After reading David Lebovitz’s super upbeat post and Geneviève’s gently scathing article about the Cul de Poule restaurant, I was unsure whether I would find a trendy hipster resto with snooty servers and less than average food, or a stylish bistro for those in the know. When my friend, food critic and chef Rosa Jackson invited me to join her to test it out for the Time Out restaurant guide, I was pleased to accept and eager to find out what it was all about.
Cul de Poule Interior
Reserving late, we ended up inside instead of at the outdoor tables on fashionable rue des Martyrs. These are generally snatched up by those who book ahead. The deco of mix-matched brocante flea market chairs and tables, green vinyl banquettes and colorful lighting, plus a huge professional cold cut slicer, paintings of chickens and a real chicken’s butt attached to the wall, furnished the long narrow room in a warm, hip, homey and appealing manner.
The real chicken’s arse hanging on the wall
A prix fixe (set price) menu of 22€ or 26€ (appetizer/main course OR main course/dessert… OR appetizer, main course, dessert) was reasonable for Paris, and the various choices of wine by the glass are a welcome option for those who don’t want to order a whole bottle. Snugly seated (no intimate romantic dinners at the Cul de Poule) between an American hipster 20-something couple and a slightly older French hipster equivalent couple, Rosa and I settled in to enjoy the scene. Service was initially slow, but the two unfailingly pleasant waitresses were a breath of fresh air–considering the attitude you can experience at other Paris restaurants. Once our order was taken, things went smoothly and the food arrived in a timely manner.
The menu choices were slightly odd, and I went with the large rice ravioli with smoked eel and raw veggie appetizer. Rosa opted for a more ‘normal’ hummus entrée. My dish, although original and tasty, was just a bit too peculiar. It was as if the chef was trying too hard to be creative and sort of missed the boat.
Appetizer of Large Rice Ravioli w/Eel & Veggies
The sheets of rice ravioli were placed above and below the crunchy (it would have been nice if they were slightly steamed and not completely raw) carrots, cauliflower, white cabbage and bits of smoked eel and mint, making it very hard to eat, as I had to dig in to a mound of soft and crunchy–a bit too much work for me. By the time I was done, the rice was limp in a puddle of extra soy seasoning. Rosa’s hummus, on the other hand, was so bland it prompted her to say, “I could have whipped up something much better in 5 minutes in my kitchen.” The bread was a perfect mix of soft, crunchy and chewy, and the lovely glasses of burgundy washed things down nicely.
Paella & Veggie Plate
Main courses were, again, inventive…. and almost there. Rosa ordered a large plate of steamed veggie with bits of ham in a ham reduction, which was a tad too salty. The veggies were yummy, although we wondered why the ham was necessary in a dish that was seemingly geared toward vegetarians. The veggie quality was decent, yet not quite the best, although Rosa mentioned that the fabulous food markets of Paris and Nice have utterly spoiled her. My paella with orzo pasta was very nice, and had I not just returned from Italy, the originality of the slightly overcooked orzo (rather than traditional rice) in the paella would have been more appealing.
We opted to share the veritable authentic cafe liegeois for dessert, which actually turned out to be a sort of chilled milkshake with coffee flavoring. Not too cold, and not too thick and not too veritable (as a cafe leigeois should be coffee ice cream, with either coffee syrup or hot coffee poured over it and whipped cream).
In any case, the mix of pleasant service, reasonable prices, interesting young branché (in the know) international clientele, a cool neighborhood, and decent food made for an enjoyable evening. I would not hesitate to try again, and hope they stand the test of time.
Cul de Poule
3, rue des Martyrs, 75009
Open: Tues – Fri: 12.30pm – 2.30pm, Tues – Sat: 8pm – 11pm, Sat: 1pm – 3pm
As a side note: I learned that a Cul de poule, literally a “chicken’s arse,” is actually a stainless mixing bowl!