Photo by JasonW
Text by Geneviève Sandifer
If there’s one thing I think New York has perfected over Paris, it’s the art of the casual, delicious and reasonably inventive bistro meal. Most Americans first landing in France would disagree heartily, but after a life spent in Paris eating mediocre croque-monsieurs and room temperature frites with my stringy bavettes aux echalottes, I continue to marvel at New York restaurateurs’ ability to churn out adventurous and generally decent options for the downtown sidewalk-er.
When I first heard of Cul de Poule, I thought that I had found the modern French equivalent of New York’s neo-café/brasserie. Most tell-tale signs include: trendy staff playing indie rock on the stereo (check) bad acoustics (check), cramped, mismatched furniture (check), and a short but seriously intriguing hand-written menu (check) that remixed French standards (duck confit, roasted lamb) with fresh, playful flavors and combinations – worth a shot, but probably more hype than substance.
Courtesy of John Talbott Paris
We could have had a perfectly delicious meal. Unfortunately, the menu gods were not on my side: My father’s radish leaf soup, which I eyed dubiously, was actually tasty and complex. Flavor, however, was completely absent from my salmon cooked two ways (smoked and braised) over sweet sticky rice (truly the most bland dish I have ever tasted). My bad ordering luck struck again when I was left to wash down four succulent bites of stuffed lamb roast with an entire bowl of smashed potatoes that had seemingly been passed through a vat of sea-salt. My father’s duck magret was passable, if a little overcooked, and the unpasteurized, organic and bio-dynamic red wine we decided to pair with our meal left us both feeling as if we were drinking barely fermented grape juice out of a farmer’s vat. That last one was solely our fault and we took full responsibility for our misguided curiosity.
But as we weaved our way to the exit past trendy couples on their second dates and the ubiquitous birthday group, I felt a strange sense of familiarity – disappointment mitigated with the satisfaction of having tried something that didn’t completely miss the mark, but didn’t really get close to it either. Wait. Was that a fedora-clad Williamsburger sitting down at the table we had just vacated? Or maybe I just expect oft-botched experiments from Brooklyn upstarts, and hold Parisian kitchens to higher standards of consistency and quality.
Cul de Poule 3 R. des Martyrs, 9th, Paris (01-53-16-13-07)