Friday, August 27, 2010

Paris: Le Volcan and Hotel des Grandes Ecoles

I was moving some books the other day and found an interesting bookmark: the business card for Le Volcan, a wonderful French restaurant in the Latin Quarter that Christine and I discovered while staying at the Hotel des Grandes Ecoles not too many years ago. The hotel is located on Rue Cardinal Lemoine off the Blvd St Germain, a wide, private, cobblestoned walkway behind imposing green doors, opening up into its own little square filled with flowers that front a charming pink chateau. As you can see from the pictures on the wired2theworld website, the exterior is perfect, the rooms are small and old fashioned, and you're within walking distance of the Luxenberg Gardens, Notre Dame, the Louvre, and Shakespeare and Company, not to mention several jazz clubs, museums, art galleries, and famous bistros that surround St Germaine. That's if you turn right and walk down the hill towards the Seine. Turn left and you're in a little village of shops, restaurants, and town houses, and that's where Le Volcan is located, just two short blocks away.

We came upon Le Volcan late on a cold Christmas eve, just following where the streets took us, and entered with no expectations, since the place was deserted, as was the village around it. Although they must have been getting ready to close, we were taken to a side room with a fireplace, next to the kitchen, and looked through the white curtins at the silent street outside. The unrushed, smiling waitress who spoke no English gave us a menu, which included a number of fixed price multi-course selections. I don't recall what we ate, but remember that it was all exccellent bistro food at a reasonable price. The lady who writes wired2theworld has a picture of Le Volcan on her website and mentions that the restaurant was a favorite of some of the folks at the Grandes Ecoles when she visited two years ago. Here's what she wrote:

"Le Volcan (10, rue Thouin, 75005 Paris, 01 46 33 38 33,
has an 18 euro, 3 course menu which turns out to be one of the best values of the trip.

"Mom has Foie gras (+4 euro), salmon, and cappuccino ice cream and I have escargot (yum, garlic and butter!), a "gratin de aubergine" which is a ground beef and eggplant casserole (sounds odd, but it was really good) and a chocolate "charlotte" for dessert. The other diners are mostly French with a smattering of English speaking tourists."

Looking at Le Volcan's menu (see below), I probably had bœuf bourguignon, my favorite. I DO remember my desert, something I never had previously, but something I'll always remember: the Colonel (lemon sorbet with a side shot of vodka). Wow!


Le Volcan

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Austin: Perla's

A California couple of my acquaintance enjoys eating dinner at the bars of fancy restaurants rather than at the tables. After visiting Perla's restaurant on busy, popular South Congress on the spur of the moment on a crowded Saturday night, I think I know why. Perla's is a new seafood restaurant next to Guereo's, scene of a visit by chowhound Bill Clinton some years ago. The Perla's folks took a modern building that used to house a Nissan dealership and turned it into a large, open room featuring walls of glass and tile, white tablecloths, and touches of blue, providing a clean, Mediterranean look. Last year Esquire Magazine named it one of the top new restaurants in the U.S., and featured a picture of the umbrellaed patio nesteled under large oak trees with the a neon "Perla's" in blue script at the entrance in the background.

As for the poured concrete and tiled bar inside, it's like sitting at a sushi bar, except that the view consists of dozens of different kinds of shelled seafood on a bed of ice being prepared by the staff. The menu changes daily, featuring fresh fish and shellfish flown in from both coasts. (Since our selection didn't taste like oil, we assumed that BP brand fish was not on the menu.)

Carol and I arrived at 7:30 on a very crowded Saturday night, and was told that the wait for an inside table would be two hours. The wait on the patio was a more agreeable 45 minutes, but we were hungry, so we opted for dinner seats at the bar, and we were seated immediately. The menu and our drinks came promptly, and sitting close together at the bar allowed us to hear each other in spite of the din around us. We also got to chat with people on either side of us at the ample, winding bar, something that doesn't happen when seated at a private table.

Although there was a selection of 16 different oysters from the Prince Edward Islands to British Columbia, we decided to split orders of items added to the online menu: halibut with mango salsa, chipotle roasted corn off the cob, and asparagus with mayo-based remoulade spiked with hot sauce. It was all good, and the waitress had no problem dividing the fish onto two separate dinner plates without any additional charge. The man on our left had a dozen assorted oysters on ice with a flute of champaign. The women on our right had Coriander grilled Ahi Tuna and Texas Bouillabaisse. Although the menu changes daily, it's so deep and so varied that many future visits are need to sample all of Perla's attractive offerings.

Perla's website

Esquire Magazine review