Monday, June 05, 2006

Les Allobroges

Vegetarians, come here. Despondent because you've been missing out on all the great restaurants in Paris? Because the only suitable dishes you can find are the entrée salads, and even then you must make a special request to leave out the lardons, or the gésiers, or any other animal products those French try to sneak by? Despair no longer. Les Allobroges offers a 4-course all vegetable set menu for 28€. And if you're going with carnivores, they also offer a 4-course menu with the plate of the day (when I went it was canette - a type of duck) for only 20€, or a similar 4-course menu with more elaborate choices for 33€ (click to enlarge):The 20€ plate of the day menu is a steal, but I wanted to see what the tout légume menu was like. We all started with a tiny cup of creamy pea soup as an amuse-bouche: this was bright green and delicious. I had a stack of vegetables to begin with, served with an olive tapenade on the side. "Stack of vegetables" doesn't really do justice, but I can't remember what they called it: an elegantly arranged round of fresh vegetables (carrots, snow peas, broccoli, eggplant, bell pepper), topped with a thin slice of beet. The tapenade was excellent, especially with their homemade mini-baguettes. R. & M. both got the foie gras, prepared with thyme, and they loved it. It was unique because of the way it had been prepared: the foies are placed in a casserole and marinated & cooked in liqueur and herbs, so that the distinct outlines of each foie are visible in the slices and it is more compact (and flavorful, thanks to the cognac) than typical foie gras.

For our main dishes R. had the rabbit, served on a bed of ratatouille and topped with a slice of bacon, M. had the monkfish served over a dried cepe mushroom risotto, and I had the same cepe risotto served with a side of a broccoli & mashed potato purée. The risotto was creamy and rich, and the cepes were wonderful. As you know I love mashed potatoes, and even with broccoli these were great.

Afterwards came the cheese course for R. & M. - a slice of brie and a slice of brebis - and then came the desserts. R. had the fromage blanc mousse served with raspberry & strawberry sauces and M. had the rhubarb tarte, which was beautifully presented: a rectangle of the pastry, a dollop of the rhubarb-sauce, another rectangle of pastry at an angle, another dollop of rhubarb, and a light lavender sauce that decorated the plate. Very creative, this should have been called the leaning tower of rhubarb. The all-vegetable menu has two! dessert courses, so I started with a simple cold strawberry soup - no sugar or additions, just plain ol strawberry perfection. My second dessert was a bowl of lavender and fromage blanc sorbet. I have had lavender crème brûlée before and I didn't like it then, and I didn't like the lavender sorbet this time. Lavender is too associated with soap in my mind, and I feel like I'm eating laundry detergent (bringing back bad memories of when I misbehaved as a child and my grandmother would actually make me "clean my mouth out" with bar soap - bleh). The fromage blanc one was a bit strange but I liked it better than the lavender. Fromage blanc is like a thick plain yogurt that you can mix with fruit or honey or sugar, or all of the above, for dessert, but as a sorbet it lost its natural creaminess and sweetness and seemed almost tart & sour.

Everything was beautifully presented, the service was invisible - neither friendly nor rude in terms of personality, but impeccable where it really matters - and the dining rooms were spacious and warmly decorated, so I can see why this restaurant has been awarded both the bib gourmand and two utensils in the Michelin guide. This would be a great place to try if you are vegetarian, and even in warm weather the light vegetable menu is the perfect way to sample inventive French cuisine without feeling like you're going to burst on your way out. The 20€ menu is the bargain of bargains to be had in Paris, and if I ever go back I will definitely try it. A small note about the 33€ menu: the main dishes were mostly fish, with a small selection of game and poultry. Perhaps this reflects the season, but it might be something to take into consideration if you are a meat & potatoes person. The wines run between 20 - 40€/bottle, and they also have selections by the glass or half-bottle. It's in the 20th, quite far from the tourist circuit, and there were no foreigners in sight apart from me, so if you're looking to avoid the hordes invading Paris at this time of the year, this might be one option to consider. Reservations recommended.

Les Allobroges
71, rue des grands champs
75020 Paris
01 43 73 40 00
M: Maraîchers
Closed Sunday & Monday

I just wanted to post two good blog posts that have more lists of veggie restaurants in Paris:
Richard Gillman's list
Tanya's list



La Page Française said...

Thanks for this! I am always trying to find vegetarian friendly restaurants in Paris. It's so true that vegetarians always end up with no choice but an entree salad or soggy veggies and rice

Etienne said...

I know, it was a real problem when vegetarian friends/family came, I wish I had found this restaurant earlier. In addition to the few vegetarian restaurants, the only other options are places with salads, sandwiches, or crepes, or even Moroccan or Asian cuisine, but who wants to eat only that (especially when you're visiting France)?! The only other restaurant where I think I've seen vegetarian choices for each course was Le Cinq, but I could be wrong.

Margaret said...

Great choice - we tried it a couple of years ago with a vegetarian friend and were all delighted. Have been meaning to go back. Also went to Le Gallopin on your recommendation at the weekend with my sister and her husband who were visiting, and it was perfect - great food, lovely setting, very friendly service. Thanks for the recommendation.

Anonymous said...

Did you check the ingredients of the tapénade ? Vegetarians cannot eat this as it contains anchovy. Thanks for the descriptions. I'll try this place! Emma

Etienne said...

You know Emma, I'm not a vegetarian so I didn't even think to ask. On good faith I would *assume* that if they're going to go through the trouble to make an all-vegetable menu, it will truly be all-vegetable, but I guess you would need to double-check. Also, I didn't ask why there wasn't a cheese course with the veggie menu (instead you get 2 desserts) - any clue?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps they geared the menu more towards vegans than vegetarians. I'm bookmarking this entry as I love Paris and yes, finding suitable vegetarian fare was a challenge when my husband and I were there on our honeymoon last November. We lunched at an Oriental restaurant twice, had a semi-decent meal at La Petite Chaise and a FABULOUS Italian meal. Sadly, lunches consisted mostly of cheese omelettes. I have to say, eating in Paris was more fun when I was a carnivore!