20 December 2010

alright (for paris): la mer de chine, 75013

On the separate recommendations of both Cyrils from the Verre Volé restaurant and cave, respectively, I went with some friends to check out an unassuming Chinese place in the 13ème the other Sunday called La Mer de Chine.

I ought to mention immediately, just to get it out of the way, that I was hopelessly unable to resist referring to the place as Le Merde de Chine, even before we sat down and some but not all of the dishes justified the scatological wordplay.

Bad news came pretty much immediately when, contrary to the enthusiastic reports of one of the Cyrils, the well-intentioned waitress had no idea what to charge for corkage, or whether it was even allowed. Her superior at the restaurant wound up telling us first 10€ corkage, then very kindly telling us 8€ when presumably it became apparent we had rolled in with a whole battery of wines.

I'd brought a bottle of Jean François Ganevat's 2008 Cremant de Jura, which wine, having arrived at the Verre Volé cave only that morning, proceeded to explode volcanically all over the table when I opened it.

We drank what remained with a very tasty but wincingly overpriced plate of soft-shelled crab. The wine, which I presume was all Chardonnay, was chiseled and intense, with a bedrock sort of minerality, along with scallion and brazil nut flavors. I liked it, but found it nowhere near as memorable as Ganevat's still whites and reds, a huge range of painstakingly crafted cuvées, mostly Pinots and Chardonnays, that continue to amaze me every time I splash out on a bottle. (They're not cheap, either; most in the 20-30€ range.) In retrospect it would have been better with cheese after a French meal...

Instead we moved onto a kind of ghoulish plate of duck tongues, selected from the absurdly lengthy menu page devoted to 'Chef's Specialties.'*

All of us realized we didn't really like duck tongues, the practice of eating which, I reckon, must derive from the same Chinese predilection for toothy, gnawsome things like chicken feet. Duck tongues contain sharp little slivers of bone, for one thing. A huge surprise when you first bite into one. For another thing they are kind of unavoidably priapic, tense and pinky-sized. Then there is the presentation, a substantial pile, a whole flock of little penises. I don't get squeamish about much food but the whole practice of this dish just has too much discomfort packed into it.

Image swiped from creetic.fr.

What else to say. There were some garish orange ribs that could have come from the window of any sleazy traiteur, examples of a kind of MSG architecture, and nothing more. That people whose tastes I otherwise respect seem to like this restaurant well enough is pretty astonishing to me. At the end of the day it was the kind of decent half-authentic Chinese only a Parisian could love, and a Parisian who'd never set foot out of Paris, at that. For considerably better Chinese, get thee to Q-Tea.

*"What can't the man do?" is what I think when I see pages like this on a menu. And then: "Is he implicitly a complete amateur when it comes to preparing dishes not on this list?" 

La Mer de Chine
159 Rue Château des Rentiers
75013 Paris
Metro: Nationale or Place d'Italie
Tel: 01 45 84 22 49

Related Links:

Savant Chinois: Q-Tea, 75009
The Japon / Alsace Dinner
Nighthawks at the Diner: Le Verre Volé, 75010

A salesman-style rave about Ganevat's Cremant de Jura @ CrushWineCo.
Absolutely everything you could ever want to know about Jean François Ganevat @ WineTerroirs
A brief profile of Domaine Ganevat @ WineAnorak
A Ganevat write-up in the newspaper @ L'ExpressStyles

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