Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Vege-mighty


I eat meat. I 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.

Les Allobroges
71, Rue des Grands Champs
Paris 75020; M° Maraîchers
Tel: 01 43 73 40 00

9 comments:

mad muthas said...

most vegetarian food is greatly improved by adding some nice crispy bacon ...

le Meg said...

word to that, muthas

Etienne said...

I agree with you about the service, but I wouldn\'t be so harsh on the decor. It admittedly reminded me more of my grandparent\'s beach club & inn than a typical Paris restaurant, but it was rather spacious and the bathrooms were also nice and clean - neither of which are a given in Paris. Glad you enjoyed it - I have yet to find anything better for vegetarians.

Sedulia said...

I've had some vegetarian visitors and have a vegetarian child, and it's not easy in France. We usually recommend Indian, Italian and Chinese restaurants, but if they have to eat French, the best thing is to go to a decent place and throw yourself on the mercy of the chef. Say you're a vegetarian and want something more interesting than plain boiled vegetables. Most of the time you get something rather nice (the other times you get plain boiled vegetables). Some chefs enjoy the challenge. If this doesn't work, most places will let a vegetarian simply combine non-meat items on the menu into a meal.

le Meg said...

Etienne: I learned about les Allobroges from your blog, always a good source for resto ideas. As for the decor, is it harsh to call a spade (or lobby/beach club, in this case) a spade? Just letting readers know what they're in for.

Sedulia: That's good advice, thanks! But don't you sometimes get tired of negotiating? I liked Les Allobroges because they were conspiring to help the vegetarians feel normal.

Nicole said...

I had some friends visiting who were resolutely vegetarian, which I didn't realize when I booked the resto, Mon Veill Ami on Ile St Louis. At the last minute, after I found out, I rang them up and asked if there would be anything on the menu that they could eat, otherwise I would have to cancel the reservation. The waiter said it would be no problem so we went along that night and they told us that they would just make up plates specially for the vegetarians. There were already starters on the menu that were fine and, while I don't remember what the plat was, the veggies were really happy with the dinner. I suppose you have to be a bit of a risk-taker to just trust that the food will be good but at the same time, when I look at the vegetarian option on the menus (the rare times that there is one) I am not really excited by the offering. It doesn't generally seem like much thought went in to it anyways.

Lisa said...

Another resto that isn't totally vegetarian but has a veggie menu is Maceo, on rue des Petits Champs near the Palais Royal in the 1er. Also, a bistro in the 16th that I love, which always has veggie dishes on the carte: Le Bistro des Vignes on the rue de l'Annociation. And for blowout dinners, don't forget Arpege.

Huguenot said...

We have a couple of militant vegetarians from England complete with disapproving shakings-of-heads. We tried the Latin Quarter and were hounded at every turn by bipolar greeks smashing plates who would consequently back away slowly and carefully upon hearing of our company. We ended up having to special order 8 Euro cous cous somewhere.

Perhaps I'll be more equipped to read your blog after I get my Erasmus mobility grant?

Adrian said...

hmm.. been back lately?