Pleine Mer - Oyster Heaven

The allusion to oysters in my last review - L'Aquarelle in the Charente Maritime region- was no accident. By some strange turn of events, I didn't have an opportunity to to sample any oysters in that oyster-rich part of the country during my recent visit, so I brought my oyster - hereafter 'huitre' - craving back to Paris. What better way to bid 'adieu' to 2011 than by ingesting a dozen huitres and a bottle of muscadet?

There are many options for huitres in Paris, needless to say, from the highly touted Le Bistrot du Dome to the higher (Le Bar a Huitres) to lower (La Criee) chains. Co. and I, however, opted for the one that sounded most authentical and unpretentious, and, based on our meal there, hit the nail on the head.

Just the huitres, Jack, just the huitres. Pleine Mer is located an easy six-minute walk from Gare du Nord on the funky little rue Chabrol. Along the route, be sure to step into the immense (and also funky) Marché Saint-Quentin which, easily enough, is found on rue Saint-Quentin. As we approached the petite restaurant, we espied Sylvain Bertheau, propriétaire-ostréiculteur, in front finishing up a smoke in the pouring rain. M. Bertheau is Pleine Mer - shucker, waiter, owner, cashier, etc. - at least for our end-of-year visit. Once through the entrance, you pass a couple of large stainless-steel refrigerators for upcoming take-out orders and crates of freshly-packed oysters stacked on the floor.

We installed ourselves at one of the 8 or so small square tables, and were immediately informed by M. Bertheau that he had no smoked salmon for the evening, but plenty of huitres of the Cancal region of France, numbers 1, 2, and 3. Pleine Mer typically promises varieties of huitres ranging from 1 to 6, the lower numbers denoting larger (and higher priced) options. A 'formule' of a dozen huitres, a dish of tarama, and smoked salmon is possible, but as bears no explanation, only on days when M. Bertheau has smoked salmon on tap. This was not one of those nights, but never fear, we came for huitres, so huitres it was. Not that we had a choice.

Co. and I each selected a dozen no. 2 huitres (16.50€ each), which arrived on a bed of algae and plenty of fresh sea water in the shells, three slices of lemon, a basket of brown sliced bread and butter, and a bottle of muscadet (13€). M. Bertheau also offered us gratis a little dish of tarama cabillaud to smear on the bread. Now I ask you, what could be better on a chilly, rainy, end-of-the-year night in Paris? For dessert, we finished up with the one option available, a large slab of the buttery/sugary Breton cake, Kouign-Amann (3.50€ per slice), with its crusty, slightly burned top. This is a deadly guilty pleasure guaranteed to add a few notches to your cholesterol level.

With Pleine Mer, simplicity, authenticity, a lack of pretention, a convivial host, and some of the tastiest huitres you can imagine tell the story, all at the humble price of 54€ for two (including wine). What else is there to say? If you are in Paris and you crave a little huitres house by the sea, without actually being at the sea, you couldn't do better, in my humble opinion.


22, rue de Chabrol
Paris (75010)
TÉL : +33 1 53 34 64 47

Notes: On tap to start off the new year is a return visit to Table d'Eugene. I also promise to work up the energy to compile a 2011 recap, as soon as I chase my new year's hangover.
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