Sunday, November 12, 2006

Paris Journal 2006: Sapporo

On last year's trip, the hole-in-the-wall ramen house Sapporo was my safe haven, the place I could go when I needed a butter-free meal that featured the presence of vegetables. I ate lunch there three times, but always alone, and I regretted that Margy, who was working long hours with only a sandwich break during the day, was unable to join me. This time, though, she got to enjoy Sapporo's humble yet considerable charms.

We spent the day at Versailles, mostly waiting on line, and then we had plans to meet friends for a Jarvis Cocker concert in the evening. As we got back to town after strolling the gorgeous Versailles gardens and walking in the footsteps of at least several people who were eventually beheaded, we were starving, and we had just enough time to grab a little something to eat.

All day I had been worried that we were in for an entire day in Paris without a proper sit-down meal, and it wasn't sitting well with me. So when I saw the chance to return to Sapporo for a quick bite, I was more than eager to take it. Margy, of course, liked the sound of my plan.

The dynamic little woman who runs the dining room wasn't around, but the cooks were, and we had a delicious meal. After ordering a couple of beers -- Asahi, not Sapporo... oops -- we both got the essential ramen with roast pork, and Margy had fried rice and gyoza on the side while I had a plate of curry rice plus a salad and oshitashi (tightly rolled spinach in a soy and vinegar dressing).

It was one of those meals where we only realized the extent of our appetite once we'd lifted our chopsticks a few times, and it was one of those very few times when I eat quickly. We sat there at the Sapporo counter devouring our dinner, looking up now and then to watch the cooks perform some deft maneuver in a small vertical-handled pan or a giant flaming wok.

Though I watched them serve it last year, I had never eaten Japanese fried rice before. Well, it rocks. As you can see, it's not tossed with soy sauce or any other dressing -- oil is swirled around a wok, the ingredients (egg, peas, baby shrimp, bits of the finest roast pork available anywhere) are added, in goes the rice, and that's it. Simple, perfect.

Similarly, this was my first time eating Japanese curry, and it was also fantastic. (With a very short menu, Sapporo is pretty sure to nail every dish.) The sauce was a deep brown and bore the yellow tint of turmeric at the edges. The curry contained pork, carrot and onion, and it had a nice burgeoning hint of chili heat.

And the ramen is always excellent. It's fun to eat noodles that have a little bit of confidence, a spot of identity. Sapporo's are cooked just right and hold their own in their sea of broth, pork, scallions, mushrooms, and spinach.

I felt a moment of reflection coming on: I was able to read the entire menu, I had rice and vegetables and pork... I was in my element. We'll get back to proper Parisian eating tomorrow, but this meal was just what we needed tonight.

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