Before we left for Paris, I had some misgivings about how I would manage given my newly embraced lifestyle of healthy and moderate eating.
I had just lost 8.5 kilos over the last 3 months, had been vegetarian for over a year and for the first time in many years, felt healthier and lighter.
However, since this was supposed to be my "swan song" to Paris, would I stop myself from indulging in her gastronomic delights?
That question was answered soon enough -- I wouldn't!
I fell off the vegetarian wagon first in Lyon where lardons in the huge bowl of salade Lyonnais were my first taste of meat after more than a year.
Macarons, eclairs, nougat and pastries galore from various boulangeries and patisseries around our apartment further pushed me over the moderate eating, low sugar cliff.
Since I had "lost it" from the time we arrived in Paris -- what was another non vegetarian meal to add to the total collapse?
Today I brought Jay to a restaurant that I had read about in many articles and blogs. A place devoted to that humble and most french plat -- entrecote frites or steak and fries.
Rue Saint Benoit where we headed was a mere 15 minute walk from 30 Rue St Andre des Arts.
Here is this famed bastion of entrecote -- aptly called, what else -- Le Relais de L' Entrecote -- this restaurant on Rue Saint Benoit is one of 5 around Paris. Loosely translated, the word "relais" came from the key word "relaxation" or "release". It's now used for a lot of restaurants or inns -- most appropriately.
This "place of relaxation for steak" (translation, ma) is on a quiet street very near Eglise St Germain de Pres.
I had read about the long lines and the 30 to 45 minute wait for tables so we made sure to be there just before the doors opened at 12. It was cold and raining and thank goodness, the weather must have made more people stay indoors for there were less than 10 of us in line.
At exactly 12 noon, they opened the doors and we streamed in.
When you dine in a Paris restaurant, the waitress always asks you "Aperitif?" It doesn't mean cocktails but really, she's just asking you if you'll have something to drink before the meal. They only had wine or Heineken so that's what I asked for. The coca cola was for Jay.
Le Relais has a traditional french restaurant feel but is not stuffy or intimidating at all.
Tables are set so close together that if there are just two of you, you'll be seated in a long banquette right beside other people. Thick white paper is placed on top of red and green cloth tablecloths. The lighting is mellow and soft -- which is why everyone looks good in a french restaurant!
Waitresses in black with small white aprons add to the traditional and homey feel of the restaurant.
There is a complimentary small salad to start the meal. Made with just lettuce and chopped walnuts, the dressing is to die for -- I detect a hint of mustard. It's so good that I eat every leaf on the plate. The portion is just right, none of the huge american-sized salads here -- it properly starts the gastronomic juices flowing for the main meal that is to come.
Slices of fresh and chewy baguette are placed on the table.
Because this is France -- no butter is given during lunch or dinner since the french believe butter is just for breakfast. But I have yet to have a piece of bread that needed butter's help -- perhaps not serving globs of butter with bread is another secret why the French don't get fat.
Le Relais de L' Entrecote serves one thing and just only one thing -- just entrecote or steak cut from near the ribs -- would that make it rib-eye?
That plus a mound of golden, hand cut, freshly made frites is what everyone gets and what everyone eats.
The waitress asks how you want your steak and again, there are just two options -- rare or "saignant" and medium rare or "a point". You cannot have it "tres bien cuit" or well done -- they'd probably throw you out!
Here's what Le Relais de L' Entrecote also does which I thought was very considerate -- they serve your steak in two portions -- 2/3 first and the remainder after that, so that you are consistently eating fresh cooked steak. C'est si cool!
The steak does not come just au jus but also with their "secret sauce" which is great for sopping up with the terrific bread. I detected green peppercorn and perhaps some mustard in the recipe. Whatever it was made of -- it was so good I had to stop myself from licking the plate. Horreurs!
A point or medium rare is just perfect for this cut of meat -- it was so tender.
The first portion of 2/3 of the steak had about 5 strips, already cut so you just lift to your lips and eat!
After we had finished our first plate -- the waitress came around with the remaining 1/3 of our steak, which she placed on our plates -- this portion came to about 3 or 4 strips -- plus more of those to-die-for frites! She'll pile on as much frites as you want!
The portion of the steak is just right -- and everyone gets the same size.
No super-sized entrecote here -- again, this is why the French are not fat, they eat well but in moderation.
We were seated right by this wine cabinet. But of course, with my proletarian tastes, I stuck to beer -- two bottles by the way, one for each serving of the entrecote!
After that great meal of entrecote frites -- the waitress came around with a picture menu of dessert choices. This is the only menu you will get to see in the place -- just the dessert menu! And yes, I still had room for dessert.
I asked for a tarte tatin -- it came with symmetrically sliced apples on a light and thin crust and was topped by a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Baked with caramelized sugar -- it was just right, not too sweet.
French pastries are not cloyingly sweet at all -- but baked with just the right amount of sugar so you get the flavor of the pastry and not just the sugar taste.
Jay had creme brulee -- with a singed caramel top -- again, it was light and so delicious.
While there were tourists in Le Relais de L' Entrecote, there were also a lot of locals, or at least, french speaking diners. Most of the waitresses speak enough english and ours was just so nice and accommodating -- she added to the pleasure of the dining experience.
A little after 1 pm -- the restaurant was packed. It made for a nice and buzzy atmosphere.
We left the warmth and cheer of Le Relais and were back in the wet Saturday afternoon. My entrecote frites were excellent -- time enough to climb back on the vegetarian wagon apres Paris!