Corinne promised us an authentic French restaurant after our walking tour of the Marais and Place des Vosges. I was beginning to lose trust as we walked past endless postcard stores and tchotchke shops on Rue St. Antoine. Faith was duly restored as we turned down a quiet, dead-end street and came upon a red awning with the restaurant’s name in 1940’s cinema-noir font. A character of a woman was perched outside, reading the newspaper, sipping her espresso, and smoking a cigarette. She was not in the market for knick-knacks or postcards, so I rest assured that we had ventured into local-dom.
After many days of plentiful eating, including endless pastries, I was hoping for a light Parisian lunch. I eat small meals at home, and my culinary trip to Paris was turning into a feast de force: 3 full meals each day with endless temptations squeezed in-between. “But you came to Paris to eat and cook!” Corinne exclaims when I tell her I am nearly full beyond repair. She had me there: I had signed up for these 10 extra pounds. I had paid for these 10 extra pounds.
So when the specials board read ‘salad’ I nearly leaped for joy. Furthermore, the recognizable ‘lentilles’ struck a familiar, comforting chord with me. The plate was almost too beautiful to disturb. With the restaurant’s rustic interior, deep wood colors, and older staff, I expected the food to be old-school, classic French: heavy and creamy. I also was not expecting such exquisite plating. The haddock draped ever so gently on top of the cylindrical bed of lentils complimented the fibrous bean with a fresh, crisp flavor and bite. The unique flavor combination caught me by surprise, and I immediately had visions of recreating this simple but stupefying dish at home. The lentil salad was composed of onion, diced carrot, and parsley, but had the most vibrant flavor I had ever experienced in a lentil dish. I scooped up every last lentil, swished every last bit of haddock through the olive oil and parsley dressing, and lifted my eyes from the plate for the first time. “Can I order it again? Can I cancel my courgettes and have another lentil dish?”
As my lentils had completely consumed my attention, I hadn’t noticed how the restaurant was filling up. Chic Parisians and casual neighborhood diners were leaning across tables, engaged in friendly but fluent conversation. Service had sped up, and the restaurant had a buzz and a pleasant energy. Europeans always seem to have something electrifying to talk about with their companions, whereas I often spy many lifeless, conversation-less couples out to eat in the states. I often wonder what this says (or doesn’t say) about us Americans.
My courgette dish was another beauty, another work of art, however, I found it less pleasing than the lentil dish. The flavors were not as intense, and it was not nearly as satisfying. I chided myself for not giving in to my craving and desire. There is always next time. Le Gorille Blanc, as warm and reliable as the white gorilla it is named after, is a quaint Parisian institution that isn’t going anywhere. With an ever-changing menu that demonstrates the chef’s connection with the seasons and Basque techniques, Le Gorille Blanc is a hidden bistro worth seeking out.