04 November 2013

at my most parisian : la cagouille, 74014

I can pinpoint the precise moment at which, despite language struggles and disgust with service norms and volcanic resentment of patrician social structures, I began to feel at home in Paris.

It was when I was first able to pass along to a colleague a recommendation I had once received for a miracle-worker dry-cleaner. (In this case, a stuffy teinturier who is, at reasonable cost, able to remove tar and bloodstains from garments. Don't ask.) For city life is an agglomeration of knotty problems - from stained shirts to subway strikes to where to entertain on Sunday nights - and to feel at home among it all one must possess ready solutions. For expats, cut off from the oral tradition by which great addresses for obscure services are usually handed down, the challenge is that much greater.

So it's a great comfort to me to have been introduced* to La Cagouille, a poorly-designed, fusty, Charentais seafood restaurant tucked behind Montparnasse in the 14ème arrondissement. Deeply uncool and far removed from any part of town I frequent, La Cagouille nevertheless ranks among the city's best back-pocket addresses, simply by dint of offering very good food and wine - and abundant table availability - on Sundays.

The restaurant is open every day of the week, in fact. It's several dining rooms and large terrace clearly cater to a fair share of family reunions and business meals. From the outside, you could confuse it for a Legal Sea Foods.

But similarities to US-style industrialised dining stop there. In its interior, and in its menu and wine list, La Cagouille presents a charmingly rigid iteration of old-school French restaurateurism.

It was founded over three decades ago on rue Daguerre by chef Gérard Allemandou. He later sold the restaurant to current proprietor André Robert, and the restaurant was moved to its current address on the place Constantin Brancusi. (Incidentally, Robert and Allemandou are also co-founders of wine shop Cave Balthazar in the 14ème arrondissement.) 

La Cagouille's menu allows for the possibility of immense expenditures. But a more limited 26€ formule ensures that the restaurant remains a viable destination for low-key meals.

The wine list, too, alongside three- and four-figure wines like back vintage Coche-Dury and Vincent Dancer, contains a welcoming breadth of Muscadet.

To walk into the restaurant is to come face-to-face with Paris' reprehensible racial / income / class / age stratification. The tables comprise a tinseled garden of silver hair and pale wattles. In light of this, the many under 30€ selections on La Cagouille's wine list seem downright democratic. 

My friends and I nonetheless decided to spring for a few bottles of Romain Guiberteau's masterful cru Saumur blancs. (Sixty-something euros for also-ran Mâcons seemed unwise.)

My friend Brendan Stater-West and Romain Guiberteau, tasting in the latter's cellar (where the former works). I visited  them with my friend Josh Adler from Paris Wine Company this past February. 

The 2009 "Brézé," belying the heat of its vintage, was chiseled and austere, with trim white fruit and light waxen notes. As pleasurable as it was, it seemed in a transitional stage - I'd expect it to open out nicely in a year or two.

The 2008 "Clos des Carmes," meanwhile, was typical of the cru, if not the vintage: rich and opulent, at 14,5° alcohol, it was like drinking a pirate's chest full of glittering jewels. A rockslide of mineral and tropical citrus tang. 

In a charming touch, the restaurant offers an amuse-bouche of tiny cockles.

The rest of the menu can be summarised as various fish, simply prepared, by people who know how to cook fish. Its grace is largely in its restraint.

An exception was an overpriced and underwhelming plate of octopus, lacking the light sear that would distinguish the texture.

More memorable were some voluptous fines d'été oysters from David Hervé. Like the restaurant as a whole, the plate was no bargain, but given the circumstances - Sunday night, visiting friends - it was worth every centime.

* Many thanks to Josh Adler of Paris Wine Company for the recommendation! 

La Cagouille
10, place Constantin-Brancusi
75014 PARIS
Métro: Gaité
Tel: 01 43 22 09 01

Related Links: 

A 2012 note on a featured chef (now presumably departed) at La Cagouille, by GillesPudlowski.
A 2011 note on the change of ownership at La Cagouille, by GillesPudlowski.

Another favorite address in the 14ème : Le Severo


  1. Nice post. Food critic, now. Too many lunches with John Talbott?
    Re: (Incidentally, Robert and Allemandou are also co-founders of wine shop Cave Balthazar in the 17ème arrondissement.) Last time I was there it was in the 14th, just off the Place at 16 rue Jules Guesde. Has it moved to the 17th?

  2. thanks for the correction ! i updated.

    i don't consider myself a food critic. but one of the main purposes of this blog is to identify and commment upon the establishments (restaurants, bars, wine shops) where good wine can be found in paris.