From Paella to Purely Paris

International Herald Tribune

PARIS - The welcome is warm, the rice delicious, the Spanish fare a great change of pace. For the last year, the owners Pierre Ruffin and Alberto Herraiz have offered Parisians a totally authentic Spanish experience, complete with giant platters of varied paella, a medley of excellent tapas - tiny plates of starters - good desserts and excellent wines. All this comes at a very decent price, with warm and friendly service and a pleasant setting across from the charming park of Saint Julien le Pauvre Church on Paris's Left Bank.

This pocket-size restaurant is bathed in warm shades of ocher, and for the good tapas starters, the menu may include the famed Spanish pata negra ham; filling red peppers stuffed with shredded bull's tail (poivrons farcis à la queue de toro); delicious, spinach-rich tortillas, and tender baby squid bathed in their ink (chipirons à l'encre). There are some six different versions of paella, all of which bear no resemblance to the watered-down versions we are most familiar with today. The rice - all Spanish rice from the Ebro delta, where the grains are larger and more strongly flavored - is the main element in all the paella dishes, with flavorings that vary from a jet-black version made with squid ink to a Valencia version seasoned with chicken, rabbit, vegetables and snails.

The paella is served in the pan in which it is cooked, and diners eat right out of the pan, which is perched on a stand at the table.

Desserts vary from a soothing sheep's milk yogurt to irresistible hot melted chocolate in a beautiful white bowl, served with state-of-the-art churros, a kind of fritter. The wine list offers some true discoveries and bargains, including the Gran Corona Torres from the Penedes area of Catalonia, a mix of cabernet and the aromatic tempranillo grape.

On two recent visits the restaurant was embarrassingly empty, and the background music varies from cheery marching tunes to abrasive Spanish sounds.


Old-Fashioned Bistro

French critics like to call Au Moulin a Vent-Chez Henri the L'Ami Louis of the Left Bank. Although there is no succulent roasted lamb or chicken to compare with what one finds at L'Ami Louis, Chez Henri does the job when you are looking for a busy, old-fashioned, purely Parisian bistro. This is the place to go with a crowd when you're in the mood for red meat and Beaujolais.

With a barely legible menu in purple ink, a jovial patron and sausages hanging from the ceiling, this is one rare spot to find authentic boeuf a la ficelle, top-quality fillet of beef that is tied with a string, then cooked quickly in boiling water. The boiling technique seals the outside of the meat, making for a beef that's perfectly rare and without a trace of fat. (Don't be turned off by the unappetizing gray appearance of the meat - the inside will be gloriously red and appetizing.) Another star is the entrecôte, the rib eye, with shallots, earthy pan-seared beef that is literally pasted with finely minced shallots so they cook to a fragrant, golden crispness. Almost everything here comes with cubes of sautéed potatoes, perhaps the best version of that bistro classic I have ever tasted.

Other dishes worth trying - if they're on the menu that day - include a refreshing salad of mushrooms and green beans, another of perfectly cooked, thinly sliced artichoke bottoms and a classic sole meuniere. The magret de canard, fatted duck breast, can be dry and tough. The Beaujolais Fleurie goes down very easily, and the bread is dry and dreadful.


Fogon Saint-Julien, 10 Rue Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, Paris 5; tel: 01-43-54-31-33. Closed Sunday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Credit card: Visa. 120-franc ($21.50) lunch menu (including wine and coffee), 160-franc menu. A la carte, 200 francs, including service and wine.

Au Moulin a Vent-Chez Henri, 20 Rue des Fosses Saint-Bernard, Paris 5; tel: 01-43-54-99-37. Closed Sunday, Monday, holidays and August. Credit card: Visa, MasterCard. A la carte, 280 to 320 francs ($50 to $57).