love to eat meat. I still love to eat meat, even after reading Fast Food Nation and working as an anthropologist in the world’s largest slaughterhouse.
I don’t cook it much at home, but almost invariably order meat when eating out. Paris bistros are a playground for those who like their dinner wrapped in bacon, drizzled with demi-glace, and slow-cooked in lard for seven hours.
In the past two years, however, nearly all of our visitors have been vegetarian. Many have been lax and willing to content themselves with fish. But strict vegetarians are difficult, a sort of bonus round in the “where should we eat?” challenge.
There are plenty of options for street or casual eating. But a sit-down dinner is a different story. Vegetarians, regardless of dietary restrictions, want a “Paris Bistro Experience.” They don’t want to be consigned to special restaurants with names like Aquarius. They don't want another cheese plate.
I was hoping that Les Allobroges would provide the perfect solution. A traditional bistro in the 20th arondissement, Les Allobroges offers a 29-euro vegetable tasting menu in addition to meaty fare.
We visited Saturday night with two friends who chose the tasting menu. The veggie parade kicked off with a rémoulade de choux fleur et endives tiédes (a chunky slaw of shredded cauliflower with warm endives). The interplay between flavors was interesting, and the endive in particular was rich enough to have been braised in veal stock (is that the secret?). Next came a risotto aux cépes and légumes sucré-salé - carrots and parsnips in a sweet and sour glaze. Both were delicious on their own but there was little harmony between them.
Meanwhile, the carnivores were sharing a (vegetarian) starter of légumes d’automne au reblochon - blue potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes & beets under a blanket of stinky cheese. This was followed on the 33-euro menu by a gorgeous cannette longuement rôtie au banyuls, chutney de fruits sec - a young duck slow-roasted in sweet fortified wine with dried fruits so that its skin was carmelized and slightly crackling. A fricassée de homard et lotte, caramel de homard (braised lobster & monkfish in a sweet lobster reduction sauce) was ordered as a single plat for 15 euros.
While the meat-eaters finished triumphantly with desserts selected from the regular menu, the tasting menu offered no choice for vegetarians. A pear poached in white wine was a bit nul in its watery sauce. The final compote de coing needed some other element to balance its singular quince quality.
Overall, we were well-pleased with the food chez Allobroges. Their menu represented a Greatest Hits collection of October produce, and a light touch in preparation allowed these seasonal stars to shine.
On the down side, the service was cool and the lights were too bright. The décor reminded me of a Midwestern hotel lobby circa 1987.
When faced with the challenge of vegetarians, however, Les Allobroges remains a good place to sample French food without Passard prices.
71, Rue des Grands Champs
Paris 75020; M° Maraîchers
Tel: 01 43 73 40 00