21 March 2011

duck soup: dans les landes, 75005

When friends visit me in Paris, I seem to always get seized with self-consciousness on the final night of their stay, upon realizing that my grand tour of Paris - this city I adore, despite my complaints - has amounted to just so many excellent meals at fine restaurants. I like restaurants a lot, of course. The time I spent working / basically living in them has instilled in me an unshakeable affection for their infinitely varied dynamics. But mealtimes, at bottom, are largely routinized affairs: one eats and speaks and listens and drinks and oohs and ahs and one departs, often feeling quite sleepy.

For my friends D and P's final night, I felt like making at least some gesture towards having more than a dinner together. Or less than a dinner together, it didn't matter - just something a little unusual. I mentioned my quandary to another friend earlier that day, and she suggested Le Renard, a ridiculous cabaret-karaoke dinner fiasco near the Centre Pompidou, in which "restaurant" I had once been obliged to feign illness in order to avoid a meal of overpriced nightclub fare. To hell with it, I replied to her. We'll just find another terrific restaurant.

I booked us a large table last minute at Dans Les Landes, chef Julien Duboué's recently opened southwestern-French tapas place on the native side of the 5ème, thinking that perhaps an enjoyable light meal on a terrace in an informal environment with friends passing through might encourage the night onwards to other, non-gastronomic adventures.

The restaurant was indeed terrific. But I had miscalculated in a number of key ways.

1. It was not a light meal, not by a mile.

Eating at Dans Les Landes actually gives you the impression that gravity is increasing around your table. The menu is a vast chalkboard arsenal of meat'n'flour intensive tapas, many of them fried, most adhering to standard Paris appetizer pricing.

Our meal began with a round of extremely cute mini croissants stuffed with crème fraîche, ham, and black truffle flecks.

Little fat grenades! Upon seeing them I decided that before I return to Dans Les Landes for another visit, I'm going to get stratospherically baked, and just order, like, forty of the little fat grenades.

Equally rich and similarly enjoyable was a deep bowl of fried panisse au chorizo et romarin.

I assume these little cubes of pillowy chickpea flour are what they scarf down by the bucketload while watching sports matches on television dans les Landes.*

A southwestern variation on Caesar salad. 
As befits a meal consisting mostly of salty drunk food, we tore into the wine list. Dans Les Landes' is what I would classify as an eminently tolerable wine list. It's fairly priced, with quite a few good selections, and maintains an admirable focus on wines from the southwest, an area that gets consistently overlooked on most decent wine lists. But, considering its not-huge size, the list at Dans Les Landes suffers inordinately from idiosyncratic organization. Reds and whites from the southwest are subdivided into various geographical headings, one of which actually contains no wines beneath it, indicating, in a perversely roundabout way, that no wines are produced in that geographical area of the southwest. Then there are reds and whites from the rest of France in another section, and red and white from further afield in yet another section, etc. It was the one component of an otherwise very cleverly branded meal that felt simultaneously overwrought and underthought.

My friends tolerated a bit of exploring with some producers I was unfamiliar with (particularly the white section), but the best fit for the cuisine that evening turned out to be a wine I knew already, Domaine du Cros' 2009 Marcillac "Lo Sang Del Pais."

Based on the Fer Servadou grape, it's a brisk, medium-weight, everynight kind of wine, all black cherries and new rust.  It's a wine whose slight raspiness perfectly complicates what would otherwise be an almost overdetermined flow.

"Lo Sang Del Pais" shows best with a slight chill, which brings out a mineral component. Unfortunately - and this is my biggest gripe about Dans Les Landes, actually - every red we ordered arrived noticeably above room temp, and I had to keep requesting ice buckets.

Another gripe: apparently to encourage sharing, they only give you these really strange toothpicky forks the size of specialized dental utensils. It wouldn't be so weird, if it weren't for the fact that the accompanying knives are normal-sized.

It makes you feel like you have gigantism of the left hand.

1a. Seemingly 50% of the menu consists of duck parts or things made from duck.

I had no problem with this. But without thinking I'd invited my friend / colleague R, who as a boy kept a pet duck, and who therefore eats no duck.

Happily he has a sense of humor about it. We ordered a plate of duck necks, and he seemed relieved to be spared the horror of trying to eat the bony things without performing an uncomfortable pantomime of fellatio.

I will admit to not actually having enjoyed the experience of eating the duck necks. Just too much work.

2. I have almost no friends in the 5ème.

Actually, I have a great friend who lives not far from Dans Les Landes. But she's vegetarian and her options for dinner at Dans Les Landes would have been limited to little more than Marcillac, cigarettes, and a headscratchingly overpriced, underwhelming, supposedly truffle-tinted artichoke dip:

So she didn't join us, no one passed through. Ordinarily, however, I imagine Dans Les Landes would be a brilliant place to have dinner as an amorphous expanding and contracting party of X. Restaurants with the architectural and service capacity to deal with that efficiently are rare.

3. (Related to #2) There are limited options for late night non-gastronomic adventure in the 5ème.

There's Curio Parlor on rue des Bernardins. And we were slightly tempted to go check out the accordion sing-alongs I've heard about at Les Pipos. But it was raining, and truthfully moving around didn't seem all that appealing after so much fried food.

We all hopped into separate cabs and went back to my place to drink bourbon, having unfortunately had no more than yet another (very enjoyable) meal.

* Incidentally, part of my admiration for Dans Les Landes derives from how cunningly priced their menu is. A dish like this is filling and tasty enough for no one to raise an eyebrow about paying 9€ for it. The ingredient cost, meanwhile, was probably just shy of metro fare, if that. Ingenius. 

Dans Les Landes
119bis rue Monge
75005 PARIS
Metro: Censier-Daubenton
Tel: 01 45 87 06 00

Related Links:

Les Pipos, 75005, a charming nearby natural wine bistro
Christophe, 75005, a stunning but deeply unattractive nearby natural wine bistro

A charmed review of Dans Les Landes @ JohnTalbott
Many many huge photos of Dans Les Landes by Wendy Lyn @ TheParisKitchen

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