Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Dinner of Innards - Ribouldingue - Paris Part 4

Emi's Aunt Charlotte, grew up in Hawaii, but has spent a majority of her life living in the beautiful city of Paris. She was our resident host and tour guide throughout our four days in Paris. She organized an open bus tour of the city (the quickest and easiest way to hit up a few historic sites in a short amount of time) for us on the first day. After touring the city, we were hungry and excited for our first French dinner experience.

We headed to Ribouldingue, a restaurant specializing in "innards" which was located right around the corner from Notre Dame. Word of warning, this place isn't for everyone, but exactly what we wanted to experience; something different and something delicious.

We ran into a few American tourists and all of them were perplexed by the menu. Lucky for us we had Charlotte to make recommendations and translate the menu since it was all in French.

This quaint restaurant with the simple exterior had a very refined French style interior. Fine china, nice silverware, mirrored walls, gold trim and light colors. The decor added to the decadence of our first dinner in France. You've heard it before and you'll hear it again, but we didn't travel thousands of miles to eat McDonald's hamburgers. Charlotte gave us the choice of seafood or innards and being from Seattle I knew the most unique food would be with the innards.

There was excitement in the air, we could already tell this was going to be a memorable meal. All of us went with the 32 Euro pre-fixe meal which gave everyone the option of a starter, entree, and dessert. Definitely one of the things I love about French dining are the pre-fixe meals. Unlike Americans, the French believe in enjoying your meal so no quick dining and definitely no entree only dinners. No meal is complete without dessert!

We started the meal with a calf's head amuse bousch to whet our appetite. Fatty and a little gelatinous with a pickled salad on the side, all to be enjoyed over French bread.

Our first courses were just as bizarre, yet delicious. Emi's aunt went with a crunchy, pig ear type of pancake. Salty and crunchy with chewy bits of the ear interspersed throughout the thin pancake like dish.

I went with the lamb tongue, which didn't have the "tastebud" like consistency tongue can sometimes have, but was tender and served with a cool vinaigrette, crunchy lotus root, and salad.

Emi ordered what her Aunt calls the cow "chi-chis", which Emi translated as cow boobs. We found out they were thinly sliced cow udders, fried up and sprinkled with salt. All of the food we ended up enjoying that night was very simple, just salt and butter (which created a great crust), yet with very unique ingredients and executed magnificently.

The highlight of the meal was the dinosaur sized bone marrow bones Steve and Gail both enjoyed. Look at the size of those things! They were filled to the brim of the bone with fatty, rich marrow. More of a European delicacy, but something you can still enjoy in the States. If you've ever had a good oxtail stew or stew with any kind of big beef bone, on the inside dripping out is the fatty, delicious bone marrow. Here in France they make it easy for you and cut the bone in half and serve it up with a spoon, toast, and fleur de sel (French sea salt) for you to combine together to make the best toast imaginable. After this dish alone I was stuffed and it wasn't even mine and we had our entrees and desserts coming still!

For our entrees we each ordered something different in order to taste a variety of dishes. This meal was turning into a Bizarre Foods episode with Andrew Zimmer.

Charlotte ordered the veal kidneys, different, but probably my least favorite dish of the meal. The kidneys sort of had an acidic taste to them and were strange looking too :).

Steve was excited to order the sweetbreads which is the veal's thymus gland. I've ordered this delicious course before at Tom Douglas's Cuoco so knew to expect something great again and this didn't disappoint.

My dish by description was probably the most unique; calf's head. However by flavor it was very simple and delicious. My understanding was the meat from the head was removed, reconstituted, and shaped into a round "cake". This "cake" was then salted and cooked in butter giving it the best crust imaginable, think the best fried chicken skin you've ever enjoyed and that's what this was. Salty and crunchy and on the inside was the meat and gelatinous pieces of the head. Don't think too much about what it was, but how it tasted. On the side was the softer, yet still delicious brain. I never thought I would be the Hannibel Lecter type, but this rich and filling meal ended up being very good.

Emi and her mom enjoyed the vegetable stew with beef cheeks. We've had salmon and halibut cheeks in the past at Japanese restaurants. They are usually expensive because of the tenderness and rarity of the meal. The beef cheeks proved to be similar in tenderness and flavor.

The pre-fixe meal wasn't complete without dessert to finish off the amazing meal. We were all stuffed, but excited to see what Ribouldingue had to offer. Steve ordered the in season cherries and yogurt flavored ice cream, not as sweet as you might expect, but still tasty and unique.

Emi's mom had the deconstructed cheesecake which was served in layers in a bowl.

Emi went with the French cheese plate, which was a gooey stinky cheese. Not my forte, but exactly what Emi wanted from our trip out to Paris.

I enjoyed probably the second best dessert of my life, second only behind an amazing lillikoi malasada dessert I enjoyed in Hawaii. This dessert utilized the in season apricots which were stewed and sweet yet tart and burst in your mouth when you bit into them. Although I was skeptical at first, included in the dish was fresh rosemary which added a great flavor to the dish. I was sold after the first bite. Candied slivered almonds added an extra crunch and the subtle yogurt ice cream was again tart, yet creamy and not too sweet as to overpower the sweetness of the apricots. To top it all off the dessert came with a buttery, flaky green tea cookie. Amazing combination of subtle flavors and textures creating one of the best desserts I've ever enjoyed.

What a memorable meal. I think we ate a whole cow and ate everything the cow had to offer! This meal is one that I'll probably think of on my deathbed as I reflect on my fortunate life. Unique, different, local cuisine, in the heart of Paris enjoyed with good company over a great bottle of wine. And like most cities in Europe, the city was still alive and active when we left the restaurant. We were dead, but excited to see the city lit up as the sun set. In the summer the sun doesn't set until 10pm which added a nice glow to the city as we rolled ourselves back to our hotel to save up energy and room in our stomachs to do it all again the next day.

- Kyle

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