Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A Yellow Cab in Paris

Blinding sunlight like the flash of a camera’s bulb rushes through my mind. Blinding sunlight, searing heat and buildings of honey hued limestone, dusty and dry. A hot cityscape revealing itself, contrasting with the cool marble shaded concourse of Bordeaux station in the late 1980’s. Backpacking with two friends (I wonder what happened to them?) we arrived from an overnight trip hungry and unwashed. In front of us a fast food joint serving burgers; burgers, breakfast, station parade? I guess I was asking for it, but I was a gangly, skinny, spotty teenager who was starving and could have eaten a horse; and in part that is what I did, literally! 

But this is July 2011 and I am sitting at a table in the Marais. I am older and wiser (no, really), and certainly not skinny having been on a gastro-ride through 60 years of Bollinger and several courses of delights from Alain Ducasse at the Jules Verne earlier in the day. It is late, and although it is dark, the heat resonating from the limestone landscape, buildings similar to Bordeaux, brings back the memories of my teens as well as the speciality of the chef I am reading on the menu. I need to spread out and relax.

The table is in Le Taxi Jaune, owned by Chef Otis Lebert, whose biography includes Tante Claire and l’Ortolan in Britain. This is to outward appearances, a traditional bistro, where the French cuisine is innovative; brought up to date. A menu that gives the impression of someone who enjoys the true elements of French cooking but with hints at the slightly alternative, the quirky sense of humour is demonstrated by the neon lights above the bar. So when he recommends his speciality, steak, then smiles and clarifies, horse steak, I gulp, swig down my aperitif and say yes (well it is his speciality).

I started light (it was the heat): Salade des haricots et girolles. The plate was an elegant and simple salad; a delicious balance of fresh green and truffley mushrooms, small and tobacco tan in colour. Simple? I think that would be understating what lies beneath.

While the haricots were perfectly non-squeaky cooked, the mushrooms provided a wonderful soft contrast in texture, then the subtle slightly crunchy rosy pink spots of finely chopped shallot. There was a prickle, something teasing the lips and tongue, coming from the merest hint of cayenne pepper (though with the humidity and wine tastings, I had, to paraphrase Mike Leigh’s Abigail, sensitive lips) but I saw the specks, the tiny red dots, they were definitely there; tarragon and parsley, topped by the shallot, bring out the dressing, adding light liquorice and pepper notes; layers of complexity thanks to the subtle added flavours and spices. So, ‘simple’? No, delicious.

The main course arrived: Merlan de Cheval. On the plate a medley of food, colourful and rich in perfume; round slices of meat with a dark, chocolate brown, tangy and prickly peppered crust, hints of spiciness on the nose and tongue, then a beautifully fruity red bloody centre. The red onion butter, turned pink from the slow cooked slices, adds sweetness to the strong slightly bitter flavour of the meat. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have the grassiness or bloody iron ‘whack’ that beef gives, though it is similar in richness and does have a powerful flavour; sweetness and earth are perfectly combined.

Farcis of courgette and tomato accompany the dish. The courgette is a vibrant green stuffed with a lightly curried aubergine, raisin and tomato ‘ratatouille’, gentle in flavour and very more-ish.  The tomato was stuffed with the more traditional style of ratatouille, pepper, courgette and onion, again subtle and tasty. Finally, herbed mash gave balance, green flecks playfully opposing the rosy butter.

Otis Lebert recommended the Pichon Paillé 2009 Graviers  Bourgheuil to go with the main course, a leathery and vegetal cabernet franc, slightly meaty, and a perfect complement to the main.

I said my thanks and we shook hands (I actually wanted to bear hug him it was so good) and stepped into the sticky night air, swaying pendulously from the food and the wine. For some Joe le Taxi started running through my head, maybe it was an infantile obsession with Vanessa Paradis, whose song was around when I was travelling all those years back, more obviously the name of the restaurant stuck in my mind. Whatever the reason I zigzagged my way through the streets without the need to look back, on a large bed in a cool room with a contented grin on my face, I knew I would be back some time soon.

Restaurant Le Taxi Jaune
13, r. Chapon
Paris 75003
+33 1 42 76 00 40

1 comment:

  1. This post was delicious to read and delicious to imagine. Your writing is so evocative I felt I was sitting at the table with you. I raise my glass of wine to you Louis.