It’s our last night in Paris. It’s the best dish I’ve eaten during three weeks here and it’s across the alley from our apartment. Yes, let’s go back.
With that ultimatum, my travel partner and I negotiate a labyrinth of non-functioning locks, mouldering doors, crumbling stairways and squeaking gates from our hideous Montmartre apartment.
When I reserve our flat, I’m thinking we can save a few bucks by staying in an apartment instead of hotel–like I’d done successfully several years ago. But unlike then, this apartment is not worth the savings, as it is easily the worst apartment I’ve rented anywhere. Bare wire bulbs hang down. Some work. The stove is broken, as are the washer/dryer latches and kitchen faucet knobs. We hit the jackpot. Too tired to argue or refuse the room, we sigh and attempt to sleep on lumpy mattresses. Next morning, I’m praying hot water doesn’t stop mid-shower. We won’t be cooking.
The only benefit of staying in such a shithole is locale–we’re in the heart of the Montmartre. After a very long day touring Vaux-le-Vicomte and Fontainebleau, we arrive at our apartment to clean up. My partner is bushed and forgoes dinner. I’m on my own. I stroll across the alley, where a tiny restaurant is bustling with business. Seating is the tightest I’ve seen. I hope I can get in–and hope I can get out.
Everyone looks happy, enjoying their meals as much as their company. This place smells delicious. I ask if it’s possible to dine without ressie. My host grimaces, eyes darting around for a spot. Ah, yes. Outside, on the sidewalk. Sure. I’m pumped to be able to eat so close, being so tired.
The chalkboard is on the other side of the window, displaying all items in cursive French. I struggle, until handed a printed English version. Oh my.
Now the real reason for this apartment becomes clear: l’oeuf cocottes au foie gras at Le Jardin d’en Face, directly across the narrow alleyway from our apartment entry.
What’s l’oeuf cocottes au foie gras? It’s a coddled egg with browned, bubbling paté du foie gras on top, and it just might be the single best dish I’ve eaten in Paris.
It’s hard to describe, it’s so sublime. It melts in your mouth like a savory spoon of heaven. I don’t recall what the main course is. It, too, is yummy–but not on the same profound level as the foie/egg appetizer. It’s rare that a dish affects me like this. I consider racing back and waking up my roomie. Sumptuous. Elegant. Delicious.
After dinner, I share my good fortune with him, regaling in detail the dish’s flavors, textures. After so much discussion, I decide I must have more. He’s on board.
Return on our final night in Paris? Parfait. That’s the day after tomorrow.
Earlier, I start daydreaming about the dish again. Its soft, silky textures, crunchy, bruléed top and toasts. So complex. Yet so simple. My mouth is watering. When is this place open, again? 8P.M.? Okay, let’s go have a drink so I can get my mind off that lusciousness.
We amble back toward the restaurant, arriving just after open, ensuring we get a table. This time, we’re seated inside. The miniscule dining room fills immediately, spilling out onto the street again.
I advise my friend and we both order the foie/egg dish and a bottle of wine. In the kitchen, flames can occasionally be seen licking the ceiling. Bubbling, cracking, searing.
As I’m eating, I look around to see if others are having the same visceral reaction, as everyone seems to have ordered the same starter. Yep. Sighs of elation are palpable. The French are delving in, while tourists first look puzzled, then gingerly try some foie and egg on toast; wide grins follow.
I’m shocked I’ve never heard of, read about, or seen it anywhere in France. It’s a treasure. We ask fellow diners across the aisle–they’ve not heard of it either–and they’re Parisians. Wow. Talk about stumbling upon gold.
What more a fitting end to our trip: a last bite of foie and runny egg.