Oui, mademoiselle, j’arrive!

Paris! I was in Paris last week. Paris Paris Paris. I’m madly excited about Paris now! I always thought it was a bit overrated, but I had the goddamn time of my life and now I’m convinced, I’m a Paris-believer.

One of the highlights of the trip was eating at Chartier. Chartier is a restaurant that I remembered from a previous trip to Paris and that I like because it has character. At Chartier, you’ll be seated at any available table, even if people are already taking up part of that table. The waiters, who are almost all senior men who do this work full-time and who are incredibly good at it, constantly shout ‘j’arrive!‘ whilst ostentatiously walking away from your table, as is the nature of their profession. They’re real pros, balancing up to 6 plates of varying sizes on one arm.

One of the most spectacular things about these gentlemen is that they don’t carry notebooks. Instead they write your orders on the paper tablecloths covering the tables and then remember exactly what you ordered. This place is big and each waiter covers several tables, so remembering all orders can’t be easy. When you want to pay, they don’t use a calculator, but rapidly calculate your bill using nothing but the paper table cover, a pen and their MINDS! They’re an incredible and jolly bunch.

I remembered going to Chartier with my mother years ago and finding it all highly exciting and thrilling, so I decided to take my friend, who had so kindly invited me to go to Paris with her. It was all exactly like I remembered, with the luggage racks above the tables, the mirrors everywhere, the shouting waiters and the interesting mix of locals and tourists. I chose something from the menu at random, poireaux vinaigrette, which turned out to be chilled boiled leeks with a tangy dressing. It had never occurred to me before to serve leeks cold with only a simple dressing, but why not! The French know what they’re doing and it was really nice. This one works as a starter.

The poireaux I had in Paris…

I’m not entirely sure how Chartier make their vinaigrette, but a little google search suggests that poireaux vinaigrette is a French classic and that the recipe varies from person to person. If someone thinks they have the one, the only, the mother of all poireaux vinaigrettes, please leave me a comment. If someone has the secret Chartier recipe, idem. Everyone else, have a go at my version. It tastes kinda like the one I had and it’s pretty good, even if it’s not authentic.

…and my own version.

Count one leek for one person. The below ingredients are enough to cover one leek, multiply as applicable.

  • one teaspoon of Dijon mustard (or a milder one if you find this too sharp, but make sure it’s a fine one, no whole grain mustard), flattened
  • two teaspoons of white wine vinegar
  • three teaspoons of olive oil
  • half a teaspoon of a good mayonnaise, maybe one with lemon
  • a pinch each of salt and white pepper

Take the leeks, slice off a cm of the ends on both sides and then slice them in 3. Take off the outer layer of the white part and probably about 2 layers of the two top bits. Slice off any of the green that seems way too hard to eat, but don’t be too afraid of it, it’s actually a lot more edible than it seems. Wash them thoroughly, then boil them for 10 minutes in little water with much salt.

Whilst the leeks boil, make the vinaigrette. Put the mustard, mayo, vinegar and one teaspoon of oil in a bowl. Mix properly until it’s a homogeneous mixture, then add the remaining olive oil, some salt and some pepper.

Prepare a bowl of ice cold water and chill the leeks once they’re done. Try to shake off the water as much as possible, but keep your finger on the bottom of the leek cylinder or you’ll end up with just the outer layer of leek in your hand and the rest on the floor. Serve straight away with the vinaigrette, or chill for a while more in the fridge and serve completely cold.

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