints from these quarters)
Definitely worth a try.

Note: When I called for the reservation I was informed that our table would have to be vacated shortly after 10 pm to make way for the next wave of diners. But not a word was mentioned around that time, as we finished and paid up, nor did we feel any pressure during the course of the evening.

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