We just spent a glorious week unplugging from our every day in Charleston and soaking up the wonders of everything French. We started in Paris, visiting our dear friends Rachael and Lio in their adorable Parisian flat with a red kitchen and a charming boulangerie (bakery) just around the corner.
Rachael and Lio also live right down the street from a very Parisian bistro called Afaria, which has an amazing, seven-course tasting menu for an incredibly affordable 45 euros (around $57). We ventured there on our first night in Paris after a brief restorative nap. Since Paris is 6 hours ahead of East Coast time, we figured a late dinner would be okay for the Gravy Baby, even though he’d barely slept on the flights over (more on the perils and joys of traveling with a toddler later).
Basque-style mixed grill seafood topped with a tomato sauce, chives and pinenuts
Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin with the meal we had at Afaria. Every dish was so unique, so flavorful, and felt so very French. White asparagus is in season right now, and so it was only appropriate that we start with a deliciously woodsy soup and infused with smoked duck.
The second course was more impressive than the first: a shared platter of mixed grilled seafood, including mussels, clams, prawns and snails, topped with a sauce consisting predominantly of pinenuts and tomatoes.
Black boudin (blood sausage) with a side of a lightly dressed salad makes an nteresting balance of light and rich
The next course, boudin, was a blood sausage that echoed the delicious earthiness of the previous two courses, but had much more richness to it than the other two courses. To me, it felt like eating a really thick slab of pate with a salad accompaniment. In other words, I could feel myself gaining weight with every bite.
A perfectly seared piece of fish with avocado and sauteed vegetables
In another stroke of genius, our next course turned out to be a lighter turn, with a seared piece of fish nestled atop a delicate mixture of vegetables, including chunks of raw avocado. Most of my seafood with raw avocado experiences are in the Tex Mex/Mexican genre, so it was interesting to see a different way to incorporate these two ingredients together.
Perfectly grilled magret de canard (duck breast) served on a wood plank
But oh — if ever there were a climax to a meal, this seared duck breast sliced and nestled atop a wood log would have to be the ultimate high point. If you’ll recall, I have a special place in my heart for meats served atop wood planks. The duck had a sticky sweet yet slightly acidic glaze that made the duck skin a totally indulgent treat, almost like getting a piece candy along with the duck. Actually, if someone wants to hand out slices of seared duck breast next Halloween, I’d call them brilliant and ring their doorbell about 50 times.
The Gravy Baby and I enjoying the cheese course
i barely got to taste the next course, which was two thick wedges of fromage (cheese). Having been at the restaurant now for nearly two and half hours, the Gravy Baby was as fully invested in our tasting menu as the rest of us. He clamored out of his high chair and insisted on eating both slices while sitting in my lap.
Whipped passionfruit foam over a fruit salad
Knowing that cheeses are often the “dessert” course in French cuisine, we were delighted when a final sweet dish of whipped passionfruit cream over a tropical fruit salad slid in front of us at the last minute. The cream had a really surprising spicy note to it that added some tang to an otherwise relatively simple fruit salad. We all gobbled it up, wondering aloud how we all still had room after all the eating and drinking that had already happened.
My sister, who, along with my brother-in-law, made the trek to France with us, pointed out that maybe our stomachs were just adapting to the situation.
That sounds about right; I don’t think my stomach had any issues with culture shock at all.