M.O.B.--A French Twist: Healthy Fast Food, C+; 35 OUEST--Smooth Sailing at a Left Bank Fish House, B-
Thursday, July 11, 2013 at 09:59
Perhaps one of the most persistent myths about food writers is that we only like to eat at the highest end of the food chain. The truth is that during the course of any given week, I happily forage at all altitudes of gastronomy in my search for great new places to eat in Paris, but when I ran into a friend on the terrace of the Cité de la Mode et du Design on the banks of the Seine near the Gare d'Austerlitz the other night, she was flabbergasted.
"Alec! What are you doing here?!"
I explained that I'd come to sample Cyril Aouizerate's new M.O.B. (Maimonides of Brooklyn, Maimoides being a brilliant Sephardic astronomer, philosopher, and physician who lived during the Middle Ages) fast health-food place, she was speechless. Even after I gave her some background on Aouizerate, who's one of the most interesting young French entrepreneurs around today--he co-founded the Mama Shelter hotels with the Trigano family and launched his first M.O.B. in downtown Brooklyn several years ago, she still couldn't bring herself to believe that I was happily eating dinner out of a kraft paper box.
But then she hadn't eaten any of the pleasantly wholesome food that M.O.B is serving, including a really excellent coconut milk cheesecake, and she hadn't noticed that M.O.B. also has one of the prettiest and most confidential Seine side summertime terraces in Paris.
Out of curiosity, I'd ordered a fair amount of food, including M.O.B.'s amusing Brooklyn Bridge shaped (in profile) pizza with a topping of tofu cream, spinach and roasted mushrooms, a quinoa salad, and a M.O.B burger and was happily sipping a glass of very good Languedoc rose when I noticed a man who looked like a Bed-Stuy rapper--shades, little bowler hat, flowing camouflage print vest and sultan's trousers, and lots of beads and trinkets, talking on his cell phone over the railing of the terrace. He smiled, and I smiled back. Then when he finished his call, he came over and said in perfect completely unaccented English, "So, how do you like it?"
I said I did, but wanted to know why he'd immediately decided I was American. "I lived in Brooklyn for several years and still spend a lot of time in New York." He grinned. "But my guess is that you're not a New Yorker--I'd say, hmmmm...., probably Massachusetts or Connecticut." I laughed out loud. "Connecticut." "I thought so," he said. "You look so wholesome, and of course that's a good thing." I promised him my thoughts were usually much less wholesome than my appearance, and he sat down.
So I ended up having a chat with Cyril Aouizerate, who not only a really nice guy but a really good talker. He explained that he'd become vegetarian because of a girl friend, but had since decided that vegetarian eating is absolutely essential for good health and preserving the environment. "If millions of people in places like India and China start eating the same amount of meat that we consume in the Western countries, it will lead to an environmental catastrophe. There's just no way that the earth can support the inputs and outputs of producing so much meat. So my idea with M.O.B. is to try to appeal to people who aren't vegetarians and probably have never even thought about vegetarianism. When we first opened in downtown Brooklyn, I remember a guy who came in for a burger and who almost left when we explained that we didn't serve meat. Well, he stayed and tried one of our burgers, became a regular customer, and is now vegetarian. For vegetarianism to work, it has to lose the associations of gastronomic deprivation and a certain moral sanctimoniousness that it's had for a longtime."
I'm obviously not a vegetarian, but I agree with Aouizerate--we have to eat less meat, both for our own good and also for environmental reasons. The key to this, however, is teaching people how to make vegetarian dishes that taste good and are really satisfying. As Clotilde Dusoulier of www.chocolateandzucchini.com points out in her terrific new cookbook, The French Market Cookbook, this isn't all that difficult. In fact, even the decidedly meat centric French kitchen has dozens and dozens of great traditional vegetarian recipes.
Though the quinoa salad was under-seasoned---it would benefit from fresh herbs and a more assertive vinaigrette, I enjoyed my meal at M.O.B. The pizza was excellent, and the char-grilled taste of the burger (beans and potatoes) amusingly approximated one of the taste triggers that's made the Golden Arches so popular. So if you're strolling or cycling along the Seine some sunny day, M.O.B is a great place to stop for lunch.
I have long maintained that Paris is the best seafood city in Europe, since Paris restaurants have access to first-rate small-boat catches from both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, as well as seas further afield, so when I had to chose a restaurant for a business dinner last week and the other diner, someone I'd never met, is a non-meat-eater, I settled on 35 Ouest, a discreet seafood restaurant on the rue de Verneuil in the 7th arrondissement.
It has a Michelin star, I'd never been before, and I knew it would be easily reached from my colleague's hotel in the rue du Buci. Arriving on a warm night, a well-dressed and exquisitely polite Japanese family of four was happily devouring a shellfish sampler in one corner of the green dining room with exposed stone columns, and two singles sat along the wall opposte, a grumpy looking man reading a newspaper, and a strikingly beautiful older woman with her snow-white hair cut very short and a gorgeous pink coral necklace setting off the neckline of her black dress. The proprietor was warm and very charming, and I savored the pleasure of being still in a public setting with nothing urgent to do while waiting for my date to arrive and a certain happy curious expectancy about the meal to come.
Well, it turned out that Erika from San Francisco was absolutely delightful, so the night got off to a great start. She also told me that her diet's gluten-free and suggested that the chef might be able to prepare her sole using corn flour or corn meal instead of wheat flour. When the owner came to take our order, I asked if this was possible and he got a very quizzical look on his face. "I don't know. I think the fish would stick to the pan," he said. I speculated that it wouldn't if it was dredged in corn flour and to their credit they agreed to try.
So both of us started our with langoustines, one of my favorite foods, and they were of better-than-average if not brilliant quality and came with homemade mayonnaise. Next, our respective soles. The fish itself was lovely, and so it should have been for such eye watering prices, but even though I am a devout butter lover, my sole meuniere swam in a shallow sea of melted good quality butter and sort of overwhelmed the taste of the fish itself. Ditto for Erica. Overall, we enjoyed the meal, and the service was charming, but beyond being an ideal choice for a business meal, and with all do respect to their carefully sourced seafood, this was a solid fish-and-potatoes meal that lacked distinction.
It might suit, however, if you're staying nearby or traveling on your own and looking for a quiet cordial place to eat some good fish, but it's unlikely I'd be tempted again.
M.O.B. 34 Quai d'Austerlitz, 13th, Tel. 01-42-77-51-05, Metro: Saint Marcel or Quai de la Gare,
www.mob-usa.com, Average 12 Euros.
35 Ouest, 35 rue de Verneuil, 7th, Tel. 01-42-86-98-88, Metro: Rue du Bac. Closed Sunday and Monday. Average a la carte 75 Euros.
tagged Alexander Lobrano, Cyril Aouizerate, Fish restaurants in Saint-Germain-des-Pres, French fast food, M.O.B. Paris, Paris fish restaurants, Vegetarian food in Paris in 13th Arrondissement: Les Gobelins, Place d'Italie, B minus, C plus, Cheap Eats, Good for Lunch, Outdoor dining in Paris, Quick Eats, Seafood and Oysters, Vegetarian | Print Article