25 June 2012

the spirit of brunch: chez casimir, 75010

Brunch in France is sort of a sham. It is as though at some point in history a Frenchman visited America and observed an American diner brunch, but asked no questions about how it worked or why people enjoyed it. He then returned to France and tried to replicate the brunch he'd seen: a huge midday meal with many beverages per diner, including just about every breakfast food imaginable. That must cost Americans a fortune ! this Frenchman thought. I'll charge Parisians accordingly. 

Hence French brunch. One typically pays 25€+ per person for a set formula meal comprising miniscule portions of many different cheap breakfast foods and beverages - a tartine ! fromage blanc ! a thimble of OJ ! espresso ! tea ! fruit salad ! a cup of scrambled eggs ! a ribbon of smoked salmon ! - all of which lame avalanche arrives in fits and starts, according to the whims of the resentful scatterbrained staff member. (There is typically just one.) The notion of a free refill, like a benevolent God, does not exist.

What's missing, crucially, is the spirit of brunch: of bounty, replenishment, carefree consumption at low stakes. To my knowledge there is only one place in Paris where one finds this: Chez Casimir, and even here one finds only the spirit. Everything else about the place is wonderfully unrecognizable.

Here is how it works (it really is strange enough to warrant an explanation): one still pays the Paris brunch norm of 25€ / person, but at Chez Casimir this includes limitless trips to a two-tiered communal appetizer buffet containing actual restaurant quality food (as opposed to buffet quality food) - a veritable Christmas tree of cuisine - 

- followed by a round of simple soup, then yet another appetizer, this one prepared to order for one's table - 

- then a substantial main course - 

- then a cheese buffet -

- then more trips to yet another buffet, this one filled with actual restaurant quality desserts. 

It's a disgusting, shameful, glorious quantity of food. It's like a wedding where no one has to get married. If you cut one of the regulars with a sword, I'm pretty sure he or she would bleed mayonnaise.

I'm not ordinarily one to freak out about mere quantity of food, mere bargains. Chez Casimir is really very impressive by these basic standards, however. Describing it, I feel like the character Jonah from new HBO series Veep, whose favorite aspect of his favorite restaurant is the mountainous basket of free bread they offer with meals.

If the quality of the food itself isn't worth going on about at any length, it's certainly edible - about what you'd expect from an ad-hoc feast composed of the Sunday leftovers of the less-expensive sibling restaurant of the haute-bistrot restaurant (Chez Michel) of a former fine-dining chef (Thierry Breton). 

The wines on offer at Chez Casimir are unanimously natural and / or organic, and include some magnificently obscure ones at that. For wine service, one simply wanders into the chilled closet where the wine is stored, and selects whatever bottle one likes, flagging down a server afterwards to open it. On the occasion of my friend R's birthday a few Sundays ago, we went through... Seven bottles or so... 

The one that sticks in mind was a Beaujolais cuvée from 2003 called "Baltailles" by Philippe Jambon, one of just a couple of natural Beaujolais heavyweights I've still yet to meet. 

It's a 3,5ha estate, and judging by his minimal representation in Paris caves and restaurants, I assume he subscribes to the Chamonard / Metras school of general unavailability and commercial insouciance. I've also overheard unsubstantiated rumors that unspecified vineyard disasters obliged Jambon to skip some recent vintages entirely. (Any info welcome.) Of the wines of his I've tasted, I'd place his production further left-field than most other natural Beaujolais producers, if not as far out as Jean-Marc Brignot, whose bottles once exploded in a friend's closet. 

The "Baltailles" is a blend of two plots, "Belmont" and "Baltaille." I'm unsure why it's bottled as Vin de Table - but the lack of appellation is somewhat appropriate, in this case, since to write "Beaujolais" on the bottle would lead customers to expect something light and easy-drinking, whereas the 2003 "Baltailles" is actually something of a bruiser. (If the fact that it were still on offer 9 years after the vintage didn't clue one in already.) It was deep, savory, emphasizing fruit leather, bark, and chocolate - another good argument for aging serious Beaujolais, which no one seems to do.

A final draw of Chez Casimir's brunch - as if it needed more - is the enormous bulb of Alsace vigneron Christian Binner's holly berry eau-de-vie squatting by the door.

For if the paradigm of American brunch includes vodka, a truly transformational French brunch such as Chez Casimir's must equally include something to offer the stalwarts still raging from the night before.

Forget that holly berries are, in their undistilled state, poisonous. A glass of the stuff at Chez Casmir makes for a fine pipette performance, as its doled out, and does wonders to settle the stomach after a truly gargantuan feast.

Chez Casimir
6 rue de Belzunce
75010 PARIS
Métro: Gare du Nord
Tel: 01 48 78 28 80

Related Links: 

A reliably great informative post on Philippe Jambon @ WineTerroirs

Alec Lobrano approves of a 2010 lunch at Chez Casimir @ HungryForParis
A 2008 post on Chez Casimir @ TableàDécouvert
A dated but informative post on Chez Casimir @ WhitingsWritings