Thursday, October 6, 2011

Taking the Plunge (Christophe)

Veal Brains with Polenta

When I was a kid, I was a notoriously picky eater. As I've already established, sushi wasn't something I had any interest in trying. Tripe, duck feet, tofu, and some other mainstays of Chinese cooking? Nope, I turned those down, too. But while these foods are, admittedly, a bit on the adventurous side, my pickiness wasn't restricted to just the likes of raw fish and intestines. Even the simplest and most basic of foods -- tomatoes, eggs, ice cream (I used to say that ice cream was "too cold" -- yeah, I have no idea what I was thinking, either) -- were rejected by my ten-year-old palate. Fast forward to the present, and thankfully, my tastes have changed. I have become much more open-minded about trying new foods and am no longer squeamish of unfamiliar foods. Kidneys, tripe, gizzards, and bone marrow are just a couple of the foods that, twelve years ago, I wouldn't have wanted anything to do with. But now, when I see something like veal brains show up on a menu, I am not only intrigued, but I'm ballsy enough to order it.

And that's exactly what happened during my lunch at Christophe, a small bistro located in Paris' 5th arrondissement. First off, I have to say that, if not for the multiple positive reviews I had read about the restaurant online, I probably wouldn't have eaten there. Why's that, you ask? Well, just take a look at the font used for the restaurant's banner. It's tough to take a business seriously when it uses the Curlz font so prominently on its storefront and on its website. It's kinda like being the owner of a professional sports team and writing a letter to the fans in Comic Sans after a certain star player "took his talents to South Beach"...oh wait, I guess that's been done, too. So maybe the use of Curlz isn't as egregious as that. After taking a deep breath and putting aside any misgivings I had about the restaurant's taste in computer fonts, I entered the bistro. An hour later, I walked out after enjoying what was perhaps my favorite meal of my entire stay in Paris.

Foie Gras
Never having had foie gras before and feeling the need to try it given that I was in Paris, I started out with an order of it for my first course. Served with toasted baguette and a smear of balsamic vinegar, the foie gras was deliciously fatty and unctuous. I was hooked from my first taste, so much so that I would order foie gras three more times over the next day-and-a-half. I cannot even imagine how badly I screwed up my arteries by eating so much foie gras over the course of two days, but it was so worth it. Although not as smooth and a bit, for lack of a better word, crumbly when compared to the foie gras that I would order at my next few meals, this was the cheapest preparation (€10).

Yes, the labels are 100% necessary

For my main course, I went with an order of the veal brains (pictured at top). Served with a slab of polenta, this was a truly magnificent dish demonstrating that simple food can be delicious when done well. And man, was this done well. The veal brains developed a nice crust on the outside that gave way to a custard-smooth interior that was akin to the silky texture of tofu. Creamy, rich, and decadent, the brains had a mineral-like taste to them, kind of like liver or kidney I suppose, but they weren't terribly potent, either. I kinda suck at describing what food tastes like, so you'll just have to try it out for yourself sometime. But trust me: veal brains are fantastic. The polenta, which really helped to cut through all of the richness and fattiness from the brains, was really good in its own right: crisp on the outside with a nutty flavor, it worked well with the heaviness of the brains. And for just €12, this dish was a tremendous value.

After eating a meal with enough fat and cholesterol to give a dietitian (or me) a heart attack, I thought it would be best to forgo dessert (but a couple of hours later, I ended up getting a Mille Feuille from Pierre HermĂ©, so I guess you could say that I simply delayed my dessert). I can say that my meal at Christophe was certainly one of the high points of my dining experience in Paris, and at only €22, the meal was definitely a bargain. In spite of the cringe-inducing font choice of the restaurant banner, Christophe managed to impress me, and I cannot recommend it enough. Veal brains and duck liver wouldn't have come close to touching my plate twelve years ago, but if my travels through Europe taught me anything, it's that life is all about seeing and trying new things. Take the plunge and be adventurous, as life's too short not to be.

8 rue Descartes
75005 Paris


  1. well we had the brains, but that's no surprise since we eat all the out there. ever had pig's ear pate for vietnam New Year. if you a convert we will welcome you into the offal society GPS

  2. @Global Province Smith: Alas, I haven't had pig's ear pate, though I'd love to try it sometime. Vietnam and southeast Asia are on my long list of places that I'd like to travel to.

  3. brains are like the only offal I am somewhat timid about eating. I would do it, but I'm always scared of prion diseases.

    But hey, if and MD student is doing it, I suppose I can too :D

  4. @Rodzilla: I hear you about prion diseases, but I think the meat supply in the US is safe. Then again, I don't think I've ever seen veal brains served in the US.

  5. I've seen Thomas Keller do it a few times.

  6. Mmm yeah, I don't doubt that some places here have brains on the menu, it's just extraordinarily rare to find. I guess that's just one more reason why I want to go to Per Se =D