La Criée - Barracuda, Anyone?

Things have started off pretty quietly in 2008 for Mortstiff & Co. – still recovering from the holidays and without an opportunity to check out any new restaurants. Also, the weather in Paris is currently a total downer, which tends to diminish one's enthusiasm for experimentation. The other night, with a desire to go casual, simple, and cheap, we revisited our local La Criée, of the self-professed ‘Restaurants de Poisson’ chain. La Criée is one of those places that is pretty predictable. We don’t go there to be surprised. So it’s rather easy to discount the place when considering options, unless, of course, you hadn’t previously reserved anywhere for the night and are looking for a quick restaurant fix.

Point of fact: our recent visit was surprisingly satisfying. I’m not talking haute cuisine, but the meal was certainly better than some of the higher priced bistrots in town. As is our usual policy, the aperatif was taken at home: this time the choice was one of my favorite single malt whiskeys – The Balvenie – a more than adequate lubricant to ease one’s movements into the windy and rainy gloom of the Paris night. The Balvenie – aged 12 years in two casks – whiskey oak and then sherry oak – strong and perfumed, with a hint of rich honey in the taste (and believe it or not, you can find a bottle at Carrefour for under 40 euros).

The blackboard specials included barracuda - I admit, that was a surprise. Sorry to disappoint, but I can't tell you if it was any good. I've never tried barracuda before - at least that I'm aware of - and I decided that La Criée wasn't the place I wanted to start. Instead, I began with a plate of croustillant crevettes (8 shrimp with a breaded coating) and salad leaves conducive to dipping nems-style in an interesting sauce (a kind of spicy sweet & sour). Co.'s entree consisted of 12 moules farcies a L'Espagne (Spanish mussels).

For our main dishes, I went with a choice of a dozen oysters (Marennes d'Oléron, Fines de Clair petits no. 4) and Co. chose the requin curry vert (shark with green curry). The seafood was fresh and tasty; again, nothing special about the preparation, but did the job. A nice touch - rather than the traditional sliced, stale baguette in a bread basket that one finds on the tables of too many French restaurants, at La Criée we were brought a basket of fresh, whole grain square rolls. All accompanied by an embarrassingly cheap pichet of vin rouge. Co. took a cafe gourmand for dessert - coffee with a plate of four small servings of various concoctions - creme brulee, a brownie, and a couple other things I can't remember. The price for the evening, and this isn't a misprint - 61 euros cheap.

The La Criées are big and expansive restaurants, drawing clientele from all walks of life. Best to arrive early when you can get the attention of the servers and before your table is surrounded by people whose portable phone conversations you'd rather not hear. At least you won't have to worry about the cigarette smoke getting in your oysters anymore.

There are 34
La Criees across France, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding one near you

Overall note (out of 10): 5
Ambiance: I'll say 5, but at this place, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Co. always mentions how it reminds her of seafood restaurants in New England (US). TV monitors in each room, no, not showing rugby matches, but rather videos of idyllic settings, waterfalls, jet skiing, surfing, etc. Pretty unobtrusive.
Service : 4.5 (young, temporary servers) - worse as the place fills up because of the poor server to customers ratio. Our young, male server flirted with Co., but in a pretty low-key way. Anyway, it is difficult not to flirt with Co., so I excused his faux pas.

No Surprises (but you could do worse).

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