When I first came to Paris, I mistakenly thought that the seafood in Paris could not match the freshness or quality of the what was available in Seattle, my hometown. I was wrong.
The Parisians take seafood seriously and the chefs bring it to an entirely different level. Oysters (huîtres), prawns (gambas), shrimp (crevette), lobster (homard), and all types of fish, but especially sole (sole), cod (cabillaud), and monkfish (lotte) arrive fresh from Normandy or the south in real-time, as quickly as any of the fish caught wild from the waters of Puget Sound or Alaska.
If you have any doubt, go visit a poisonniere in any one of the marchés, and you will see shellfish and seafood beautifully arranged and fresh from the boat that morning or the day before. The fish comes from the Marché d’Intérêt National de Rungis, a national government-owned marché, which happens to be the largest wholesale market in the world. It provides easy access for seafood deliveries, not to mention other wholesale goods, including meat, from trains and Orly airport. This makes it easier for the French to fly in seafood from other territories, including Madagascar (prawns), Guadeloupe (all types of seafood), Marseille, Normandy and Bretagne (Brittany). The marché is open from 1 am to 7 am so the seafood that lands at your table at any good restaurant is likely to have come from the beaches of Normandy, Bretagne, Marseille or more far off places that day or the day before.
Which brings me to L’Ecailler Du Bistrot, a seafood restaurant in more than name only (ecailler is to the French word for ‘scale’ as in ‘scale a fish’). The restaurant’s menu is all seafood and it is decorated like a boathouse, with wooden boats and painted murals of shellfish. The chalkboard menu features daily catches and is loaded with a large selection of different oysters. In fact, one thing to know is that the French love oysters — they are as plentiful and taken as seriously as the baguette. You order oysters by the number, which represents the size of the oyster (No. 1, 2, 3, and 4) and the beach (e.g., Utah Beach). So if you like freshly shucked oysters, as I do, the biggest decision you’ll have is figuring out which oysters you want, as there is a large variety to choose from.
As you walk into L’Ecailler, there will be a person on your left, working behind a sink and counter to prepare large plateaux (platters) of shellfish made to order. Some platters are so large that they take up whole table — a table of two next to us ordered a platter of 36 different oysters. This was their entire dinner. The platter was the size of a small car tire. I ordered a platter of different oysters, including Utah Beach vert (green), and some (crevettes rose ) pink shrimp. Served on a platter of ice and fresh seaweed (for decoration), the oysters are so good they don’t need to be served with red vinegar or shallots — you eat them plain (or with a sprinkle of lemon, which is unnecessary). The Utah Beach vert oysters were particularly good, slightly briny but plain delicious, an excellent way to start a meal.
My wife, meanwhile, tried an appetizer of cold nems (these are similar to Asian eggrolls, but very light), stuffed with fresh crab (torteau). The crab was fresh and delicious – and a great light way to begin.
For our main dishes, I had scallops (coquille st. jacques), cooked in the shell, and topped with a little caviar. They were not browned at all, which I thought would be disappointing, but the fresh flavor of the scallops shined through. They came with pomme purée (buttered mashed potatoes), which were without a doubt some of the very best buttered mashed potatoes I have had in Paris, and anywhere — light, fluffy, but rich and buttery with a wonderful sprinkle of fresh ground pepper and fleur de sel (sea salt), that was simply divine.
My wife had homard (lobster) cooked in the half shell, with a wonderful sauce and served with a side of frites that again, are some of the best in all of Paris (and the same frites served next door to L’Ecailler’s sister meat restaurant, Le Bistrot Paul Bert).
For dessert, we had a moelleux au chocolate served with a side of vanilla custard sauce. The moelleux au chocolate had been slightly overcooked, and thus was not runny in the inside as it should be, so it ended up with more of a solid brownie taste, rather than the gooeyinterior it is supposed to have.
L’Ecailler is a busy place, so reservations are a must. I had called the same day and we lucked out, but for a table of four or larger a few days notice is typically required. Just next door, L’Ecailler’s sister restaurant Bistro Paul Bert serves meat, and has even more of a following than L’Ecailler. Some othe terrific restaurants are located on the same block, including Le Temps au Temps and the swank Argentinian beef restaurant, Unico.
As L’Ecailler is busy, the staff can be distracted, and so the customary “bon soirée” and “merci” from staff was missing as we left the door — a slight downpoint to an otherwise wonderful dinner and evening. And, at prices that are somewhat modest, you can have a terrific meal, with wine, at under 80 Euros per person, and even under 50 Euros depending upon what you order (we had a more top end wine of red Sancerre, slightly chilled, that was just 54 Euros per bottle).
Open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner.
Address: 22 Rue Paul Bert, 75011 Paris
Phone: (33) 01 43 72 76 77