Saturday, November 19, 2005

Paris Journal: Aux Fins Gourmets

The word got out: Margy and I were on the hunt for duck confit.

Finally, on Saturday morning, as our time in Paris was coming to a close, the word came back: Go to Aux Fins Gourmets. I do not know the man who recommended this place (his name is Eric; of that much I'm sure), but I owe him a great debt. Not only was this the best traditional French meal of our trip -- the food at Joël Robuchon's restaurant is glorious but not exactly traditional -- it was some of the most fun we've ever had eating out. We drank, we ate, we ate, we drank, we snapped tons of pictures (no flash, of course; let somebody else be the "ugly Americans"). Margy even ran into a friend. We had a ball.

And every single bite was delicious. There were a lot of bites.

Hours before dinner, as I casually strolled by Aux Fins Gourmets on my way to the Musée Rodin, just to case the joint, a curling yellowed menu on the door assured me that this is no cutting-edge establishment -- this is a classic. I chuckled as I wrote down the phone number, which seemed to be long out of date (it began with "BAB." and had only four actual digits). Our hotel concierge would later call information for the "new" number.

When we arrived for dinner and were shown our table up by the front windows, we knew only that we wanted confit de canard. Our friendly, deep-voiced waiter wore traditional formalwear and helped us make sense of a menu that was tempting us at every turn. For our first course we selected marinated white anchovies, because when I asked about them the waiter beamed. In an impressive example of Franco-American trust, he brought us an enormous ceramic crock full of firm, perfectly salted anchovies in golden olive oil and told us to simply take what we wanted -- with bread and, yes, butter -- and leave the rest. This being our appetizer, Margy and I were certainly capable of leaving nothing, but we wisely chose to save room for the confit.

You must rely on the photo to provide a description of the duck itself, as words fail me every time. To suffice for a proper report, let's just say that crispy skin, luscious fat, and tender meat combined in forkful after forkful of the very reason I was so excited to go to Paris. The potatoes weren't bad either. Some were crispy, some were crunchy, and some -- I still think of them every day -- were crispy, crunchy, and chewy in spots from a trickling down of duck fat. Just to push things over the top, the garnish was a mixture of parsley and garlic.

Dessert was crème brûlée, which I'm not even sure we ordered. By this point our waiter knew exactly what to do. Was the prune eau de vie his idea? Clever man! We love him forever.

And Eric, thank you.

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