My eyes light up when the menu reads, quite simply, in bold letters, Boeuf, Cochon, Carré d’Agneau, Pigeon, Caneton, Turbot, Langoustines. There’s a good chance that means there won’t be foam, and that the chef prides himself on the quality of his ingredients over his prowess in putting things together. Simplicity will reign on the plate. That’s the case at the 6-month old Auberge du 15, located not in the 15th but the 13th, so don’t be confused.
I love the fact that chef Nicolas Castelet chose to name the little spot auberge, for that tips us off that we should expect something homey. But lucky for us it’s not the sauced up, overcooked fare of days gone, but food that’s alert, welcoming, and satisfying. He makes much of his food look picture-perfect pretty, but not the fussed up, “don’t eat me” sort. There are many things I love about this clean, modernly outfitted spot: A giant plate of paper-thin slices of ham from Osptial “3 Fermes” in Basque country was actually enough for a dinner, paired with their can’t-stop-eating it bread and salty butter. A giant bowl of wild cepes was probably the best version of those giant, meaty mushrooms I have tasted in a long time. They were firm, perfectly cooked, gently seasoned, a dream. And I will return, for sure, just to sample their pitch-perfect aligoté, creamy mashed potatoes laced with fresh young Cantal cheese. That dish is one of the miracles of French regional cooking. I guess that it’s odd to complain about portions that are too large, but I hate it when I have to return a plate half eaten, as I did with their giant roasted pigeon. The poultry was perfectly cooked, but too much for this diner to handle. One of Castelet’s most beautiful dishes --- a firm slice of foie gras terrine (photo) topped with a fruity glaze – was, alas, underseasoned and bland, a problem I noted with many dishes throughout the meal. A rhubarb tart was without interest, though the raspberry charlotte was worthy, and classic. The wine list is intelligently conceived, with a bright, finely acidic Jurancon sec Chant Vignes (nicely priced at 35 euros a bottle) and an equally winning red Irouleguy Harri Gorri from the Basque winemaking star Etienne Brana (priced at 34 euros.) I’ll be back, for sure, to try the langoustines, cote de boeuf, and crab topped with the French caviar d’Aquitaine.
AUBERGE DU 15, 15, rue de la Santé, Paris 13. Tel: +33 1 47 07 07 45. Métro: Port Royal or Saint Jacques. Open : Monday to Friday, closed Saturday and Sunday. 26-euro lunch menu, 59 euro dinner menu.