Le Pré Verre - Left Bank Spice of Life

Another dinner out with Moose, before his annual summer emigration back to British Columbia. Since this was one of his last nights in the capital, I invited Moose to offer some suggestions, and when his first pick was Le Pré Verre, I happily acceded. This is a venue I had on my list for a while, but never got around to trying. Sometimes great minds think alike, what can I say?

This popular Latin Quarter mainstay is just around the corner from the Sorbonne, so it's not surprising that the clientele is oh so Latin Quarter. The atmosphere is rather relaxed and convival, but that also means you're not going to expect any intimate conversations. In fact, I think the word I used most during our dinner was 'Whaaaat???' But, hey, I can shout with the best of them, so there you have it. I know this is kind of lazy, but it's summer and the living is easy, and what Fromer's says about Le Pré is exactly, to a word, what I was going to write. So in a nutshell:

Even if this is not an earth-shattering gastronomic experience, it is solid and reliable, with good cooking and market-fresh ingredients. The Delacourcelle brothers are firmly based in the French tradition, but they have added innovative modern twists by giving extra spicing to the food, many of the flavorings inspired by Asia.

The restaurant is owned by the Delacourcelle brothers (interestingly, there are several Parisian establishments run by brother teams) - Marc is the wine specialist who leaves the cooking to Philippe, the chef. A well-chosen, unpretentious wine list includes bottles of red (the only wine that matters) ranging from a 19€ table wine (dubbed "vin de petanque"! 2008 Domaine Mas de Libian) to an 85€ Château la bessane 2001 Château Margaux. And even better, a blackboard special bottle from the Loire, a Chinon Une soif de loup 2007 Loup - the thirsty wolf, which happens to be my second nickname after Mortstiff. At 19€, it perfectly complemented our dishes and facilitated our shouting match vis-a-vis the American menage a trois at one of the tables adjoining ours.

If you're not already aware, Le Pré Verre translates as 'the green meadow,'which has nothing to do with the restaurant's urban location or decor. So I assume, barring whatever story the Delacourcelles' can offer you to better explain the name, it is meant to refer to the freshness of the food, whose preparation is to the left of the traditional French fare, leaning in the direction of French fusion. Moose and I both opted for the 28.50 euro three-course menu. What we ordered: I started with one of my favorites, slightly cooked tuna - Mi-cuit de thon, rémoulade de céleri au sésame - four slices of slightly cooked tuna (despite the three you see in the image) surrounding a mound of celery in mayonnaise. I've tried tuna prepared this way far and wide, from Hawaii to Finland, and I have to admit this was somewhat disappointing. The celery was too rich for my taste and the tuna was nothing special. Moose fared much better, having ordered Hure de cochon grillée, chutney de betteraves. If you eat pig, this is the way to go. I have to say it again, year of the beet. This grilled pig was accompanied by chutney and the aforementioned beet. It really looked good even from my non-pig-eating perspective, and Moose lapped it up. For the main plate, we both ended up ordering the roasted skate dish, Filet de rascasse rôtie, risotto au citron confit, and we both agreed that this was excellent, accompanied as it was by the risotto and a couple small pyramids of lime confit. I think it was about midway through my fish that a knife came flying from the American table, nearly impaling my left thigh, the girl apparently having a bit too much of the vin de petanque!. The desserts put a nice cooling cap on the evening, with me going dark chocolate (Truffade de chocolat noir, glace mélasse) and Moose doing white (Compotée de rhubarbe et chocolat blanc au sumac). A couple cups of espresso rounded out the meal, which came to 78.50€.

Our waiter, a young guy who looked like he easily could have been a Sorbonne student was beyond unobtrusive. Imagine, in the US, we would have been greeted with 'hello, I am Luc, my specialty is Italian Renaissance art, and I will be your waiter for the evening.' At Le Pré, the only utterance from our server that I can remember of note was, 'oui'. At any rate, this is a good Left Bank address to include on your list, especially if you are seeking above average food preparation, an interesting mix of spices, and a fantastic price/quality ratio. My only gripe is that the menu doesn't seem to change that frequently, but it's not like we're going back every week. Minor quibble.

8, rue Thenard 75005 PARIS
tel. 01 43 54 59 47
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