Some people pull band-aids off slowly, and some rip it off in one go. If you are in the latter group, consider this the place to go for an induction in French food. Now I realize that this analogy is horrible considering band-aid removal in either scenario is entirely unpleasant and this restaurant is exactly the opposite. I only wish to convey how many different dishes you get to enjoy in one go! And lordy, they should give you a warning, "don't eat like an American here!" There are just so many dishes you want to try, and a little goes a long way.
I had this place dog eared in my trusty Edible Adventures in Paris book, but it jumped to the top of the list after a classmate recommended it AND I had some friends in town to test it out with. What makes this place special is you pick out your bottle of wine from the wall and pay wine store prices, without the restaurant markup or a corkage fee. Waiting on the table for you is a enormous assortment of starters. A big bowl of rillettes, two terrines, three different shredded salads; carrot, celeriac and beet, a beautiful platter of crudités with some housemade mayonnaise. Now I have only been here two months, but I already know that these dishes do not a meal make. These are clearly the 'entrées' by the original French meaning. I mention this to the Canadian couple next to us, and they look wide eyed at me "What?! There's more food?!" I tell them "Of course! There is the main course too, these are just the starters that they put on the table for us".
I should further explain at this point that this restaurant is called a "table d'hôte" because it is a family style joint. We made a reservation, but we are seated with other people at large tables filled with the entrees. You serve yourself the soup from the adorable stove squished in the corner, followed by the main course, also on the stove, then cheese, then dessert, lots of dessert. Now, by no means does this feel like a cafeteria, if anything it feels like you are in someone's home and they had 20 people over for dinner, squeezed you into a few tables and had you serve yourself. Sound familiar?
The soup was a fantastic cream of mushroom and artichoke, smooth but not heavy, and just wonderful with the basket of bread that we refilled by slicing our own. Following the soup, we spooned some rice cooked with herbs and dried tomatoes (these aren't your chewy sweet sun dried tomatoes, but rather real tomatoes, roasted with some herbs and garlic) and ladled the braised pork with olives on top. So fantastically flavorful but not heavy which was impressive and a bit of a relief considering how much rillettes we ate.
We served ourselves a few slices of cheese, from a selection of goat cheeses, of which we enjoyed 3 of the 4. Having eaten so much cheese the night before, we didn't go crazy with this course. Finally, we had dessert, and although we didn't even have room, we had to try it all. For research of course. There was over fifteen desserts, I kid you not. Four or five types of pound cakes, a cherry clafoutis, fromage blanc with berries, port stewed prunes with walnuts, baked apple crisp, creme caramel, rice pudding, three types of pot de creme; chocolate, coffee and lemon, and the classic îles flotantes, just to name a few. Ironically, the stand out for me was the stewed prunes. Sexy I know, but they were delicious! The pots de creme were a favorite of my dining companions although they weren't velvety enough for me...perhaps they used too much milk in the recipe and not enough cream.We only put away one bottle of wine, and would have definitely cracked open another had we not been kicked out. Well, we weren't kicked out exactly, but the only negative thing I have to say about this place is that there are two seatings. You either eat at 7:30 and have to leave at 9:30 or eat at 9:30 and see what food they have left! We went with the earlier seating, but considering the crowd of people waiting for us to leave, looks like there are plenty of (french) people who have no problem eating at 9:30.
The crisp air was a nice digestif as we walked home, and even after a 5 day eating adventure in Paris, this could be crowned the highlight. Did I mention there was a seemingly bottomless pot of cornichons on the table? I think I found my heaven.
La Cave de l'Os à Moelle
181 rue de Lourmel
01 45 57 28 28