December 16, 2010

Le Timbre - Paris

One of the best meals of our summer trip was at a restaurant in Paris called Le Timbre (the postage stamp). David Lebovitz mentions this place on his list of great food in Paris, and it also came up in a post I found from a woman with celiac disease. She said it was her favourite Paris restaurant, and that almost everything on the menu was gluten-free.

It was a cloudy day around noon when we wound our way out of the Luxembourg train station and through the small streets around the Jardin de Luxembourg to find the restaurant. Postage stamp is right: the place seats about 20 people, at tables of two pushed up against each other, forming two long tables on either side of the room. The decor is clean and traditional, with white linen tablecloths set with wine glasses, round white plates, and large, heavy silver cutlery. The tiny, open kitchen is set up at the end of the room, so you can watch the chef at work. The one waitress kept excellent tabs on the room as she hurried from table to table and back and forth to the kitchen, taking orders, pouring wine, and serving food. I noticed the economy of space in the kitchen - she even cut everyone's baguette in a little cupboard.

We were the first ones there for lunch and for a few minutes we had the place to ourselves. The waitress pulled out one of the tables so I could slip in to the bench. She offered us the menu du jour written up on a chalkboard. Though we're both fluent in French, many of the items were completely foreign to us, and we asked a few questions before deciding. We also had to make sure we knew what we could eat - me with no gluten, J with no lactose. The waitress consulted with the chef, who also spoke to us from the kitchen. They were very accommodating of our allergies, and almost everything was available. The price for three courses was very reasonable (26€ or around $35 Canadian) so we decided on that. You could also order two courses for 22€.

We drank our water (plat (flat) and gazeuze (bubbly), respectively) and decided to each order a glass of wine as well, since it was affordable at 5€ each. Other groups of two began to arrive, and so did our food. Here is where the bliss set in. The food was simple and served in relatively small portions, with elegance and amazing flavours. I realized as I was eating that it was my first meal in a French restaurant, and probably my first meal of real French food.

My first course (entrée in French) was a terrine de campagne. It's like a pâté of meat all squished together and seasoned. My plate arrived with a good-sized slice of terrine, accompanied by a confiture d'oignons, a few miniature pickles, and little piles of coarse salt and pepper. I cut off a piece of terrine, slathered a little confiture on it, sprinkled on some salt and pepper, and stabbed a pickle. I can still taste it now: meaty, rich, sweet from the onions, vinegary from the pickle, crunchy, soft, velvety, with little bits of salt and pepper popping out. We ate in almost complete silence, in reverence for the quality of the food (J said his sauteed mushrooms with ham were divine).

For the plat principal I chose cochon noir de bigarre, which came with roasted cauliflower, and J had roast quail with shallots and mushrooms. The amazing flavours and textures continued, although I must say that if I had to choose one course to eat again it would be the terrine. The pork was fatty and full of pure pig flavour. It rested on the cauliflower - cooked not too soft with some kind of fantastic sauce. It didn't taste roasted to me, and wasn't browned at all, but the whole thing was delicious. One of the best parts was a swirl of oil around the edge of the dish that included a bit of black olive puree. I couldn't place the olive taste until I was almost finished, but the slight vinegar note was perfect.

The dessert menu seemed so original compared to most North American restaurants. There was a lot of fruit, not just in things but by itself as well. I chose the dessert du jour, a poached pear in a honey syrup, and J got the roasted figs. There was also some kind of prunes, a mille-feuille (a puff pastry with cream), a cheddar plate, and a peach-apricot crumble.

It was lovely to end the meal with a bowl of warm fruit - I'd love to make more desserts like this at home. The pear was slumped into slices in a bowl and surrounded by a syrupy, honey-flavoured liquid, spiked with vanilla and a bit of anise. J's figs were dark and lush, roasted with a red wine reduction. The two desserts were a study in colour contrasts, and both were delicious. 

Our meal at Le Timbre felt like a languid dream. The grey day, the small, clean room, the unassuming yet charming waitress, and above all the superb, simple food. I felt as though I would just have to change a few details to slip back in time fifty years and eat the exact same meal. I don't know how else to describe the food except to say you could tell each ingredient had been treated with respect along its entire journey.  

By the end of the meal there were several other parties in the restaurant, and we had one couple on one side of us. It would be quite fun to be here when the place was full - no privacy at all, but I'm sure it's a convivial, joyous atmosphere. And because of the small size I could easily look at other people's food being delivered and eaten. I saw some fish, a potato and leek soup, the crumble and the mille-feuille, and it all looked as tantalizing as what we ordered.

If you're in Paris I highly recommend Le Timbre. I'm definitely not an expert, but to me it felt like a very traditional French dining experience, but without any stuffiness and pretension. Also, the chef is British, so if you're uncomfortable about your French, you'll still be in good hands. I also heard the waitress speaking English to other customers. As another plus, they are clearly used to dealing with people's special dietary needs. But most importantly, it's affordable and the food is exquisite. I look forward to other meals there in my future, when we get the wonderful chance of visiting Paris again.

Le Timbre
3, rue Sainte-Beuve
6e, Paris


Anne said...

All right, now my dream is to go to Paris with both of you and eat at Le Timbre.... sounds like pure heaven, wonderful description! Superbe!
xo Mom

RecruiterMoe said...

Just stumbled across this - great write up of Le Timbre. My wife and I were there a couple of nights ago, and it was absolutely perfect. You and I had the same appetister and desert, but I opted for the rabbit for an entree. Fantastic dish, btw.
We were there for a night meal, so had neighbors, and delightful conversations with them. Great service, the chef's a great guy.
We'll go back :)