Among the many joys of dining in France is that every decent bistro or brasserie can be counted on to offer simple, but profound pleasures: local red wines by the carafe; perhaps a small slab of foie gras and onion jam; a garlicky order of escargot with proper French bread to sop up the garlic butter; and of course the popular, ubiquitous Steak Frites. Each restaurant will put its own spin on this classic dish, but generally they’re distinctions without a difference.
Most all the meat cuts are what the French call “Butcher’s Steaks” – steaks that do not come from the pricey upper middle part of the steer (the short loin, home of filets, porterhouses, and sirloins), but instead are cut from the more affordable front and hind quarters that give us the muscle meats.
The steaks typically weigh in at 250kg, or around 8 ounces. They go by various names – bavette, coulotte, flank, teres major and, the most prevalent, the “onglet.” We know it as the hanger steak in America, and that’s what we use at SALUT. Moreover, we do the fries the same way the French do – double frying, first at a lower temperature, and then at a higher temperature.
Now, not to be unkind, but the grass-fed French cuts tend not to be overly tender. They’re a little less marbled. Don’t get me wrong: They’re still delicious, and are a lot cheaper than the cuts from the short loin.
So last week, while researching the culinary charms of Paris, Joanne and I discovered ROBERT ET LOUISE, a tiny place in the Marais that is dedicated to the proposition that “Steak Is King” – and not in the steak frites way. Here, thick, juicy slabs cut from the short loin are on offer. They likely come from the French “Charlois” steer, a mountain of a beast bred solely for its superior quality meat. R&L grills its steaks in a fireplace over a wood fire, right in the dining room – and, in our case, right next to our table. You’ll find it at 64 Rue Vielle du Temple.
The theater and the aromas were PRIMAL. They were compelling and convincing. They said something you don’t need to speak French to understand: “This is THE place for steak in Paris.”
Joanne and I have indulged in this sort of experience only once before and that was when our daughter, Jennifer, was working near Geneva, Switzerland and took us to dinner at AUBERGE DE DULLY in the hamlet of Rolle. It’s still there and if you ever find yourself on the north shore of Lake Geneva….well, as the Michelin Guide would say: ”It’s worth a detour.”
R&L is small, cozy and comforting; the kind of place about which Holly Golightly of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S might say, “It’s as if nothing very bad could ever happen here.”
And nothing bad did happen. Quite the opposite. We had a wonderful time watching the grill man flipping manhole-sized pieces of cow (as well as lamb chops) onto the white-hot cast iron plancha placed directly over the fire.
Make no mistake: This is not a MANNY’S or PETER LUGER steak. For one thing, it’s not aged beef (I’m at a loss to understand why the French don’t age their steaks; they age their wine, their game, their cheese…). But it was good – really good.
We started our journey by sharing a charcuterie platter of salamis and cured ham, accompanied by a sinus-clearing Dijon mustard and big jar of homemade sweet little gherkins. Our grandson, an adventurous eater, went for the escargot: 6 plump beauties in a bath of eye-watering, double-rich, high-fat garlic butter. It cost 8.5 euros. Not bad!
I, being an inveterate dining slut, went straight for the artery-clogging slab of faintly boozy foie gras, served up with toast points and red onion jam. To complete the round of starters, the rest of our group opted for the heart-healthy mixed green salad….BORING!
On to the mains…..
Our daughter, who avoids red meat, was delighted to find a safe harbor on the menu: Head-on Grilled Shrimp. Her son glommed onto the Duck Confit. Oddly, R&L also offers an omelette. No takers at our table, thank God. Who’d come to this restaurant for an omelette?
We ate all the iterations of the cuts of steak that they offer, including a 2-inch-thick Cote de Boeuf for two, nicely charred and caramelized on the outside, medium rare on the inside, for 48 euros. We also sampled a wonderfully fatty and boldly flavored Ribeye and a T-bone. This is not the place for the timid diner, as mondo hunks of charred beef are the clean-up hitters on this menu, which is further punctuated by take-no-prisoner sides like R&L’s generously salted potato wedges, deep-fried in duck fat.
For dessert, we shared a couple Tarte Tatins and Crème Brulées, along with platters of Roquefort, Chevre, Cantal and Reblochon cheese.
The image below, after the cheese board, is not our group, but it IS our table. Note that it’s just in front of the fire. I neglected to glean the table number, but if you go to Robert & Louise, just ask to be seated at the community table in front of the fireplace.
Steak Frites is fine and dandy in Paris. But if you’re in the mood for Steak frites’ BIG BROTHER, then call…01-42-78-55-99.